Last night I had the privilege of meeting Immaculee Ilibagiza, the author of Left to Tell; Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. Immaculee's story is one that you never forget. I read her book a month ago, missed her first two appearances in the Denver area since then, and last night had the opportunity to see her at the University of Denver. Immaculee is a suvivor of the Rwandan genocide that occured in 1994. During a three month period, a million Tutsui people were slaughtered. Among them were Immaculee's parents and two brothers. She escaped by hiding in a tiny bathroom for 91 days, with six other women. Her survival and the atrocities that occurred are only half of the story. The rest of the story is her faith and belief in God, and that she has once again found joy in her life. She literally prayed her way through the 91 days, struggling with the line in the Our Father, "as we forgive those who trespass against us." She confessed that for a long time she skipped that part of the prayer! She felt she would never, ever be able to forgive. Her journey towards giving herself over to the power of love is an inspiration to every one of us, whether our trials have been large or small. For the first 30 minutes last night, we watched a documentary of Immaculee's story. Then, this tall, beautiful woman, whose face could adorn the cover of Bazaar Magazine, came on stage and for the next 45 minutes had us captivated with her words and her beautiful spirit. There were tears of sorrow, yes, but amazingly, there was more laughter. Her message was so clear. "What can we do?" is the question that she's always asked. Her answer is like that of Mother Teresa's when she was posed the same question. Just do what you can. Just love the person next to you. It may seem like a small thing, but it will be the start of something big. Today, Rwanda is a very peaceful country. But other places are in similar turmoil to what the country went through over a decade ago. When she was asked how she felt about the situation in Darfur and the lack of involvement by the U.S. she said that she is not one to point out blame, but one who will seek solutions. And that it's not just the U.S. who is responsible anyway. She works at the United Nations, as does her husband. Again, the question was raised, What can we do? Her reply was to be aware of what's going on in the world, read about it, educate yourself. She says the situation is so complicated that even those she communicates with in Darfur don't have a clear solution. But God's love is needed everywhere. Do what you can, where you are.
Now, when I think of Immaculee, I don't think of her as the "woman who survivied a genocide", but as a woman of immense faith and prayer. She is a powerful example of someone who sees the "gift" of everday.