Bridging the Impossible Gap

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

Iphigenia Mukantabana is a remarkable woman. She sits in front of her house, just an hour from Kigali, weaving baskets with her friend Epiphania Mukanyndwi. Both have something in common--a sorrow that most of us cannot imagine. They share the sadness of fellow Rwandans who survived a genocide in which nearly one million of their countrymen were massacred.

At the time of the genocide, a minister was quoted on the front cover of a magazine saying, "There are no devils left in hell, they have all gone to Rwanda."1 Mukantabana describes the mayhem of those days: "Women and girls were raped, and I saw it all. The men and boys were beaten and then slaughtered. They told others to dig a hole, get in, then they piled earth on top of them while they were still alive."2 Ordinary citizens who went to church together, whose children attended school together, who lived together as neighbors--these were the ones who were slaughtering each other.

Mukantabana lost her husband and five of her children when they were hacked to death by a mob of Hutu militants. Her friend Mukanyndwi lived through the horror as well. But it is not the thread of their common loss that ties their friendship together. In fact, Mukanyndwi is closely tied to one of the men who murdered Mukantabana 's entire family--Mukanyndwi's husband. Years after the killing, the man confessed to reporters from CNN that he was part of a mob that slaughtered twenty-five people, including Mukantabana's husband and children. "We used machetes, hoes, and wooden clubs," he explained.3

For four years, Mukantabana could not bring herself to speak to him or his wife. There was too much hurt and mistrust. The breakthrough happened when he voluntarily went before a tribal gathering to confess his guilt and ask forgiveness. With Christ's help, Mukantabana accepted her enemy's pleas for forgiveness.

Today the two Rwandan women, Mukantabana and Mukanyndwi, maintain a close friendship. By the power of Christ at work within her, Mukantabana has managed to bridge the impossible gap between herself and her former enemy. Amazingly, she now shares her family meals with Mukanyndwi and her husband.

This remarkable story has been repeated thousands of times across Rwanda, where those who have lost family have been able to face and forgive their murderers. Laura Waters Hinson produced a moving documentary about the process of reconciliation in Rwanda entitled As We Forgive. Still, much as we might wish Rwanda's problems were consigned to the past, Hinson points out that most Rwandans have not reconciled: "In Rwanda they have outlawed the use of 'Tutsi' or 'Hutu.'* There are no ethnic identity cards anymore. But living together without forgiveness is not reconciliation. On the surface they have tried to do away with divisions, but underneath there are still a lot of hostilities."4

* The majority Hutu tribe did most of the killing of members of the minority Tutsi tribe.

  1. Angela C. Wu, "As We Forgive: An Interview with Laura Waters Hinson," on March 28, 2008, posted on https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/as-we-forgive-an-interview-with-laura-waters-hinson/ (accessed August 3, 2020).
  2. Christiane Amanpour, "Woman opens heart to man who slaughtered her family," May 15, 2008, posted on https://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/05/15/amanpour.rwanda/index.html (accessed August 3, 2020).
  3. Christiane Amanpour, "Woman opens heart to man who slaughtered her family," May 15, 2008, posted on https://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/05/15/amanpour.rwanda/index.html (accessed August 3, 2020).
  4. Angela C. Wu, "As We Forgive: An Interview with Laura Waters Hinson," on March 28, 2008, posted on https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/as-we-forgive-an-interview-with-laura-waters-hinson/ (accessed August 3, 2020).

Originally published August 18, 2020.