Friday, June 9, 2017

Jean-Paul Samputu Tour Brings Message of Love and Forgiveness

Jean-Paul Samputu at the SBS studio on his Sydney trip in 2016. Photo from SBS site.

Darkness and light in human experience: Rwandan genocide survivor and musician Jean-Paul Samputu recognizes both. His packed-out concerts had crowds dancing in the aisles in May 2017. Then, just as he left Australia, a young student from a school he had visited died tragically in a bomb blast. The singer-songwriter marked the occasion with a song in her memory. Delia Paul has the background.

Jean-Paul Samputu’s parents and siblings were murdered in 1994. It was a time when Hutu-Tutsi enmities culminated in the slaying of almost one million Tutsis. Returning home from a musical tour of East Africa, Samputu discovered the loss of his immediate family – and the murderer was a close family friend and local headmaster, Vincent.

From that point, Samputu’s life spiraled downward into a nine-year nightmare of bitterness, drinking and drugs. He made it, however, to a Christian retreat in Uganda, where friends prayed for him on a mountaintop. On the mountain, he felt an inner conviction – a voice, as he describes it – that said to him, “You will get your life back, if you forgive.” He chose to do so, and experienced peace and a newfound ability to let go of the past. Martin Flanagan, in The Age, tells how Samputu went on to be reconciled with the murderer of his own family, and to travel with him.

Jean-Paul Samputu with friends from Initiatives of Change Australia (Photo by Rob Wood)

Jean-Paul Samputu with friends from Initiatives of Change Australia. Photo by Rob Wood.

In May 2017, several community groups, including IofC Australia, supported Samputu’s visit to Australia to bring his story of forgiveness to as many people as possible. South Sudanese advocates for peace caught his performance at Armagh on 6 May, and a workshop and concert organized by the New Peninsula Baptist Church took place at Mount Martha, Victoria, on 13 May. The event included a two-hour workshop on ‘Breaking the Cycle: The Power of Forgiveness’.

Jean-Paul Samputu at Mount Martha workshop on ‘Breaking the Cycle: The Power of Forgiveness’ (Photo by Athalia Zwartz)

Jean-Paul Samputu at Mount Martha workshop on ‘Breaking the Cycle: The Power of Forgiveness.’ Photo by Athalia Zwartz.

The news spread. Helen Kapalos, Chair of the Victorian Multi-Cultural Commission organized around 20 of her staff to hear from Samputu. Berhan Ahmed, founder of the African Think Tank , arranged for him to share his story at the Emerge West street festival in Footscray, and at Sirius College, a school in Broadmeadows. Here, he spoke with students about his experience  - an occasion reported by Luke Waters via Australian public broadcaster SBS.

Jean-Paul Samputu with Berhan Ahmed at Sirius College, Broadmeadows (Photo by Rob Wood)

Jean-Paul Samputu with Berhan Ahmed at Sirius College, Broadmeadows. Photo by Rob Wood.

“Your real enemy is your anger, your resentment, your desire for revenge,” Samputu told students, describing how the act of forgiving had set him free. Students at Sirius College warmly welcomed his message and his music. “It was a like an ointment, like a healing tool,” said one.

Then just days later, one of their own fell victim to the forces of hate. Zynab Al Harbiya, a 12-year Sirius College student, was on a family visit to Iraq to visit her ailing grandfather, when a terrorist car bomb, reported in The Guardian, killed 17 people  at an ice-cream shop in Baghdad on 30 May.

As the school community plunged into grief, Samputu recorded a message to students on his iPhone. It was an original song in memory of Zynab, and he sent it to school headmaster Mehmet Cicek. Cicek responded warmly, raising the possibility that the school choir may sing it at a special performance later in the year.

To the haunting melody, Samputu acknowledges the sadness of everyone who knew Zynab, and sends forth his song like a prayer. “We are sad, but we need to love... Love will heal us, only love,” he sings.

  • If you would like to contact Jean-Paul Samputu or consider a joint project with IofC Australia, please get in touch with Athalia Zwartz,