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Life After 91 Days in Hiding During The Rwandan Holocaust

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Life After 91 Days in Hiding During The Rwandan Holocaust

The Healing Power of Prayer
Immaculee Ilibagiza
Immaculee Ilibagiza More by this author
Apr 10, 2014 at 09:30 PM

After 20 years, survivor of the Rwandan holocaust, Immaculée Ilibagiza reflects on her life since the tragedy and how she has learned to live and love again through faith and forgiveness:

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since that Easter holiday in 1994, when my beautiful homeland of Rwanda was engulfed in a storm of human hatred now known as one of the bloodiest genocides in human history. Two decades since that savage killing spree claimed the lives of more than a million innocent men, women, and children; robbed me of my family and almost everyone I’d ever loved; and left my country and my world in ruins.

91 Days of Hiding in a Bathroom 

Sometimes if I dwell too long upon the 91 days I spent in hiding while the killing raged around me, the memory of my loss becomes so fresh it feels as though it happened only yesterday. Yet at other times, perhaps while visiting a brand-new school being opened in Rwanda or listening to the laughter of my happy and healthy children at play, the horror I lived through seems nothing more than a shadow fragment from a bad and distant dream I had in another lifetime.

The genocide forever changed my perception of time. During the frequent searches the killers made of Pastor Murinzi’s house while hunting for me, every second I spent crouching in my secret bathroom hideaway seemed to last a year. But the moment I opened my heart to God in prayer and felt the protective hand of the Blessed Virgin Mary on my shoulder, I was transported to a place of peace where time ceased to exist, my heart was touched by eternity, my fear replaced with forgiveness, and my doubt dispelled by the certainty that I would forever be a beloved child of the Lord.

When the holocaust ended, the carnage and devastation left in its wake was so overwhelming I was certain that even if God performed a great miracle, it would take at least 20 years for the few of us who’d been left alive to just bury the dead. And no one doubted that it would take generations to repair the shattered economy, re-build the burned-out homes, and heal the physical, psychological, and emotional wounds suffered by each and every survivor, including myself.

But I have learned that God does not work on a human timetable and that miracles come to us through our prayers, not according to our calendars. To me, there is no greater proof of the existence of miracles than the depth, scope, and speed at which my African homeland has been restored and transformed…and no greater evidence of the power of love and forgiveness to heal our pain and enrich our lives than the countless blessings that fill my life today, and the peace I have and hold in my heart.

 Becoming An American Citizen

As connected as I am to my Rwandan roots and heritage, it is my adopted country of America that I now call home. I had lived in the United States as a refugee since arriving in 1998. Like so many refugees, I dreamed of one day becoming an American citizen. Last year that dream came true in a glorious way.  Not only was I notified that I was to be granted U.S. citizenship, but I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the ceremony in which 50 other refugees were also becoming new Americans.

I didn’t know what to talk about, so I shared my story with them. I told them how praying for the strength to love and forgive had given me the courage and strength I needed to carry on after losing my family and my home…and that becoming an American citizen was the first time I felt I actually had a place to call home since the day I ran from my father’s house to escape the killers in the spring of 1994.

For nearly 20 years I have been homeless, but that is no longer true,” I said. “Today I feel free—today I feel like I am reborn. I have a home again. I am so happy for all of you and so grateful for all I have. I am free. I am home. God bless you all.”

 To learn more about my story, see my book, Left To Tell - Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.


Immaculée Ilibagiza was born in Rwanda and studied electronic and mechanical engineering at the National University. Immaculée holds honorary doctoral degrees from The University of Notre Dame and Saint John’s University, and was awarded The Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace 2007.

About Author
Immaculee Ilibagiza
Immaculée Ilibagiza was born in Rwanda and studied electronic and mechanical engineering at the National University. She lost most of her family during the 1994 genocide. Four years later, she emigrated to the United States and began working at th Continue reading