On April 7, 1994, genocide erupted in the central African nation of Rwanda. By the time the bloodshed ceased 100 days later, the country’s ethnic majority, the Hutus, had systematically slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsi, a minority ethnic group.
Beautifully Broken tells the true story of three families impacted by the horror of Rwanda’s killing fields—two from Rwanda and one from Nashville, Tennessee. In many ways, these families could hardly be more different. But as Beautifully Broken unfolds, we see that families everywhere endure trials and hardships. Those who believe in God must decide whether they’re going to keep trusting Him, even in dark days.
For William Mwizerwa, that fateful day seemed like any other. He’d just finished his shift working as a supervisor at the Rwandan National Coffee Co. On his way home to his beloved wife, Ebraille, and young daughter, Aimee, his country’s stability disintegrates. Mobs roam the streets. Cars burn. Children throw rocks. Men carry guns. And machetes.
William finds his family at home and tells them that they must flee. Now.
They are too late.
Hutu militia members stop their car. They’re roughly yanked out. Thrown to the ground. William clasps his daughter’s hand as gun barrels take aim. It is the end.
But an explosion startles the gunmen, scattering them, offering a way out. “God just delivered us,” William says. “And He’ll continue to be with us. Everything will be OK.” So they run for their lives, plunging into the jungle, following a river, hoping beyond hope for more miracles.
A world away, Randy Hartley watches news about Rwanda on TV in suburban Nashville. But only for a moment. Because there’s work to do. Work that provides a good life for his wife, Darla, and their two-year-old daughter, Andrea. Randy knows he should be around more. That he should stop showing up late for everything (like his daughter’s birthday party). That his wife needs more from him. But there’s always work to be done.
Meanwhile back in rural Rwanda, a poor farmer named Mugenzi knows trouble is brewing. He knows violence has come—and that those who are committing it are coming to recruit him. He has a terrible choice make. He can resist, knowing that it will mean the death of him, his wife and daughter. Or he can go with the murderous men, in order to spare his family.
Ten years after those fateful events, life remains difficult for the two Rwandan families. William and his family live in a tent at a Kenyan refugee camp. Mugenzi, we find out, has been imprisoned for his role in the genocide, never having seen his wife and daughter again after the militia came for him. And while Randy and Darla have no material hardships, their adolescent daughter, Andrea, is showing signs that their seemingly idyllic life has come at a high cost to her.
When William is unexpectedly offered a chance to immigrate to America as a refugee seeking political asylum, it offers a glimmer of hope for him and his family, hope that perhaps their future isn’t as bleak as it has seemed. Then again, it will require separation from them too; and none of them know how long that separation might last.
William’s providential arrival at the church Randy attends becomes the unlikely catalyst that ultimately draws all three families together, as each tries to move from places of brokenness and despair to healing and hope.
Beautifully Broken is full of spiritual content, which I’ll unpack below. But the film is very much about family, too. Specifically, it focuses on the journeys that three different fathers find themselves on.
Near the film’s beginning, William’s voiceover says, “No man knows how or when his test will come. Nor how far he will go to protect those he loves.” He says that the decisions we make, especially fathers trying to protect their wives and children, have far-reaching consequences: “We all have our own journey, facing moments of decision that echo throughout our years.”
William’s decision revolves around whether he should move to America, seek to establish a life there, then come back for his wife and daughter. He’s loathe to leave them, but his wife, Ebraille, encourages him to go. Once in Nashville, William lives in the parsonage of the congregation that’s sponsored his immigration process; he’s treated kindly by its pastor, a man named Henry (played by Michael W. Smith), and he strikes up a friendship with Randy as well. William writes faithfully to his wife and daughter every day, delivering his letters to the mailbox and retrieving their similarly frequent letters to him.
William and Ebraille face big obstacles proving that he’s met the criteria to bring his family to America. Their separation lengthens into several years, and both husband and wife at times nearly lose hope. But William perseveres. Along the way, he plays a key role in helping a local businessman turn a run-down apartment complex into a revitalized home for refugees.
William also repeatedly encourages people not to let their past dictate the future. To one troubled young adult who’s facing charges in court, he says, “Your life is not where you’ve come from, but what you do with the days before you.” And when his daughter, Aimee, is critical of someone whom she thinks has lived an easy, privileged life, William says, “Aimee, speak gently of others. You do not know what paths they have travelled.”
Randy, for his part, knows he’s working too much. He tries, at times, to focus more on his family. So he takes Andrea (now an adolescent) to a TobyMac concert, where they’re invited to sponsor a child through Compassion. Andrea soon faces a crisis of her own (more on that below), and begins to rebel against her parents. Randy, especially, wonders where he went wrong and what he must do to make things right. The relational rift that opens up between him and Andrea seems as vast as the ocean that separates William from his family. But Randy and Darla never quit on their daughter, even though they’re often uncertain how to move forward. Eventually, they realize that a trip to Rwanda might hold the key to helping Andrea open up about a traumatic secret that they begin to suspect she’s harboring.
The reason for that trip? Andrea has developed a very close friendship with a girl there named Umuhoza through her family’s Compassion sponsorship. And Umuhoza turns out to be the daughter of Mugenzi and his wife, Keza. They have likewise endured a separation from each other as Mugenzi has spent more than a decade in prison. They, too, hope for a family reunion. They, too, must endure setback and disappointments as they await that day.
During the Hutu attacks, we witness a moment of grace. A man with the power to kill William and his family chooses mercy instead, releasing them (even, it’s suggested, at a cost to himself). We also see how love and kindness can positively impact the lives of struggling refugees in this country as well.
Conversations deal with issues of faith, trust and forgiveness. And perhaps more than anything else, depending upon God in prayer.
When Umuhoza wonders if she’ll ever see her father again, her mother, Keza, responds, “We must pray every day for his return.” She then adds, “There was a time when we thought we wouldn’t have children. We were about to lose faith, and God blessed us with you. So we must pray and believe that we’ll all be together, OK?”
The faith Keza models is also evident in Umuhoza’s gratitude-filled prayers. She prays, “Dear God, thank You for my best friend, Andrea. And for all you’ve provided for me and my mother. We have so much. All I ask is for you to bring my father back home.”
As William and Ebraille ponder whether he should go to America, he prays, “God is this Your plan for my family? … Give me your wisdom, Lord.” When William remains uncertain, his wife exhorts him, “If you believe God orders our steps, who are we to say no when He opens a door.”
At his departure, William encourages his daughter, Aimee, “Be strong. God’s hand has brought us to this place. Who knows what wonderful things His plan has for us.” But the long separation takes a toll on William’s faith, and he cries out to God, “How long, Lord? How long must we wait?”
William has a reunion with a Rwandan relative who believes that he’s seeking revenge against her due to events during the genocide. “Revenge?” William asks, surprised. “It has been said, ‘An eye for an eye.’ But if we are all to live by this idea, we will become blind.” Then he adds, “I lay down this machete, just like I lay down my right for revenge. I cannot set you free from your pain, my sweet aunt. But holding on to the past will only destroy what lays before us. But what I can do is forgive. … Forgiveness is the only way I know how to let go. I will no longer carry the cold edge of the past with me.”
William’s suffering informs his ability to envision a better life not only for himself, but for others. When trying to convince Randy that a dilapidated apartment complex could be remodeled, he says, “Randy, God sees much beauty in the broken.”
Speaking of brokenness, Randy has plenty of that. As estrangement grows between him and Andrea, he desperately seeks God’s guidance: “God, where is Andrea? Please keep her safe. I’ve done all that I know to do. And things are such a mess.”
At a TobyMac concert, we hear the singer say, “Loving God is loving people. One of the ways we love people is by giving to those who can’t repay us.” He encourages concert attendees to consider sponsoring a needy child in another country.
As a teen, Andrea has a romantic relationship with a ne’er-do-well guy named Brad. We see them parking in a wooded area. (They’re shown both in the cab of Brad’s pickup and sitting in the back of it, with her leaning against him.) One scene pictures her leaning in to kiss him. But when he grabs her and roughly tries to force her to go further …
… she pushes him away. His aggressive advances trigger the horrific memory of something the film suggests earlier. [Spoiler Warning] When she’s about 15 or so, Andrea goes into a public restroom alone in park; a man follows her in, locks the door behind her and puts his hand over her mouth. Nothing else is shown, but the scene definitely informs the audience that Andrea was sexually assaulted. She’s too ashamed and scared to tell her parents what happened, and that shame plays a massive role in her increasing rebellion against her parents.
The film also gives a restrained glimpse of the violence that engulfed Rwanda. We see machete blades begin to fall, as well as people being held at gunpoint. Direct images of that bloody violence is mostly avoided (though we do see some people being shot in one scene), but the horror of what’s happening is inescapable. One somber scene shows William finding the bodies of many people he knew all lying in a row on a floor. We see bullet wounds in the corpses and bloody garments in that scene.
As mentioned, we also witness William, Ebraille and Aimee being yanked from their car to be executed, a fate that’s they only avoid due to an exploding artillery shell.
To compel Mugenzi to join his militia, a ruthless Hutu leader murders a couple with a machete (again, just off screen) right in front of Mugenzi, his wife and daughter. Later on, we see that the man has a terrible scar across the whole of his face. The same man threatens someone, saying, “You shut up and be still.”
Andrea exclaims in frustration, “Oh crap! Crap! Crap!” We hear two uses of “oh my gosh.” A Hutu militia member calls someone an “idiot.”
In Andrea’s rebellious phase, it’s implied that perhaps she’s been drinking with her boyfriend, Brad. She tells him, “Yeah, I think you’ve had one too many, big guy.” We also see a bag of pills in his truck, something that becomes a key plot point near the movie’s conclusion.
We see a glass of wine on a table in a restaurant.
Randy loses his temper arguing with his wife, defending his actions and yelling harshly at her (though it should be mentioned that he’s also pretty quick to take responsibility for responding badly).
What will we do with our pain? Will we let it drive us to bitterness or despair? Or will we entrust our most trying circumstances and emotions to God, asking Him to help us to keep moving forward, to keep loving others, to keep believing that His plan is one of redemption and hope?
Those are the themes in Beautifully Broken. This powerful true story of forgiveness and redemption challenges us to see that no horror—even the horror of genocide—is beyond God’s ability to redeem.
But we do get some glimpses of those atrocities along the way. Those scenes are definitely restrained. Yet the depiction of Rwanda’s brutal violence, even in an intentionally limited manner, still makes this story worthy of caution when it comes to young or sensitive viewers. (The same could be said of the film’s very limited, but nonetheless chilling, allusion to a sexual assault.)
For most other viewers, though, Beautifully Broken offers an inspiring reminder that God cares deeply about families everywhere, and that He sometimes uses the most unlikely twists and turns of our lives and relationships to accomplish His good purposes.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.