Rwanda survivor shares personal story

COLLEGIAN: November 1, 2011

By Dan Murphy

After the brutal and vicious genocide that left one million dead in Rwanda in 1994, one survivor has found the courage to use her faith to forgive and share these lessons with others.

Immaclulée Ilibagiza told her story of finding refuge from the genocide for 91 days in a small bathroom to a capacity crowd last week in the Soda Center.

One of the world’s leading speakers on peace, faith, and forgiveness and the New York Times bestselling author of Left To Tell, Ilibagiza has used her traumatic experience to better herself and the lives of others.

After the presidents from Rwanda and neighboring Burundi were killed, the Hutu ethnic group commenced a violent genocide, targeting the Tutsi ethnic group throughout the country.  As a Tutsi, Ilibagiza was in grave danger.  Finding refuge with seven other women in a Hutu pastor’s hidden bathroom, Ilibagiza lived through the violence.  Her mother, father, brother, grandparents, and many close friends were killed.

While most would be eternally angry at such a loss, Ilibagiza turned to her Roman Catholic faith to make sense of what her country had endured.  Ilibagiza diligently read the bible while in the three-by-four foot bathroom and found great strength through prayer.

She learned God could forgive anyone and said that He will give you strength when you need it most.

“If I can forgive, anyone can forgive,” said Ilibagiza.

A very large group of students were present for the talk.  Ilibagiza made special appeals to all students, as she felt they are people who can learn to grow and forgive.  Students took the message to heart.  “Immaclulée’s inspiring story showed me the importance of forgiveness and faith when facing true hardship,” said junior Desmond Vanderfin.  “I had previously read her book, but hearing her live made her story more poignant.”

Ilibagiza left the crowd silent at times, yet smiling at others.  She urged those present to count their blessings and to persevere through adversity.

“As you pray for something follow your dreams and don’t pay attention to obstacles,” said Ilibagiza.  You can forgive and be forgiven no matter how hard it may be and love conquers all, she added.

Ilibagiza invites anyone looking to support her foundation or to stay in touch to follow her on Twitter for a weekly uplifting message.

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