The Rwandan genocide is one of history’s most horrific events. In 1994, nearly one million Rwandans were slaughtered over the course of a few months, mainly by militant Hutu groups (tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups were one cause of the bloodshed).
This holocaust unfolded before the eyes of a young Tutsi woman home from college over Easter break. Immaculée Ilibagiza spent 90 days hiding from killers in her pastor’s 3’x4’ bathroom with seven other women, hearing how her family and many of her countrymen had been slaughtered. Incredibly, she has forgiven the killers and helped Rwandan women entrepreneurs rebuild their communities. In the process, she taught people everywhere how to overcome evil with good. The following is an excerpt from her best-selling memoir, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” (Hay House). For more information, visit www.lefttotell.com.
I was deep in prayer when the killers came to search the house a second time.
It was past noon, and I’d been praying the rosary since dawn for God to give His love and forgiveness to all the sinners in the world. But try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to pray for the killers. That was a problem for me because I knew that God expected us to pray for everyone, and more than anything, I wanted God on my side.
As a compromise, I prayed the rosary multiple times, as intensely as I could, every day. Working through all those Hail Marys and Our Fathers took 12 or 13 hours—and whenever I reached the part of the Lord’s Prayer that calls us to “forgive those who trespass against us,” I tried not to think of the killers, because I knew that I couldn’t forgive them.
During that second search, the killers’ racket reached the edge of my prayers like an angry voice waking me from a dream. Then I heard four or five loud bangs next to my head, and they had my full attention. I realized that they were right there in the pastor’s bedroom! They were rummaging through his belongings, ripping things from the wall, lifting up the bed, and overturning chairs.
“Look in that!” One of them yelled. “Now look under here. Move that chest! Search everything!”
I covered my mouth with my hands, fearing that they’d hear me breathing. They were only inches from my head . . . the floor was creaking in front of the wardrobe—the wardrobe! I thanked God again for it, but my heart still thumped against my chest.
I could hear them laughing. They were having fun while going about killing people! I cursed them, wishing that they’d burn in hell.
The wardrobe banged against the door. I covered my ears and prayed: God, please. You put the wardrobe there...now keep it there! Don’t let them move it. Save us, Lord!
My scalp was burning, and the ugly whispering slithered in my head again: Why are you calling on God? Don’t you have as much hatred in your heart as the killers do? Aren’t you as guilty of hatred as they are? You’ve wished them dead; in fact, you wished that you could kill them yourself! You even prayed that God would make them suffer and make them burn in hell.
I could hear the killers on the other side of the door, and entreated, God, make them go away...save us from—
Don’t call on God, Immaculée, the voice broke in. He knows that you’re a liar. You lie every time you pray to Him to say that you love Him. Didn’t God create us all in His image? How can you love God but hate so many of His creations?
My thoughts were paralyzed. I knew that the demon in my head was right—I was lying to God every time I prayed to Him. I was so overwhelmed with hatred for the people responsible for the genocide that I had a hard time breathing.
At least 40 or 50 men were in the pastor’s bedroom by this time, and they were shouting and jeering. They sounded drunk and mean, and their chanting was more vicious than usual: “Kill the Tutsis big and small...kill them one and kill them all. Kill them!”
I began praying, asking God to keep them away from the wardrobe and out of the house altogether.
Beneath the raucous singing, the dark voice taunted me: It’s no use...don’t call on God. Who do you think sent the killers here for you? He did! Nothing can save you. God doesn’t save liars.
I began to pray for the killers and then stopped. I desperately wanted God’s protection, but I believed in my heart that they deserved to die. I couldn’t pretend that they hadn’t slaughtered and raped thousands of people—I couldn’t ignore the awful, evil things that they’d done to so many innocent souls.
Why do You expect the impossible from me? I asked God. How can I forgive people who are trying to kill me, people who may have already slaughtered my family and friends? It isn’t logical for me to forgive these killers. Let me pray for their victims instead, for those who’ve been raped and murdered and mutilated. Let me pray for the orphans and widows...let me pray for justice. God, I will ask You to punish those wicked men, but I cannot forgive them—I just can’t.
Finally, I heard the killers leaving. First they left the bedroom, then the house, and soon they were walking away down the road, their singing fading in the distance.