As We Forgive :: A local experience

by Jennifer Murray

I’m not a TV watcher, but one night, I happened to lie down on my bed and click on the TV.  This is how I first saw As We Forgive on UNC Channel 4 – PBS.

The most profound moment happened for me at this impromptu, yet ordained meeting between myself and Rwanda.  I was liberated to LOVE, to love in a way I had not thought possible to do on earth, and my teachers were the people of Rwanda.

This film is the earthly example of what I believe Jesus Christ intended to teach us.  And just like Jesus’ example we are taught this message of forgiveness through loss.  The loss I speak of is the death of 1,000,000 people, people who were neighbors.  Neighbors made enemies through the act of genocide in Rwanda.  What was left for Rwanda was the remnant of these neighbors, the people left to the challenge of rebuilding their country and perhaps finding as no other collective group of people had found before, the true meaning of “Love your neighbor, as you love yourself.”

Due to the message of the film and its profound relationship to what Jesus taught in scripture I could not keep the message of As We Forgive to myself; I needed to share it.  I decided to host a screening in honor of God, Rwanda, and the life God gave to me.  I asked for the exhibition copy for my birthday, and my friends joined me in my birthday celebration in which we watched the film together.  A beautiful discussion occurred after the film and it seemed a wind of love blew through the gathering.

Casey, a participant of that screening, requested to host another event during the 40 days of Forgiveness Campaign.  Each of the events have been small, but I have faith that out of the small seeds that have been planted, and with continued watering of those seeds, a mighty transformation will occur.  The fact is, it is already occurring, and it only takes one person hearing, believing, and living this message to affect the world around them.

Something Saveri said in Catherine Larson’s book, As We Forgive, brings this fact home for me: “What brought us the conviction to commit genocide was the indoctrination of divisive ideas by bad government.”  Ideas and how we convey those ideas have a powerful effect on the world around us.  As a writer, home educator, and participant in an organization for nurturing women, I recognize how influential we are as we pass our ideas from one person to the next.  The idea of ethnic division killed 1,000,000 people in 100 days. How do we believe this idea began?  An idea passed from 1 person to 1,000,000 people dead, and countless victims and murderers throughout the devastated country.  As I pass my own ideas and influence around, I want to promote love, forgiveness and reconciliation.  I want to indoctrinate others into grace, not into hostility.  Yes, for me it is that simple.

Sadly, I believe the church has lost its way in this simple yet profound message.  Bishop Tutu referenced this in the film by acknowledging that the church shoulders guilt in the acts of genocide.  I see this same issue in America.  The oppression I see in American church life today is against the soul and spirit rather than a literal killing of one’s body.  The church stifles liberty and health. Due in large part to our prosperity, we remain trapped in an illusive idea that all is well within us and around us.

In the work I am involved in with women; the pain of this subtle oppression is obvious to me.  Women remain oppressed and stifled.  Sadly, as women stay oppressed they become oppressors woman to woman, and we continue to involve ourselves in hateful acts.  Chantal’s story reflected how easily we can do this in the midst of our own pain and suffering.  I think about her desperate feelings.  Chantal did not want to bathe herself.  It felt as though she hated herself and her existence as much as she hated John.  Women in our churches and in America need the message of forgiveness and reconciliation toward themselves and toward others.  I hated myself, my existence, my life.  I looked to the church for love.  I found only obligation out of a fear-based message.  In my life I was a victim of abuse as a child, young adult and into my adulthood.  Out of that pain I became an offender.  I pray to change this not only in my life, but the life of other women.  I am committed to stop female to female oppression.  I am committed to share the grace I have found toward myself and to others through the profound mystery of God’s love for me and faithfulness to me.  The message of As We Forgive is helping me on this road to liberty.

The work ahead feels insurmountable. As I go my way, I reflect on Rwanda and people like Bishop Tutu and Gahigi.  I know they must have felt despair when confronted with such a large, seemingly hopeless task.  No matter how hopeless it appeared to be, they set their foot on the road to reconciliation, one foot, one person, at a time.  They believe in the power of their personal influence for reconciliation, and they are using it to change an entire country.

Because of Rwanda I believe anything is possible.

I am grateful to the people who brought this film to life.  I am grateful beyond my ability to express in words.  Thank you.  I pray that my own life will continue on a path to support this powerful message and cause, and that I too will be a Living Brick.

2 Corinthians 5:19 (New Living Translation)
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.  And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

Jennifer Murray is a home-educator, writer, and visionary for The Katherine Project.  The Katherine Project is a group of women dedicated to nurturing themselves and others in wholeness.  ”Love your neighbor, as you love yourself.”  Jennifer blogs at: http://onetrueself.blogspot.com/

Craig Detweiler: Does Hollywood Make Forgiveness Look Too Easy?

Movies often start with mistakes. They are about characters who blow it, who do the wrong thing, and spend the rest of the story trying to clean up the mess they’ve made. It may be comedic, like the awkward interaction between Dr. Evil and his estranged son, Scott, in the Austin Powers movies. It may be dramatic, like the death row confession of murderer Matthew Poncelet to Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking. Sometimes the wrongdoing involves husbands and wives, like the treacherous lure of adultery in Unfaithful or Fatal Attraction.    The Runaway Bride has a fear of commitment. The preacher in The Apostle fails to live up to his vow.   Even in an animated film like The Lion King, Scar preys upon Simba’s guilt over his father Mufasa’s death.

We may feel like Clint Eastwood’s western gunslinger–we’ve seen and done too many evil things.  Are we Unforgiven? How do we right our wrongs? The Straight Story follows a brother’s slow, cross country journey on a lawn mower just to tell his sibling, “I’m sorry.”  In The Mission, Mendoza straps on all kinds of burdens to pay for his sins.   He carries an overwhelming pack on his back, up a raging waterfall.  The moment when he is cut loose from that weight is remarkably freeing for the audience. We want to experience the freedom that Jean Valjean feels in Les Miserables when his crime is forgiven.  Yes, he is guilty of stealing, but the bishop offers Jean his silver candlesticks as an additional gift of mercy.   This metaphors attempt to communicate the reality of amazing grace.

Do films and stories make forgiveness look too easy?   Does reconciliation happen too quickly in fantasies like Field of Dreams?   Does an Oscar winning film like Precious offer its characters an easy way out of a considerable jam?  Surely the complexities of Civil War are glossed over in Glory. Hollywood endings often feel too simple, too easy, too pat. A grueling picture will conclude in a convenient manner that fails to imitate life.   Movie magic can disappoint us.

Not so with the characters in As We Forgive. It begins with a horrific, historic event—the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Yet, it doesn’t gloss over what happened. We see the grim realities and meet both the perpetrators and the victims. It is real, messy, and chaotic. I’m so glad that Chantal has difficulty facing the man who murdered her family. How can she summon the courage to sit down with someone who took so much from her? And where will she find the grace to forgive him?

Lent is a season of taking stock. It is a prime opportunity to meditate upon our failings and prepare for resurrection day. At least 40 days are needed to figure out where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and how we might straighten out our future. It is an opportunity to ponder the promises of God in Isaiah 44:21-22.

The Lord says:

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, 


your sins like the morning mist. 


Return to me, 


for I have redeemed you.

How wondrous and mysterious. Like a morning dew, God breezes in and our sins drift away. The finest films (like the miraculous moments in Rwanda found in As We Forgive) remind me that such promises are not just poetic. They are powerfully, palpably possible.

Craig Detweiler directs the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University.   His latest book is Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God.  Craig blogs at http://www.purplestateofmind.com.

The Process of Rehumanizing

Reflections on Forgiveness by Carl Wilkens

Forgiveness is so many incredible things, many of which I’m still discovering!

A huge part of forgiveness for me though is the need to rehumanize the perpetrator in my mind. In order to start this process of rehumanizing those who carried out the genocide (all the way from the top planners down to the interahamwe with a machete in hand and those internationally who could have done something and did not), I’ve found it so helpful to imagine them as a child… what was it like when they took their first step? What condition was the heart in of the person whose hands received them when taking their first step? What did the chain of events look like that shaped that child’s life, body, and way of thinking which in turn drove his/her feelings which in turn drove his/her actions?

Another significant aspect of forgiving for me is giving up the expectation that the perpetrator can somehow give me something for my recovery. While they may choose to play a role by apologizing (which can be very valuable in both the rehumanizing of them and my healing process) my healing is not dependant on them and what they choose to do. I can find ways to release and let go of my anger and hatred so that it does not develop into a self-destructive cancer and allow the perpetrator’s horrible acts to further inflict  damage and loss. One of the best ways I have found to do this is through service for others. This sounds simple but it has been so very, very powerful for me.

Forgiveness is not giving up interest in bringing the perpetrator to justice and perhaps even some form of restitution (pathetically meager in comparison to the loss though it might be). But this is not the responsibility of the victim or their family. It is the responsibility and opportunity to be seized by the society where they live.

Throughout this whole process a very necessary belief that I hang onto is that letting go of anger and hatred in no way diminishes the wrongness, the horror, and the loss that resulted from the terrible choices of the perpetrator. The same goes for rehumanizing, it in no way diminishes the wrong. Nothing about forgiveness diminishes the wrong or the huge loss that we must live with! Hanging onto hatred and anger does not in anyway honor those who have been taken from us.

And the reality that forgiveness is a process is the last thing I would say. Rarely is forgiveness an act that is accomplished in a moment. I may need to go through the “rehumanizing thinking” again and again, as well as the service and other methods of working through my anger and hatred. But in time forgiveness and the freedom that follows does come.

I have so appreciated the message of “As We Forgive” and the significant impact it has had on my understanding of forgiveness. The film has proved a valuable tool in inspiring and directing dialogue on forgiveness at a very personal level, which is where forgiveness is most effective. Dialogue that is not only crucial in healing from a genocide, but something each one of us must involve ourselves in every single day, from simple “slights” to major woundings.

Carl Wilkens is the former head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in Rwanda. In 1994, he was the only American who chose to remain in the country after the genocide began. His choice to stay and try to help resulted in preventing the massacre of hundreds of children over the course of the genocide. Wilkens currently runs the non-profit educational and professional development organization World Outside My Shoes.

Mark Batterson on the “Cure All”

THE CURE ALL

by Mark Batterson

It’s so hard not to harbor bitterness. It’s so hard not to hang on to unforgiveness.  It’s so hard to offer the same kind of grace that we’ve received from God.  But it is the only cure, the cure all.  How do you let go and let God?

I think the key is found in Job 42:10: “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his three friends.”

Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for Job to forgive his friends.  They added injury to insult as Job suffered tragedy after tragedy. He lost his family. He lost his herds. He lost his health. And then his friends took away his dignity by attacking his integrity.  That’s all he had left and his friends took it away.

I’ve found that when someone wrongs me I have a tough choice to make. Either I try to get even in some form or fashion.  Or I have to begin praying for that person.  I honestly believe that prayer is the only antidote to anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness.  You can’t just forgive. You’ve got to pray for that person. Why?  Because it will change your heart. You’ll find that a supernatural love for that person disarms your anger.  Forgiveness will set your free.  And prayer is the key.

If Job can pray for his fair-weather friends who turned on him in tragedy, then we can certainly love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Mark Batterson is the lead pastor at National Community Church in Washington, DC and author of multiple books, including In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and Wild Goose Chase. He is also author of a weekly “Evotional.”  He and his wife Lora have three children.

Beauty That Can Only Grow in the Aftermath of Pain

by Sara Groves

On my first trip to Rwanda, I was told a story about a woman who went every day to the prison to say to the men inside, “Confess to what you have done, so that you can have peace, and so that we can have peace.”  One day a teenage boy came up to her and said, “If I were to confess to killing your family, would you forgive me?”  She went home troubled, wondering, “Is this true, is this the boy that killed my children and my husband?”  She thought and prayed, and after some time she went back and told the boy, “If you confess, I will forgive you.”  The boy cried, and confessed.  Three years later, under pressure from human rights groups to alleviate the prison population and to ease the overwhelmed court system, the Rwandan Government decided to release 60,000 genocidiaries back in the population.  They did this in two waves of approximately 30,000 prisoners.  On my first visit to Rwanda, the Minister of Reconciliation told me that on the night of the release day, “We sat by the phones all night long, waiting to hear if there would be acts of retaliation.  There was not one act of retaliation.”  The boy, now a young man, found his way to the widow’s house, and simply said, “I just wanted you to know that your forgiveness is the greatest gift I have ever been given.”  The woman asked the boy where he would go now, and he told her that he had no family.  In a miraculous turn of events, the woman invited the boy to work on her farm, and eventually adopted the young man as her own, to be the heir to her property when she died.

You would think that a story like that stands alone, and yet I have heard stories like it many times over.

The thing I love most about As We Forgive is the window that it provides into the physical toll of anger, and the countenance of forgiveness.  When I went to Rwanda, I tried to prepare myself for what the aftermath of genocide must be, but I could not prepare myself for the unique type of beauty that can only grow in the aftermath of pain.

Sara Groves is a singer/songwriter and mother of three who uses her music tours to encourage fans to sponsor children in the Rwandan village of Gisanga through Food for the Hungry. She travels frequently to Rwanda, and will be accompanied by her band on her upcoming trip. Her ninth album, Fireflies and Songs, was released on November 17, 2009 and was named Album of the Year by Christianity Today.

Reflections on Forgiveness from Christianity Today's Mark Moring

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Forgive Us Our . . . Debts?

Theologically speaking, we “owe” forgiveness to one another, much like a financial transaction.

By Mark Moring

I’m in quite a bit of credit card debt, very little of which can be chalked up to what I’d call “reckless  spending.” Most of it is has been accumulated through unplanned real-life incidents – car repairs, home repairs, medical bills. Basically, just fixing broken things.

Jesus pretty much has a Master’s degree in fixing broken things, made abundantly clear in those three decades he walked among us. Healing the sick, the blind, the mute, the lame. Casting out demons. Even raising the dead.

He also taught us how to live, forgive, confess, repent, and pray—much of which is summed up in The Lord’s Prayer. Most of us can recite it by memory, but when we do so in a new environment, we inevitably reach that line where we’re not sure what to say: “And forgive us our . . .”

Our what?

Trespasses? Sins? Debts? When it comes right down to it, it doesn’t really matter which of the three options we choose.

Let’s look at each, starting with that last option. And let’s start with my credit card debt. I’d love pick up the phone, call the bank, and say, “Hey, remember what Jesus said about forgiving our debts? I’ll forgive yours if you’ll forgive mine!” I don’t think that request would go very far.

But is that what Jesus means by our “debts”? That’s the way it’s literally translated Matthew; Luke’s version is typically translated “sins” or “trespasses.” In Aramaic, the word for debt can also mean sin, and in both cases, Jesus clearly means that we should forgive another’s sins in the same way we’d forgive another’s debt. Theologically and practically, it’s the same type of “transaction.” One person owes another – whether it’s money (a fiscal debt) or restitution (righting a wrong).

Scripture also says that we essentially owe one another forgiveness. Matthew’s version of The Lord’s Prayer includes this little PS that we don’t say aloud: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

I don’t like that part very much. Seems too hard, doesn’t it? We’re only human; how can we be expected to forgive as God forgives? He’s perfect; we’re not. It’s part of his nature, not ours. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s part of mine.

And yet there it is, in black-and-white: A command. Not a negotiation. Not a suggestion.

Consequently, I try to live it as best as I can, forgiving those who’ve “trespassed against me.” Maybe I snap back first, or hold a grudge, or give them the temporary cold shoulder. But eventually, sometimes more quickly than others, I usually get around to forgiveness.

But some wounds go so deep that forgiveness seems impossible. It’s much easier to hold on to anger/hatred/hurt than it is to forgive. We deserve to feel this way! Aren’t some transgressions simply unforgivable from our human perspective?

In my mind, I know it’s possible to forgive even the worst of sins, but my heart and my gut didn’t always believe it. But now that I’ve seen such “impossible forgiveness,” I am beginning to understand that it can be done.

When I visited Rwanda in early 2009, I met a few people who have demonstrated what such forgiveness looks like – as the givers of such incredible mercy, and as recipients. It’s an astonishing, beautiful, life-changing thing to see.

I met people who lost loved ones – spouses, parents, children – in the 1994 genocide, people who had seen their kin hacked to death, right before their eyes. People who had been maimed and raped and tortured. People who had lost everything.

And somehow, many of these people – victims of heinous crimes – had forgiven the killers. Not just in the privacy of their hearts or homes, but face-to-face. And many of the killers, crippled by remorse for their sins, had not only graciously accepted forgiveness, but were now providing restitution to their victims.

I’ll never forget meeting Marc Sahabo, who had killed 15 people in the genocide – including many members of Felicita Mukabakunda’s family. Felicita and Marc had been neighbors and friends before the genocide, before ethnic tensions rose to the point where all hell broke loose, Hutu killing Tutsi, neighbor killing neighbor, brother killing brother.

“I had so much hatred,” Felicita told me. “I wanted Marc to die a slow, painful death. I would have killed him if I could.” But Marc, fearing for his life, had fled Rwanda. When he later returned, he was arrested and spent seven years in prison before his 2003 release.

A few years later, a reconciliation ministry called Rwanda Partners encouraged Marc and Felicita to reconcile – he to confess his sins, and she to forgive. Marc, saddled by guilt, was anxious to take the step, but Felicita, clinging to hate and paralyzed by fear, wasn’t so ready. But through patient counseling, reading God’s Word, and Spirit-led conviction, she eventually agreed.

Marc and Felicita sat side-by-side as they told me the story. Then Marc got out of his chair, demonstrating how he got down on his knees before Felicita, folded his hands, confessed his crimes, and begged for mercy. She put her hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eyes, and said simply and quietly, “I forgive you.”

Marc says that at that moment, he felt like he “just came out of a shower, a clean man, except it was like a holy shower, because I felt clean on the inside.” Felicita’s heavy burden was lifted, and the migraine headaches and nightmares she had suffered for ten years immediately disappeared.

Today, Marc and Felicita are best friends. When I visited, they shared a beer and many laughs. Their children play together, and their families regularly share meals. The two of them ride a bike from village to village, telling their story.

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“I’m not scared of him anymore,” says Felicita. “Without Jesus, I’d go back to hating Marc. But because of Jesus, I have forgiven Marc, and I love him now.”

It’s true, then. Such forgiveness is possible. It’s not just theoretical theology. It actually can happen.

Since hearing their story, I’ve been more apt to forgive, to grant more grace, to extend the mercy that I, a sinner myself, so do not deserve. But I forgive because I am forgiven.

I don’t expect my creditors to feel the same way. But being in debt also helps me to understand the gravity of my own debt to God – for his grace – and to others.

Mark Moring is senior associate editor of Christianity Today, where he covers social justice, pop culture, and other issues. He has written about reconciliation in Rwanda, and is a big fan of Laura Waters Hinson, As We Forgive, and the Living Bricks project.

Join the 40 Days of 4-Giveness this Easter

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How can Rwanda’s story of reconciliation impact your life and community?

As We Forgive (AWF) is excited to announce the “40 Days of 4-Giveness” campaign.  This Easter season, we’re inviting individuals and organizations across the country to engage their communities in radical forgiveness by meditating on the story of Rwandans who are forgiving the killers of their families after genocide.

Will you consider hosting a screening?

Beginning February 17th our goal is to partner with 40 churches, universities, and individuals to host local screenings of As We Forgive with the goal of raising funding to build one new home in the Living Bricks Village.  Living Bricks is a project that equips repentant ex-genocide prisoners with the tools to build critically needed housing for their victim’s families, resulting in communities where former enemies live as neighbors through reconciliation. Operated by a partnership with Prison Fellowship International, the cost of each home is $5,000 with 100 percent of proceeds going directly to the village.

Joining the campaign are musician Sara Groves, author Gabe Lyons, journalist Mark Moring, author and pastor Mark Batterson, journalist and author Amy Sullivan and filmmaker and author Craig Deitweiler.  Each week, we’ll release a blog post from these contributors with their reflections on forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption at www.AsWeForgiveMovie.com

Will you engage your community in radical forgiveness?

The 40 Days of 4-Giveness is an opportunity to engage your community in a discussion and study on the power of forgiveness and redemption.  Rather than asking people to give up sweets this season, the 40 Days campaign encourages people to simply give.  Participating groups will receive the As We Forgive Movie Event Kit containing a discussion guide on the 4 gives:

give truth + give mercy + give hope + give back

Click here to find out more about the As We Forgive Movie Event Kit.  If you’ve already hosted a screening in the past, you’re invited to screen the film again free of charge to help build a house in the Living Bricks Village.

To host a film screening or to learn more about how to get involved in Living Bricks, please contact Genevieve Ebel, AWF Outreach Director at: genevieve@asweforgivemovie.com

We hope these Rwandan’s story of forgiveness after genocide will inspire your community and we look forward to partnering with you all in this 40 Day campaign!

Sincerely,

Laura Waters Hinson

Director, As We Forgive