I first heard Immaculee's story while pregnant with my daughter Meah. Immaculee was a survivor of genocide, a woman who had experienced trauma and pain in ways I could not begin to imagine. She had hidden in a tiny bathroom for 90 days with 7 other women during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Africa. Everyday she experienced fear, terror, pain, illness, hunger and thirst. Often, the killers would tear the house apart, looking for her but never moving the piece of furniture that concealed the small door. It was a miracle. Everyday she imagined her own violent death but after 3 months of hiding, the war was over and she survived. When she came out of hiding, she learned that most of her family members including her brothers, mother, father, aunts, uncles and grandparents had been slaughtered. The friends and neighbors she had grown up had also been killed. The country she grew up in and loved now resembled everything she imagined hell to be. Death and destruction was everywhere and she felt hopeless. Immaculee’s story touched my heart and opened my mind. I was amazed that she survived but even beyond that, she shared how she had found healing. In the silence, in the empty spaces she filled her heart and mind with God and prayer. She had gotten to a spiritual place where she was able to see, feel and experience what it was to love through the heart of God. That is, she transcended what it was to be human, transforming her heart and soul so that she could eventually face the man who killed her father, look into his eyes and tell him that she forgave him and actually feel love and compassion for him. From the moment I heard her story or forgiveness, I knew I could never again be the same.
She was brave… courageous and yet delicate and fragile. Her vulnerability was evident and yet her words empowered me in ways I would not even begin to fully realize until the death of my own daughter Meah only months later. Immaculee and her courage to share her story would change the direction of my life…. Literally!!!!
Meah died at birth. She died to complications after my uterus tore from top to bottom in the front and the back. I blamed the doctor, nurses and I blamed myself. I was devastated, filled with deep aching sadness and fear. What was my future going to look like? I often felt hopeless… they had told me I could never have another child again. Not only was I filled with grief but the thought of never having another child added to the fear, anxiety and trauma I was already experiencing.
But then there was Immaculee…. I knew that what she had experienced was beyond my understanding and so if she could heal, if she could love again and find it in her heart to forgive, then maybe I could. She introduced me to a whole new world that led me on a journey to Rwanda, meeting people and having life experiences that made me question what it was to be human… to live this life and experience pain and suffering and also feel the ecstasy of God so big in your life that you realize all things are possible… I began to see that there existed new possibilities and the potential for a life lived with God purpose and meaning.
Fast forward, 7 years since hearing Immaculee speak, I have travelled to Rwanda three times, worked with genocide survivors and listened to the stories shared by both victims and killers. I faced what I feared most and stood before 4000 genocide killers in a genocide prison and shared my story of loss… of Immaculee and of my personal journey to find healing. I have done what I could not have imagined while in the depths of my despair but through this healing journey, I have grown in ways I can hardly express with words. It was Immaculee’s story… and the stories of so many more men, women and children who have strengthened me, enlightened my mind and opened my heart. It is the courage and wisdom of those who have shared their story that I am blessed to have witnessed that have shaped me into the person I am today. For this I am eternally grateful.
I highly suggest reading Immaculee’s books. Perhaps it is best to begin with her first book, ‘Left to tell’. It is a book that changed my life. If Immaculee has also changed your life, I would love for you to share how. Her story and my life experiences remind me just how powerful our stories are! That we can literally change the course of our lives when we experience an intimate connection with another life through the power of their story.
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