A Life Worth the Retelling, A World Worth Rebuilding:
In the small country of Rwanda, the two main tribes, Hutus and the minority Tutsis, had been fighting for several years as rebel Tutsis had been on the Ugandan border trying to get back into the country.
In the small country of Rwanda, the two main tribes, Hutus and the minority Tutsis, had been fighting for several years as rebel Tutsis had been on the Ugandan border trying to get back into the country. Ethnic divisions had been exploited and exacerbated. By 1994, the violence ruled. Radical political parties were forming and attracting unemployed young men by promising them free drugs and alcohol. An extremist movement called the Interhamwe had been organized by the Rwandan Hutu president’s own political party; they terrorized the Tutsi and moderate Hutus in the manner of street gangs.
Immaculée Ilibagiza, an ethnic Tutsi in a family of six, was thinking about staying at college over the Easter break to study for her upcoming exams in electronic and mechanical engineering at National University. When she wrote her father to suggest that plan, he was quite adamant that she should come home for the holiday and be with her family because they missed her terribly. Her brother, Aimable, who was studying outside Rwanda, could not come home, but she went back to Mataba, her picturesque village in the high hills overlooking Lake Kivu.
But the night after Easter, it became apparent that the Hutu extremists in the surrounding area were on the verge of killing every Tutsi. Immaculee’s brother urged the family to walk down the hill by their house that evening, get into a boat and escape across Lake Kivu to Zaire. Her father asked them all to remain calm so they could come up with a plan that was not formed in haste or was unnecessary. So, the family stayed.
Unfortunately, the night after Easter the Rwandan’s president’s plane was shot down, the country erupted in violence. Any Tutsi or moderate Hutu who came near the lake was murdered immediately. Fearful of what would happen to her at the hands of rebels, Immaculée’s father insisted that she seek shelter in the trusted Hutu pastor’s home. Unwilling to leave her sons and husband who were staying to fight, Immaculée’s mother remained at the house.
Immaculée found shelter at the Hutu pastor’s home, in the shape of a three- by-four-foot bathroom, along with seven other women. The pastor would bring the women scraps of food from the garbage to keep them alive, but very little so as not to raise suspicion that he was harboring Tutsi. During the next few months, Immaculée prayed constantly and developed a much closer relationship with God. She learned English from an English-French dictionary she asked the pastor to bring her. She lost close to 40 pounds during her ordeal, and weighed 65 pounds when the killing stopped, 91 days after it started, and she was rescued.
After being transferred to a refugee camp, Immaculee learned that her family had been massacred. The survivors then went about the unimaginable task of finding the corpses of their family members and giving them a proper burial.
Immaculée later visited a former Hutu neighbor in prison. He was the leader of a gang that had killed her mother and brother. She said to him, “I forgive you.” A man who accompanied her and had also lost family members was incredulous. He later told Immaculée that the moment changed his life because it made him realize that he was letting the past ruin his life; he forgave his family’s killer as well.
Four years later, Immaculée immigrated to the United States. After first working at the United Nations, she now devotes her time to raising her children and traveling the country to tell her story of faith and forgiveness.
Eighteen-year-old Sarah Gies of Rye heard Immaculée Ilibagiza speak at The Ursuline School two years ago. “Hearing her story firsthand brought me to tears, leaving me both awestruck and inspired. I encourage everyone who can to listen to her message.”
The internationally acclaimed speaker and author of the best-selling book, “Left to Tell,” and founder of the Left to Tell Charitable Fund which helps support Rwandan orphans, is coming to Rye this month to continue the process of healing hearts and changing the world. Resurrection Church will host An Evening with Immaculée Ilibagiza Wednesday, October 22 at 7. Families are encouraged to attend together. The program is appropriate for ages 14 and up. Tickets are available at www.eveningwithimmaculee.eventbrite.com. Refreshments and a book signing will take place afterwards.
Immaculée holds honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Notre Dame and St. John’s University, and is a recipient of the Mahatma Gandi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace. Come listen to an amazing soul who has been left to tell and seeks to build a better future for Africa’s children.