Immaculee Ilibagiza survived the genocide in her homeland of Rwanda, but forgave the people who killed her family. On age of 23, she used to living with her parents and two of her brothers. A faithful Catholic all of her life and during that experience, she realized she wanted to be like Mother Teresa, and not like the people who killed her family.
In that moment, a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, she said. “In this suffering, I truly understood who was God,” Ilibagiza said. “If you haven’t needed anything so badly, you don’t know how it can come through. Now I can live, I can think about my life, more than think about who am I going to kill? And how am I going to (get) revenge? It was beautiful.”
Ilibagiza began working for the United Nations afterward, first in Rwanda and then in the U.S. She now travels the world as a motivational speaker to share her story at conferences, churches and schools. She stands with those who preach peace, she said.
“People who have suffered but who defend love, truth, kindness, no matter how much evil has been done to them.”
Three months in bathroom of a Hutu pastor
For three months, she hid with seven other women in a 3 by 4-foot bathroom in the pastor’s home. When the genocide began, her father insisted she seek refuge with a pastor who was a Hutu but sympathetic to his Tutsi neighbors in southern province, and she did so.
“I remember one time they came to search for us, they stopped up to the door of the bathroom and one of the killers touched the handle and he told the man who was hiding us, ‘we trust you,” Ilibagiza recalled. “And I remember I was begging God, ‘if you exist, just don’t let them open this door.”
That moment gave Ilibagiza a very personal experience with God, she said. The men from the Hutus tribe never opened the door, which meant Ilibagiza and the other women were safe. But when they came out they learned everyone else they knew—family, friends, even neighbors—had been killed.
Despite the tragic news and circumstances, the whole experience gave Ilibagiza a stronger sense of faith. “During that time I was in the bathroom, it was then I cried to God like I never did,” she said.
Ilibagiza studied the Bible and said phrases like “love one another” and “forgive those who trespass against us” jumped out at her. “And when He said, ‘forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they do,’ it was like a light in my heart,” Ilibagiza said referring to Jesus Christ on the cross.
Ilibagiza has written seven books and received the Gandhi Peace Award. She became a U.S. citizen in 2013. Her focus now is raising funds for a school in Rwanda. She believes educating the next generation will help children seek to do good in the world.
Some of her works include: Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (2006), Led by Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide(2008), Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa (2008), The Boy Who Met Jesus: Segatashya Emmanuel of Kibeho (2012), The Rosary: The Prayer That Saved My Life(2013).
From April to July in 1994, more than one million people (CNLG) were killed in Rwanda Genocide against Tutsi.
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Jean Baptiste Karegeya
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