Immaculee Ilibgiza: The Real Life of a Refugee (part 1)
By Kristi Watts
The 700 Club
Immaculee Ilibgiza grew up in Kibuye, a village in Rwanda. She says that they call it the country of a thousand hills.
“We grew up in a family where we prayed every night,” Immaculee tells The 700 Club. “My family [was] very Christian, very dedicated to God. My mom and my dad were teachers. I had three brothers, and we loved each other.”
Kibuye is a village divided between three different tribes. The two prominent ones are the Tutsi and the Hutu.
“If you are tall, if your nose is straight and longer, you are a Tutsi. If you are shorter, you’re a Hutu. That’s the way of determining.”
The village was a tight-knit community where the different tribes lived peacefully amongst each other. There were no distinctions between the tribes with the exception of their government issued “identity cards,” which were to be carried at all times.
While members of the two tribes lived in peace, radical groups on each side were constantly at war. Some government officials backed the civil wars for their own gain.
In 1994 the Hutu president, supported by the United Nations, wanted to end all tribal strife. When the president tried to enforce a peace treaty, his plane was shot down before it could come into effect.
“What I remember is that the Hutu authorities wanted to kill Tutsis,” says Immaculee. “Literally to reduce the people who would vote.”
So when the president was killed, the Tutsis knew their end was near. For months the tensions had been mounting, along with threats of an extremist group called the Hutu Militia. They wanted to eliminate all Tutsis so that the Hutu race could dominate.
“Everyone was there listening to radios to see what was going on next,” Immaculee says. “The government gave an order that everyone stays home. No one move from home. No work. No school. Nothing. Everything shut down in the country like that as soon as the president died.”
As they listened to the fascist comments on the radio, their fears grew even greater. There were constant reports of the Hutu Militia going house to house slaughtering men, women and children.
The Hutu Militia repeatedly raped mothers forcing their husbands and children to watch. They would cut off the limbs of babies and children leaving them to bleed to death or to be ravaged by stray dogs.
The face of evil became so widespread that average Hutus banned together, roaming the streets to destroy every Tutsi.
Immaculee’s family went into hiding. They knew that, as the only daughter, she would be raped, tortured and killed if caught, so they sent her away to hide separately.
“They sent me to go to a pastor who was a neighbor. He was Hutu. They knew him as a person who wouldn’t kill.”
When she got to the pastor’s home, he hid her in a tiny bathroom tucked away in his bedroom. By the end of the day, there were six other women clinging to one another on the cold bathroom floor.
“He said, ‘Sit there. Don’t talk. Don’t even flush the water until someone is flushing the water in the next bathroom because I’m not even going to tell my children. Not even the people that are working for me. I will tell them I lost the key of this bathroom.’”
With seven women jammed in one room, the air was thick, and it was difficult to move or breathe. The walls were so thin [that] they could hear the voices of the killers outside -- laughing and boasting about their conquests.
“It was very painful. But the real feeling came when they started to search the house,” Immaculee says.
Three to four hundred Hutus swarmed the pastor's home hunting for Tutsis that were in hiding.
“No one was touching me. But I could feel needles punching me. It was from inside, burning me alive. I wish I didn’t have to go through this.”
Mentally and emotionally exhausted, Immaculee hadn’t slept or eaten in days. She was helpless and knew only God could help her. But she wasn’t fully convinced that He even existed
“Does God exist really? Is He there? What if He doesn’t exist? No, He has to exist. So I’m just asking God, ‘Do not let them find me.'”
For hours the killers searched every crevice of the house. Miraculously not one of them saw the door to the bathroom.
While Immaculee was praying to God, she had a thought. She told the pastor to move the armoire in front of the bathroom door. She didn’t know where the thought came from because she didn’t even know that there was an armoire.
“There is a moment of my life when I heard, 'They’re going to come. They’re going to kill you. This is how you’re going to die. They’re going to rape you.' I felt like it was the devil telling me what is going to happen. It was so painful. Then I told myself, ‘Let me take a decision to pray every minute so that this devil can go away from me.’ When I was saying my prayer, that was the best thing to know God, to mean my prayers, to say them sincerely. I wanted God to come closer. Show me what You mean in every word.”
Immaculee recited the Lord’s prayer.
“I wanted to know how God loves us. If He is the true father, that means He loves us more than our earthly father. The hardest part was to believe that He is the father of everybody, even those who are killing me -- even those who are searching for me. That was the bitter truth I had to face."
She wanted to understand who God was. She needed to. So when the pastor returned with scraps of food, Immaculee asked him for something else.
“I did ask for the Bible. Oh, my soul was thirsty. I didn’t care about my body any more.”
“I was reading the Bible for guidance, to know the truth. Now I want to know step-by-step what do You want me to do. I want to read line-by-line. If You say, ‘trust’, I want to try it. If You want to tell me ‘love them’, let me try it.”
Read part two of Immaculee's story.
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