Immaculee Ilibagiza. What an amazing person.
I heard Immaculee’s story recently at a conference called Acton University, led by the Acton Institute: Center for the study of religion and freedom. I have never heard of Immaculee before this day, and now I will never forget her name or her story.
Immaculee spoke to us about her experience as a Rwanda native, as a Catholic, and as a woman who lived through the genocide of Hutus and Tutsis in 1994. As a Tutsi, the child of teachers in the poorest village in Rwanda, when the genocide began following the plane crash containing the Presidents of Burundi and Rwanda, Immaculee was being hunted. Hunted by Hutus who wanted to exterminate all Tutsis; the government was Hutu and was using the military soldiers to perpetrate this whole scale violence towards Tutsis, and anyone sympathetic to Tutsis. In the past, the tribal tensions would overflow and violence would be directed towards men and women of child bearing age, but in this case, the Hutus announced via the radio to kill all Tutsis, calling them snakes, and saying “the child of a snake is a snake”, so kill them all.
Immaculee was sent by her father to stay with a man who was a Hutu, the very people who wanted to kill her. But her father insisted he was a good man, before he was a Hutu, and every person should be judged on their own merit. So she listened to her father and went to stay in a neighboring village, in a small bathroom…for 91 days!
A bathroom that measured 3 feet by 4 feet (or 1 meter by 1.5 meters), she would share this space with five other women, then two more, so eight in all. The fear, anger, rage! She must have felt, sitting silently in a bathroom with seven other women for 91 days while her country side and her tribe were being ravaged on the other side of that wall…and the knowledge that the violence could cross over into that very bathroom, and she would be killed.
As a catholic, Immaculee has always believed in God and prayed the rosary, but this experience led her to question God, and develop a much deeper relationship with her Creator…and display an outpouring of love and forgiveness that I can not fathom, but it gives me goose bumps to think about…I am still digesting and processing this amazing experience, to meet someone who should inspire us all to be kinder and more caring…I will finish this story in the next post.