In a small village in Kibungo, Rwanda, Kyle Jaster met with Pariti Emmanuel and heard about a life transformed and of hope born out of the devastating, violent and tragic Rwandan Genocide.
I found out about Emmanuel’s story in early 2015 through a letter he sent to our Alpha office in Rwanda. The letter was short and concise – two paragraphs in length – recapping the last twenty-one years of his life. It was simple, in fact so simple that it wasn’t until my second or third time through it that I could begin to understand the profound implications of the words I was reading.
Emmanuel explained that he had spent many years in prison for his crimes in the 1994 Genocide, and that during his time in prison had found out about Jesus, became a Christian, and sought forgiveness from the relatives of those he had murdered. He wrote of how Alpha had been a part of his journey and that he was now helping to start Alpha in many different churches in his own community.
It was a lot to take in all at once. I was moved. I was excited. I couldn’t really believe what I was reading, and I wanted to know more.
Six months later, sat at the heart of Emmanuel’s village under the shade of a small house, he told me his story:
‘My name is Pariti Emmanuel and I participated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis. I murdered many Tutsis under the order of bad leadership.’ Emmanuel grew up a Hutu, in a village not far from the one he now lives in, in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. Rwanda had seen many years of conflict and unrest leading up to the 1994 Genocide due to divisions between the Hutu and Tutsi people groups. However, on 7 April 1994, a 100-day-long mass killing would ensue that would lead to the death of more than eight hundred thousand Tutsis, leaving the country in shambles.
After the Genocide ended in July of 1994, Emmanuel was arrested for his part in the Genocide and was sent to prison where he would spend the next six years of his life before the start of the Gacaca courts – a justice system designed to work alongside the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to address the high number of prisoners as a result of the Genocide and work towards restoring the nation.
For Rwanda to be able to move forward as a country after this tragic event, it became important for its people to be reconciled – to be able to live together in peace. For this reason, and with this message, prisoners were encouraged to tell the truth about what they had done for the sake of closure and reconciliation. Emmanuel explained, ‘I spoke the truth during the Gacaca courts and was sentenced to ten years in prison.’ But because Emmanuel was willing to tell the truth, and because he had already spent six years in prison, he was allowed to serve the remaining four years in community service.
During his time in prison, fellow prisoners invited Emmanuel to try Alpha. Seeing something different in these prisoners, he went, but life was challenging in prison and although he felt encouraged by Alpha during this time, he struggled to cope with the things he had done and found he wasn’t able to fully engage. Emmanuel realised he needed to tell the truth about what he had done. ‘I wrote a letter asking for forgiveness from the people whose relatives I murdered… and I found peace in my heart.’
Despite the peace Emmanuel was able to find through writing these letters in prison, his experiences outside of prison would prove to be equally unsettling and difficult. ‘When I came back to the community, I met many heartbreaking situations. I found my wife with two children that were not mine.’ Facing the world outside of prison was also increasingly hard for Emmanuel, ‘I lacked peace. I kept wondering how I would live with the genocide survivors. To me, that was a big problem. I never liked meeting a survivor. Whenever I met one I would hide. I liked hanging around fellow Hutus and those who also committed Genocide. That shows the state of my heart back then. My heart was filled with agony, loneliness and fear.’
Remembering the encouragement he had found doing Alpha in prison, Emmanuel decided to reach out to the chaplain who had run his Alpha, and he did Alpha again. ‘I learned that Jesus forgives, and experienced love in a way I had never known before. [I realised] I needed to forgive my wife like I had been forgiven, even though I had murdered people. I forgave my wife and took care of the children.’
Having experienced a profound sense of freedom and peace in his new-found relationship with God, and being reconciled with his wife, Emmanuel decided he wanted to take the opportunity again to ask for forgiveness from the relatives of his victims, but this time in person. With the help of his pastor – formerly his chaplain – Emmanuel went to find Vincent, whose mother and grandmother he had killed to ask his forgiveness.
In awe of the things I was hearing, what was more, Vincent, whose mother and grandmother Emmanuel had murdered, was sat next to Emmanuel as he told me his story. Vincent explained that it wasn’t easy seeing Emmanuel coming to ask for forgiveness after what he had put his family through during the genocide. However, he felt it was important to extend forgiveness to Emmanuel. ‘For the sake of unity and reconciliation, I told Pariti not to be embarrassed to meet me. It wasn't easy to say such words to someone like Pariti, who had committed such atrocities. It wasn’t easy. But I realised that when one is in the Lord, everything is possible, so I decided to forgive and live together with him.’
Today, Emmanuel and Vincent live in the same village together – a unity and reconciliation village built for Genocide survivors and perpetrators. They have formed a friendship, and now, Emmanuel says, ‘I no longer feel the shame and embarrassment I felt before. I understand that Jesus forgives and, I have peace in my heart.’
‘I have found healing and forgiveness for the things that I have done.’