Methode Ruzimbana was 6 years old when he tried to join the military. When he marched up to a soldier and asked to fight, it was not with the playful spirit of a boy. It was with the desperation of an orphan — a child so scarred by violence he could think of nothing but revenge.
The genocide is a dark period in Rwanda’s history. Longstanding tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes ended in a systematic massacre that took the lives of 1 million Tutsis in 100 days. In the years before the genocide, Methode’s family had been the victim of oppression and social instability. When he was 4 their home was burned, and after their farm was looted Methode went to live with his aunt.
It was that aunt who grabbed Methode’s hand and dragged him through the swamp when the genocide started, the sound of gunshots and screams all around. For months they hid, moving only at night. One night, with the enemy close behind, Methode’s aunt ran with him to the river.
“She bade farewell to me, saying, ‘Your father left you with me to take care of and now this is the end of our road.’ She jumped in the river to be drowned, and I followed on as the killers drew closer. It was better to be killed by the water than to wait to be butchered.”
But Methode and his aunt survived, the current pulling them downstream and depositing them on a muddy river bank. They were eventually found and rescued by a group of Tutsis. Methode remembers the desperate days that followed — his aunt was barely alive, and Methode ate soil just to feel full.
When the war ended, Methode had nothing. He and his aunt moved into a small house in a survivor’s village. There, Methode was surrounded by reminders of the war. Every person had a story. A scar. Methode was angry, hungry for revenge. He was told he was too young for the army, that the government would take care of things. “Don’t worry about it,” people said.
“Even though the government talked about unity and reconciliation, what I had in my heart was inconsolable,” says Methode. “I tried to pray and go to church, but still I could not understand. … I had a lot of anger and fear and hopelessness. Whenever I lacked anything, like shoes and food, I used to remember how hardworking my father and mother were and it was unbearable.”
A year after the genocide ended, a neighbor took Methode to register at the new Compassion child development center in their community. At the center, staff immediately noticed how withdrawn and quiet Methode was. He remembers their patience with him, their encouragement and prayers. When he failed first grade, and then third grade, they diligently worked with him. They refused to let anger and retaliation consume the boy.
“Through the regular activities like singing, games and praying together and reading the Bible, I started to realize that I could get peace from God,” says Methode. “I started telling God to take away all that was heavy in my heart. People in my family were surprised by the sudden change in my behavior.”
When Methode was 11 he surrendered his life to Jesus and was baptized. The change in his life was dramatic. The energy he had once spent on revenge and anger were now redirected to school and church. He was ranked first in his class and took on leadership positions at church.
Today, Methode is the first vice coordinator of the Genocide Survivors Students Association. He cites the influence of the church, Compassion and his sponsor with his complete turnaround.
“The biggest thing that happened to me, that the government would not have managed to give me, is forgiving the killers,” says Methode. “I thank God that Compassion came to Rwanda and helped many hurting children and became their source for education, life and salvation. I am happy for who I am today, that I am a Christian ... God’s wisdom amazes me!”