There is often the tendency when writing about heroes of the past and present to focus on men and women of such stature that the greatness of their deeds seems out of reach to average citizens such as us. For obvious reasons, history books are more inclined to focus on the soaring oratory of Martin Luther King Jr. rather than the dogged determination of James Zwerg, and Holocaust heroes such as Oskar Schindler draw far more attention than less dazzling figures such as Sir Nicholas Winton. Some stories simply lend themselves better to dramatic retelling than others, in spite of the immense personal courage that many nameless heroes posessed. This is also the case with the heroes of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide—while almost all of you will have heard of Paul Rusesabagina (Hotel Rwanda), most of you probably have not heard the story of Rwandburindi Enoch and his wife.
When the killing began in Rwanda in 1994, the Hutus, having recently ascended to power, began the genocide at brutally bloody pace. Close to a million Tutsis, as well as many moderate Hutus, were slaughtered inside of a mere one hundred days. Where guns were not available, the Hutu butchers carved up their victims with machetes. Rape, torture, and mutilation were common. Those Hutus who disagreed with the racial violence either tried desperately to ignore the carnage, or signed on to the bloody ideology of the ruling Hutu power.
But not Rwandbruindi Enoch and his wife. Both were Hutus, and they were even fairly well off. However, instead of bowing to racial loyalties and a murderous ideology, Enoch and his family brought a number of Tutsis, badly injured during the violence, into his home. He continued to rescue Tutsis until his house was full to the capacity. Then he built another shelter on his property, and continued to house refugees.
In his words: “Many times the local authorities forced me to appear before the burgomaster and every time it happened my family would lose all hope of seeing me again. My neighbors rushed to advise me to evict the refugees from my home as soon as possible but I told them, ‘I know that the only relationship between them and me is that we pray in the same congregation but I cannot chase God’s people from my house.’”
The Huffington Post quoted activist Leora Kahn, the executive director of PROOF: Media for Social Justice, as saying that, “People were killing Tutsis all around him and he chose not to do that. The dignity in this man and his wife—it’s pretty extraordinary.”
When the genocide ended, Enoch and his wife were still alive. However, his community branded him a traitor to his people, and he lost everything. He did not regret it, for Enoch understood something very simple: If we are ever called to give up either things with cash value or human beings with immeasurable intrinsic value, we should always choose to give up our things.