Week 28: Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee – A Story of Forgiveness
Let me tell you a story…
Since the early 1960s civil war between the Tutsi and Hutu had flared across Rwanda. For decades, propaganda by politicians on both sides fueled a deep hatred between the groups. Tutsis were perceived to have greater wealth and social status as cattle ranchers, than the Hutus, who were considered lower-class farmers.
A generation grew up in the midst of this turmoil, influenced by never-ending cries of hatred and bias towards the other group. The conflict spread like a slow, smoldering burn across the country with the Tutsis killing thousands of Hutus in ongoing conflicts over the years. Rwanda became a tinderbox of anger and hatred, ready to ignite and explode at any moment. That moment came in 1994 and would rock the world…
In April 1994 an airplane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi (both Hutu) was shot down.
It does not matter who shot it down, in fact blame for the plane attack has never been established, for it was the spark that set off a flash of violence that lead to a genocide.
Within a matter of hours… Hutu rebels, inflamed by years of repression and attacks by the Tutsis, surrounded the capital and took over the streets of Kigali.
Within one day… the Hutus had successfully eliminated all of Rwanda’s moderate leadership.
Within a month… an organized campaign of rape, violence and murder took place across the country as the Hutus moved from town to town killing any Tutsis and moderate Hutus they could find.
Radio stations and the military fueled the hatred with stories and cries for war. If you were a Hutu patriot your duty was to destroy the Tutsis.
Local police armed hundreds of thousands of civilians with machetes and encouraged them to take to the streets to wipe the land of Tutsis.
No man, woman or child was to be spared.
Civilians and military entered Tutsi villages during the night and summarily executed everyone, then set fire to everything.
Women were taken hostage to be beaten, raped, tortured then murdered. Children were ripped from the arms of their mothers and slaughtered. Babies thrown into fires or against walls. Neighbors murdered neighbors, family murdered family. Husbands murdered wives. It was a frenzy of destruction and death, empty of all emotions but hate and revenge.
Over one million people were murdered in 100 days…
The world sat and watched…
After the 100 day campaign, the war ended. The sudden end a shock, the hateful passion spent, leaving people on both the Hutu and Tutsi sides terrified, in shock, and in grief.
Realization of what they’d done, and fear of retaliation by the Tutsis, many Hutu’s either killed themselves or fled the country. Some estimate the number of Hutus who fled Rwanda out of fear of retaliation tops 2 million people.
Rwanda was left in complete ruins – villages, towns, roads… all destroyed.
The new leaders replaced the military and police but not only were they faced with a country completely disrupted by the war and genocide, they also did not have any possible means of catching and prosecuting all the perpetrators. There were too many. The prisons could not possibly hold all the people who committed the genocide. In addition, an entire generation of adults over the age of 25 were gone – they had been slaughtered, or committed suicide, or fled the country. What was left of the population of Rwanda was a ragtag band of people, most of which were children… the majority of those orphans. Even today, over 50% of the population of Rwanda is under the age of 20.
How could a country rebuild and move forward from there? The leaders did not want to continue a cycle of violence and revenge. They wanted to eliminate anger and build a new world for the country. They turned to both a democratic government and the Christian Church as sources of healing.
The country embraced a journey of reconciliation and chose the path of Jesus…. defiance faith. In defiance of all the hatred, in defiance of the war, in defiance of the murders and torture and evil war, they decided to move forward through truth and reconciliation. One avenue of that was through the job market. Knowing the country needed to build their economy, they turned to ways to have the Hutu and Tutsi populations work together to create the future.
Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company (LOTHC) is one of these reconciliation stories. Their mission is to help bring healing to the people of Rwanda through fair trade. Run by Jonathan Golden, an Anglican Pastor, LOTHC is a co-op that brings together Hutus and Tutsis to work alongside each other for success. Perpetrators and victims work alongside each other and farm the land, growing the beans. The perpetrators harvest the fields of the victims. In this way they are beginning to make amends for their actions.
It takes great strength to work alongside and forgive someone who murdered your family. It takes great humility to kneel for forgiveness to the very person you wronged so deeply. This is the miracle of forgiveness. Everyone works together, learning how to plant, grow and harvest the beans. Both earn wages and the Tutsi earn profits from the crops to help them rebuild some of the physical things they lost like homes and villages.
It is not designed to heal the deep heart scars of loss but it is a way to foster reconciliation, empathy and understanding.
It takes great strength of spirit and faith to forgive. They look to God to give them the heart of forgiveness, to put aside the intense desire to exact revenge and bring pain to those who hurt them. They become partners in the fields, sharing ideas and developing a shared vision. They are developing a deep understanding of each other and the years of hate and mistrust dissipate. Their children play together and go to school together without fear. For the Tutsi’s there is a sense of power in forgiveness.
I started purchasing this coffee after connecting with the organization and hearing the stories. I like to give it out as gifts for holidays and grab-bags, housewarmings and birthdays, and I share the story because I believe it’s perspective-shifting. It’s a story of forgiveness, empathy, reconciliation and hope. If this is possible here in Rwanda, after a suffering so unfathomable and terrible, just think what we could do across the world if we approached each other from a perspective of respect, humility, understanding, forgiveness and trust.
You can help Rwanda rebuild and share this amazing journey by checking out their website at: https://landofathousandhills.com/
Here’s a great video of the story of LOTHC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxkXYFlf854
You can purchase their coffee here: https://shop.landofathousandhills.com/?_ga=2.215181394.432519538.1528591314-348085475.1528591314