|Gabby Ilibagiza Braner|
Immaculee is a beautiful Rwandan woman, inside and out. She stood at the podium of that beautiful church in front of a packed house (with an overflow room) for TWO hours and related her story.
She was a young girl living with her mother, father, and two brothers when the genocide in Rwanda occurred in 1994.. The President of the country was killed in a plane crash and on that very day, hell broke out across that beautiful land. The Hutus declared war on their neighbors, the Tutsis. Even though they had lived side by side for many years and shared life experiences, it was a slaughter in the making when the government itself promoted the murderous onslaught.
The Tutsis' were called pigs, cockroaches and all foul names, open season on them was declared, just because they were of a different tribe.
It didn't take long for Immaculees family to realize the gravity of the situation. As a leader in the community the people came to their home to ask her father for advice. He must have been a tremendously wise man. He replied that they would probably be killed in the next hour and all must be ready. He asked them, "are you ready to die?" Suddenly a revival of sorts broke out as the people cried out for forgiveness, publicly declaring their own sin and their sorrow. They prayed and wept together as they prepared for their deaths.
Then her father told Immaculee to RUN! Run to the nearby Baptist preachers home where she would be hidden and protected. She had no time to gather any personal belongings and simply obeyed, not looking back. For the next 91 days she and 6 other women, ages 7 -55 STOOD together in a tiny bathroom, (3 ft by 4 ft), in the pastors home, in silence! They took turns sitting on the toilet just to rest their legs. He fed them crumbs late at night through a crack in the door.
As she told of the harrowing experiences the audience was stunned.
She watched through a crack in the bathroom window as hundreds of "soldiers" with machetes approached the house, surrounded it, came inside to look for people in hiding. She prayed they would not open the door to the bathroom and miraculously they did not, but left. The brave pastor was sweating bullets as the men looked in every nook and cranny yet stopped at the bathroom door.
While the women were hiding, praying and trembling for 91 days, over 1 millions people were slaughtered after the UN protection team pulled out of the country. 2 million people became refugees and an untold number just fled their homes into the countryside. When Immaculee raced back to her home at the end of her stay she discovered her house in ruins and her family dead.
The most remarkable part of her story then began. She told of her struggle from hatred of those neighbors to forgiveness. Incredible! What a message! It was brilliantly delivered by her and received by everyone in the audience. Hundreds of people listened and evaluated how they would react. Could they forgive the offenses against them? How minor their hurts seemed to be as they compared them with this young woman's! No one left untouched!
Our family has a connection to this lovely woman. Gabby Braner was adopted at age 3 months from a Rwandan orphanage. Jamie knew of this brave woman and gave her Immaculee's middle name!!!
Following the presentation I stood in line to speak with Immaculee with this picture of Gabby and told her story. Our little girl, also from Rwanda was named after HER and that I now pray Gabby will come to know God just as personally, that she will be brave as she grows up, that she will always pray for safety but more importantly she will pray for the ability to forgive as deeply. Immaculee's tender heart was moved as she looked at Gabby's picture and signed it..."you are an angel." Our brief visit was a memory I will treasure.
Immaculee believes that she was saved from death to tell this story, "Left to Tell." It is a timeless story of man's inhumanity to man but also the story of the supernatural ability to forgive even the very worst atrocity with God's help. She walks and talks with God! What an example of power and grace! I hope Gabby enjoys the picture and newspaper article and perhaps as she grows older will realize the absolute necessity of forgiveness, no matter what!
Very soon the 20th anniversary of the genocide will be acknowledged. Smart folks have done much research to understand the reasons behind the carnage and indictments will probably come forth. That is probably necessary to TRY to prevent future brutality. But, there is no indictment coming from Immaculee, she is free because she has forgiven!