I really miss my book club, but I am participating in the Stay LDS Book Club. The first book that we have decided to read is Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza. It is her story of the Rwandan Genocide. I previously discussed the movie Hotel Rwanda, describing the events from Paul Russebagina’s point of view. Immaculee has an incredibly inspiring story as well. The book is intensely moving.
Growing up, Immaculee had no idea if she was a Hutu or a Tutsi. Her parents had endured previous political unrest, and wanted to raise their children as if their tribe did not matter. (It turns out she was a minority Tutsi.) In 1994, this awful episode began, and she hid with 7 other women in a small bathroom. She lost half her body weight, and spent literally 3 months praying. (She is a Roman Catholic.) The subtitle of the book is “Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust”.
She describes her attempt to forgive, even amidst this awful tragedy. She describes a spiritual experience she had, while essentially witnessing a murder. I don’t emotionally understand the experience, but I can slightly grasp it intellectually. She describes hearing the murder of a Tutsi mother, and her child left to die:
One night I heard screaming not far from the house, and then a baby crying. The killers must have slain the mother and left her infant to die in the road. The child wailed all night; by morning, its cries were feeble and sporadic, and by nightfall, it was silent. I heard dogs snarling nearby and shivered as I thought about how that baby’s life had ended. I prayed for God to receive the child’s innocent soul, and then I asked Him, How can I forgive people who would do such a thing to an infant?
I heard His answer as clearly as if we’d been sitting in the same room chatting: You are all my children…and the baby is with Me now.
It was such a simple sentence, but it was the answer to the prayers I’d been lost in for days.
The killers were like children. Yes, they were barbaric creatures who would have to be punished severely for their actions, but they were still children. They were cruel, vicious, and dangerous, as kids sometimes can be, but nevertheless, they were children. They saw, but didn’t understand the terrible harm they’d inflicted. They’d blindly hurt others without thinking, they’d hurt their Tutsi brothers and sisters, they’d hurt God–and they didn’t understand how badly they were hurting themselves. Their minds had been infected with the evil that had spread across the country, but their souls weren’t evil. Despite their atrocities, they were children of God, and I could forgive a child, although it would not be easy…especially when that child was trying to kill me.
In God’s eyes, the killers were part of His family, deserving of love and forgiveness. I knew that I couldn’t ask God to love me if I were unwilling to love His children. At that moment, I prayed for the killers, for their sins to be forgiven. I prayed that God would lead them to recognize the horrific error of their ways before their life on Earth ended–before they were called to acocunt for their mortal sins.
I held on to my father’s rosary and asked God to help me, and again I hear His voice: Forgive them, they know not what they do.
I took a crucial step toward forgiving the killers that day. My anger was draining from me–I’d opened my heart to God, and He’d touched it with His infinite love. For the first time, I pitied the killers. I asked God to forgive their sins and turn their souls toward His beautiful light.
That night I prayed with a clear conscience and a clean haert. For the first time since I entered the bathroom, I slept in peace.
I still can’t fathom her capacity to forgive. It is awe-inspiring to me. After the war, she met the man (one of her neighbors), that killed her parents, stole their property, and burned her home to the ground. Semana, the jailhouse guard allowed her to see him so she could spit on him if she wanted. From page 204,
“He looted your parents’ home and robbed your family’s plantation, Immaculee. We found your dad’s farm machinery at his house, didn’t we?” Semana yelled at Felicien. “After he killed [your mother] Rose and [brother] 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 Immaculee?”
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, Immaculee?” 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 all truth: “Forgiveness is all I have to offer.”
I never want to experience a tragedy so awful. I truly admire Immaculee’s capacity to forgive; she is a tremendous example of a Christian.