In April 1994 in Rwanda, Immaculée went to a pastor’s home and with seven other women lived in a small bathroom, hidden behind a clothes valet for 91 days. Immaculée’s family, along with nearly a million others, were brutally murdered during the Rwandan genocide.
To read more about Immaculee's story, click here. Immaculée has also written a book about her experience called: Left to tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan holocaust
The Gentle Side of Disaster
From a talk Immaculée gave in 2005 : When we came out [of hiding, out of the bathroom], I found out that everyone in my family was dead, my mom, my dad, my brothers, my neighbor Tutsis, my school mates. The whole country was dead bodies all over. I thought it was almost maybe the end of the world. Or the beginning, but one thing was real. The forgiveness I’ve experienced, the love I got in the bathroom about God was so real, it was a gift that helped me relieve the pain of losing my parents. I am so grateful...I even went to the prison to visit the killer of my parents. I wanted to find out how I would feel. As I saw him suffering, sitting down, a man who was respected. I really did feel compassion. I couldn’t believe that sin could bring somebody into a situation like that. If he couldn’t think of it himself, if he couldn’t love himself, to protect himself from coming into that situation, how can he think of me? How can he think of not hurting me? I knew for sure that he couldn’t know what he was doing. And I forgave him.
It is for the acts of forgiving the man who killed her parents, and sharing her story of unconditional love to thousands of others, which have inspired countless people to see the gift of forgiveness and unconditional love, that Humanity's Team has selected Immaculée Ilibagiza for the 2011 Spiritual Leadership award.
Why is it that disaster returns us to Oneness in this way?
Why is it that we humans only start to ‘behave’, when crisis walks into the room?
The ‘evolutionary perspective’ says that these events are Life bringing a message to Life about Life through the process of Life, in order for Life to evolve Life. Or, as ‘God’ (Morgan Freeman) said, in Evan Almighty : ''If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the Opportunity to BE patient? If they pray for courage, does God given them courage, or Opportunities to BE courageous? If someone prayed for their family to be closer, does God zap them with warm fuzzy feelings, or give them Opportunities to love each other?’’
Likewise, if we pray for the world to live as One, does Life rain Oneness down upon us, or give us Opportunities to BE One with each other - Opportunities to BE the Oneness we seek?
While every person, situation and event in our Lives brings us such an Opportunity, it’s said that, at our current level of consciousness, disaster is the only event that brings the whole of Humanity together as One. At a time of disaster, all the excuses we use to separate ourselves and justify our differences disappear, and we start to see each other as each other, and finally ask Life’s big questions: ‘Who am I?’ ‘Why am I here?’
On the ground, self-definition, and the stepping-into that, is instantaneous, and what we call ‘heroes’ emerge. Firemen race toward the shore, to evacuate those from the water’s edge; a policeman stands in the tsunami’s path, frantically waving traffic to higher ground; a man uses a dump-truck to ferry people to safety, returning again and again as the water closes-in; a city-office worker stays at her post, calmly warning residents, as the water levels rise (This is who I am. This is why I’m here). In the shelters, refugees share their space, food, water, and warmth. In the neighborhoods, people put aside past quarrels, and welcome strangers into their homes to share what they have (This is who I am. This is why I’m here). Around the world, hearts burst open, and hands reach into pockets, or join together in prayer.
It seems then, that disaster has a gentler role: to bring each of us an Opportunity to re-define ourselves, so we might step into the highest definition of Who We Are, and become the Oneness that we seek. The question then becomes: Can we stay there?
Can we continue to see each other as each other, to keep carrying each other to higher ground, and to love our neighbors and share with strangers, even as disaster leaves the room?
"Be the change you wish to see in the world." — Gandhi