I recently finished reading the autobiographical story of Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide. Her book, Left to Tell recounts her harrowing journey of persecution, endurance, and deliverance. The narrative is heart wrenching and yet, somehow, so full of hope. Immaculée emerged from the weight of oppression victorious in her faith and convicted to testify to her ordeal. Today, she is an author and motivational speaker who shares her amazing story with people around the world.
Immaculée is a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, a mass slaughter in 1994 that left between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandan people dead. She was targeted because she was from the Tutsi tribe, a group persecuted since 1990 by the Hutu-led government of the region. To save her own life, she was forced to hide in a bathroom with seven other women at a nearby pastor’s house for ninety-one days. During this time, she experienced a spiritual attack that threatened to shatter her faith. In her book, Immaculée recounts how she combated Satan with prayer. Her resentment, her anger, her despair, her confusion, and her shock, were all replaced with peace from God, who protected her, comforted her, and healed those hurting places in her heart.
Of her time in that bathroom, she writes, “I lifted my heart to the Lord, and He filled it with His love and forgiveness. Being in that bathroom had become a blessing for which I’d be forever thankful. Even if my parents had perished in the bloodshed outside, I would never be an orphan. I’d been born again in the bathroom and was now the loving daughter of God, my Father” (207).
At the end of Operation Turquoise, a French-led military intervention in Rwanda commissioned by the UN, the French began leaving Rwanda. At the time, Immaculée was among a group of Tutsi survivors at a French camp. The French military told these survivors that they were going to transport them to a Tutsi camp. On the road to the new camp, sheltered in a truck, the caravan met thousands of Hutus. The French received a report of gunfire ahead and were ordered to turn around. Immaculée and the other refugees were abandoned on the road, forced to continue on foot without protection. Immaculée describes walking that distance, past rebels who wanted to kill them, as a literal valley of the shadow of death:
“God, I really am walking through the valley of death-please stay with me. Shield me with the power of Your love. You created this ground that we’re walking on, so please don’t let these killers spill you daughter’s blood on it…Take the evil from the hearts of these men, and blind their hatred with Your holy love…If they kill me, God, I ask You to forgive them. Their hearts have been corrupted by hatred, and they don’t know why they want to hurt me” (173).
By God’s protection and the refugees’ immense courage, they made it safely to the new camp.
I’m so grateful that God’s voice, through Immaculée’s typed words, reached me all the way in Southern California. What God has redeemed in her gives me immense hope. Stories like Immaculée’s are a humbling reminder of God’s love and faithfulness. Pursuing us and redeeming us from our valleys of death is what our God does!
Immaculée endured hunger, fever, rejection from friends, shouts of death threats from outside the bathroom, relentless spiritual attack, and the death of family members and friends. Through this storm, God showed her his healing and forgiveness. That is the story that Immaculée was left to tell. Just as the Samaritan woman’s testimony rippled through her village, so too does Immaculée’s ripple through the world. God uses his warrior daughters in mysterious and glorious ways.
In her closing chapter, Immaculée says, “I’ve never ceased to be amazed by seeing God’s power at work! This is the same power that I feel propelling me forward into the next phase of my life. God saved my soul and spared my life for a reason: He left me to tell my story to others and show as many people as possible the healing power of His love and forgiveness” (208-209).
The stories of these women cannot fail to change us if we open our hearts to them. Immaculée embodies the belief and hope that characterizes our faith. She reached beyond her circumstances, beyond fear, pain, and isolation toward God. Immaculée is a fighter. She is a warrior, a beautiful example of women all around the world who exhibit bravery far beyond what any might expect in their circumstances. Her hope stood firm in the face of a painful test—firm in the God who offers peace, justice, and shelter to his beloved children.
Immaculée Ilibagiza, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (Hay House: New York, New York, 2006).