How can anyone make such a journey, particularly in view of what happened to him and his family? Amidst the horror of it all? A Tutsi named Gahigi did.
First, there was this fellow, this victim and survivor, Gahigi: a Tutsi prison watcher of sorts reaching to and for the despised and hated Saveri, a Hutu killer now shorn of machete and the might of many companions with the same hideous mindset.
Just like Mattias and the other Hutus locked in that way overcrowded enclosure in Kinyinya that author Catherine Larson quietly noted had the euphemistic label of “solidarity camp.” How does one begin to think of gathering together what has been shredded and scattered through the length and breadth and depth of a blood-soaked land, and then to dare even mention the word “solidarity”?
With regards to that society and in view of the carnage that happened there? To where and how and why? Yet the longest journey begins with a first small step: small, yet immeasurable in its poignant majestic mysteries. Mysteries because this same Gahigi had only “8 out of one hundred and fifty family members” remaining in the aftermath of what the Hutus called “the war.” For emphasis: that is a mere 8 alive and the other one hundred and forty-two dead from unnatural and untimely causes; homicidal causes.
Among the murdered and dead were two of his own young sons; one of whom he was able to recover under the cover of night with one arm hacked off and destined to die a slow, wracking death in a harrowing refugee camp in neighboring Burundi. Flesh of his own flesh and bone of his bones. How closer can a man get to that special kind of loving? That unbearable kind of losing? How farther away can such a man – any man -find himself from any nearness or ability to forgive?
Now this man – hurting and grieving and hating – underwent his own magnificent transformation: immaculate through cleansing of a different kind; a far too absent purification in the gritty affairs of harder men made that way by the severest of fortunes. From readying and waiting avenger of all that blood spilled, he progressed to a sublime pinnacle. Very few are visited or blessed by the peace of such a special grace. Gahigi was and is one of those rarities; but it was incredibly hard going.
This traumatized Tutsi, this brutalized human being, traveled a slow wondrous circle through one powerful, yet ignored, much scorned (in such circumstances) word: prayer. It occupied many hours daily; the unendurable days multiplied into the eternities of weeks and then months. Through the haze light came. And from that this spiritually disemboweled man, this mentally castrated wreck of a figure was ushered to another place. He heard a soft insistent call: It was again one magical word; except there was nothing of the magician’s art about it, but the supremely divine: mediator.
From intended determined avenger-to-be to unconscious unknowing prayer to the awesome grace of mediator-in-waiting first; and then mediator in word and deed later; one man and one outreaching and embracing at a time. Become a mediator! Be my mediator, Gahigi!
At the core, who really is this man Gahigi? What was his foundation, his life like, as lived prior to the genocide? What made him so special, so well-equipped even to think, then believe, and actually embark in carrying the Cross for a savaged nation? Gahigi had his own authentic history that certainly contributed mightily to helping him successfully navigate the grueling journey before him. He was a pastor; one of those rare souls of strong faith and powerful convictions.
Years before the massacres, he spoke publicly, stirringly, and constantly against haters and hating. His was not of the superficial, here today, gone tomorrow, variety that is so effortlessly practiced by slick preachers who are skilled at saying the right scripturally-based virtues, but doing the opposite when away from crowd and flock.
No! Gahigi was not that kind of man or servant of God. Catherine Larsen reports, “In fact, before the genocide, he had been jailed twice in 1992 for teaching people that hating is a terrible sin.” His Tutsi identity card condemned him as an opposition agent and to jail.
As a quick aside, countries with their own long, sordid history and culture of hating, desperately need people and preachers who speak out with strength and vigour at every opportunity against this evil that is not just against God, but against man and all that is spiritually uplifting and socially constructive. Where are these men of prayer? Where are they (the Gahigis) when needed to take a stand and speak out? Where are they at the very dire crossroads in events in their countries?
Gahigi started slowly walking for that celestial being with tiny baby steps, for he lacked the trust in himself and the courage to take bigger strides and larger postures. He began reaching out and talking with one prisoner at a time, one Hutu serial murderer or rapist or human hunter-gatherer-exterminator at a time. He could no more; as he prayed for the best, while expecting little.
On his fourth visit to the “solidarity camp” prison enclosure (more accurately involuntary holding area), he crossed the threshold of a personal Rubicon: Gahigi spoke to a much larger cluster of prisoners, numbering possibly in the hundreds. Out of that mass of huddled miserable men, one man stumbled forward: he was begging for mercy from Gahigi for he had personally destroyed the dwelling he called home, killed his sister, and searched long for Gahigi so he could kill him, too. There was recoiling at first; then embracing came quickly.
The words of Catherine Larson convey this heartfelt scene best, “As his sister’s murderer wept in his arms, Gahigi sensed: This is the purpose for which you are here, and you have seen it with your very own eyes. That day Gahigi embraced not just a killer, but what he believed as his calling to be a mediator.”
Troubled nations beg and cry out for such a mediator. Many such mediators, who are willing to travel beyond the ugly past to the opportune present with love and compassion in their hearts; with the self-sacrificing nature that transforms stony hatreds into soft, gentle peace. And, in doing so, to give this suffocated, dismal society a breathing place to seek and find itself. That could be a Lenten resolve.
Next week – Part IV: Mattias: from insane genocidaire to humane luminaire
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