The History We Write

I’ve always had an interest in history—really more in people’s stories, strictly on a hobbyist level. I was never passionate enough about studying it to do it formally, but I do find joy in knowing where other cultures, populations, and people have come from. To me, a person’s story reveals so much about who God made them to be and what He’s doing to weave their days into His magnificent plan for the world. History demonstrates a viewpoint in which we can see what has already happened, and hopefully glean wisdom in how to live in our present hours. Sometimes, though, in studying these stories in history, we uncover accounts of tragedy and heartache. Unfortunately, often our history books paint entire timelines based on wars and tragedy.

I remember when I first read the story of Anne Frank and learned intensely about the Jewish Holocaust and World War II and all the devastation that was left in its wake. It was horrific, heartbreaking, and I remember wondering how such a thing could have happened to so many people. Over six million Jews and five million non-Jewish victims were needlessly murdered over the course of four years. When we even attempt to digest those staggering numbers, it’s unfathomable. And yet, it was generations ago. I was not alive during this particular human persecution; I can only learn about it from books, movies, and reports. Still, all these years later, I beg the question, “How could something so horrifying happen and no one do anything to stop it?” How could an entire generation fall victim to a worldview that allows them to see the systematic killings and oppression as “other.” Obviously there are so many more complexities that go into this time in history, but still my mind wanders and wonders—would I have been a voice for the sufferers?

Fast forward to my studies in college and graduate school when I knew I wanted to live in an African context and be hands and feet in alleviating poverty and suffering. Whenever we had research projects or papers I would always choose an African country to focus my studies. For one of those projects I chose to study Rwanda. I had heard of Rwanda and the genocide and the suffering a whole generation faced, but I was entirely ignorant to the true reality of all that those words and stories entailed. Even after all my research, I was able to dismiss the war as “other” because I was too young to have known, even as my heart begged the question again, “How could anyone let this happen?”

Once we arrived here in Rwanda, I had no idea that my framework for understanding the genocide was far too lacking and left much to be desired if I was going to begin to understand the history of this country we now call home. For those of you that don’t know, Rwanda is a very small country in Eastern Africa that has faced many versions of tribal (really ethnic and racial; the word tribal doesn’t really translate this type of discrimination sufficiently in our Western context) unrest and warfare. A country that was first occupied by the Germans and then Belgium until independence in 1962, Rwanda has had many broken parts in her history. For a full picture of how the entire story culminates into the Genocide of 1994, go read the Wikipedia page, or better yet, check out a whole book on the subject. The colonization of African countries and the turmoil of tribes and governments are all worth being educated about.

In 1990, a civil war between the Hutu government and the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front broke out. After the Hutu president was killed in early April 1994, the massacres of Tutsi people and Hutu moderates began. Over the course of 100 days, an estimated 1 million people were murdered. This was not systematic, but brutal neighbor-to-neighbor killing. Overnight, an entire people group went from living life among their Hutu counterparts, to being hunted by their friends. Tutsis that were lucky enough to find favor with a Hutu hid for their lives in bathrooms and forests and hidden rooms for months until the killings subsided and the RPF gained control.

I do not describe it this way to be crass or provoke distress, but to help you to understand, in a way that I did not, how gruesome and shocking the story really is. And this was not many decades ago, but here in my lifetime. An entire people group, young and old, was targeted for the tribal name on their identity cards and discriminatory (and inaccurate) physical markers such as height or facial structure. Crimes against humanity such as these should be old history, something we read about happening long ago, when we didn’t have the resources to know what was going on. Again, I don’t pretend these situations are simple, but I do believe they beg our attention.

After recently reading the book Left to Tell, written by a miraculous survivor of the genocide, Immaculee Ilibagiza (*HIGHLY recommend*), I saw this part of Rwanda’s history come to life in a young woman’s story. Her story brought to light for me how inhumane and graphic this event in history was, and showed how astonishing that an entire [modern] world stood by as it happened. These are heavy realities to face, but where were we when an entire people group suffered at the hand of evil? An entire generation of Hutus was trained through systematic biases to value Tutsis as less than, to the point of slaughter. This war did not start in a day or even years, but over decades of racial and ethnic discrimination through school systems, government policies, and generational sin.

Where in our lives, in our world today, are atrocities happening that beg our attention but we have turned a blind eye? What systems in the United States are breeding discriminatory policies and circumstances that are keeping entire people groups from being valued as equal to all? (If you don’t see it, I promise it’s there, educate yourself). What global wars and tragedies are entire cultures or ethnicities or religions facing in our world that we as Christians and as those who live in abundance are being begged to participate in? How can we be agents for change? How can we be a voice to the voiceless? Where can we step in to bring justice, to be defenders of all of God’s children? Where do we need to lend a listening ear?

All of us, no matter our stage of life or income or political party or race or physical location are called to be a part of the redemption of the vulnerable. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in love and in justice. I firmly believe we can all be agents for change right where God has placed us. By God’s grace and guidance, this concept has been a common thread throughout the last few years of my life: whether it’s sharing love and teaching value to a bunch of high school teenage girls through YoungLife, attending our church in Birmingham that stands for racial reconciliation in our city, working in a children’s hospital with the most incredible group of kids and adults with Spina Bifida, or moving to Rwanda to continue the story that God has set in motion for Chase and me. Who is vulnerable in your world, who can we stand for? Research, read, talk and listen to people that are different than you. Learn where it is that we can be an influence, so that as we teach our children and their children history from a story or a textbook, we can stand confidently and say that such atrocities did not go unnoticed and evil did not reign unchecked.

Ultimately, our Savior has the victory and the most beautiful part of Immaculee’s story is her constant, unwavering faith in the Lord her Father to care for her and protect her. She preaches a story of forgiveness and justice, one of trust with action. Our God is so much greater than our weakness, failings, and the sin in this world. But what are we doing to be a part of His story; how are we allowing Him to weave our stories into his master plan for reconciliation and redemption? When we look back, what stories will have been written in our generation’s history chapters?

***One current global crisis that weighs heavy on my heart always is that of refugees from Syria and Iraq as the tensions still rise and war rages against militant groups like ISIS. How can we be a part of ensuring massacres of the vulnerable do not continue in our world? Check out the documentary on Netflix, The White Helmets to educate yourself. Follow Preemptive Love Coalition on Instagram to see what an awesome organization is doing on the ground (particularly in Iraq as forces invade Mosul) and check out World Relief’s “Act” tab on their website for tangible things you can do to stand with the vulnerable.


2 thoughts on “The History We Write

  1. Hello Rachel (and Chase) from Santa Rosa Beach, FL, I wish could say that it was a sunny day but instead it is cloudy, like our country this election day but hope and pray there will not be a storm and that we can move forward with the dawn of tomorrow!

    I briefly met you both at the Seaside Chapel sunrise service last Easter and of course have kept up with your new adventure through Chip and Martha It is wonderful to have your blog and read about your new life with all its challenges and rewards and most of all the incredible learning experience that you are having!

    I had been saving the latest installment of your blog to read when I had the time and energy to fully appreciate….. so I started my election day, and self imposed media avoidance, reading and absorbing – wow, a lot to take in and greatly appreciate the effort it takes to write such a thought provoking piece! As is always the case when I read about these far too many atrocities that have occurred in just my lifetime, I am sickened, saddened and depressed but mostly overwhelmed to believe and understand how these horrific crimes against fellow human beings can happen and not be stopped by the rest of us…….those who consider ourselves to be loving, caring and compassionate people – it is beyond my comprehension, yet it continues to happen today in Syria and Iraq and no doubt in other places that are not as much in the news.

    As you have acknowledged, these situations are very complex with no easy answers and I have spent much time and mental anguish over the years trying to better understand. Although I don’t have answers I have come to my own conclusion that the problem, at least from the standpoint of fellow human beings viewing from outside the situation, is two part, both of which you have mentioned in your narrative. First of all it takes truly understanding the situation, not the sound bites in media, but studying the history and first hand accounts of what is happening to lives, communities, etc. This is hard, it takes time, mental energy and a willingness to absorb truly terrible things. You have done a great job articulating this – I worry about how easily and quickly many people in today’s world draw conclusions about very complicated world situations without taking the time to thoroughly understand the facts.

    The second part of the problem is even harder, at least in my mind, and that is confronting and dealing with our own prejudices. It is my opinion that this has to happen before we can not only have compassion but more importantly empathy toward people who are from different cultures – fellow human beings yes, but all too often labeled in our subconscious minds as different from us. Like you Rachel, I have always been interested in the history of people, their stories (historical fiction is my favorite reading), cultures, religions, socioeconomic etc. and have always tried to keep up with world news. So, doesn’t this make me a thoughtful, open minded person, like I’ve always thought of myself, with only prejudices against people who are prejudiced, if that makes sense?But we all know that life is not that simple and before we can start evaluating these multifaceted issues to come to our own conclusions, we must first look within ourselves – a hard but very important lesson!

    So, once again the issue of racism has reared its ugly head in our country and in our world …… has always been there but now we are having to acknowledge and hopefully thoughtfully deal with it in an open productive dialog that I think will be lead by your generation, The label of bigot has been used to identify people that are truly racist with the rest of us getting a free pass together with whatever the “issues” within the “other” community that are viewed as “their” problems to resolve. These are big stumbling blocks to overcome but in my opinion absolutely necessary before honest productive conversation can begin moving us forward toward an understanding of each other as individuals with different stories, challenges and struggles but all in this world together where the suffering of others is felt by us all.

    It is those of us who are “good” people and care about “all God’s children, red, yellow, black and white” and “justice for all” that have silently swept the complex and anxiety ridden issue of racism under the carpet willing ourselves to believe that we are not part of the problem and therefore not part of the solution. My own daughters have thankfully brought to my attention that only after understanding my own “whiteness” as part of my “story” will I be able to better understand racism. I am currently reading a book “Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race” by Debby Irving and now understand that they are absolutely right! The Millennials already understand this and I feel we are starting to see forward movement with more open conversation – thank you and although it is painful I do think that many in my generation are starting to understand that being “good” is about much more than not being”bad”.

    It gives me great hope for our global world that there are people like you and Chase that are “walking the walk” , writing and talking about your experiences and challenging us all to open our hearts and minds to better understand these truly horrific situations happening in our world and the consequences in the lives of our brothers and sisters who have suffered beyond our comprehension. Thank you for helping the people of Rwanda rebuild their lives – my thoughts and prayers are with you both and I look forward to following and supporting you in this heartfelt endeavor.

    Hope, Faith and Love be with you, (and lots of patience too I’m sure)
    Mary Jo Brown

    Liked by 1 person

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