Skulls at Genocide Memorial Site in Ntaram, Rwanda, where 10,000 were killed inside a Catholic church
Somewhere, thousands of miles away, my daughter is sleeping. Or crying. Or yawning. In a land I have never seen. Soon, if it has not happened already, something tragic will cause her to be motherless, fatherless. In an effort to get to know the land of my daughter, I have been reading every book on Africa I can get my hands on.
It hasn't been easy.
Because this land of Africa seems cursed. So the books I have read aren't fun. They aren't amusing. In the ten or so books I have laughed, oh, maybe once? I can't count the tears though. The stories stay with me, especially the stories from this book. Those stories flash images in my head as I watch my children play. They haunt my nights and cause me to question all that I know that I believe.
I stay up too late reading and I cry and I brood and I find it difficult to fall asleep. I tell my husband I am wrecked. I come to a conclusion.
God hates Africa.
He must. I know that, theologically, I can't reckon this. Biblically, I can't reckon this. Logically, I can't reckon this. But the stories I find seem to prove it, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It's a continent - not just part of a continent, not a fraction of a continent - but almost twelve million square miles of more heartache, more bloodshed, more death and disease and trauma than surely any land at any time in the history of the world. Right? And the stories keep coming. As soon as one nation's horrors abate, another nation picks up the slack. Evil reigns. I see the devil cackling and dancing over every mutilated body. God must hate Africa.
I begin a new book. We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. This is the title. Catchy? It catches my heart and my fear and 78 pages in, it will not let me go.
I tell my husband what I know, 78 pages in, about the Rwandan genocide. I tell him what I did not know in April of 1994. I tell him what I was too busy to learn during the month before my 24th birthday.
I tell him that while I was starting to work at my first job, the Tutsis of Rwanda were hearing the charge on the radio from the government for their neighbors, friends, teachers, doctors, wives, husbands, and parents, the Hutu tribe, to "do your work," by killing them. About how the Tutsis of Rwanda fled to the churches as their sanctuary until the priests and pastors murdered the very children they had baptized. How the Hutus invaded the churches and with guns and grenades, if they had them, but more often with clubs or hammers or machetes that hacked the limbs and heads off of the children in front of their parents. Then they raped the women in front of their husbands. Then they cut off the men's genitals before they hacked them to pieces with by then dulled machetes. Their skulls, they used as target practice. And they marched to the next village, to the next church, to the next slaughter.
One hundred days later, a million Tutsis were dead.
And I say, once more, that I think that God hates Africa.
This morning, warm cup of coffee in hand, I read Isaiah chapter 10. About how the Assyrians edged toward Jerusalem, ever closer. About how at Nob, on the Mount of Olives, with Jerusalem in their sight, the Assyrians were oddly, miraculously, stopped and Judah was spared from their work of slaughter.
But Gallim was not spared, nor Anathoth, nor Ramah, nor Gebim, nor Laishah, nor even Samaria, the capital of Israel. Into these villages the Assyrians marched and shouted and besieged the trembling Hebrews. There they hacked the children to death. There they cut off the hands and feet off the men and ripped open the pregnant women, then cut off the genitals of their husbands. There they built a tower from the old men's skulls. There the devil cackled and danced over every mutilated body.
Yet I know for a fact that God does not hate Israel, the land of his chosen, the birthplace of his Son.
And I know, now, that God does not hate Africa, despite the wars and the genocides and the AIDS.
Nor did God hate Germany as the Gestapo tortured the old men and murdered the babies in the arms of their mothers.
Nor does God hate America where behind closed doors, children are tortured and mutilated, while in public our government proudly funds the murders of millions of babies who are ripped from their mother's wombs every day.
Isaiah doesn't stop at Nob. Chapter 11 comes. Here the Spirit tells Isaiah to promise that later, much later, after the fierce, ruthless Assyrians have been defeated, after the enemy Babylonia enslaves God's chosen, after feuding Israel has been reunited, after the enemy Rome conquers Jerusalem, then, a shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on this shoot. With righteousness he will judge the the Jews, the Romans, the Germans, the Tutsis, the Hutus, the Americans. With justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will not judge any of us by what he sees with his eyes. He will gaze deep into our hearts, into my heart. He will proclaim myself to be no greater than my enemy. He will declare that my anger is as murderous as a machete. My tongue is as lethal as a gas chamber. My heart of hearts longs to rape and kill and mutilate. For I know that nothing good dwells in me.
I am a Hutu. I am a Nazi. I am a Roman. I am an Assyrian. Given the right time, the right place, the right culture, the right government, the right reason, I would murder the very children of my womb. To believe otherwise is to deceive myself.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me.
But the shoot, the Lord, will provide a way. A Prince of Peace who will be tortured, and mutilated, and murdered as he cries on a hill called 'the place of the skull'. The devil will cackle and dance but his cackling and dancing will be in vain.
For by his wounds he will carry my iniquity. Though my sins are like scarlet I will be declared white as snow. His wounds will heal my wounds from this world. I will be adopted by the Father and I will be given the very Spirit that rests upon him and by that Spirit I too will wail for justice for the oppressed and the poor and the trembling and the slaughtered.
Later, later, he will establish justice on earth. Later the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the Jew with the Nazi, the Hutu with the Tutsi. Later all his children will be gathered under one flag and there will be no fear, no trembling, no tears, no horror. Later the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Until that time, we read, and grieve, and groan, and wait, and pray, and do, and we praise the Lord Almighty as he does his work.
I Samuel 16:7
Assyrian references: here and here
My Africa reading list can be accessed here.