An Anglican bishop from Rwanda, who ministered to people who had a hand in killing members of his family, will be in Mobile next week during a “gathering for racial reconciliation” presented by the Pledge Group.
Bishop John Rucyahana, of Ruhengeri, Rwanda, will speak at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30 at Cottage Hill Baptist Church, as the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan geocide nears.
“Bishop John has gone through what is probably the most extreme example I can think of of complete chaos,” Pledge Group founding member Rev. Tim Smith, Ph.D., said. “More than 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days.”
Born in Rwanda, Rucyahana lived in exile, but began returning to the country regularly to minister following the 1994 mass slaughter of the Tutsi people by the Hutu-majority government.
“This is a powerful story and he’s a powerful speaker,” Smith said.
Rucyahana, at 52, returned home for good in 1997 to lead the Shyira Diocese. He and his wife, Harriet, moved back from Uganda.
Currently, he is chairman of the country’s National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, which works towards a reconciliation of the conflicting parties involved in the genocide. Since Rucyahana’s return to Rwanda, the country has improved greatly, Smith said. The local Anglican priest has visited the country 15 to 18 times.
“When I went to Rwanda for the first time in 2001, there was one bank building in Kigali, the capital city,” Smith said. “Now there are modern, 10-story buildings. The church played a key role in bringing people together.” Now Rwanda is a “bright, shining star of educational, economic and spiritual justice,” Smith said.
The Pledge Group has invited Rucyahana to speak to Mobilians about racial reconciliation because he understands racial division better than most, Smith said.
“He understands the hatred and distrust from people who are different,” he said. Smith believes Rucyahana’s story of racial division and the strength of watching groups in a country come together could resonate with visitors locally.
“His story and our story merge and overlap so much,” Smith said. “The cultures are different and the countries are different, but the underlying story is the same. I think he has a message for us.”
This will mark the second “Shrink the Divide” gathering, presented by the Pledge Group. The group consists of hundreds of lay and clergy leaders of the greater Mobile area who are personally concerned about reducing the racial divisions within the communities, according to a statement. The previous event attracted more than 1,600 visitors, the statement read.
“The Pledge Group [has existed as] an organic, relationship-based movement since 2014,” the statement read. “The singular and established goal of the Pledge Group is ‘to love our neighbor and reject our tendency to distance ourselves from those who are different from us.’”
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