In 1994, somewhere between five hundred thousand and one million people were murdered in Rwanda during the genocide against the Tutsi people. I was twenty-four years old. I heard the stories on the news. I prayed for them. But I felt distant from their circumstances.
Years later I met a missionary who had lived in Rwanda. During that tragic season in Rwanda’s history, she and her family and a small group of expatriates were holed up in a government building protected by the French military. As they waited for evacuation, a few Tutsi waited with them.
The building was on a hill.
As they waited they heard chanting. It started low at first, and then grew louder. A guttural, tribal war cry. The missionary shuddered as she remembered the sound. A group of Hutu armed with machetes was making its way up the hill, killing all the Tutsi in its path.
Weeks before, the Hutu and Tutsi worshipped together in the same small church. But that day, neighbors were murdering neighbors.
The missionary was horrified. She couldn’t leave the plane; she couldn’t protect her Tutsi friends. Her last memory of Rwanda was of the demonic chanting echoing up the hill.
As a young adult, I spent three summers working in Camden, New Jersey at an inner-city day camp. Part of my training included a seminar on prejudice and diversity. The speaker asked our group, “Do you think you are prejudice?” My first response was, “No!” I grew up in a community where people seemed to get along and I honestly hadn’t thought too much about differences such as skin color, facial features or hair texture.
The speaker, a woman I grew to love and respect during my time in Camden, challenged me. "We are all prejudice."
I didn’t believe her at first. But her point was driven home a few days later when a football player sat next to me during one of the training events. He wore a cut-off jersey, had arms as big as my waist, and a gold chain around his neck. His first question to me had something to do about whether he should get a tattoo or his ear pierced.
I’m not athletic. Not a sports fan. At that time I didn’t even know one single non-military person with a tattoo. As the football player continued talking, I sat politely, but thought, “I have absolutely nothing in common with this guy.” And hoped the conversation would be short-lived.
Then I found out we were assigned to the same camp, the same small staff, and would reside in the same house together all summer long. He became one of my closest friends.
So why am I thinking about these things this morning? Because a woman from my church was accosted at Walmart, by another customer, solely based on her skin color. It didn’t happen somewhere in another state, or country, but here in my hometown. It made me sick. It made me angry. But it also reminded me of the lesson I learned in Camden. We are all prejudice. It can happen anywhere … everywhere. A lit match dangles dangerously close to the powder keg of prejudice in our country. We have to combat it—with love. With respectful conversations. With intentional acts of caring. And with an honest evaluation of our own hearts and minds.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:6–7
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