In their time at the Templeton Honors College, students are challenged to ask big questions: Why is there evil? What is the relationship between faith and reason? What is justice? Why is doctrine important? The habit of questioning we develop provides a valuable foundation that empowers us to interact with ideas and learn from the stories of others, cultivating a life of humility and wonder that directs our thoughts and actions. The encouragement to study abroad has long been an integral part of the Templeton curriculum; we are challenged and formed by our interactions with unfamiliar cultures, traditions, and people, and these experiences provide a broader context in which we may form our questions. I myself have joined a growing number of Templeton students who have spent time in Rwanda and, in the continuing conversations I’ve shared with others about our similar experiences, I see reflected in their stories the same ideas that have come to inform the questions I pursue.
Jillian Hoffman and Anne Mozel, both juniors in the Templeton Honors College, chose to spend the semester of Fall 2015 in the tiny country of Rwanda, and their experiences while there have continued to challenge them in ways neither fully anticipated. Like others familiar with Rwanda’s history of conflict and genocide, Anne and Jillian both desired to understand the quiet strength of a people who recognize the transformative power of forgiveness. During my own time in Rwanda I was humbled by my observation of those who lived through the genocide and their firm determination to ensure that future generations embrace friendship and contribute to a culture of peace.
As Hoffman and Mozel learned about the reconciliation process in classes on the history and culture of Rwanda, they were deeply challenged by stories of unfathomable forgiveness and restoration; Hoffman found herself wondering: “How are these communities still functioning? How do they have hope? Could I have forgiven such atrocity?” For both students, the questions they encountered in class were informed and enriched by their daily interactions with the culture and people of Rwanda. Over the course of the semester, they were exposed to countless examples of people determined to acknowledge the painful truth of the past as the first step toward reconciliation, bringing together victims and perpetrators as participants in a community-based justice system that involves the acknowledgement of guilt, expression of remorse, and, ultimately, the offering of forgiveness. “Rwanda showed me that love and compassion are powerful forces that require conscious effort,” Mozel reflects, adding, “they’re choices we have to willingly make, and in spite of how much easier it is to hate or ignore, choosing to let go of fear makes it possible for relationships to flourish.”
The challenge to forgive extends beyond a general call to recognize international issues of human rights and justice to confront apathetic friendship and community. Hoffman notes the central role of humility in facilitating friendship and the intentionality necessary for a community at peace. “Rwandans realized they needed each other, and by admitting that, they paved the way for restoration.” The continuance of the reconciliation process relies on the participation of all involved to carry a spirit of peace-building into the future. Just as genocide is part of Rwanda’s history, so now is peace, and it is remembrance that provides a path from bitterness to restoration.
The balance between moving forward and looking back is a constant source of tension to Rwandans, but they have recognized the ongoing nature of the process of reconciliation. Beginning on April 7th, communities across the nation will gather to observe a week of remembrance and mourning. As we head into the last weeks of the academic year – with many of us finishing up the final papers and theses of our undergraduate careers – may Rwanda’s example challenge us to continue asking difficult questions, and let us join in commemorating the victims of the genocide, honoring the loss felt by the nation while renewing our commitment to peace and reconciliation at every level.
Article by Arna McArtney (’16): Arna is a Templeton scholar majoring in Economic Development and minoring in Accounting. In the spring of 2015 she studied abroad in Rwanda with Go Ed Africa, an experience which included a month living and working on a fish farm. She enjoys long walks in the wilderness and spending far too much time cooking with friends.