February 3, 2022
Last week an anniversary came and went without a lot of attention. It was the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, one of the most notorious death camps of World War II. Each year, Jan. 27 is set aside as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. While there were many ceremonies throughout Europe this year and a few here in the U.S., it seems that the Holocaust is becoming a distant memory—a time of horrible torture and death, but with minimal effect on society today.
In the summer of 2014, Joel Meeker and I visited the scene of another holocaust, or genocide, as it is more often referred to: the 1994 genocide in the now mostly peaceful and, by African standards, economically successful nation of Rwanda. Having been to both Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, I believe I was more shaken by what I saw in Rwanda. Both museums will bring you to tears, but there is an eeriness to what happened in Rwanda that is hard to shake.
When you visit Yad Vashem, you see the chests full of clothes and personal belongings left behind outside the gas chambers at Auschwitz and are reminded that these were real people who were put to death simply because they were Jews. The last stop at Yad Vashem is called the Children’s Memorial. There are pictures from the identity papers of hundreds of thousands of children flashed on the wall. And there are hundreds of thousands of lights twinkling on a black ceiling representing the 1.5 million children who died in the death camps during the Holocaust. If you hadn’t been brought to tears already, you certainly would be when leaving this section of the museum.
In Rwanda it was different. The country’s two major tribal groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis, are, for all practical purposes, similar in appearance and culture, but had deep animosity toward one another. After decades of abuse between the two groups—depending on who was in charge—violence broke out in a dramatic fashion after the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents when their private plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, while preparing to land in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. The Rwandan president at that time, Juvénal Habyarimana, was from the majority Hutu tribe (85 percent of Rwandans are Hutu, with about 14 percent Tutsi). The violence began immediately, and it was brutal—neighbors killing neighbors, with the Hutus killing Tutsis by the hundreds of thousands. It was a genocide. In approximately 100 days, around 800,000 lives were snuffed out in the most brutal fashion you could imagine. Many were hacked to death with machetes.
These two events are probably the most well-known examples of man’s inhumanity to man, but they are not alone. You can name additional groups who suffered (or are suffering) because of their ethnic, racial or religious background. There are the “reeducation camps” for Uyghurs in China, the mass killings in Ethiopia in the Tigray region, the civil war in Syria, the civil war in the Sudan, and so on. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum lists 10 countries where mass killings by groups are occurring right now (ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/blog/state-of-the-world-mass-killing-in-2020).
It is obvious that we’re no closer to resolving disputes and longstanding prejudices than we were when Auschwitz was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945. Human nature hasn’t changed, and Satan continues as the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Where does this extreme hatred and violence come from? It does seem that those who have power or authority ultimately use it to punish or destroy those who either disagree with them or are different in their race or culture. It seems “might makes right” these days, but of course, it did not just start in our day. Violence, jealousy and prejudice have been around since Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-12). And Bible prophecy shows us that in the end time, it will only get worse (Matthew 24:10-12).
How we are impacted by all this is really up to us. We can choose the way of the world, of man’s governments and the prejudices that exist, or we can choose a different way. In spite of our background, race or nationality, we all have a choice as to how we treat others. When God called us out of this world, He meant for us to enter a new way of life, one that leaves behind prejudice and one that is built on love for our neighbor as Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
Consider that one of the admonishments in the Old Testament was a warning not to take advantage of the weak—the widows and the orphans (Exodus 22:22). This was not about race or nationality, but about the weak and vulnerable. The Levitical system included a tithing system that supported the widows and fatherless. Today we obey the law of tithing, which includes a fund established on this principle as well, although somewhat modified because of the social welfare programs that exist in most countries. But the purpose of this fund hasn’t changed—to make sure that the needs of the poor and the most vulnerable are taken care of.
Upon conversion, we learn that God expects more than a financial commitment from us. We are also required to treat others in a respectful and honorable fashion, no matter their status or income. In fact, we are instructed to love one another (John 13:34), with no mention of race or ethnic background. We are also told that those who will be leaders are to be servants, committed to serving others and sacrificing for others (Matthew 20:25-28). The Church must be a very different community from what we see in the world, and it should be a community that refrains from participating in the politics of this world. We should be concerned about what is going on in our country, but we should not be involved in its politics.
It is very sad to see the world in which we live filled with hatred, animosity and violence toward others, often because they are of a different race or different ethnicity or because they are poor and vulnerable. God created human beings, and He didn’t create them to look exactly the same. God sees beauty in every race, hence the scripture “For God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16). It isn’t the physical earth that God loves, but the human inhabitants.
Holocausts and genocides, emanating from hatred and prejudice, have not gone away, and they won’t anytime soon. Sadly, hundreds of thousands will die at the hands of those who hate them for how they look or the background they come from. We, as members of God’s Church, must be different. We must be the real lights in this world. As we begin preparing for the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread in a few weeks, let’s examine our hearts through the lens of love for mankind. After all, the Kingdom that we serve “is not of this world” (John 18:36).
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,