If you had asked me how I was feeling five minutes prior to this conversation, it would have been impossible to lie – I was exhausted and my drooping eyes were evidence. Days of driving on poorly maintained dirt roads in inadequate cars and sleeping in a new bed every night was wearing me thin. To clarify, I was not miserable, just plain tired.
We were sitting on floral printed foam couches in a one-room home, nestled between a few of the DRC’s endless rolling green hills. As my supervisor and I sat in a daze, the two men hosting us (we will call them John and George for the sake of anonymity) began to talk.
“I did many, many bad things to my neighbors. It was war, so we killed and raped – we did many horrible things,” John shared. “But now we are forgiven.”
Looking directly into his eyes, as if trying to see deeper, to better understand the meaning of his seemingly contrasting statements, I woke up – every bit of my sleepiness immediately disappeared.
“After the war ended, a group of us did not feel well with ourselves. We could not focus on our work or our families and we knew something was wrong,” said George. “Some of us, with the help of church leaders, came together and began to talk about our problems.”
“We learned that what we did was wrong, but we have been forgiven,” explained John. “In God’s eyes, no one is ever beyond forgiveness.”
John and George spoke with conviction and passion – as if speaking directly from their renewed hearts.
“The leaders of our group helped us to understand that because we have been forgiven by God, we must also seek forgiveness from those we hurt. So we have.”
John, George, and the other men in their group traveled to the neighboring village, where they committed most of their crimes.
“Walking to the village, we did not know how the community would accept us. We knew we could be killed, but we were willing to take this risk.”
Upon reaching the village, John and George gathered everyone together. They proceeded to publicly confess everything they had done, and ended by seeking the community’s forgiveness.
Wives who had lost their husbands, girls who had been raped, and children who had seen their parents killed all came to listen to the men’s testimonies.
And they all forgave their perpetrators.
In fact, the community was so moved by the men’s humble confessions that they decided confess their own wrongdoings. You see, the war was not one-sided – it was neighbor against neighbor – everyone was involved in some way.
To this day John, George, and the other men continue to travel to villages affected by the war. Though not all of these villages were directly harmed by John and George, the men confess on behalf of other perpetrators.
“Sometimes we are not received well, but we do it anyways,” said John. “And every time we do this, someone approaches us – wondering why we have chosen to be so honest. This is good because it means we get to tell them about the one who forgives us all.”
Sinking deeper into the foam couch, tears welling up in my previously drooping eyes, I am in shock. The moment seems surreal and I am practically pinching myself, attempting to comprehend this reality.
Forgiveness is not easy, even for the little things. Offering forgiveness is hard and asking for forgiveness is even harder. And I’ve never even had to forgive someone for killing my family members.
The amazing thing is, forgiveness is possible and it transforms lives.
In addition to the many things we need to forgive ourselves and others for on the daily, we continue to see countless stories of seemingly impossible reconciliation and forgiveness in our world. Take the shootings at Westgate – non-Muslims forgave their Muslim brothers and sisters, telling them that they do not blame them for these horrendous acts. And what about the Rwanda genocide, where victims later forgave their perpetrators – and some of them are now dear friends!
None of us are exempt from harming our neighbor, which means that none of us are exempt from forgiveness.
What can I believe,
except that beyond the limits
of my little prayers and careful creeds,
I am not meant for dust and darkness,
but for dancing life and silver starlight.
Help my unbelief
that I may have courage
to dare to love the enemies
I have the integrity to make;
to care for little else
save my brothers and sisters of the human family;
to take time to be truly with them,
take time to see,
take time to speak,
take time to learn with them
before time takes us;
and to fear failure and death less
than the faithlessness
of not embracing love’s risks.
(Taken from Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder)