I've been reading a book, Tombstones and Banana Trees, and it's about as different from anything I've ever experienced as a book can be. At times, my heart literally ached as I read about the experiences of the author - abandoned as a six-year-old after his mother and siblings were publicly shamed by his father. The author, Medad Birungi, had a tough enough life ahead of him, growing up in Uganda during the time of Idi Amin. But being disavowed financially and socially by his father brought excruciating poverty into his young life and this led to all kinds of other suffering, including the murder of his sister and the rape of other sisters who had no father to protect their standing in the village.
While the book talks about the bad stuff obviously, this man's entire message is one of forgiveness. Really, it's his ministry to foster forgiveness as a life style and to help young people in his country who suffer the way he did. One of the things that he said really struck me - he said that if we see forgiveness as a struggle then we are seeing it the wrong way. Instead we should look at it as an avenue to freedom, something positive to be sought after and to be grasped.
Another thing that really struck me: by the time he got to the upper levels of education, he was looking good on the outside but living the life of an alcoholic and a thug at night and on weekends. He was really, really rough. Not a nice guy at all.
But he heard some Christians give their testimonies one night and this started a civil war within his heart, a spiritual war that threatened to totally undo him. In his anguish, he got on a bus and headed back home to his mother for comfort and help. This was hard because he had promised his mom that he would uphold the family reputation while away at school and he had broken this promise a thousand times over, unknown to her.
As the bus approached a bridge leading into his area, a bridge that held emotional significance for him, he had an overpowering sense that he must either do what the Christians had said to do right then and there or he should resign himself to being forever lost. The pressure was intense - basically he knew it was a do or die situation as the bus neared the bridge.
The Christians had said that he had to forgive others and confess his sins before Christ would forgive him. So in desperation, before they reached the bridge, he stood up and began yelling out a list of the people who had hurt him and how he forgave them. This was quite a list. He actually had been carrying 19 names around along with the things they had done to him or his family and his plan was to go into the army so that he could get a legal weapon and then he would confront each person before shooting them in the head. This was actually his reason for living. So what he did on that pivotal bus ride was to stand up and yell out the names of those who had hurt him, one by one, and renounce his plan to murder them! He also confessed every sin that he had ever committed and that was a longer list than the first one! After this, he said, "I believe in Jesus Christ!" and fell on the floor of the bus, crying. Not exactly Western-style Christianity but apparently.. it worked...:)
There was a strong, older Christian man on the bus and he knelt by Birungi after the confession was ended. This man began to pray for him and he also instructed the others on the bus to pray for him as well. Then the man began to mentor him, walking home with him and helping Birungi confess his sins to his mother. She also became a believer. And then this older man instructed Birungi to go to each person on the list and confess his sins towards them and ask for their forgiveness. Over the next 3 years, he did this. The list included his father.
Over time, this revolutionized the whole village, Birungi's family was restored, and he is now a minister as I've already indicated. I couldn't always relate to the things that this pastor wrote but I could clearly see that there is power in repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. And that sometimes it just takes one truly broken, repentant heart to change a village.