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Book Review – The Bishop of Rwanda

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The country of Rwanda has seen some of the worst violence and bloodshed the world has witnessed this side of the Holocaust. If ever a nation has been in need of God’s grace and favor, this is it. In 1994 the nation was devastated by a genocidal civil war that pitted the Hutus against the Tutsis. In just 100 days during April to July of that year, over one million people were killed, the vast majority of them Tutsis. There were countless massacres with thousands of people dying ever day during that period of time.

When the killing finally ended, the nation was destroyed. The economy was shattered, the nation’s infrastructure nearly ruined and the population decimated. And, of course, the people were traumatized, having seen former friends turn on each other, husbands kill wives and even the clergy willfully participating in the murder of thousands.

John Rucyahana is a native of Rwanda and, though he was not in the country while the violence happened, he was appointed Bishop of Rwanda shortly after it ended and has been involved in the aftermath. More than anything he has attempted to champion reconciliation between those who were alienated from each other during the conflict. The Bishop of Rwanda tells his story and at the same time tells the story of the Rwandan Genocide, the events that led to it, and the initial attempts at recovering from it.

The foreword to the book was written by none other than Rick Warren who is using Rwanda as a testing ground for his PEACE plan. In what I found to be a shockingly self-serving foreword, Warren seems to say that the value of this book is in showing how bad Rwanda’s problems were so that people will soon see just how powerful his PEACE plan is. He says “The PEACE plan is a plan by the Rwandan and for Rwandans” but this is simply not the case. “When the rest of the world realizes what the church and the people of Rwanda are becoming in the 21st century,” Warren writes, “they’ll also want to know the foundation upon which it was built. I’m certain this book will be one of the classic texts that people turn to.”

The text of the book is filled with the horrifying story of the genocide. To tell the story properly Rucyahana has to provide ghastly details, though thankfully he is as discreet as possible in doing so. The story told in the book’s opening pages is the most graphic of all and is enough to turn the stomach and bring tears to the eyes. Yet it was the shocking, sick reality for millions of people. Rucyahana tells the story from within a Christian worldview. He believes that the best way to promote peace and a good future within his nation is to convert people to Jesus. And, of course, I couldn’t agree more. Sadly I’m not sure that he preaches the full gospel. While he speaks often in the book about everyone’s need for a Savior, I did not find a full, strong, biblical gospel message within its pages. His ecumenical beliefs, where he seems to teach that he and the Roman Catholic Church preach the same gospel, would make it seem clear that he must be taking something less than the gospel of faith alone on the basis of grace alone because of the work of Christ alone.

I was surprised to see that the book was not particularly well-written, especially considering that the co-author, James Riordan, has authored twenty-five other books and has won several awards for his work. It was almost childish at times. For example, “Several government people who helped plan the genocide actually claimed to be churchgoing Catholics or Protestants, but they could not have done what they did and had any real belief in Jesus Christ. They were more like members of religious clubs than real Christians. They may have belonged to churches, but their beliefs were more like those of Satanists.” There are often short sentences and examples of almost childish self-expression. Perhaps it simply reflects the fact that English is not Rucyahana’s native language.

I was pleased to see that Rucyahana did not shy away from discussing the involvement of supposed Christians in the genocide. I have heard, over the years, that the Roman Catholic Church was particularly heavily involved in the lead-up to the genocide and even in carrying it out. This book discusses some of those details and suggests that this was, indeed, the case. However, Rucyahana soon reveals his ecumenical leanings and is quick to portray this as a failure of Christianity rather than a particular fault of the Roman Catholic Church. Now, in the aftermath, he is working hand-in-hand with Catholic clergy in his efforts to make the Christianity known throughout the nation.

All-in-all, this is hardly great literature and, despite Warren’s claims, is not likely to be a book with a long shelf life. However, it is still valuable in telling the story of the Rwandan tragedy from within a Christian perspective and from the point-of-view of an insider. I do hope and pray that God uses Rucyahana and other believers to bring hope and healing to this nation and to others throughout the African continent.

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