Alexander, Edward and Francis, three former prisoners from Rwanda, share with us how their lives changed after finding out that God is faithful to forgive through Alpha.
Identifying as a Genocide Criminal
Rwanda and the rest of the world will always remember 1994 as the year that saw unprecedented violence and chaos. This was the year the genocide and widespread slaughter of Rwandans took place, starting in April and ending in July. It lasted for 100 days and resulted in the deaths of 500,000 to 1 million Rwandans.
Alexander, Edward and Francis were found guilty of genocide crimes against Rwandans and were imprisoned with sentences of 10 years or more.
Francis describes his feelings before Alpha: “When I considered my crimes, I didn’t think I was worthy of being forgiven,” a feeling shared by both Alexander and Edward. They all describe experiencing “shame” and “being fearful to join others,” believing that they could not be forgiven for what they had done, particularly by the victims and their families.
Edward said: “I tried to avoid the prison chaplain, while he was recruiting for the Alpha course, but one day I saw him and decided to approach him. He was holding a Bible so I assumed he had good intentions.”
For their own reasons, Alexander, Edward and Francis eventually tried Alpha, and they describe how they encountered God’s love and acceptance. “On Alpha, I learned about God’s love for sinners and realised that God loved me. I discovered that Jesus could forgive my sins,” Alexander said.
The concept of forgiveness resonated deeply with all three men and they described how the revelation that they could be forgiven for all their sins, had such a profound effect on them.
Francis said: “I accepted Jesus as my Saviour during the course and learned that it's possible to be forgiven. Being with others opened a new door for me to live and know freedom and forgiveness in my heart.”
Forgiveness in Action
Once they were released from prison, Alexander, Edward and Francis were adamant that they would use what they learned about God on Alpha as a platform on which to rebuild their lives. “Things started to change from that moment and I realised that God has a good plan for me,” Edward said.
Each of them were also able to meet with the victims and their families who they believed could never forgive them. In each case, they made peace with the victims and were forgiven by them and their families. In some cases, like Francis’, they now live near and work alongside one another!
“I can't find the words to express what it is like to be forgiven. It's a grace from God and the victim's family. I'm trying my best to build my family based on that good foundation. That's where I find the strength to do what I'm doing today,” Alexander said.
What has God done since?
Alexander was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison but his sentence was reduced after his apology and attendance on the Alpha course. After 13 years he is now reunited with his five children and the families of his two married children.
After serving 10 years, Edward is now living near the family of one of his victims. Together, they plan to share their testimony at the genocide commemorations in order to encourage others and showcase the power of forgiveness.
Francis was released after 12 years and now lives with his family in a village of survivors and genocide victims. He also attends a Catholic mass with other genocide survivors and works in a co-operative with the family of one of his victims.
"I have found healing and forgiveness for the things that I have done." Read Emmanuel’s story of hope and forgiveness born in the midst of the devastating Rwandan Genocide here.