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ISBN ### Forgiveness is all I have to offer

ISBN 1-4019-0896-9

About a year ago I was watching a Wayne Dyer special on PBS. He was promoting his new book slash speaking tour, "Inspiration: Your Ultimate Calling." At one point he told everyone that he wanted to introduce someone who inspires him. A strikingly beautiful African woman walks on stage, confident but quiet, stands front and center and proclaims: "My name is Immaculee Ilibagiza. This is the story of how I discovered God during one of history's bloodiest holocausts."

Immaculee is a rare Tutsi survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. One half of one percent of Tutsi women survived. The Rwandan government estimates that more than one million people were killed in approximately 100 days. The historical and political story of the genocide are well published, but in superficial summary: Hutus staged a government coop and country-wide ethnic cleansing campaign, slaughtering their Tutsi friends and neighbors, men, women, and children. Immaculee survived 91 days hiding in a Hutu Pastor's home with seven other Tutsi women in a closet-sized bathroom. She shares her story in "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust." In her own words, the story of "Left to Tell" is her realization that "being spared is much different from being saved...and this lesson forever changed me. It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me - and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family."

"Left to Tell" creates an incredible arc, leading the reader from Immaculee's memories of her childhood, her family, and their village here Hutus and Tutsis lived in peace, to her formative days at university, to the genocide, and finally her life 13 years after the genocide. The book does not shy away from the difficult, bloody details of those three months in 1994. I respect that it doesn't gloss over these events or even give readers a break from the intensity. I couldn't put the book down, finishing it in about three days. As painful as it is to read, there is a power in the book that compels you to not only reach the end, but reach the end quickly. Even though the general history of the event is well known, something in the book calls you to discover what happens to Immaculee, her country, her friends, her family.

The women hiding in the bathroom could not speak and could only move to re-situate themselves once each day for fear of being discovered. Hutu soldiers searched the Pastor's house a number of times and, based on rumors circulating through the town, called Immaculee by name as they hunted specifically for her. The picture on the left shows Immaculee ten years later in that same bathroom, clearly amazed that seven women survived three months in that tiny space. As described in "Left to Tell," throughout the 91 days she spent in the bathroom Immaculee prayed 10+ hours a day, worked her way through her rosary again and again, read the Bible over and over, and trudged through an intimate argument with God...all trying to make sense of what was happening. Reading about her experience in that bathroom is life changing, but it is the closing chapter of the book that shook me to my core.

Within weeks of the end of the genocide Immaculee was living in the capitol city of Kigali and working for the United Nations. She had begun to look toward the future and imagine a new life. She realized, however, that try as she might she could not yet move on. To this end she visited her friend Semana, a politician in charge of arresting and detaining the Hutu killers, and arranged to meet Felicien, the person who killed her family.

"Semana pushed Felicien into the office, and he stumbled onto his knees. when he looked up from the floor and saw that I was the one who was waiting for him, the color drained from his face. He quickly shifted his gaze and stared at the floor. 'Stand up, killer!' Semana shouted. 'Stand up and explain to this girl why her family is dead. Explain to her why you murdered her mother and butchered her brother. Get up, I said! Get up and tell her!' Semana screamed even louder, but the battered man remained hunched and kneeling, too embarrassed to stand and face me. His dirty clothing hung from his emaciated frame in tatters. His skin was sallow, bruised, and broken; and his eyes were filmed and crusted. His once handsome face was hidden beneath a filthy, matted beard; and his bare feet were covered in open, running sores."

Can you imagine what you might say to this person? What emotions would you have surging through your mind and body at meeting this man? Immaculee writes, "I wept at the sight of his suffering. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man. [Semana] grabbed Felicien by the shirt collar and hauled him to his feet. 'What do you have to say to her? What do you have to say to Immaculee?' Felicien was sobbing. I could feel his shame. He looked up at me for only a moment, but our eyes met. I reached out, touched his hands lightly, and quietly said what I'd come to say. 'I forgive you.'"

Naturally, Semana was stunned. He returned Felicien to his cell and then approached Immaculee, "How could you do that?" She replied, "Forgiveness is all I have to offer."

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