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Bill Samuel, August 4, 2002
Bill Samuel

Forgiveness and Reconciliation
in Burundi

Review by Bill Samuel

Cover of Unlocking Horns: Forgiveness and Reconciliation in BurundiThis article is a review of Unlocking Horns: Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Burundi, by David Niyonzima and Lon Fendall, Barclay Press, 2001, 129 pages.
In the final analysis, only forgiveness will heal the wounds and stop the violence. Those of us who believe in God know that when we have peace in our hearts and are reconciled with God and with ourselves, peace will overflow to our neighbors and even to the rest of God's creation. (pp. 127-8)

Christians must be the leaders in reconciliation and forgiveness, refusing to believe the myth that violence is inevitable. (page 88)

The Christian church refers to Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has an historic peace testimony based on its understanding of the Christian gospel. This book addresses how to live out that testimony in the context of conflict that has taken the lives of enormous numbers of people in a country where 90% of the people call themselves Christian.

The authors have audiences both in Burundi and in the wider world in mind in writing this book. They hope it will help in moving Niyonzima's country towards the path of peace and reconciliation, and to promote understanding of that situation in the rest of the world. Although it is a fairly slender book, it incorporates several elements each of which could stand on its own as a valuable contribution:
  • A careful exploration of the history and culture of Burundi, as it relates to the violent conflict of recent decades. While the conflict takes the form of an ethnic one, it is unlike many other ethnic conflicts in that the ethnic groups are not physically distinguishable, and share a common language and culture. The book addresses the impact of colonial powers and of Christian missions, as well as that of domestic political and economic forces.
  • An exploration of the call of the Christian gospel for reconciliation. Chapter 8 is essentially a sermon, based largely on the epistle of James. It speaks specifically to the situation in Burundi, but in a manner that highlights the universal aspects and the lessons for all of us wherever we are. I found this to be a classically Quaker statement about faith and how it is lived out, put in fresh and contemporary language.
  • An approach to moving forward in Burundi that is rooted in an understanding both of the Christian gospel and of historic conflict resolution methods in Burundi, with practical application to the specific circumstances facing the country now. The Friends Church in Burundi (and in neighboring Rwanda, which is in similar conflict) is on the front lines in facing the worst of what humans are capable of and forging practical steps to move forward. The rest of the Society of Friends can learn from what these faithful Friends are doing, and needs to provide them support and encouragement. Their witness has already touched Friends across the lines that so frequently divide the different groupings of Friends.
  • The telling of personal stories of how God moved in the lives of Niyonzima and people close to him to give them power to forgive those who killed their family members and others close to them and live through other very difficult circumstances. While I have chosen to list this element last, it is the one that will be most compelling and moving to readers. In the face of unspeakable evil, one can not fail to be touched by how the power of God moved in these people's lives to allow them to respond to hatred with forgiveness and love.

The Authors

Photo of David Niyonzima
David Niyonzima
This book clearly comes out of the heart of David Niyonzima. David's father was one of the first Burundians to accept Christ through the work of Quaker missionaries in Burundi. David grew up in the Friends Church. He served as an educator and later as a church administrator, being legal representative (Superintendent) of Burundi Yearly Meeting for a number of years. He has been very active in working for peace and reconciliation in Burundi, and has traveled much outside Burundi speaking about the situation there. He is currently studying in a graduate counseling program at George Fox University, a Quaker institution in Newberg, Oregon. Lon Fendall describes himself as the midwife for the book. Lon had an opportunity to visit Burundi Friends as a student in 1965. Much later, he helped to found the Great Lakes School of Theology in Burundi, and he chairs its Advisory Committee. Currently, he serves as Dean of Undergraduate Studies at George Fox University.

Further Comments

This book is well written and designed. An interesting feature which helps to give a cultural feel for Burundi is the use of dialogue between David and a young friend of his to help tell the story. Each chapter is prefaced with a cogent and powerful quotation and an attractive illustration reflecting life in Burundi.

I encourage you to read Unlocking Horns. You will learn much, and be deeply touched. This is a powerful and timely book which gives us all much to ponder. I am deeply grateful to God for the witness of David Niyonzima and many other Friends in the Great Lakes region of Africa who have been demonstrating through their lives how to be faithful in the midst of the most difficult circumstances.

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