April 6, 1994 an airplane carrying the Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, was shot down. The plane crashed, the president died and the next day, one of the bloodiest events of the twentieth century began. For nearly 100 days, the genocide of Tutsi and moderate Hutu people took somewhere near a million lives. The most vulnerable- infants, children, the elderly and handicapped were not spared. In the years preceding the tragedy, young Hutu men had been taught how to exterminate the “cockroaches”- as they’d come to call Tutsi people. They’d been told to wait for the right moment for bloodshed to start.

The loss of one life is tragic. The loss of so many is senseless.

That was twenty years ago. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda still bears many of the marks of the Tutsi Holocaust, but there’s also construction happening everywhere. New hotels, malls and conference centers are providing all kinds of work as Rwanda strives to develop the Singapore of Africa. There’s hope. Even out in the country, where economic development and recovery hasn’t been as swift.

In spite of many new projects and aspirations, nobody has forgotten the loss of their wives, children, friends or siblings. Rwandan citizens easily recollect what it was like to take the life of another- or even many people. The genocide is still a part of daily life for many in Rwanda, even if it did take place two decades ago. But it seems that the bitterness of loss will not tear the nation apart.

Many of the people of Rwanda are working toward reconciliation.

In the romanticized westerner’s mind, we picture forgiveness as we see it with the prodigal son- the father runs to greet his errant progeny. He has tears in his eyes because he missed the son that basically wished he was dead and then took off as though he was deceased. But how often is that truly the case? The last time I had to forgive someone for a grievous misdeed, I could barely make eye-contact with him. I was still mad. My friend, who I would have been happy to never see again had tears in his eyes, but he was also angry with me. He screwed up because he was an idiot. I made my own mistake in trying to preserve my pride. Our reconciliation wasn’t one of embraces and joyful tears, but was more a matter of choosing to love someone in spite of their idiocy- in spite of our own shortcomings.

I suspect that most reconciliations are like that. Only Disney and Lifetime movies have made it anything else. Because forgiveness isn’t pretty. It’s snot and tears and choking up and wanting to punch someone in the baby-maker but knowing better. It’s desiring to get past your own emotions and invite someone back into relationship, even if you don’t trust them- yet.

Reconciliation looks like twenty years of group therapy alongside the Tutsi man who killed your children. It’s looking at him and knowing that even though he is a murderer, he was made in the likeness of Christ and he is worthy of the love of our savior. It’s seeing Jesus’ work on the cross for his sins- grievous as they may be and understanding that your own are just as bad. Reconciliation isn’t actually pretty- at first.

Give it some time though, and it can be beautiful. Give Rwanda another two decades of Tutsi and Hutu living together, striving for the good of the nation and each other and we’ll see what can happen when people choose to lay aside the worst offenses possible for the sake of the love that Jesus commanded, for the forgiveness that he told us we’d need to practice.