The car pulled to a stop, and I carefully secured my skirt as I jumped out of rear cab and onto the dusty, red road beneath me. The people on the roadside immediately took interest in my white skin, which yelled “foreigner” with an indisputable clarity. Disregarding their stares, I followed my coworkers up a nearby hill toward the home of “Abraham,” a friend who had fallen sick with malaria we were going to visit.
I had spent that morning interviewing two survivors of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and I was feeling a deep numbness. One of them, “David,” had spent a large share of his interview recounting in vivid detail the murder of his younger brother “Noah.” In 1994, David and Noah had tried to run to their local parish to seek refuge from the Interahamwe (perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide), but their neighbor spotted them, beckoned to his fellow Interahamwe for assistance, and then led the mob in beating Noah to death. David survived, and he had another near-death encounter with the same neighbor before the Genocide’s conclusion.
David’s neighbor is still living. He is name is “Abraham,” the man with malaria my coworkers and I were going to visit.
We entered and found his house empty, save for one bed, one mosquito net, one wooden bench, and a large vat of bubbling sorghum, which I was informed was being made into beer for his daughter’s wedding. I had also conducted an interview with Abraham about two weeks previously, so we were already acquainted.
“Abraham, tell us more about the times you were involved in death or harm of another person during the Genocide…..
How did you feel toward your victims at the time?
Do you believe in God?”
The goal of these interviews was to gather information from both David and Abraham in order to write a story about their process of reconciliation. You see, about ten years ago, Abraham publicly confessed his sins and asked David for forgiveness, and David had granted it to him. Now, the two men live together as friends. They visit one another at home and stay actively involved in each other’s lives. The last words I heard from Abraham before closing our first interview were, “Yes, David had forgiven me. When you give someone forgiveness, or when someone gives it to you, they receive something of your love about you. Love comes in when forgiveness comes in, and so I receive David’s forgiveness with great joy.”
With those words in my heart, I approached Abraham’s sickbed with my Kinyarwanda-speaking coworker Grace, who had translated all of our interviews. Upon entering, I was immediately uncomfortable, not only because it feels hugely intrusive to be in someone’s bedroom when all they are wearing is a blanket around their waist, but also because at the sight of Abraham, all the vivid details regarding his involvement in Noah’s murder that David had recounted for me only that morning came rushing back. I had absolutely zero idea about how one ought to comport oneself in such a situation, so I hid behind the guise I often employed to extract myself form uncomfortable social situations in Rwanda (“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Kinyarwanda”) and allowed Grace to carry conversation while I observed silently from my seat on Abraham’s bed frame. But Grace, or maybe God, was not going to let me leave Abraham’s side without some personal interaction. As we were preparing to leave, Grace turned to me.
“Kelsie,” she said, “Pray for Abraham.”
“I don’t speak Kinyarwanda,” I said reflexively.
“Pray in English,” she told me.
I am going to remember the next thirty seconds or so perhaps for the rest of my life. Half of me was squarely in my physical body: uncomfortably perched on Abraham’s bed frame, watching his naked chest move with the rhythm of his breathing, one hand resting on his bare arm, mind searching desperately for the familiar words and rhythm that characterize prayers for the sick.
The other half of me was floating somewhere above the bed frame objectively watching the scene below. Who is that white girl with her hand on that man’s arm, praying for him in English? Doesn’t she realize he can’t understand? Where does she come from? And what does she knows about his life, anyway?
A small part of my soul had been mercifully spared from being sucked in by either of the those two halves, however, and it was praying. Not reciting words, but speaking to God without conscious thought.
“Jesus, please heal my brother Abraham. Thank you for redeeming is life, and mine too. Abraham and I are both broken people, just trying to stay upright as we stumble down the rocky road you’ve put us on. Thank you, Jesus, that you’re walking on it with us too. Amen.”
It’s been almost month since that day. Abraham is now well and enjoying his sorghum beer in Rwanda, and I am in an air-conditioned, pressurized cabin flying several thousand feet above ground and pecking at my laptop keyboard and trying to make sense of our short friendship. I assume that Abraham found every part of my English prayer unintelligible, but I hope that, somehow, maybe through my physical touch, or by the Grace of God, he was able to understand the word brother.
Abraham, I stand beside you now and forevermore with open hands at the throne of Grace. It was an honor to have met you, and what a joy we will share when we celebrate our redemption together in heaven. Until then, my friend, be blessed, and may you never forget God’s mercy.