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Left To Tell
12 December 2009
 
 
Recently I had a vague memory of a book that I had added to my Amazon.com wish list three and a half years ago. It seemed like I kind of remembered that it had something to do with forgiveness. So I went to my wish list, and finally found it on page five (OK, OK, I've got a lot of stuff on my wish list!). As soon as it arrived, I devoured it in one weekend! Then I noticed that there was a sequel, so I got that one too, and devoured it the following weekend!
 
The two books are Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust and Led By Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide, both by Immaculeé Ilibagiza.
 
These are such incredible books. If you have not read them, I HIGHLY recommend that you do. You can purchase them through Amazon by clicking on the book covers. Or, I'm sure they would have them at your local library. I believe that they will change the way you look at your relationship with God and with others. The are VERY powerful!
 
Obviously, you need to read the entire books to get a true sense of what they are about. But here I want to share some extract from them that relate to issues the author struggled with. And really, these are issues that apply to us all. For how many days, or hours, or even minutes, can go by without us needing to forgive?
 
So, without further ado, here are the extracts from these two books:
 


 
"I'll do more than protect you — I'll give you some justice. Again, this is just between you and me, but if you want revenge, it's yours for the asking. Give me the names of the Hutus who were searching for you, or the ones who killed your parents and brothers, and I'll have them killed for you."
 
His offer shocked me. It's what I'd wished for during my early days in the bathroom, when the pastor told us about the atrocities being committed against us. I'd wished for weapons — for guns and cannons to kill the Hutus — because I wanted vengeance so badly. But that was before I'd opened my heart to God's forgiveness and made my peace with the killers.
 
The captain offered me the perfect revenge: trained and well-armed soldiers who would kill at my command. All I had to do was whisper a name and I could avenge my family ... and the families of the thousands of corpses rotting in the street. His offer came from his heart, but I could hear the devil in his voice. He was tempting me with promises of murder, when all I wanted was peace. I slipped my hand into my pocket and wrapped my fingers around my father's rosary. "Thank you for offering to — "
 
"I'll kill any Hutu you want me to!" He was so eager to kill that he didn't let me finish my sentence. "If there's a Hutu you know about in this camp, tell me and I'll shoot them myself. I hate them all."
 
"Well, Hutus aren't evil, Captain, it's just these killers. They've been tricked by the devil ... they've wandered away from God and — "
 
"Immaculeé, Hutus ARE evil," he cut in again. "What they've done is evil. Don't tell me that this is God's will or the work of the devil — it's the work of the Hutus, and they'll pay for it. If you change your mind, let me know. I don't offer to kill for just anyone, you know."
 
I prayed that God would touch the captain's heart with His forgiveness, and I prayed again for the killers to put down their machetes and beg for God's mercy. The captain's anger made me think that the cycle of hatred and mistrust in Rwanda would not easily be broken. There would certainly be even more bitterness after the killing stopped, bitterness that could easily erupt into more violence. Only God's Divine forgiveness could stop that from happening now. I could see that whatever path God put me on, helping others to forgive would be a big part of my life's work.

 


 
I went straight to bed when we arrived at the camp without talking to anyone. My soul was at war with itself. I'd struggled so hard to forgive but now felt duped for having done so; I had no clemency left in me. Seeing my home in ruins and visiting the lonely, forgotten graves of my loved ones had choked the life out of my forgiving spirit. When my neighbors whispered the stories of my family's sadistic murders in my ear, the feelings of hatred that I thought I'd banished from my soul sprang violently from the depths of my being with renewed vigor. My heart hungered for revenge, and I raged inside myself. Those bloody animals! They are animals, animals, animals!
 
I tossed and turned for hours. I knew the devil was tempting me — that he was leading me away from the light of God, from the freedom of His forgiveness. I could feel the weight of my negative thoughts dragging me away from the one light that had guided me through the darkness. I never felt lonelier than I did that night. God was my truest friend, and these feelings were a wall between us. I knew that my thoughts caused Him pain, and that knowledge tortured me.
 
I rolled out of bed and got down on my knees. "Forgive my evil thoughts, God," I prayed. "Please ... as You always have, take this pain from me and cleanse my heart. Fill me with the power of Your love and forgiveness. Those who did these horrible things are still Your children, so let me help them, and help me to forgive them. Oh, God, help me to LOVE them."
 
A sudden rush of air flooded my lungs. I heaved a heavy sigh of relief, and my head dropped back on the pillow. I was at peace again. Yes, I was sad — deeply sad — but my sadness felt good. I let it embrace me and found that it was clean, with no tinge of bitterness or hatred. I missed my family desperately, but the anger that had gripped me like a returning malignancy was gone.
 
The people who'd hurt my family had hurt themselves even more, and they deserved my pity. There was no doubt that they had to be punished for their crimes against humanity and against God. There was already talk at the UN about created an international tribunal to capture those responsible, and I prayed that it would happen. But I prayed for compassion as well. I asked God for the forgiveness that would end the cycle of hatred — hatred that was always dangerously close to the surface.
 
I knew that my heart and mind would always be tempted to fell anger — to find blame and hate. But I resolved that when the negative feelings came upon me, I wouldn't wait for them to grow or fester. I would always turn immediately to the Source of all true power: I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect me and save me.

 


 
I wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart, and the evil had ruined his life like a cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man.
 
"He looted your parents' home and robbed your family's plantation, Immaculeé. We found your dad's farm machinery at his house, didn't we?" Semana yelled at Felicien. "After he killed Rose and Damascene, he kept looking for you ... he wanted you dead so he could take over your property. Didn't you, pig?" Semana shouted again.
 
I flinched, letting out an involuntary gasp. Semana looked at me, stunned by my reaction and confused by the tears streaming down my face. He grabbed Felicien by the shirt collar and hauled him to his feet. "What do you have to say to her? What do you have to say to Immaculeé?"
 
Felicien was sobbing. I could feel his shame. He looked up at me for only a moment, but our eyes met. I reached out, touched his hands lightly, and quietly said what I'd come to say.
 
"I forgive you."
 
My heart eased immediately, and I saw the tension release in Felicien's shoulders before Semana pushed him out the door and into the courtyard. Two soldiers yanked Felicien up by his armpits and dragged him back toward his cell. When Semana returned, he was furious.
 
"What was that all about, Immaculeé? That was the man who murdered your family. I brought him to you to question ... to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you do that? Why did you forgive him?"
 
I answered him with the truth: "Forgiveness is all I have to offer."

 


 
God saved my soul and spared my life for a reason: He left me to tell my story to others and show as many people as possible the healing power of His love and forgiveness.
 
Anyone in the world can learn to forgive those who have injured them, however great or small that injury may be. A genocide survivor whose family had been murdered called me from Rwanda not long ago, crying over the phone and asking me to explain the steps I'd taken to forgive the killers.
 
"I thought you were crazy to forgive them, Immaculeé — that you were letting them off the hook. But the pain and bitterness I've been carrying in my heart for 11 years is about to kill me. I've been so miserable for so long that I don't have the energy to live anymore. But I keep hearing people talk about how you forgave your family's killers and moved on with your life ... that you're happy and have a husband, children, and a career! I need to learn how to let go of my hatred, too. I need to live again."
 
I told her how I put my trust in God, and related all I'd done to forgive and move ahead ... everything I've now written down in this book. She thanked me and later told me that she'd asked God to help her forgive the killers, too.
 
I'll never forget the words of a 92-year-old lady: "I thought it was too late for me to forgive. I've been waiting to hear someone say what you did — I had to know that it was possible to forgive the unforgivable. I am at peace now."

 


 
I believe that God had spared me during the genocide for a reason: to talk to as many people as I could about how He had touched my heart amidst the holocaust and taught me to forgive. I was to bear witness to how this one act can save a soul crippled by hatred and sickened by the desire for revenge.
 
I hope that those who listen to my story will see that my shattered heart has been mended through forgiveness and ask, "If HER heart can recover, why not mine?"
 
Why couldn't forgiveness heal a million broken hearts and revive a broken nation? The answer is that it can heal ALL hearts and nations. That is the story that needs to be told; that is my story.
 
No matter where I go, others seem astonished that I've been able to forgive those who persecuted me and murdered my family. People often tell me that there is something different or remarkable about me, saying, "You're a saint for forgiving those killers the way you did. You truly are a saint." Of course, I'm not a saint. Nor is there anything remarkable about me — I still struggle with pain, fear, and anger like every other human does. But whenever those feelings surface, I remember how God saved me and gave me strength. The Lord is always there for me, just as He is for any of us in our time of need. But we must always be ready to receive Him into our hearts, and I hope THAT is what people can take away from my story.

 


 
After weeks of continual prayer, God came to me one night and touched my heart. He made me understand that we are all His children and therefore all deserving of forgiveness. Even those who had done things as wicked and depraved as the killers who were ripping Rwanda apart deserved forgiveness. Like naughty children, they needed to be punished ... but they also needed to be forgiven.
 
I then had a vision of Jesus on the cross, using his last breath to forgive his persecutors; for the first time, I was able to completely open myself to let him fill my heart with his power of forgiveness. God's love flooded my soul, and I forgave those who had sinned, and continued to sin, in such unspeakable and unholy ways. The anger and hatred that had hardened my heart vanished, and I was overcome with a deep sense of peace.

 


 
The more heartache I found, the more I realized that surrendering myself was not a onetime deal; it would be a lifetime commitment.
 


 
We don't have to experience genocide to know the darkness in which murder is born. Hatred, anger, mistrust, and fear enter our lives every day in a thousand different ways. We're all wounded by these evils, but we can all be healed through the power of love and forgiveness — a power readily available to all of us when we have faith. The power of God's forgiveness has even taken root again in my country: faith is flourishing where once there was only hatred and death. God's love is truly working a miracle in Rwanda.
 


 
I knew that this miracle would inspire the entire world. If the evil that was unleased here could be conquered with love, where could evil not be conquered? If the hearts of Rwanda could be healed through forgiveness, then what heart couldn't?
 


 
Well, there you have it. Immaculeé was sinned against in ways that few, if any, of us will ever experience. But by connecting with God, she was able to express His heart towards those who sinned against her. Get the books. Read them. Apply them to your life. I think there is no better way to close than with Immaculeé's own words:
 
I hope that those who listen to my story will see that my shattered heart has been mended through forgiveness and ask, "If HER heart can recover, why not mine?"
This article is 3rd a series of articles on this Web site related to Literature, Music and Photography which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
1.
17  Oct  2009
2.
24  Oct  2009
3.
Left To Tell
12  Dec  2009
4.
2  Jan  2010
5.
9  Oct  2010
6.
10  Jan  2011
7.
1  Sep  2011
8.
13  Mar  2012
9.
28  Mar  2013
10.
29  Jul  2013
11.
22  Sep  2013
12.
26  Oct  2013
13.
2  Aug  2014
14.
12  Aug  2014
15.
14  Aug  2014
16.
12  Sep  2014
17.
19  Sep  2014
18.
12  Apr  2015
19.
21  Dec  2016
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