For many readers, Rwanda in 1994 may seem like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Genocide, thankfully, is probably very far removed from your experience, as it is from mine. What then do you and I do with a book like As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation From Rwanda?
I can’t go into details here because of sensitivity toward a non-family member, but just last night an issue of deep betrayal and hurt arose in our home last night. The offense started last summer. The parties live hundreds of miles apart, and restoration has never happened, for many complicated reasons. One thing that came to my mind was, “If the Rwandans can forgive and be reconciled, there’s hope for this friendship, too.” In fact both of the parties involved are making steps toward each other now.
No one would suggest that these things are easy, but a book like this one shows that the difficult is not impossible in Christ. The author, Catherine Claire Larson, makes a point of bringing the question of reconciliation home to readers, with opportunities to consider how we might practice it in our settings. After each of the seven personal stories of Rwandans restored, there is what you might call a multi-page sidebar (she calls them “Interludes) on a related topic situated in North America, or focused right on the reader’s needs.
Larson, who writes for Prison Fellowship, focuses the first of these on “restorative justice.” Having just illustrated it in practice in Rwanda, she asks whether it can be applied here in America. Restorative justice involves the offender and the offended meeting, restitution being made to the extent possible, and giving the parties opportunity at least to see one another as real people. It
focuses on a more reparative approach to justice, where healing and justice are not separated. Crime is seen as a violation of people and relationships. Therefore, according to [Eastern Mennonite University Professor Howard] Zehr, restorative justice aims at identifying responsibilities, meeting needs, and promoting healing…. a process in which victim, offender, and community are involved in dialogue, mutual agreement, empathy, and the taking of responsibility.
This is not just about families, schools, or neighborhoods, but about civil justice. Does it sound idealistic, even impossible? Consider the test it has been put to in Africa. It’s a concept I had never thought of, let alone studied, but I find it intriguing.
Other Interludes deal with “wrestling with forgiveness,” “journeying toward reconciliation,” “facing the darkness,” “comfort my people,” “reversing the downward spiral,” and (a “postlude”), “reconciliation as a transfiguration moment.” All of them are informed by high-quality current thinking on relationships and restoration. All of them include questions for reflection. All of them are intensely practical. And for those who have read other books on forgiveness, or who have tried to restore relationships before and found it all seems hopelessly impossible, all of them are illustrated by the corresponding real-life stories from Rwanda to show that what seems impossible may not be.
For one further level of practical application, the book also includes information on how to learn more or get involved with meeting needs in and around Rwanda. But that step does not require you to buy the book: you can find much of the same here.
One more reminder: Tomorrow (Thursday) evening at 9:00 pm EDT, here on this blog, you will have the opportunity to meet Catherine and interact with her in an online chat. I urge you to mark it on your calendar. Instructions for joining the chat will be posted on this blog just before it begins.
No new software or lengthy sign-in will be required; all you’ll need to do is to visit the proper web page, enter a name under which you will participate, and immediately begin.
As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation From Rwanda, by Catherine Claire Larson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. Paperback, 284 pages. Amazon Price US$12.47.