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People gather for National Day of Prayer Thursday

Kari Lucin / The Sun A crowd of people prays together during the National Day of Prayer meeting Thursday at City Hall in Jamestown.

By Kari Lucin

The Jamestown Sun

The Rev. Christian Senyoni gave a message of hope for God’s healing and reconciliation at the National Day of Prayer meeting Thursday at City Hall.

“I am grateful that I survived, but I believe this comes with a tremendous responsibility,” Senyoni said, telling the crowd of his survival during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. “… (God) saved me so I could continue to tell of his goodness.”

Senyoni, a pastor at Grace Episcopal Church in Jamestown, began the service and gave a brief sermon about the genocide and its terrible aftermath.

“… hearts are hearts, and all that happened has to teach us to say ‘Never again,’ but also to remember we need to pray for our country every day,” Senyoni said.

He remembered going out with friends to watch soccer one day, and the next day hearing that the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi had died along with their cabinets, beginning a long national spiral into suspicion, enmity, terror and betrayal.

Both sides of the ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis accelerated the hostilities, he said, as rumors and lies flew.

“This was called the fastest genocide in history,” Senyoni said.

Many people prayed as neighbors took up machetes against each other.

“But to be honest, we were all praying for our own safety, not the reformation of our hearts,” Senyoni said.

By the end, there was no one left who had not lost a family member, he added.

Despite being a member of the Hutu ethnic group — the majority — Senyoni wasn’t entirely safe either, during a time when just owning something could get a person murdered.

“I nearly lost my life for hiding car keys,” he said. “Your ID displaying ethnicity meant nothing … I nearly died. I thought about my life and how unprepared I was to die.”

It led him to think about his relationship with God — and how life had become cheap.

“Imagine, for the moment, being in the shoes of a Tutsi that is being hunted … no one to trust, no one to turn to,” he said.

Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, the country is still rebuilding, and the people there have still have heavy burdens and sorrows to bear, Senyoni said. They are working on forgiveness, even though many still bear the scars of machetes, and other, less visible wounds.

“Most people were asking where God was in this event,” Senyoni said. “… he never left us, and even those who lost their lives, he never left them.”

After the sermon, the interdenominational group prayed for local governments, leaders and the community.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at (701) 952-8453

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