Identifying wounds heals angry aftermath

Resolving inner wounds can heal Rwanda and angry men, says reconciliation worker

John Steward
John Steward with Dr Habyarimana and Mrs Munyeli, two Rwandans who played key roles in the grass roots process, gacaca (loosely translated to “justice amongst the grass”).

As a World Vision worker John Steward thought his 27 years of marriage were happy until his wife announced, "I am running out of patience with you – you need to work on your attitudes and how you relate to others."

A psychologist friend recommended a "Non-Violent Solutions" weekly workshop for up to 50 men that explored the behavioural impact of upbringing, parental models and expectations.

The workshop taught John so much that he now applies his personal experience to others, including helping mentor Rwandans recovering from horrific genocide.

"Observing others' emotional healing, and affirming those changes, provided the foundation for much of my reconciliation work in Rwanda's recovery from genocide," John explains.

When he and his wife Sandi first went to Rwanda in 1997, John recalls, "The post-genocide situation was a cauldron of fear, anxiety, bitterness, pain, shame, disappointment, shock, uncertainty, poverty and confusion."

One young woman believed she was responsible for the death of her brother since she believed false government radio reports to stay at home rather than flee to Burundi.

In one healing workshop, John recalls asking her, "Did you want the killers to come? Did you in any way plan or desire it?"

After answering no, she said, "So I am not responsible for the death of my brother am I?"

John continues, "The strain on her face began to dissolve. After the workshop her mum said, 'You're coming alive.'"

Like this young woman, years later John says that in the non-violent solutions workshop, "I discovered personal wounds that had subconsciously influenced me... that needed to be healed."

He asked his wife every week how she felt and in quietly listening to her he realised his wounds had deeply affected his wife, daughters and acquaintances.

"My two false beliefs were 'you cannot trust your feelings' and 'strong feelings damage relationships'."

The group learned about healthy behaviours: openness, respect, time-out, forgiveness and apology.

John began to consciously identify his passive anger as chest tightness, as well as his verbally aggressive anger, then as quickly as possible he verbally discussed the root cause with his wife or the person it involved.

"Once I attended to the root cause, the negative feeling evaporated. I was amazed by how I became lighter in spirit and more able to forgive others and myself. It was daunting, hard work. My faith was tested, as was my commitment to marriage."

Where did John gain this courage to face up to himself and help a country floundering from a violent past?

John says the answer is his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a child living in Java with his missionary parents John realised that trusting the God of the Bible delivered his family from the fear that surrounded them.

"For three years I observed my parents live their Christian faith amongst village people whose lives were focused on fear of spirits – and it was a stark contrast," John says.

Years later in university John began to question what he truly believed.

"One Easter I was invited to consider: did Jesus die on the cross for me? I knew the answer was 'yes' and that I could either choose to live for myself or for my Saviour, Jesus Christ.

"I began to study the Bible in order to make choices which led to a growing faith in Jesus and an adventurous life."

After marriage and two daughters John is thankful that God uncovered the "black seed" that was poisoning his life.

"Thank God my wife found the courage to tell me what my darkness felt like to her.

"This led me to understand my deep inner wounds, which clouded my desire to live as a follower of Jesus."

John believes God used the changes in his life to bring about amazing transformation in the lives of many Rwandans.

Read more about John's work and his book From Genocide to Generosity at

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