A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing woman, Immaculee Ilibagiza. Her story of perseverance and faith in the midst of horrific circumstances is very inspiring. If you're not familiar with Immaculee's story, you can read more about her on her site: www.lefttotell.com She is the author of three books: Left To Tell, Led by Faith and Our Lady of Kibeho. If you haven't read any of them yet, you must go and read them, now. Really, they're that good. (And I'm not in any way sponsored to say this--her story is really just incredible.) After finishing her first book in 2 evenings I immediately went out to purchase her others.
To briefly summarize her story, Immaculee is a survivor of the 1991 Rwandan genocide that left over 1 million people brutally murdered in a matter of 3 months. She lost every single member of her family, save for an out-of-country brother. She survived by hiding in a 3' x 4' closet with 7 other women for 91 days. To say the conditions were horrendous is truly an understatement. In her book she details the conditions of her hiding quarters where food was scarce, speaking strictly prohibited, odors pungent and physical conditions utterly stifling. Throughout her months of cramped, odorous confines she could hear the battle chants of her pursuers, while being tormented by questioning the the fate of family and friends. The physical and psychological torture of her circumstances really go beyond words.
But perhaps the most striking feature of her story is the strength of her faith through it all. As a way to cope with her conditions and make peace with the murder and torture, she prayed 15-20 hours a day. She speaks of the transformation that took place in her heart as her mind underwent a total and blessed union with God. She felt the real and true presence of the Lord in a way she had never before encountered--an experience that changed her life forever and saved her time and time again when her pursuers drew near. I wish I could adequately recap the depth of her faith and the sincerity of her heart but my words just can't go far enough. You just need to read her story for yourself.
But what I can say is that Immaculee is on a mission. Through her experience she is convinced that we have but three simple purposes here on earth: to love one another, to forgive and to pray. Throughout her books and her talk, she comes back to these simple yet profound truths time and time again. She articulates how she was able to forgive the slaughter of countless family members and friends through the healing power of the holy spirit. She speaks of the hold that hatred had had on her, and how it had begun to eat away at her soul. She speaks of her ability to let go of the anger as the Lord's healing love washed over her. She articulates the spiritual wrestling that had taken place inside of her and how the Lord had come to her aid when she felt like giving in to the darkness. She eventually arrived at a place of peace--so much so that she was even able to visit the man who had brutally tortured and murdered her most beloved brother. While this murderer was in prison, she looked him straight in the face and offered her most sincere forgiveness. The depths of her anguish and the power of saving grace are truly awe-inspiring.
Though one might not think her message love is nothing "new" per se, her unique trials and endurance of faith speak volumes to the power of this message. It's a message that sometimes fails to touch our hardened hearts, as we grow weary of human failings and tired of opening ourselves to hurt and heartache. In this post-modern time of individualism and self-fulfillment Immaculee's message to reach out to one another in love is so desperately needed. We must hear stories like hers in order to stir our hearts and be reminded of our purpose here. Immaculee's experiences transport us as readers from our hum-drum worries and remind us what really matters in life. Through her endearing, child-like, innocent and magnificent voice, Immaculee speaks directly to our hearts, imploring us to listen with our faces turned toward God.
I am so grateful to have met this incredible woman and to have had her story touch my heart. Through the testimony of her faith I am inspired to love more, to open my heart further and to never forget the healing and transforming power of prayer.