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John Steward – Author of:  From Genocide to Generosity

John Steward – Author of: From Genocide to Generosity

John Steward.  From Genocide to Generosity: Hatreds Heal on Rwanda's Hills.
Langham Global, 2015

Throwing caution to the wind at a dangerous time John Steward gathers a handful of Rwandans to dream of ways to heal the wounds of genocide. Their vibrancy expands into a radical circle of change, which silently spreads outwards. Youth channel their energy into constructive goals, prisoners tell the truth, and healed survivors have courage to forgive and let live. Here are inspiring stories of transformation from pain to purpose, and peace instead of violence, with hope replacing sorrow. This generous living asks of us: "Is this healing and change only for Rwandans?" The personal stories make us ponder: "Can I really still say 'I could never forgive'?"Throwing caution to the wind at a dangerous time John Steward gathers a handful of Rwandans to dream of ways to heal the wounds of genocide. Their vibrancy expands into a radical circle of change, which silently spreads outwards. Youth channel their energy into constructive goals, prisoners tell the truth, and healed survivors have courage to forgive and let live. Here are inspiring stories of transformation from pain to purpose, and peace instead of violence, with hope replacing sorrow. This generous living asks of us: "Is this healing and change only for Rwandans?" The personal stories make us ponder: "Can I really still say 'I could never forgive'?"


John Steward’s book provides a powerful and moving account of how recovery after genocide is possible. He inspires us with the stories of Rwandans who have been able to face their past and find hope in the future as they discover the potential for forgiveness and healing.

–  Dr Wendy Lambourne, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney.

Rich with insight…how one country can sink so low, so quickly…How ethnic tensions can simmer and then explode, or rather, how easily a group (mostly male) can come under the domination of leaders to do the most vile deeds. But then, the role of HOPE, in bringing people out of the worst darkness. where they encounter healing and learn to forgive…and be forgiven. How extreme enemies can become family…through forgiveness and the desire to restore…reconcile. 

–  Heather Jephcott, Poet and author of Open Hearts, Quiet streams, Indonesia.

More about . . . From Genocide to Generosity

John writes . . .

During my study for the priesthood in the 60s we became familiar with a Latin phase “Nemo dat quad non habet” It means “You cannot give what you haven’t got.’’ It certainly captured us but, back then, we did not have any idea of the depth of its meaning. It was only many years later when I started Spiritual Direction formation that it became very alive. It combined, for many of us, with Eph 3:14 “Out of his infinite glory, may God give you the power through the Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong.” (Jerusalem Bible) or as another translation has it “I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being.” ( NRSV)

John Steward in his book From Genocide to Generosity” presents us with a stark and powerful insight into the truth of the above. This is a contemplative look at the peace and reconciliation process that John helped facilitate in Rwanda after the tragic and bloody genocide that ripped the country apart in 1994. During this time some of the majority Hutu went on a killing spree against the minority Tutsi and Hutu sympathisers. In just over a hundred days a million people were murdered. The country was shattered economically and more importantly, spiritually.

It was into this scene from hell that John and a group of both Hutu and Tutsi facilitators dared to believe that peace and reconciliation was possible and that people could heal. With the help of people like Michael Lapsley form South Africa, John was part of a bold and creative and grace filled initiative that dared to dream on a big scale

But, as John reflects on the process, he does not start with Rwanda but with himself. Courageously he was startled by his wife Sandi into looking at his own need for inner healing. What the book articulates so wonderfully is that if we do not look at our own inner demons and find healing for our own destructive tendencies no real healing can occur. Underlying the process of peace and reconciliation in Rwanda is the truth that we cannot give what we haven’t got.

This book reveals the universal truth that healing is possible, but only when we see ourselves as responsible for our own healing. Richard Rohr says that if we do not transform our pain and suffering we will surely transmit it. John presents the truth of this with graced filled stories of people who have been able to face their demons and forgive those who perpetrated horrendous crimes against their families and friends. Survivors tell of the painful process of having to come to terms with their own desire to seek revenge out of the anger and pain they had experienced and learn to forgive. Perpetrators tell of the painful process they had to come to admit their guilt and ask for forgiveness.

Jean-Baptiste, a Tutsi whose mother and nearly all his family were killed in the early days of the genocide, relates how hard it was to forgive the man who killed his mother, and the relief when he did so. He exemplifies the truth that Richard speaks of above. He went to the prison to confront the killer:

  I decided to meet the man who murdered my mother. I wanted

                          to go to him and say, “You killed my mother, I forgive you, but I

                          don’t ever want to ever see you again for the rest of my life.” It

                          was a Strategy to get him out of my life and keep him from my sight.

                          I wanted closure, to stop dreaming about him and to keep my

                          memory from being obsessed with him. (He describes a year

                          of preparation through prayer and fasting and retreats) …… During

                          a prayer session I had a vision I was forgiven; a vision of being forgiven

                          from my childhood for everything wrong I had done and would do. The

                          same voice told me, “Go and do the same.” I worked on my personality

                          and faced the difficult emotions within: of anger, guilt and shame, fear

                          and hatred. I needed to get my own emotions under control before I

                          went to meet this man. (He then describes the meeting with the killer

                          who was shaking from head to toe and what the killer told him about the

                          murder of his mother.)……… When he told me how he killed my mother,

                          I was filled with grief. I lost control of myself. I became angry because

                          now I understood that none of those I spoke to in my home village had

                          told me the truth. I was crying, there were tears everywhere – but then I

                         felt my brain clear and knots were being untied inside me. I felt lighter

                         within, as if I had lost half of my body weight.

                         From that moment on I was completely relieved of grief and hard emotions.

                          I told him I had not come to see him of my own will. God had placed his

                         grace on me and I had come to do the same to him, by God’s request.

                         I did it in full awareness of my actions.

                         (He describes the interaction with the killer.) ……… Then he (the killer)

                         started tapping his hand on my leg, which I had never experienced

                         from anyone: he began to become a completely transformed person.

                         After three hours I left the prison; I felt like a new person, full of

                         happiness such as I had never experienced. It was a liberation, which

                         I never thought I could ever have.

Stories of transformation and healing like this fill the book. And the stories are not just of educated people like Jean- Baptiste. The story of Mama Deborah shows us a largely uneducated woman whose journey to forgiveness and healing is no less remarkable than Jean-Baptiste’s. Through a dream she tapped into the truth of Eph 3; 14 “May you grow strong in your inner being” So strong did she become that she accepted as her own son, the killer of her son.

This whole process toward healing and reconciliation is just that—A PROCESS, and therefore can and does take a long time. Jean-Baptiste’s journey took fourteen years. 

John describes various approaches used on the way to individual and communal healing for both survivor and perpetrators and communities. It is not an easy undertaking and not everyone in Rwanda agreed or was comfortable with the attempt at reconciliation. Indeed there was great suspicion among many that this would only open up old wounds. But as they say in cricketing terms, “Well they have runs on the board “when the efficacy of the reconciliation process is questioned.

I was/am reminded of the other great truth; that everything is connected. In his work on the Gospels, Alexander Shaia describes the four Gospels as one Gospel with four paths and each path enshrines a universal truth: 1) how do we attend to change (Matthew), 2) how do we endure and move through pain and suffering, (Mark) 3) how do we receive joy, happiness, grace, gift (John), and 4) how do we mature in service. (Luke). For the Gospels to be living texts they must resonate and relate to life as it is lived in each era. John’s book From Genocide to Generosity, brings the living word to our day as he articulates how coping with change and enduring and moving through pain and suffering are at the heart of growth in Rwanda for individuals and communities and the nation. For growth to be a deep reality in our lives we have to learn how to receive the gift of healing and forgiveness. John relates how this is an ongoing reality in Rwanda.

In the end the most important aspect of being human is how we behave as mature adults who can own our actions, take responsibility for healing and be models of compassion; John also relates how this is part of present day Rwanda. Of course all four aspects of the Gospel are part of the whole and if the mature adult who models compassion is not there then chaos will continue. John has eloquently and beautifully and terrifyingly bought to the fore all these universal human truths. And let us not forget that long before any religion existed, long before Judaism, Christianity or Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism these human values and truths existed.

This book is incredibly powerful and moving. At times in spirituality there has been a false debate about attending to our emotions as if they are destructive and that if we just think things through then all shall be well. The falseness of this position has left a terrible legacy of people who are ruled by their unresolved emotions and, as Richard Rohr says, these people are not transformed and as a result they transmit their negative energy onto others. This book carries within it a heart of compassion where emotions and thoughts are given their appropriate place. It is only when emotions are acknowledged and owned and processed that transformation can and does happen. Many, perhaps most of our leaders, political and church and business, could well do with a healthy dose of emotion; and perhaps compassion may become part of institutional life and inform practice and not the bloodied mindedness of ‘the bottom line’.

Those of us engaged in the ministry of spiritual direction will readily identify with the contemplative listening approach that is integral to the healing process, both individual and communal, that lies at the heart of this book. As we companion people the quest is to create a safe place where, together, we can explore how in the midst of our human journey we can discern the voice and call of the Sacred. This deep listening allows the directee and the director to enter inter into conversation where the inner truth can emerge; and of course as the inner truth emerges healing occurs.

Another aspect that John reveals is the way the body is the vehicle of grace. He describes how the face and posture of those who are healing and have healed is transformed as the gift of healing takes root. Many of us who have used a technique of Focusing, developed by Eugene Gendlin and enhanced by Peter Campbell and Edwin McMahon will know the truth of this evidence of transformation. We have seen it in the bodies of directees, using Focusing, as insight and grace break through.

John’s skill, as he tells the stories of the journey of healing in Rwanda, is to show the universal application of the processes that are working in Rwanda. There is nothing here that we do not know. What is revealed is that even in the horror of the genocide and its aftermath victimhood is not the last word. People can be, and are, survivors. People can and do live compassionate lives at the service of family and friends and community. They go on to make a lasting contribution to ongoing healing of all. We owe a great debt to John for this work of grace.


May 2016


Alexander Shaia. Heart and Mind

Eugene Gendlin. Focusing

Peter Campbell and Edwin McMahon. Bio-spirituality, Focusing as a way to Grow

About John Steward

John Steward was born in South Australia. As a boy his most memorable days were spent living in a village in East Java for three years, while his father worked for the Indonesian government. Here he learned the joys and challenges of rural living and the struggle for justice and peace.

Returning to Adelaide for secondary college, he went on to study Agricultural Science and did vacation farm work. After gaining his Honors degree in Agriculture he was awarded a Commonwealth Postgraduate scholarship to complete a Ph.D. in Soil Biochemistry at Adelaide University. Then, moving to tropical Brisbane, he tutored in Botany and Soil chemistry at Queensland University, while studying Theology at the Baptist Theological College of Queensland, gaining an Honours B.D. degree.

In 1974 John and his family began to put this training to work in Indonesia, where he lectured both in practical agriculture and theology for four years. He also developed and taught courses in rural community development.  During this time John was an honorary consultant to World Vision in Indonesia, visiting many of their project areas scattered around the archipeligo.

From 1979 to 1983 he served fulltime with World Vision, as advisor to the national manager of a program preparing young adults for village development work at an innovative training centre which eventually prepared 600 motivators over 16 years.

John was then appointed Development Services Manager at World Vision Australia and held this position from 1983 until1996. He facilitated wholistic development training for World Vision staff, tertiary students and cross-cultural workers. During these years his team recorded and published dozens of lessons and insights from World Vision work in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In 1997 and 98 John was Manager of Reconciliation and Peacebuilding for World Vision in the challenging environment of Rwanda. He recruited a group of Rwandans who made crucial, long-term contributions to the processes of healing and change after the genocide.

John continued to return regularly to Rwanda making 20 visits to mentor and listen, to assess  progress and mentor World Vision’s peacebuilding and community development staff. He produced a DVD: CHOICES ON THE WAY TO PEACE, sharing lessons from Rwanda and biblical insights for Christian small groups. 

After coordinating the filming in Rwanda of compelling stories of reconciliation and forgiveness he managed a project in Melbourne which produced VANISHING POINT, a secondary school English curriculum confronting racism and promoting peaceful relationships. This material was placed on the website – a site which won the United Nations Association of Australia Peace Award for Best On-line media 2011.

When he showed the website to some of his Rwandan friends they challenged him to also write their stories in a book so that people of all ages can learn that there is hope after difficult times. John’s response was to write the book From Genocide to Generosity, which was published by Langham Global in the UK in 2015. In 2016 the book was chosen as a finalist in the area of ‘Grief and Grieving’ for the Foreword Reviews book of the year awards for 2015.

John is currently developing an associated website ,where readers of From Genocide to Generosity can gain insights on putting into practise lessons learned by healing Rwandans.

John is also a spiritual director in Melbourne, Victoria where he trained in 1999. He companions pilgrims and supervisors others in this work. He is a member on the team of the Living Well Centre of Christian Spirituality and is a member of the “Australian Network of Spiritual Direction” and “Wellspring”, Ashburton.





Check out John's Website –