*warning* some readers may find this disturbing. I hope they do. *warning*
Yesterday evening I had the privilege of visiting my good friend, Michael*, who also happens to be my girlfriend's uncle. I had intended to visit another friend but since he wasn't home I dropped by Michael's house instead. Laurianne's entire family is extremely hospitable and Michael is no exception. I always feel a genuine warmth when I arrive at his apartment and the hours fly by as we visit eachother.
Yesterday, after discussing several other matters, we began talking about suffering. Michael recounted how, just the day before, his friend, an unbeliever, had asked him the age-old question, "why does God allow suffering?" His friend then launched into a story of how his friend, a Tutsi, had suffered greatly when he was hung upside-down by his ankles, forced to watch his wife and daughter raped and brutalized, and, finally, left hanging until he suffocated to death.
I could tell Michael had a difficult time retelling the story, but he continued. He had told me previously how he had been part of a group in Burundi which sought justice and peace. Whenever there was a report that a slaughter of Tutsis or a slaughter of Hutus had occurred, the group Michael belonged to would go to the scene of the crime to record how many had been killed and who had committed the killings. This might seem like an ineffective way to combat genocide but it wasn't. With the documentation which the group was creating, those who committed the crimes or considered committing crimes grew fearful. Now that their crimes were recorded, they were no longer faceless criminals but could be charged for their misdeeds someday. The group was comprised of both Hutu and Tutsi and sought to bring both sides of the conflict to justice.
This organization continued to operate as usual. Michael was invited to a conference in Kigali, Rwanda. Just before he arrived, the entire group he was travelling with was gunned down. Although Michael's leg was shot and mangled, he manage to survive by pretending to be dead. He was the only survivor.
Michael was eventually transported to a hospital in Brussels so that his leg could be operated on. There were a number of Tutsis in the hospital with him, most of them former soldiers. Michael continued by telling me some of their disturbing tales.
One soldier told him how he had been chasing a Hutu woman who had led the slaughter of Tutsis. She had committed many crimes but in perhaps the worst one she had gone to a school, separated the Tutsi children from the Hutu children, and had all of the Tutsi children shot. This particular soldier had, with his comrades, been pursuing this woman for years when they finally caught her. There were many soldiers who wanted to kill her as they had anticipated bringing her to justice for quite some time. Finally, a man whose brother and sister had been killed under her direction convinced everyone he deserved the chance.
This man had her put in an oil drum, the insides still slick with oil. Carefully, he had the drum heated so that it did not catch fire but caused the woman much suffering. When they finally removed her from the barrel she was so burnt that she had swollen to an impossible size. Then he told her to run, but as she ran he lit a match and tossed it at her. She literally exploded.
I'm sure most people are familiar with the typical action movie where the villain receives an extemely painful death as recompense for all of his crimes. These scenes are designed to thrill the viewer into saying, "Yes! Justice has been served!"
The empty feeling I had in the pit of my stomach after hearing the story of the exploding woman was likely just the opposite effect directors like Paul Verhoeven desire in their films.
I could tell Michael, too, was disgusted at what had been done to the woman. Yes, she was a criminal who had done horrid things and yes, she probably deserved much worse; but justice had not been served. There was no restoration, there was no joy, there was no judgement, there was no true justice. She had been made to suffer in a way that few people ever have to endure, and she was still a human being who deserved a fair trial.
Another story Michael had told me previously involved a friend who had served in the government army. His friend was on patrol with his fellow soldiers when they spotted a sack hanging from a tree. As they approached they noticed this sack was soaked with blood which was dripping slowly into a puddle on the ground. Apprehensively, the soldiers cut the sack down and opened it up. Inside was a pile of bloody babies. Some were dead, some were writhing in pain. Hutu soldiers had tossed the babies into the sack, hung it from a tree, and beat it with their rifle butts until the grotesque sport no longer satisfied their hatred.
To hear or even to read about such a horrendous act cannot possibly compare to actually seeing such a nauseating spectacle. Michael's friend, out of his mind, picked up one of the living babies from the pile of infant corpses and placed it in his jacket. For the next three days, with blind madness, he sought revenge with the baby tucked into his jacket. Finally, on the third day, the baby died and Michael's friend went truly insane. For the next six months he was confined to a psychiatric hospital.
The capacity for truly grevious atrocities that the human being possesses never ceases to amaze me. When I hear of the brutality, the pain, and the suffering imposed upon and endured by so many people throughout the ages, I can't help feeling a certain sense of despair. I despair at the hatred and the sin which fuel so many horrors throughout the world. I despair but I have hope. I know that my Redeemer lives and I know he is alive in people like Michael.
Despite losing family members, despite all the horror he experienced and heard of, Michael is not at all bitter. I am extremely conscious of his pain when he recounts the horror he knows of . . . but he told me yesterday that he cannot hate because of that pain. Michael has told me many times that he finds comfort in his Christianity. He says his real desire is for peace with his Hutu brothers and true justice for Burundi.
When Jesus tells us to love our enemy, I think of Michael's forgiveness and desire for reconciliation in his country.
*Michael is not his real name.