As the credits roll in the 2005 film Beyond the Gates , the viewer is left with one of the key messages of the film, summed up in the words of holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of faith is not heresy, but indifference.”
Beyond the Gates, which tells the story of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, is one of the hardest films I’ve ever watched. Patty and I saw it recently on a tape. There is coarse language, which we don’t like. But the violence itself is even harder to take, bringing to mind the real-life atrocities this film can only dimly reflect.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, when extremist Hutu took up machetes and killed their neighbor the Tutsi. By the time the killing subsided, nearly a million Tutsi and their sympathizers had been killed. The film focuses on the true story of 2,500 Rwandan refugees at a secondary school who were massacred just hours after UN peacekeepers pulled out.
The two main characters are a missionary priest and a British humanitarian. While they are fictional, they are based on real people like the Croatian priest Vjeko Curic, who faced martyrdom rather than abandon the people God had called him to serve.
Through the struggle of these characters—who must decide whether to stay with the Rwandans or be rescued—we are forced to look in the mirror. Would we choose a false Christianity which says our lives are about our own comfort and safety, or the true Christianity which says “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”?
The film also answers the age-old question of where God is in the midst of pain. The character Father Christopher says, “I know exactly where [God] is. He is right here with these people, suffering.” Father Christopher then demonstrates the reality of that conviction by suffering alongside these Rwandans, staying behind when the last of the UN peacekeepers pull out.
Father Christopher’s character reminds us of the love of Christ Himself, who identified with His people and also suffered “beyond the gate” of Jerusalem on a desolate cross.
The vital faith portrayed by the character of Father Christopher, and his real-life counterpart Vjeko Curic, is the same faith that today is giving Rwandan Christians the courage to forgive and reconcile with the very people responsible for killing their loved ones.
If you aren’t familiar with the miraculous reconciliation happening in parts of Rwanda today, I want to recommend you get a copy of a remarkable book: As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda.
Written by my colleague, Catherine Larson, As We Forgive movingly portrays how groups like Prison Fellowship Rwanda and others have been involved in the work of reconciliation, and how Rwandans are forgiving the unspeakable atrocities.
Through stories of Rwandan survivors, you’ll be moved to consider afresh what it means to love your enemies and to forgive as you have been forgiven.
That’s why I recommend mature Christian adults get a hold of this powerful DVD and the book today. Visit BreakPoint.org, and we’ll show you how to do it.
Watching the film and reading the book won’t be easy. It wasn’t for Patty and me. But then neither is the sacrificial faith to which we’ve been called.