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Genocide survivor teaches forgiveness

L.J. Bottjer

Forgiveness is one of those words many banter about.

Putting the word into action is not as frequent.

Forced by circumstances to practice forgiveness on a large scale, Immaculee Ilibagiza will deliver her message of faith, hope and redemption on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Truckee Community Center.

Presented by For Goodness Sake in support of International Day of Peace, Ilibagiza is a best-selling author.

Her 2006 book, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” tells a harrowing tale of being forced into a small bathroom with seven other women by loving parents to escape the insanity.

For 91 days the hidden had to remain cramped and silent.

Given a rosary by her devout Roman Catholic father, Ilibagiza overcame her panic, salvaged her sanity and fought negativity with almost constant prayer. Armed with a Bible and a dictionary the college student learned English.

When she was able to emerge three months later she discovered the world she had cherished was gone.

In the 1994 genocide of more than a million of her people, the Tutsis were killed by the Hutus in less than six months.

Among the slaughtered was her entire family, except for one brother, who lived abroad.

Many would be consumed by a vengeful spirit or give up completely – however Ilibagiza’s faith pushed her forward. Her time spent learning English lead the way to a job with the United Nations that eventually moved her to the United States.

Another lesson learned during her confinement was a test of her faith.

She met the man who had killed her mother and a brother and told him she forgave him.

The act of offering forgiveness, on any scale, is a constant balancing act she acknowledges.

“Some people have not changed,” she said. “They do not feel they have done anything. I am very careful on how I am offering forgiveness.”

Often she begins the conversation by expressing the simple need to speak with the offending person. Conversations often will lead to the discovery of the wound that requires healing.

Listening is also key to the conversation and spreading her faith, she said.

Some people’s harsh actions are the results of their own difficult situations.

Ilibagiza does not practice sugarcoating a problem by offering false hopes.

“Typically,” Ilibagiza said, “I tell someone look I’ve been through this and it was really bad and your situation will get worse before it gets better.”

It helps, she says to put problems in perspective and assist with their resolution.

The current economic struggles many are suffering have a bright aspect.

“People are becoming more humble,” she said.

As a more modest lifestyle is adopted by many, the wealth of human relationships grows in degrees of compassion, kindness and love.

This change in perspective is a welcome one to the married mother of two who now lives in New York City.

It shows the incredible power of faith, and its ability to make positive changes.


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