Learning how to forgive murderers
LEFT TO TELL:
Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
by Immaculée Ilibagiza
(Carlsbad, California: Hay House, Inc.)
Paperback: 215 pages
Rec. price: AUD$29.90
This is the true story – graphic, gripping, harrowing and heartrending – of a brave young woman who survived the horrors of a genocide and learnt, at the same time, that love is greater than hate.
Immaculée Ilibagiza was born into a relatively prosperous family in a Rwandan village in central Africa. Her childhood was idyllic, permeated with the extraordinary love of her own family, a love that spread out amongst numerous uncles, aunts, cousins and friends. The only shadows in her young life were cast when she occasionally received cutting comments to remind her of something she had hardly ever been aware of: she was a tribal Tutsi, not a Hutu.
This latent tribal rivalry was whipped into a national frenzy upon the death in a plane accident of President Habyarimana, a Hutu, in 1994. Hutus had been encouraged to unleash vengeance on the Tutsis should anything ever happen to the president. The Hutus set out to do exactly that, brutally murdering more than a million.
Similar blood baths had occurred in Rwanda in 1959 and 1973, though not on the same scale, and many Tutsis had taken refuge in neighbouring countries, particularly Uganda, whence they now returned to fight it out with their erstwhile enemies.
Isolated in their village, hundreds of miles from the capital Rigali, Immaculée’s parents and her three brothers, all in their twenties, debated whether to flee the country or wait at home in the hope that things would improve. They didn’t.
Immaculée was sent by her father to the home of a married clergyman, a family friend and a Hutu, to plead for shelter and protection. It was reluctantly given.
For the next three months she and seven other women, including a girl of seven, stood, crouched and squatted in a bathroom measuring barely more than a square metre, while marauding bands of drugged and drunken men stormed the village and ransacked the house searching with machetes to hack all Tutsis to death. Miraculously, all the women survived, albeit as walking skeletons.
Confined for 91 days in this cramped torture chamber, Immaculée continually wavered between emotions of hatred, despair, hope, anger and, ultimately, forgiveness. She spent hours each day in prayer. She came to understand, through these protracted sessions of contemplative prayer, that she must not only come to forgive the murderers but, even more, as a Christian, love them. And this is what she finally did.
After being literally, time and time again, within inches of her life, she was eventually rescued by French peacekeepers (though they later betrayed her) and she escaped to Rigali.
Perhaps the most poignant moment in the book is when Immaculée returns to her village under armed escort to learn the fate of her family. Her beloved parents as well as two brothers had been savagely slaughtered. She meets the gaoled ringleader, takes his hand and tells him that she forgives him.
Immaculée Ilibagiza is now happily married with two children and lives in the United States.
All proceeds from the book will go to support orphans in Rwanda.