Small Christian Communities at the Service of Reconciliation in Rwanda

By Adrien Uwiringira, MAfr

1.     Introduction

            From 1990 to 1994, Rwandans experienced a severe war which ended up in a genocide in which almost a million of Rwandans lost their lives. This war and genocide provoked, of course, a flow of refugees in different parts of the world. Those who survived, including myself, have been affected in different ways. From a general observation, we realize that this war and genocide left the Rwandan society divided. Actually, we must say that the division among Rwandans is the triggering cause of war and genocide. Since this war and genocide did not heal it, but rather worsened it, we can also say that division is also the after-effect of that war and genocide. The only remedy to it is reconciliation. After war and genocide, reconciliation has been the priority in the Rwandan society. Both political and Church leaders took it as an urgent need and sought ways of undertaking it.


When the war broke out in Rwanda in 1990, I was eight- years-old and in 1994 during the time of genocide, I was 12 years old. At this time, I, with my parents, my sister and brother who died in this tragedy, had to flee to the neighbouring country, Congo, on foot. When we went back home after exile, I started reflecting on the experiences of war, genocide and life in the refugee-camp and on the situation of Rwandan society at that time. With time, I came to see how Rwandans were still divided and affected by those tragedies. I could hear on radio very often the word “reconciliation”, though I did not ask myself or others how this reconciliation can be carried out in the Rwandan society torn by war and genocide. As I grew up, I came to the conclusion that reconciliation is the only way forward for us Rwandans. But the question of “how” remains very crucial. How to carry it out? How to help the Rwandans journey towards a genuine and long-lasting reconciliation? In this paper, I would like to suggest that the Small Christians Communities are the agents of reconciliation which all Rwandans are in need of. Indeed, Small Christians Communities constitute one of the assets which the Church of Rwanda can make use of to bring about reconciliation among the Rwandan society.

2.     Christian Life as a Witness

One of the challenges I always find myself confronted with is the living out the Christian message we, Christians, have received. We all agree that the Word of God is good and life-giving, but when it comes to putting it into practice, we records many failures which even, at times, become stumbling blocks to others. Underlining the importance of witness in Christian living, Jesus always tells us, “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21)[1].

            In his Apostolic Exhortation on the evangelization in the modern world, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI emphasizes the primary importance of witness of life:

            Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization. The above questions will ask, whether they are people to whom Christ has never been proclaimed, or baptized people who do not practice, or people who live as nominal Christians but according to principles that are in no way Christian, or people who are seeking, and not without suffering, something or someone whom they sense but cannot name. Other questions will arise, deeper and more demanding ones, questions evoked by this witness which involves presence, sharing, solidarity, and which is an essential element, and generally the first one, in evangelization. All Christians are called to this witness, and in this way they can be real evangelizers (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21).

            In this paper, I insert this emphasis on the primary importance of witness of life because it is an element that lacks when it comes to Christian living. In Rwandan Christian communities, there have been many sermons, prayers, workshops, etc. which called for reconciliation. But to what extent is this reconciliation being implemented? The good news is that there are individuals, however few they may be, who are already on the reconciliation journey in the Small Christian Communities. Their stories are at the same time challenging, encouraging, hope-giving and living witness.


3.     Success Stories of Reconciliation in Some Small Christian Communities in Rwanda

            On the Monday, 5 March 2012 in our class of “Small Christian Communities as a New Model of Church in Africa today” in Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya when our teacher Mwanajumuyia Father Joseph Healey was giving an explanation on restorative justice, he showed us the book entitled Solidarity Will Transform the World: Stories of Hope from Catholic Relief Services by Jeffry Odell Korgen. With regard to this book, he mentioned some cases of reconciliation in Rwanda. Afterwards I looked for this book in order to read personally the chapter that concerns Rwanda. In that chapter I found powerful stories of some victims who reconciled with the killers. Behind these stories I could feel the driving force of Small Christians Communities and prayers groups in the process of reconciliation.  In the chapter regarding Rwanda, there is a number of a number of testimonies. I would like here to give a summary of one testimony that demonstrates that Small Christian Communities can do wonders in bringing about reconciliation.

4.     The Testimony of Constance Mukandanga and Domina Nyanzira[2]

Constance is a woman who did not realize she had sinned during the 1994 genocide. Aware of her involvement in the genocide, this is how she describes her part in the killing: 

On the third day of the genocide, I saw one person running away. I said, “This is a Tutsi! He is running away!” The men in the army ran after him and killed him, because of me. After that, I found a man who is Tutsi and informed the other killers to kill him. Because, we were told, no one is going to survive. When the RPF came to Ruhuha, we fled to north-eastern Rwanda. We continued to inform killers to kill Tutsis. When the RPF arrived, they told us to just go home. When I came home and found the survivors of the genocide, I felt afraid.

In 2001, Modeste Mukomezamihigo, animator of Constance’s Small Christian community invited her to come to the parish peace and justice commission training. She attended and heard Modeste reading a surprising message from the Book of the prophet Obadiah 10 – 11. Immediately Constance realized she was a killer like those who wielded machetes. She continues: “I was like a prisoner in my heart. They told us in our base community how we could reconcile. Because of those teachings and prayers and the way we were being trained, I approached Domina, the man’s wife, and asked for pardon. The one who died is not here so I asked my God for pardon, and the survivors in front of the public. They pardoned me.”

Constance now travels with Domina Nyanzira throughout the archdiocese (Kigali), encouraging others to tell the truth and forgive. For Domina, forgiving Constance was not easy. She acknowledges that we do not have forgiveness ourselves; it is God who helps us and enables us to do it. When Constance went to her to ask for forgiveness, she wanted to revenge and indeed she attempted to revenge. Later she began attending meetings of her base community (Small Christian Community) more faithfully. With time, her perspective began to change. Eventually, Domina too asked Constance for forgiveness for her attempt to revenge. After this mutual forgiveness, Constance and Domina have become close friends. They participate together in several church groups, visit each other often and share home repairs and agricultural work.

5.     Conclusion

This testimony is really a living witness of how Small Christian Communities, through the action of the Holy Spirit, can sow the seed of reconciliation and really be the instrument of peace. For many of us who find ourselves leading a life contradictory to the faith we profess, this testimony is actually faith expressed in action, Gospel linked to life[3]. This testimony calls for Church leaders to invest more in strengthening Small Christian Communities. Hence, everyone should ask this question: What is my contribution to the building of Small Christian Communities so that they may be at the service of reconciliation in conflict management?


The African Bible. Biblical Text of the New American Bible, Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1999.

PAUL VI, Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi” (On Evangelization in the Modern World) — 8 December 1975, Nairobi: St Paul Publications Africa.

KORGEN, J. O., Solidarity Will Transform the World: Stories of Hope from Catholic Relief Services, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2007.

PRIOR, A., Gospel Sharing – An introduction to Three Gospel Sharing Methods, Delmenville: Lumko Institute 1997.

Adrien Uwiringira, MAfr is a Deacon in the Missionaries of Africa Society. He is from Rwanda and finished his Theological Studies at Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya in May, 2012. He will be ordained a priest in Rwanda on 22 July, 2012. This paper was written in March, 2012 in the course on "Small Christian Communities as a New Model of Church in Africa Today."

[1] The African Bible.

[2] Cf. J. O. KORGEN, Solidarity Will Transform the World, pp. 105-110.

[3] Cf.A.PRIOR, Gospel Sharing,pp.30-31.