In 1994, Rwandan Immaculée Ilibagiza was a college student who returned to her parents' home for Easter break and was caught in the midst of a modern-day holocaust that would end the lives of almost a million Rwandans—including most of her family. Marianne talks with Immaculée about her harrowing story of survival and the deep spiritual awakening she experienced during the genocide that has allowed her to forgive her family's killers.
In her book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, Immaculée tells the story of escaping the three-month-long massacre by seeking refuge in a local pastor's small, hidden bathroom with seven other women. She says that table scraps from the garbage were her only sources of food, and God, her only salvation. "I was praying from morning until night, literally blocking away these thoughts of hatred that I had, blocking these thoughts of how I would die," she says.
Immaculée, who is Catholic, says she read the Bible and prayed the rosary as her weight shrank to just 65 pounds and men with machetes ransacked the pastor's home, almost discovering the women hiding. "I realized that Jesus went through this [suffering] and he held on to what he believed in his heart," she says. Soon Immaculée says she started to experience a deepening relationship with God and she says that God spoke to her in her dreams, helping her believe that she would survive and have a future.
When the genocide ended and Immaculée came out of hiding, she says that most of her family was dead and her life resembled a nightmare, but she held onto her faith. She says through her relationship with God she was able to go to a prison and come face-to-face with one of the men who killed members of her family. She says that when she met the man, she told him that she forgave him. "To me, I think justice is part of forgiving, if it is well done with love," she says.
As she shares her story with other survivors of Rwanda's genocide, Immaculée says she is spreading the word about the power of forgiveness. "I have at least three friends who said that after we talked about forgiving, it was the only time they stopped having nightmares about the genocide," she says. "The power of forgiveness is huge, it is really big and it can save this world."
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, December 13, 2013