Left to Tell

17 06 2012

Left to Tell by Imaculee Ilibagiza

Left to Tell by Imaculee Ilibagiza

Two years ago, my mother-in-law handed me her copy of “Left to Tell” by Imaculee Ilibagiza. Little did I know how immensely this book would affect my life.

Imaculee was a college student in 1994 when the Rwandan genocide took place.  She was the lone survivor of her family during the short, devastating war that took place between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.  For over three months, Imaculee was hidden in a 3’x4’ bathroom—along with seven other women—of a family friend, a Hutu pastor.  While those who slaughtered her mother, father, and three brothers with machetes and spears laughed and danced right outside the bathroom where she was hiding, Imaculee called out to God, and He met her.  “Left to Tell” is the story of not just the events of the Rwandan Holocaust of 1994, but more importantly, it is Imaculee’s story of the power of anger, hope, surrender, prayer, forgiveness, and obedience.

Reading the book was incredible and powerful and brought me to tears on several occasions, but I recently had the privilege of hearing Imaculee speak at the Christian Scholars Conference that was held in Nashville a week ago.  I pray that I will be able to get my hands on a recording of her talk, because there were so many things she said that I need to remind myself of on a daily basis.  I really just need to read her story again.

The Power of Anger

Imaculee spoke of the intense anger she had toward those who were encouraging and committing the senseless killings—friends, neighbors, teachers, elders.  There were even college-educated men with PhDs who were speaking on the national radio reminding the Interahamwe, the group responsible for the massacre, not to forget about killing the children.  “A child of a cockroach (referring to the Tutsis) is still a cockroach.  A child of a snake is still a snake.  We must cleanse our country of them all.”

Imaculee said, “you can grow the head, but if you don’t grow the heart, too, we can create monsters.”  This is indeed what happened within the borders of her native Rwanda.

I doubt there is anyone who would deny Imaculee had every right be angry.  Her anger consumed her every waking thought.  It weighed her down.  Once she was able to let go, she felt like she could float on air.  “Now what?” she asked herself.  “Now that I am not burdened by anger, what do I fill my time with?”  She chose to try to learn English.  She didn’t just simply choose not to be angry any more, but she replaced the all-consuming power of it with something beneficial.  Her former burden became freedom. 

The Power of Hope

In the early days of the genocide, the pastor’s house was searched several times, top to bottom, inside and out.  Never had Imaculee felt such fear—body-numbing, evil-pervading fear.  During the first search, she cried out to God to let her know that He was there.  Killers had been in and out of the house for two hours, and toward the end, a killer had his hand on the bathroom doorknob.  Instead of turning it and discovering eight hiding Tutsi women, he let go and told the pastor, “You’re a good Hutu.  You wouldn’t hide anyone.”  Then he left with the others.

In that moment, Imaculee felt the presence of God in a more real way than she’d ever known before.  She knew God was not just with her, but in her as well.  From that moment on, she had a hope like none other.  If God was with and in her, He was with and in the killers.  If God could reveal himself to her in her distress, God could reveal himself to the killers.  She called on the LORD Almighty, and he was there.  God asked her if she knew what almighty meant.  “It means I can do ANTYHING!”   And part of anything was resucing Imaculee and the other women.  Part of anything included giving her hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.

The Power of Surrender

Once Imaculee found hope and let go of her anger, she completely surrendered herself to Christ.  Through her surrender, she realized that eternity is much bigger than her life and what was going on around her.  She began to focus on what eternity with Christ meant, and that made her life seem like a blip on the radar.  It was there for but a second in the grand scheme of eternity.  It didn’t matter anymore.  Eternity mattered.  Surrendering to Christ’s will, even if that meant a gruesome death by machete, was all that mattered.

The Power of Prayer

Reading about and listening to Imaculee talk about her time spent in prayer in that bathroom was fascinating.  She had her father’s rosary with her, and she would pray it hundreds of times a day.  She spoke of being transported into another realm, and hours would slip by, but it seemed as if just a few minutes to her.  Her time in prayer and reading scripture brought her a peace and strength that our human minds cannot fathom.  Yes, she was hiding for her life.  Yes, her killers were often times just feet away outside the pastor’s home.  Yes, if found, she would probably be raped then die a slow, painful, gruesome death by machete.  Yes, her killers were former friends and neighbors.  And yes, she found peace through it all through prayer. 

The Power of Forgiveness

Imaculee’s words on forgiveness were the most powerful and life-changing for me.  I wept openly in the airport of Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic as I read the final chapters of “Left to Tell” when Imaculee recounted her story of forgiving one of the men who killed several members of her family.  That she was able to forgive is remarkable enough, but how she came to this forgiveness is also remarkable.

In hiding, Imaculee would recite the rosary for hours.  For a while, whenever she came to the line in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” she would skip over it.  She did not want to lie to God about wanting to forgive those who killed her family.  God eventually reminded her of these very important words, and Imaculee could no longer ignore them.  God reminded her that he could do ANYTHING.  This anything included forgiveness.

God reminded Imaculee of Jesus’ words as he hung on the cross, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”  As those words penetrated her mind and heart, she realized that her killers didn’t know what they were doing.  They were lost sheep following a lost leader.  This realization not only helped Imaculee say the words in the prayer, but helped her believe them as well.  She began praying for the killers.  And when the time came for her to visit one of them in jail, she forgave.

The jailor who was with her during this visit was outraged by her act of forgiveness.  His wife, children, and other family members were also slaughtered by the Interahamwe.  He would beat the prisoners each day and go home angry, depressed, and defeated only to repeat this cycle the next day.  And the next.  And the next.  Only after seeing Imaculee forgive this one man, did he eventually realize forgiveness was even possible.  He later thanked Imaculee.  Seeing her forgive gave him the hope and courage to forgive.

The Power of Obedience

When Imaculee’s father implored her to go into hiding, she had a decision to make.  She could stay with her family which she desperately wanted to do.  Or she could be obedient to her father.  As she left, her father gave her his rosary.  In that moment, she knew she would never see him again.  She chose to obey anyway.  Because of her obedience in that one moment, Imaculee lives.  Her family died horrible deaths, but she lived to share her story with the world.  A story that is changing lives.  A story that has impacted my life in numerous ways.  A story that would not be here today were it not for her obedience to her earthly father and her heavenly father.




2 responses

27 09 2012

The book sounds really interesting, I really enjoy hearing and learning about those kinds of things. Although it’s really sad, I still find them to be very interesting.

27 09 2012

Most amazing book I’ve ever read. It’s very heavy, but incredibly inspiring.

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