“God showed Me how to

For­give the Un­for­giv­able”

Simple Grace - - Overcoming -

Af­ter her fam­ily was bru­tally mur­dered in the Rwan­dan geno­cide, Im­mac­ulée Iliba­g­iza hid in a tiny bath­room for three months—but her real prison was the hate grow­ing in her heart. Day af­ter day she cried out to God, and His

love taught her true free­dom

Hud­dled on the floor of a bath­room in her vil­lage in the African na­tion of Rwanda, Im­mac­ulée Iliba­g­iza clutched her rosary and held her breath. Her heart raced as she and five other women strug­gled to keep from cry­ing out in fear. On the other side of the door, ter­ror­ists were hunt­ing them. The men had al­ready mur­dered Im­mac­ulée’s par­ents and two of her broth­ers, along with hun­dreds of thou­sands of other mem­bers of her tribe, the Tutsi. As images of their blood­stained ma­chetes flashed through her mind, Im­mac­ulée des­per­ately whis­pered the Lord’s Prayer. With each breath,

anger boiled hot­ter in her heart and she felt sure she’d never for­give the men who de­stroyed her fam­ily and turned her beloved coun­try into a blood­bath.

PARADISE LOST

Grow­ing up in a devout Catholic fam­ily in a pretty lake­side vil­lage, Im­mac­ulée had thought she was liv­ing in paradise. “My coun­try is so green and beau­ti­ful,” she says long­ingly. Like most of Rwanda, Im­mac­ulée’s town had peo­ple from two eth­nic tribes—the ma­jor­ity Hutu and a smaller group, the Tutsi. “I never thought about what tribe my neigh­bors be­longed to,” she re­calls. “They were just my friends.”

But in 1994, when Im­mac­ulée was 22, her paradise turned into hell on Earth. A group of Hutu ex­trem­ists had formed a mili­tia that at­tacked the Tutsi. The sit­u­a­tion ex­ploded when the Rwan­dan pres­i­dent, who’d ne­go­ti­ated peace be­tween the two groups, was as­sas­si­nated. Many Hu­tus had blamed Tutsi rebels, and a na­tion­wide geno­cide be­gan. More than 800,000 men, women and chil­dren were mur­dered in just 100 days.

Hear­ing the hor­ri­fy­ing re­ports, Im­mac­ulée had been sure the vi­o­lence wouldn’t reach her town. But soon, many of their close Hutu friends had turned against them.

Fear­ing for the life of his daugh­ter, Im­mac­ulée’s fa­ther had given her his rosary and sent her to the home of Pas­tor Mur­inzi, who, though a Hutu, had risked his own life to hide Im­mac­ulée and five other Tutsi women.

“I was an­gry with God. I thought, Those men killed my fam­ily. They don’t de­serve

for­give­ness.”

Just mo­ments af­ter Im­mac­ulée fled her home, a Hutu gang slaugh­tered her mother, fa­ther and two of her broth­ers, hack­ing them to death with ma­chetes.

For three months, the women crouched to­gether in a bath­room the size of a small closet. They spoke only in whis­pers and lived on left­overs the pas­tor pro­vided. Close to star­va­tion, Im­mac­ulée lost 50 pounds and had sores cov­er­ing her body. I prayed all day,” Im­mac­ulée re­calls. “And that made me feel peace­ful be­cause I wasn’t think­ing about my­self or my pain. I was think­ing about Je­sus.” That feel­ing of peace was not to last.

FREE­DOM IN CAP­TIV­ITY

When the mili­tia came look­ing for the women at the pas­tor’s home, Im­mac­ulée rec­og­nized the voices of some of her fam­ily’s friends. “My heart was filled with rage,” she re­calls. “I thought, Maybe if I pray with all my heart, the anger and fear will not find a way in.” But in­stead, the hate even kept her from say­ing the words of the Lord’s Prayer, For­give us our tres­passes as we for­give those who tres­pass against us. “For­give?” she asks. “No, I couldn’t for­give. I started to skip that part of the Lord’s Prayer be­cause I couldn’t mean it. I was an­gry with God. I thought, My en­e­mies are bad. Those men killed my fam­ily. They don’t de­serve for­give­ness.”

But as Im­mac­ulée con­tin­ued to pray, God put his hand on her heart. “I re­al­ized that if God said to pray that way, He must know what He’s talk­ing about,” she states. “I put the line back in, but when I reached that part, I would just tell Him: I don’t know how to for­give yet. Help me.” She also fo­cused on Je­sus’s words: Fa­ther, for­give them for they know not what they do.

With an open heart, Im­mac­ulée said His words over and over. “I be­gan to see things dif­fer­ently,” she re­calls. “My whole body changed. There was peace. Even though I was trapped, I felt hope.” Af­ter three months of cap­tiv­ity, Pas­tor Mur­inzi brought Im­mac­ulée and the oth­ers to safety. But Im­mac­ulée’s hard­est test of faith was yet to come.

PURE OF HEART

When the geno­cide was over, Im­mac­ulée vis­ited the prison to meet one of the killers who mur­dered her loved ones. She was as­ton­ished to re­al­ize it was Feli­cien, a fam­ily friend. “At first I was scared. I thought, What if can’t for­give him? What if I lose my feel­ing of peace?” Im­mac­ulée says. “But when I saw Feli­cien, all I felt was over­whelm­ing com­pas­sion. He used to have a great job and a good fam­ily, but now he had no shoes and wore filthy clothes. How hor­ri­ble it was! He couldn’t have known what he was do­ing. Hat­ing him wouldn’t change any­thing. I cried for him. I told him I for­gave him. And in that mo­ment, my heart was free.”

LAST­ING PEACE

Prayer con­tin­ued to heal Im­mac­ulée in the months that fol­lowed, help­ing her find a home in the cap­i­tal city and a lov­ing hus­band. A few years later, they moved to New York, where they worked at the United Na­tions and raised two chil­dren.

Im­mac­ulée says God has brought count­less bless­ings into her life since the geno­cide, but the lessons she learned dur­ing her months of hid­ing will stay with her for­ever. “I was an­gry and bit­ter, and at times I fought with God,” she says. “But in that lit­tle prison, God showed me that I didn’t need to fight evil with evil. He showed me how to for­give and put all my trust in Him. For­give­ness changed ev­ery­thing, and for­ever filled my heart with God’s peace so that I can live fear­lessly and free.”

“Hat­ing him wouldn’t change any­thing. I cried for him. I told him I for­gave him.”

Im­mac­ulée sur­vived by hid­ing in this 3-by-4-foot bath­room for 91 days with 5 other women

Read Im­mac­ulée’s en­tire story in Left to Tell: Dis­cov­er­ing God Amidst the Rwan­dan Holo­caust (Hay House, 2014; Pa­per­back $16, Kin­dle $9, Nook $11)

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