Friday, August 11, 2017

2017 Willow Creek GLS -- Immaculee Ilibagiza-- The Act of Forgiveness

(Here at the Willow Creek GLS hoping to get some tips for our Operation Christmas Child team)

April 6, 1994 –  the plane carrying the Hutu president of Rwanda was shot down and violence to wipe out the Tutsis ensued. Hutus went door to door slaughtering and over 1 million were murdered.  Immaculee’s family was all murdered except for one brother but she has committed her life to peace.

It is a great joy to be part of this event.  Each of us need these leadership principles in one way or another. 

The genocide was a terrible experience but the lessons I learned were invaluable. I learned to forgive but more importantly I learned the joy of forgiveness.  I learned forgiveness is possible in any situation.  I begged God to help me and I began to understand the beauty of letting go.  It is a gift to have faith—to know when you can’t He can.

Another lesson was to realize whatever God tells us, He is right.  He taught us the greatest commandment is love.  In our country we failed to love one another so when I think what can we do to stop wars I realize acting in love in my own life will bring change.

Genocide started in 1994. I was home on holiday from college.  I somehow knew when we heard the president was killed that we were going to be killed.  God had prepared us.  Politicians were behind the hatred.

BBC Radio reported the killing of entire families.  My parents were people who helped others in any way they could.  As children we didn’t like that—we wanted new things for ourselves.  People came to my parents to ask for advice and would bring them gifts for all they had done for them.  I want to remind you to be thankful for the people in your life you love. 

The second day after the genocide started, my father had a rosary in his hand and said, “Do not be scared; fear is our worst enemy.  If the government has planned this, they will kill us.  Let’s take this as a chance God is giving us to repent of our sins so we can go to heaven.”  I was sent to a neighbor from another tribe who was a Protestant pastor.  Not everyone from the other tribe was killing people.  I was the only daughter so they sent me alone to the neighbor who showed me a tiny bathroom and told me to stay there.  Then he brought 7 more people to hide in that tiny space.  I learned complaining doesn’t help.  We had to be absolutely quiet.  I started to feel anger and fear.  They put a radio outside the door where we were held and I heard them directing that everyone be killed.  They gave an order to search every house.  I felt that it was over and I was going to die.  Then I heard a voice telling me to appeal to God because He is almighty and I chose to turn to God and asked Him, “If you are there, don’t let the killers open the door of this bathroom today.” After that I fainted and 5 hours later the neighbor came and said they came and searched every room and opened suitcases.  They came right to the bathroom but then told the pastor, “You couldn’t hide these people,” and the searchers left.  I knew God was real and He heard me.  From that moment I decided to believe in God even when I didn’t understand.  I asked the neighbor to give me a Bible and I started reading.  I was reading to understand. 

When I read, “Pray for your enemies,” I would close the page.  Then I’d open again and read about forgiving and close it again.  I took my rosary and when I prayed the Lord’s Prayer and came to the line, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I couldn’t pray it.  I’d pray from morning until night but I still couldn’t pray that prayer so I started to skip it.  One day I felt God was telling me this prayer was not man-made and I shouldn’t try to edit His prayer. For the first time I went on my knees and poured my heart out in surrender and asked Him to help me forgive.

As I read about the crucifixion and how Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” I started to realize I needed to pray for my enemies and not be like them.  I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. 

I started to learn English when I was in that bathroom and I had the freedom to think about my future.  We stayed in that bathroom for three months.  The first night we came out I found out everyone I left behind was killed.  I wanted to die but I remember feeling the hand of God reminding me my journey was still here. 

You don’t know how long that journey on earth is but God was telling me however long my life was it was His gift and I needed to decide what to do with it. 

To love and do something beautiful became the goal of my life.  I left Rwanda in 1998 and live in New York City.  The greatest gift of all this was to know I can hold onto God in all I do.  This enables me to remind you—whatever you might be facing, remember there is always hope.  Let nothing scare you or impart any fear.

I went to the prison and offered forgiveness to the man who killed my family.  There is so much freedom in letting go—so much joy.

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