GLS Friday: Immaculee Ilibagiza

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I read about the Rwandan Genocide only a few years after it occurred and to this day cannot fathom the sheer horror of it all. It is described as the most efficient genocide in history, but “efficient” is typically a positive word, so I shudder at that description. I have a book on my shelf, “We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Die With Our Families” that became the basis of the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” It is a chilling account of genocide and what it is like to feel alone and afraid in the midst of violence. Immaculee gave us an incredible gift in her talk of leading us through her experience while showing us hope and courage. She was utterly phenomenal.

– I would not wish anyone to see what I have seen, but the lessons I learned from it are invaluable.

– I know without a shadow of doubt that God is real. When you can’t, He can. Whatever our Lord tells us, He’s right.

– Genocide happened because we failed to love our neighbor. The teachings of Jesus really matter. Look at what happens when humans disregard them.

– Stunning story of her dad basically saying, ‘it’s true that we might die, but how many people have an opportunity to know that they will likely die? We can use this opportunity to get right with God before we die.’

I really don’t know how to blog the power of her telling the genocide story. It happened 23 years ago, but as she tells it, we are hiding in the bathroom with her like it was yesterday, hoping the killers don’t come in.

I bet Rosary sales are trending!

– ‘Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ And she said, No way. But the Lord’s Prayer is not man made. It is God’s own prayer. ‘If I were you, I would not edit his prayer,’

– If I can forgive, then you can forgive.

– God, if you say so, it must be so.

– From my heart to yours: no matter what you’re going through, hold on to hope, God is good.

Beautiful, profound talk on the power and weight of forgiveness. 

Bill Hybels came up right after her talk and I thought, “Please don’t speak. Please don’t lead us into a moment or an experience. Let us sit in this experience.” 

I have tremendous respect for Bill Hybels – he is a phenomenal leader and human being, but I wonder if my generation and the younger generation bristle at how much he tends to oversell a moment. Don’t tell us what to do, we know what to do because of Immaculee’s talk. Don’t guide us to consider forgiveness, give us space to sit with the power of Immculee’s talk.

Another reaction I had which may be patently unfair to Bethel Music and their excellent worship music: hearing a beautiful song sung by beautifully manicured people was too harsh a contrast to Immaculee’s speech about genocide for me. 

Also, since I’m picking on it, I think it is very important, when we are invited to forgive someone like we were in Bill’s segment, that forgiveness is framed accurately. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two interrelated actions but he implied that they are one and the same. There are many people you can forgive and reconcile with, but there are others you simply should not reconcile with until you see significant change in them which may or may not ever happen. Don’t get me wrong, I believe deeply in the power of the gospel to transform people who do evil into children of God, but some people will continue to abuse and violate if you were to move back into relationship with them.  

I think Jesus commands us to forgive so we can be released from anger and bitterness. I think this is what Immaculee was teaching us. But reconciliation, especially with people who are toxic, or violent or unchanged, may not be on the table.

I say this knowing I run a real risk of “stepping on” someone’s need to hear exactly what Bill and the Bethel folks sang. I hope you can receive this critique not speaking against someone who needed to hear it/was deeply moved by it, but speaking up for those who feel guilt that they believe they should reconcile because of what they were directed to do after the talk. 

It reminds me of a Rwandan proverb that I re

ad when I was studying the genocide in the late 90s. “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and then expecting them to die.”

But if you have fled an abusive or dangerous relationship, forgive, yes, I believe by doing so you will be released, but reconcile? Not always.

 

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