Born Again

... how could Jean Paul forgive people who killed his family members? ...

It is also during this year of 2003 that Jean Paul won the Kora Award. He went to Rwanda in 2004 not to forgive Vincent as God had ordered him, but to show his award. He was travelling in a limousine when he entered Kigali, and a crowd thronged the city to see that car. It seems this was the first time a limousine entered Rwanda. Jean Paul was briefly arrested for disturbing public order in the city. Furthermore, it was feared that he may have engaged in anti-rwandan government activities during his prolonged stay in Uganda. The authorties could not produce evidence to substantiate the allegations. Jean Paul was released. He soon left the country without presenting his award. He went to The United States. There, he recorded an album that gave him an accomplished international status. In 2006, he won the International SongWriting Competition. And he toured the world. But the struggle with the idea of forgiveness forced him to go back to Rwanda to fulfill the will of God.

 

In the summer of 2007, Jean Paul returned to Rwanda. By this time, Vincent had already confessed to the killing of Jean Paul's father and was serving a jail sentence. Jean Paul went to announce the forgiveness news to Régine, the wife of Vincent. Régine was shocked, confused, and angry. How could Jean Paul forgive the man who killed members of his family? And how could she, Régine, forgive her husband after he killed a family friend? After all, Régine had turned the page and decided Vincent will not be her husband anymore. When Jean Paul insisted it was God’s order, Régine believed him, and started her own journey to forgive Vincent. She visited his prison cell more often. She told Vincent about the news, which he refused to believe. He thought the government was using Jean Paul for some obscure plans. Or Jean Paul was using Régine to plot his revenge. Régine convinced Vincent to accept the forgiveness because Jean Paul insisted it was God’s order. She told her husband she had also started her own process to forgive him. Vincent started to listen.

 

The day of the gacaca court arrived. Jean Paul stood up and said he had forgiven Vincent. Some people got angry. Many were confused and surprised. Some even called Jean Paul a traitor. Others thought that since Jean Paul had just arrived from America, he was acting according to some beliefs and culture of white people. No one was ready to understand. Vincent told Jean Paul that he never believed the words of forgiveness could be a true story. Later, when they were sharing a meal as another sign of their reconciliation, Jean Paul asked:

 

“Vincent, tell me please, how could you kill my father knowing that he was your best friend? You know other Hutus could rescue their Tutsi friends. My father admired you for being very bright. He was an old man. So tell me, why didn’t you save him?”

 

Jean Paul remembers that Vincent gave him a shamed smile, looked down, and asked:

 

“Jean Paul, do you know the rules of the genocide? Precisely because your father was my closet neighbor and my closest friend means that I was the one to go and kill him. Look, we went to the meeting to plan killings, and people wondered who would kill the old man Samputu. Everyone pointed a finger at me.”

 

“Why did they do that?” Jean Paul asked.

 

“ Because I was his best friend, because I was close to him, because he trusted me. I was the one to kill him,” Vincent replied.

 

Vincent Ntakirutimana, Jean Paul Samputu in the middle, and Eugene Nyirimana, another convict who played a key role in confessing and telling the truth about the killings in Butare. This picture was taken in 2007, right after the gacaca court session where Jean Paul forgave Vincent (www.samputumuisc.com).

Jean Paul and Vincent started to work together to tell the story of their reconciliation. National and international media gave them interviews. Rwandan journalists kept the story alive, interviewing them on a regular basis. But the confusion and surprise remained. At one point Jean Paul went to a restaurant in Kigali and friends refused to shake his hand. In other instances, voices were raised to tell Jean Paul he betrayed the survivors of genocide. And people speculated that something negative would happen to him because of that forgiveness. Paul Gitwaza, a leader of a Christian congregation, as well as the officials of the Rwandan Government's Reconciliation Commission were among the few people who understood the importance of the reconciliation between Jean Paul and Vincent. Paul Gitwaza invited Jean Paul to his church to talk about forgiveness. The preacher became Jean Paul’s spiritual leader. Now people started to discuss forgiveness openly.

Copyright @ Rafiki Ubaldo