Left to Tell is Immacule Iligabiza’s amazing story about her escape from mass murder during the 1994 Rwandan holocaust, which she accomplished by hiding out in a tiny secret bathroom for 91 days with seven other girls and women. During this period Iligabiza learned how to transcend her fear and physical suffering by communing deeply with God. Ultimately she experienced profound inner peace, grace and forgiveness — not in spite of her ordeal, but because of it.
This book is highly recommended. Iligabiza demonstrates how the harshest condition can be exploited to bring more light into consciousness. The translation of Iligabiza’s name means shining and beautiful in body and soul, and she is true to it. At the end of the book Ilibagiza says “the love of a single heart can make a world of difference,” and we are extremely fortunate to have Iligabiza as a role model for dealing with fearful and seemingly desperate conditions.
For purposes of better understanding Iligabiza’s story, it’s helpful to know that Rwanda is located in central Africa and is about the same size as the state of Maryland. The country has a total population of 9 million mostly poor citizens who live on less than $2,000 per person per year.
Two tribes dominate. The Hutus account for about 85% of the population and Tutsis account for about 14% of the population. Over a 100-day period in 1994, Hutu extremists killed about 1 million Tutsis. Iligabiza is a Tutsi. Her parents and two of her three brothers were killed in the holocaust.
Hutu Power was the call to action to exterminate the Tutsi cockroaches: Kill then, kill them, kill them all; kill them big, kill them small. At the start of the holocaust, Iligabiza’s brothers begged her to stay with Pastor Murinzi because she would be raped and killed if the Hutus caught her. Murinzi agreed to hide Iligabiza and SIX other women, including a seven-year-old, in his tiny 4×3 bathroom.
The bathroom had a shower stall and a toilet, but no space for a sink and no space for the women to all sit at one time. Smaller girls sat on laps, and they all took turns switching positions every 12 hours. Even moving an inch was a major production.
“No one must know that you’re here, not even my children,” warned Murinzi. So no one ever cried, and the women could only flush the toilet when another toilet somewhere else in the house was being flushed. Somehow they learned to ignore each other’s bodily functions. “It all seemed rather trivial in comparison to staying alive.” Once a day the pastor brought them table scraps or whatever got tossed in the garbage.
While the war droned on outside the bathroom, Iligabiza strugged with her own internal war: dark energy versus prayer. She experienced ongoing physical and mental torture and constantly worried what would happen to her if she was found by the Hutus. Sometimes her mind was filled with hatred and the desire to make the Hutu extremists suffer, die and burn in hell. While other times Iligabiza thought about God and His great love for her. “I begged God to fill me with His light and strength and to cast out the dark energy from my heart.”
Connecting with God was the only way that Iligabiza could find relief. Consequently, she resolved to pray during every waking moment. Her praying began as soon as she woke up around 4 or 5 a.m. and lasted 15-20 hours until she went to sleep. She even dreamed about God. Prayer was the only place Iligabiza could be alone. It was her sacred garden. “All I could do was pray, so that’s what I did.”
“In the midst of genocide, I’d found my salvation. I knew that my bond with God would transcend the bathroom, the war, and the holocaust…it was a bond I now knew would transcend life itself.…I sat stone-still on that dirty floor for hours on end, contemplating the purity of His energy while the force of His love flowed through me like a sacred river, cleansing my soul and easing my mind. Sometimes I felt as though I were floating above my body.”
During the hiding period, Iligabiza lost a total of 40 pounds, and she only weighed about 115 to begin with. She also got a vicious infestation of body lice over her entire body. Despite these physical problems, each day Iligabiza thanked God for giving her life and for making her feel loved and cherished.
When the holocaust was over, Iligabiza was sent to refugee camps, and at long last she was presented with the opportunity to meet Felicien, the leader of the gang who killed her mother and brother, who was now in prison. Felicien was filthy, bruised, broken and embarassed. His feet had open, running sores and he was emaciated. Iligabiza reached out, touched his hands and said “I forgive you.” When her friends asked her how she could do that, Iligabiza said “forgiveness is all I have to offer.”
Eventually Iligabiza was reunited with her one remaining brother, Aimable, and started working at the U.N. in New York City. She met and married Bryan Black and now has a daughter and son. “Every morning when I wake up to my two little angels, I can see the beauty and power of God in their faces. I never stop thanking Him for all His precious gifts.”
Many real-life storyteller victims are stuck in the unhappy rut of tainting the present with the past. The event is constantly analyzed, questioned and relived. Perpetrators are judged as bad. Payback is sought, and happiness or peace cannot be found until the big scoreboard in life is made even. We see that Iligabiza has the same negative thoughts as everyone else on the planet, but we also see that she does not keep them. Iligabiza points another way by chosing to focus on more uplifting ideas. There is no end to the value of Iligabiza’s shining example.