“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher
The genocide is over, over a million people are brutally murdered in only three months, my parents are gone, my world is shattered for good.
Love is one of those things they told me in the past. My head spins uncontrollably, life bounces like a roller coaster before my eyes, my heart is wounded and heavy. I struggle to gasp for air, pinching myself to make sure it isn’t a nightmare. To my dismay, it’s happening! I am not dreaming! I am walking, half alive. It is a horror movie, one you watch but want people around you and lights on all the time, except that this is not a film. Buildings are beyond repair, roads are beyond recognition.
I don’t see any familiar faces, but I have to pick up pieces and figure out what to do next, at 13, by myself. I am not given a hint, or a chance to grow up first.
There is certainly no one to comfort me, to help calm racing heart beats inside my chest as if the heart struggles to leave me. I keep shaking my head to chase away evil thoughts: hatred, anger, vengeance, all of it. At the same time, I want to keep it all, because those who caused this misery deserve hell and all in it.
Amid the turmoil aftermath, I hunger for something that can take away my inconsolable emotions and heal my broken young heart.
As I walk around, I hear someone shouting at the top of his lungs, in one room, as if releasing his anger. I make my way to go check it out. It is one tall skinny man, I hear he is a Rwandan pastor who grew up in the exile, Uganda. He is mixing English and Kinyarwanda in his sermon. He is assuring the audience that there is someone who can relieve their pain, be a father to the fatherless, and remove bitterness. “Someone must have told him about me,” I whisper to myself as I find a seat.
The preacher is speaking too fast, and I am struggling to catch everything he says, but his words sure resonate in my heart. As they call out people to be prayed for, I don’t hesitate a bit, nor look around: I kneel down, tears rushing down my thin cheeks, to receive that Glorious King, Jesus Christ, who would trade my filthy rags of bitterness, agony for a promising future, hope.
After it is said and done, I start following this new preacher’s unusual but promising doctrines. I go all the way, I mean, all in, without a part of myself behind. Americans label it brainwashing: a young teenage girl, orphaned, poor, hopeless, alone, yes all the way in. To the young believer I am, anyone who believes differently is an unbeliever; it doesn’t matter if they are born again, go to church on Sunday and read the Holy Bible. Adding to a highly increasing number of high school students in the same boat, we belong to a cult that walks its own way: the relationship with parents/guardians, friends, family starts to deteriorate everyday, school attendance slows down each day.
We are told that we should leave everything behind, which I am definitely happy to do, considering that our neighbors, fellow Rwandans just killed my family. Oh yes, absolutely, sign me up!
Make-up, jewelry, modern outfits, perfumes, deodorants, permed hair, seeing a doctor and taking medications, education and good jobs, are all worldly, hence prohibited.
Blinded by pain and loneliness, all this is nothing to lose comparing to parents and two siblings I just lost without an explanation. NOTHING WILL EVER BE!
However, during the next three years, I am yet to discover that the preacher has another agenda, beyond what he reads from the richest book I have ever read: the Bible. The preacher discourages people from falling in love, or getting married. Church male members aren’t encouraged to seek self growth, perhaps the founder and only male leader is skeptical of being replaced at some point. Even more ridiculous to articulate, I learn that he sexually abuses young women.
During my time there, I spend most of my days fasting and praying, ranging from two up to five days and nights, without water or anything. If you look close, you can easily count my rib cage bones. But I pray to the Living God, no doubt about it.
As time dwindles, I have to make a lifetime decision: my escape!
One afternoon, I have all my reasons and qualms together. I am too young, comparing to the cult leaders, but I don’t care. I won’t leave without saying a word. I summon all the “leaders” with the exception of the mastermind, who was out of town, and once told me that I’d never amount to anything. I don’t blame him for his painful, shocking reminder. How can I succeed when someone we all look up to discourages us from pursuing education? “I just wish he knew me before I joined his church,” I whisper, but I am polite and do not say a word back, at least not yet.
In a short meeting, I let them know all my findings, and inform them that I am leaving with no turning back. They beg me to stay, but I have made up my mind. As I walk away, I remember everything I had given up: my family, education, friends; therefore, I conclude that there is no God. I am sure if He existed, He wouldn’t have allowed my family to perish, or let me waste my time.
I take off, leaving behind all their false doctrines, completely confused.
Meanwhile, I have an unaccomplished mission, whether I like it or not. Without regularly attending classes for 3 consecutive years, majoring in Math & Physics, I have got exactly 21 days to catch up on everything I had missed, in order to graduate.
All of the sudden, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob that I blindly believed, becomes real, just as I read in the Bible.
All my sleep is gone!
For 21 days, I only close my eyes for an hour or two maximum every 24 hours, and unable to force it beyond that. Shockingly, I don’t feel tired even a bit. I actually grasp all the material faster than I have ever seen myself doing, in the past or future, swallowing from the sea of pages put before me.
I am not frightened at night alone reading, teaching myself Maths, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, etc., when everyone else is in bed. I actually feel the presence of God in the form of footsteps around and inside the classroom where I corner alone to study.
Days fly by as if in a race, and the “knowledge judgement day” arrives. I sit with other students who studied the best they could when I was busy searching God, for the national exam. This end of high school assessment results would decide the fate for a future I had already lost hope for.
A month or two later, the results are in. With no hope to pass whatsoever, I fear the worst. In the evening, I receive a call on our land line phone. I recognize my colleague’s voice on the other end of the line. I immediately interrupt her greeting that I am not interested in knowing how I did, should she have information on my score.
She interrupts my plea to say that I excelled the exam. I also receive news that I have a full scholarship to college, basing on my score on the same exam. All my friends cannot believe it, and me neither.
Four years later, I graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering. A full scholarship to graduate school in United States follows, and later, an engineering job I had always wanted. And many more blessings, too many to number here!
That God I gave up everything to find, He sure didn’t hide from me. While the beginning was filled with uncertainty and betrayal, He was there when I needed Him the most. He became my only safe REFUGE when people I relied on brought my trust to a screeching halt.
God is mine alone. I don’t have to worship Him like someone else I know or observe what He does for others for me to believe in Him. The Bible is a tangible example for me to follow, no matter how some may seem to seek a-work-around it. He is not just the God that White European Fathers tought my ancestors more than a century ago in Rwanda, or the one they preach in the American churches, or I read in books.
The same God that assured Moses that He would be with him as he headed back to Egypt to deliver Israelites out of Pharaoh’s hands and bring them to the Promised Land of Canaan, or the One that shamed all the prophets of Baal before Elijah at Mount Carmel, or raised Jesus from the dead, lives in me.
GOD did amazing things for Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And me!
And this is what hope can do.