By Matt Rath, producer with the Samaritan’s Purse Broadcast department
I have a story that will knock you out of your seat this Easter season. It’s a story of the strongest man I know (even though he looks like he weighs about 100 pounds). It’s a story that helped me understand what this weekend means to true believers in Christ.
How many times do we hold grudges or try to get back at people in order to “get even?” I know I’m guilty all the time. But now I realize that the true way to get even is to forgive those who have wronged us.
I know, that sounds much easier to say than do. But let me tell you about my friend Alex and maybe that will make it easier for you to forgive others in your own life.
Alex Nsengimana is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide that took place back in 1994, when almost a million of his countrymen lost their lives. He vividly remembers his uncle and grandmother being brutally killed right in front of his eyes by his own neighbors when he was about 6.
I can’t imagine how a boy deals with this at such a young age, especially since his mother had already died from HIV/AIDS before the killings.
He was displaced, running for his life with his brother and sister. Eventually he landed in an orphanage where he said no one could ever sleep because of the screams from the children as they faced nightmare after nightmare.
I can’t imagine any of this. If Alex would have just learned how to function in society with these horrible experiences in his mind, I would have been amazed. But believe me when I tell you he is not just surviving, he is thriving.
He will graduate this May with a degree in Pastoral Studies from Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota. He is an unbelievable example for us all and I was so happy to be able to meet him and go with him to Rwanda to produce a video on his life’s journey.
We were heading to Rwanda to distribute Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes in the very orphanage where Alex received one right after the genocide in 1995. He says that the simple gift was his first glimmer of hope and the beginning of his faith in Jesus.
We knew his story was already special in so many ways. But when I met him in Minnesota he made it clear that he wanted to meet the man who killed his family when we visited his home country. There was more. He didn’t want to meet the man to lash out or question him. He wanted to meet him so that he could forgive him! That blew me away.
We went to Rwanda not knowing anything about this man other than his name, but we put our faith in Christ to clear the path for this encounter.
Three days later we were in a Rwandan prison about to witness the most amazing scene any of us had ever experienced. We weren’t allowed to bring our video cameras, which turned into a blessing because instead of worrying about getting just the right shot I was able to just watch and be completely amazed at what happened.
Alex held his composure as the man began by admitting to the murder of his uncle. He also admitted to being a part of almost 30 other deaths.
Rather than condemn him, Alex ministered to the man and let him know that we are all created in Christ’s image and He loves us all the same. He told the man to repent of his sins so that he too can experience the kingdom of Heaven.
Would you be able to forgive the person that took someone close to you? I don’t think we could ever answer that truthfully unless we experienced it ourselves. It shows how amazing Alex’s faith in the Lord was. He kept saying to me, “God forgave me of my sins, so he wants me to forgive this man of his sins too.”
Alex prayed for the man and I could tell it strongly impacted him. The prisoner said he doesn’t know what kind of evil came over him at that time. He asked Alex to go back to the village and find family members of the other men he killed so that he can try to bring peace by asking forgiveness for his sins against them.
It was amazing. Strangely enough, the greatest part of this story of forgiveness didn’t take place until a later conversation with Alex.
He explained how badly Rwanda needs forgiveness. Those who committed the crimes can repent and come to Christ and still be accepted into the kingdom of heaven. But those who live in bitterness and are unwilling to forgive those who committed the crimes just as Christ forgave us may miss out on the kingdom.
Alex’s dream is to plant a church in Rwanda to spread this message of forgiveness.
This Easter we remember that Christ died on the cross for our sins. All of us commit sins, none of us is perfect. But on the third day he rose! Because of this we have a place in Heaven next to Him if we repent and accept His offer of grace and forgiveness.
I hope this Easter that you take a moment to think of any bitterness you are holding in, and forgive those who God loves just as much as you. Just as Alex did. And just as Jesus did through His sacrifice on the cross.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32, ESV).