♫ Hear me God, God of Rwanda ♫: By A Grieving Rwandan Singer!

Rwanda, the Land of a Thousand Hills

When I was growing up, just like most of Rwandans then, for some reasons, I thought that Rwanda was the biggest country ever. It goes way back in history.  “Rwanda” comes from “Kwanda“, which means “getting larger or expanding“. After I moved to the United States, I of course abandoned the idea. Rwanda is nearly the size of the state of Massachusetts.

Also, I am still convinced that everyone in Rwanda believed in God when I was growing up. Many songs and expressions in Kinyarwanda simply reflected “the God of Rwanda” that spent the day in other countries but definitely came home to Rwanda every night. In fact, most last names in Rwanda carried “God” or “Imana” in it. For instance, my maiden name Imaniraguha, means, “God gives you”, and many many others.

Unfortunately, Rwandan artists also later wrote that God didn’t come to Rwanda on April 7th, 1994. That Thursday morning (ironically this year 2016 exactly matches days of 1994) marked the beginning of an ethnic cleansing, the 1994 genocide against the minority Tutsi group (15% of the population of about 7 millions then).

Personally, as I have written in many posts, although the genocide lasted about 100 days, April is a unique month in mine and my 3 surviving siblings’ lives. By Sunday April 24th, 1994, I had already lost my parents and two of my siblings. One mourning song especially conveys the degree of my grief, my prayer, my hope. It’s called “Hear Me God, please Hear Me, God of Rwanda“. Click here to take a listen: Nyumva Mana (Hear me God) by Suzanne Nyiranyamibwa.

Unfortunately it’s in Kinyarwanda; however, below is my attempt to transcript the lyrics in English. Although the song is possibly nearly 2 decades old, it has been my favorite for so many reasons!

♪♫Hear me God, Hear me God, Please Hear me, God of Rwanda.

Keep me from having rancor and rid me of a heart of vengeance. Let Justice roll, and please end oppression in our country.

Hear me God (x2)!

Although many years come to pass, my heart is still stricken with grief! I look everywhere and my sight has no end. And when I call out for someone, echoes answer me, instead!

Hear me God (x2)!

My father! I didn’t bury him! My Mother! I didn’t see her on a deathbed! Many relatives, children and true friends, were killed without a crime and I was left all alone!

Hear me God!

One who could be on my side was taken away in this tsunami, too. They robbed me of love and wrapped me in sorrow. I escaped without hope as the enemy watched!

Hear me God!

Your chosen ones were murdered because of how you created them. Please seat them near you in Your Palace of Life, relieve them of pain and rest them in peace!

Hear me God!

Lord of Mercy, hear me I am begging You. Please come quickly, win over the enemy and protect me with Your Shield. Bless Rwanda with great things and get rid of all bitterness among us!

Hear me God, Please Hear me, God of Rwanda.

Keep me from having rancor and rid me of a heart of vengeance. Let Justice roll, and please end oppression in our country!

Hear me God (x4). Please Hear me, God of Rwanda ♪♫

Descent into the Kigali International Airport, Kanombe

Aerial View of Kanombe, near the International Airport in Kigali

“But those who wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” ~ Mathew 5: 4

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”~ Revelations 21:4

It’s almost February and April is around the corner. Oh how I anxiously wait for this month all year around! Why is April a big deal? Because it will be the 22nd anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, in which I lost my beloved parents and 2 of my siblings. Unfortunately, although a lot has happened since then, it  still feels like it was yesterday to me!

Though I still grieve for them with a deep sorrow and always will, however, I have encountered someone who has deeply touched my shattered heart with a mighty healing power and gave me a reason to rejoice forever: my Lord and King Jesus! He has turned my mourning into dancing! Therefore, I grieve with hope!

That’s my prayer for anyone who has lost someone close, especially tragically. I know how you feel!

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” ~ Romans 12:15

My Dearly Beloved Parents

My Dearly Beloved Parents

Today, I am again reminded that life is extremely short and that tomorrow is NOT guaranteed! I knew that already, but my weary heart needs a constant reminder. This evening, I learned of a death of someone so young and full of life. This young man was a newlywed to an extremely beautiful young woman who is a close friend to my family in Rwanda.

He died of a motorcycle accident, the most popular means of public transportation in Rwanda, besides buses. Quite frankly, a cruel fact may be that those commercial motorcycles probably claim more lives than any other cause of death in Rwanda.

I weep so deep with this very young widow. My heart breaks for her, her family and many whose loved ones have been taken away so suddenly. This life begs more questions than answers unfortunately. You may have many examples. My prayer is that the whole world will come to know how much God loves us despite our circumstances. That’s very important.

You see, the Bible tells me that one day, God will make everything new, and wipe away all our tears. Our mourning will be no more. This gives me hope! And that we will see again all those who died in the Lord, in the new life that knows no sorrow.

There, hatred, discrimination, accidents, killings, injustice, tragedies, natural disasters, diseases, illness, hunger, wars, all will lose battle. Love & peace will be victorious and eternal life will be our song forever!

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me,“Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.“Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” ~ Revelations 14:13

Father God, I pray that You’ll comfort all those who are grieving & hurting. You alone are their Strength, Shield and Salvation. You are capable of consoling them even when the outpouring sympathy & support is not enough. Will You send them Peace, surround them with Your unfailing Love and Kindness! Will You be their only Joy, Hope and Refuge! Now and always!

In Jesus name! Amen!

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”~ Revelations 21:4

Grief is NOT Cowardice, Forgiveness is NOT Being Defeated: APRIL 1994

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (ESV)

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14 (ESV)

Dear Father GOD in heaven, thank you for accepting me for who I am. Since no creature is hidden from your sight, this is the truth in my heart: APRIL reminds me of the terror that engulfed my beautiful country, the shameful death my loved ones died 21 year ago: April 7 (Marie Claudine, age 11), April 17 (Dad, 43), April 24 (Mama, 40 & Jean Felix, age 15). This month brings back horrific memories to relive nightmares that filled the emptiness followed their departure from this world.

I often wonder why they were gone so soon and how could anyone harm them!! I tearfully wish they lived to see and be proud of who I am today. I truly hate when doctors here ask me about my parents medical history or how they died; what am I supposed to say? It’s hard to let go of the fact that my parents weren’t there to see their youngest son Eric getting married last December. When I am struggling, I miss Papa’s voice telling me that everything will be okay.

My Dear Parents!

Mama (photo taken in 1976; she was 22) and Papa (1985: he was 34)

Dear Lord, it’s not easy to accept that their grandkids and later generations will only meet them in my pages. My heart wanders each time I need someone to remind me of things from my childhood. I can’t help but wondering how my parents would have loved to see my place, meet my friends, see my new car, and hear about my job and stories of places I travel to on business. Father, I think that they’d have been proud. I am so sure of this!

Jesus, I very well know that where my loved ones are in your heaven, they’re no longer worried or suffering!

Will You please tell them that Miette, Alice, Eric and I miss them so deeply and love them very much!! Will You delegate your angels to narrate to them everything You had done for us for the past 21 years? Will You please assure Mama that You have been everything we ever need, that Your richness in us surpasses all our understanding? Will You tell Papa how your Protection keeps us safe, Your Love is our shield, Your Glory our success, Your grace our happiness?

Will You tell them that You have been our Provider, Defender and a shoulder to cry when we miss them? As I wrote last year this time that You and I would take care of their son’s wedding, will You please tell them for me that everything was perfect because You were our Guest of Honor? You are able to explain it better than I could ever do.

Father, will You again read the below TRIBUTE I wrote last year to Mama, Papa, Marie Claudine and Jean Felix? Thank you so much for putting an end to their pain and suffering of this life, and for making them dwell in your heaven and resting them in your eternal peace! And thank you for enabling me to honestly forgive their killers! You alone can make broken lives beautiful!

A Tribute to my Loved Ones on the 20th anniversary (2014)

In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later!

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24

Is it Always Possible to Forgive? This is how I understand it!

 

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This year, I have especially had a great privilege to speak and share my experience through the genocide in Rwanda (1994) and its aftermath to much younger audiences: middle school, high school and college students. I have been amazed by their curious and honest minds.

At Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill, NC, I had an opportunity to speak to the 7th grade group, about 100 of them. I have never felt so comfortable to talk about my life story to younger people than this time. When I mentioned that I was their age during the genocide, they were appalled. Needless to say, I believe that it made the talk easier as we tried to related to each other in terms of age.

Prior to the speech, their teacher briefed them about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Their response: “it’s impossible to forgive someone who has committed genocide crimes. Later after the speech, some of them came to talk to me. I was very touched.

After speaking at Philips Middle School

@ Phillips Middle School, Feb 2014

One high school I spoke at, Trinity Academy of Raleigh, NC, students (9th-12th grade) have had a chance to read my story ahead of the talk; they posted more than a hundred questions prior to my session. All of their questions were very interesting but I’d like to share a few:

  • Do you believe, in this circumstance, that forgiveness is an intelligent decision?
  • How do you help others learn to forgive? 
  • Just wondering, but Jesus said forgive 70 x 7 times and then that again, is that number larger enough to accommodate for the amount of deaths?
  • What has been your greatest struggle since your trials in 1994?
  • How do you keep your strength in forgiving your enemies? I understand God gives you strength but the event of your family being killed is still a hard thing to coup with.
  • How are you able to cope with talking about this horrible event over and over and not react to it in a negative way? But be able to find the good in the situation?
  • Is this similar to what is happening in Syria right now? A civil war containing of family and neighbors and friends fighting each other? 

I was fascinated by how much they were able to quickly grasp before I even had a chance to speak to their class. I do NOT claim to have answers to the above questions nor am I an expert in forgiveness. I am only sharing my life experience and what my eyes have seen.

This post is not intended to teach about forgiving genocide crimes, or forgiveness in general. This is my own story and experience, so please bear with me if you have different beliefs or opinion!

There is no question about this! The genocide has snatched the most precious part of my life: my incredible parents and two of my siblings, innumerable friends, neighbors, classmates. Undeniably, my peaceful world has been forever twisted and eternally shattered. The tragedy left me with deep wounds, permanent scars, unwanted injuries. I still tremble with great fear as I try to comprehend the cruelty, people who became ferocious animals, the stories of how my loved ones were shamed to death.

Speaking to Salem College Student about Forgiveness

@ Salem College, Winston-Salem, NC. Feb 2014

For a long time, I wanted to utterly blot out my past, and pretend as if the horror was simply a nightmare. I silently wished that the month of April would be completely removed from the Gregorian calendar. For many years, I didn’t believe that something good can ever happen to me in April. April in Kinyarwanda Mata means milkto perhaps trace back to the country that was once referred to as “flowing milk and honey.”  

On the contrary, in Mata 1994, streams of innocent blood rushed down the hills, rested in the plains. Corpses swelled rivers, mass graves, an effort to conceal crime scenes, devoured innocent souls. Sorrow filled highs and lows of Rwanda, weeping voices rang across the country of a thousand hills. It is when terror engulfed Rwanda, to introduce for the first time, longer daylights but shorter nights to reveal and expose unsafe hidings for those who run for their lives without an understanding to why they were being hunted to be hacked to death.

In that Mata, the soil of Rwanda opened to swallow the blood of innocent, amazing people who meant the world to me, without an explanation! Daily nightmares to keep reliving what exactly happened would soon follow, to awake me gasping for air, wondering if it’s Mata all over again. Those terrifying nights lasted for years before I could have a normal dream to calm my soul.

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly forgave those who caused this misery, from the heart. The truth is though, an attempt to explain what it takes to move on past the genocide crimes, hatred, injustice beyond comprehension is impossible and an understatement! But this is why I did it. NO, scratch that please! This is what Jesus Has done in me:

  •  The genocide has done irreversible damage in my life

Four members of my family were killed, not because of a crime they committed. Their death sentence was their physical appearance, something they weren’t given a chance to bargain with God on their birth. With that said, there is nothing in this life that can ever be done to bring them back.

Not even if I was given the righteous power to kill everyone who is responsible and get rid of anyone who doesn’t wish me well. Howbeit, there is someone who leads the world with Justice and He sees everything. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9

So, when I feel anger and hatred crouching at the door of my heart, I remember Romans 12:20: “To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” It is written and true! The greatest vengeance you could ever do to someone who has wronged you is to forgive them.

Speaking at the Summit Church

@ The Summit Church, Durham, NC. November 2013

  • My parents and two siblings are in heaven with God

Absolutely! It’s beyond the shadow of doubt! Their tears are no more, their pains have ceased to occur. They are no longer being tortured or grieving. Their journey on this earth may have ended sooner, but their life with Jesus will never have an end. I patiently wait for the day I will see them again, in a life that knows no sorrow or a broken heart. I miss them with a deep sorrow!

With that said, it is written in Hebrews 12:14:Strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. For all it’s worth, I crave for holiness because I long to see GOD who has my parents and two siblings with Him. Holiness includes forgiveness on my part, not only to those who made me an orphan, but also to everyone who has hurt me from small to great things.

  • Forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the one who is forgiven

Besides the word of God, scientifically proven, when you love someone or people, you think about them all the the time and wish them well. The same way, when you have been wronged, each time that your wounded heart is reminded of the injustice that has been done to you or your loved one, unintentionally or aware, you react. The signs can be rage, frustration, nightmares, headaches, lack of trust, sleep disorders, depression, shyness, resentment and many more.

“Studies from the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found forgiveness to be associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as stress relief. A later study found forgiveness to be positively associated with five measures of health: physical symptoms, medications used, sleep quality, fatigue, and somatic complaints. It seems that the reduction in negative affect (depressive symptoms), strengthened spirituality, conflict management and stress relief one finds through forgiveness all have a significant impact on overall health.”

Personally, I want to occupy my mind with treasured memories of hope. The wonders of God in my life overwhelm me with gratitude and humility. He held my hand and reminded me that I was not alone through trials and tribulations when no one else comforted me. My God and I are forever undefeated!!

As for those who have hurt me, their bad intentions have no room in my records. As I extend forgiveness to them, whether they ask for it or not,  I feel free. As I forgive, my heart feels lighter as if a heavy burden has been lifted off my shoulder!

Speaking at the PKN Raleigh

@ PKN Raleigh, NC. May 2013

  • I make mistakes, too!

“I’m a sinner, FIRST, sinned against SECOND.” ~ The Summit Church

I have to remind this to myself all the time. Just like Jesus said that the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. I often find myself doing or wishing things that I wouldn’t normally want or do in my right mind, because of my sinful heart’s desire. When that happens, I am like, seriously? How did I possibly bring myself to think of this or do that etc.

Romans 3:23 goes like this: “for all have sinned and fell short of the glory of God”.

I don’t see where it says only those who shed blood. Everyone, including victims, we all need Jesus. So if we’re all in the same boat, how am I better to judge others and decide their fate?

In Mathew 18:21-35, Jesus tells us the Parable of an Unforgiving Servant after Peter asked him how many times he should forgive a brother who sins against him. The king had a servant who owed him 14 billion US dollars; since he couldn’t pay back, the king ordered him and his family to be sold until they could pay it off. Then the servant fell on his knees begging the king to give him time to pay everything off. Out of pity, the king forgave him the debt.

As soon as this very servant left, he encountered a fellow servant who owed him $2,000. He started choking him asking to pay it all, and when his debtor couldn’t pay, he put him in prison. As the story goes on, the master found out what the first servant did. Out of anger, the master put him in jail until he could pay off all his debt.

Honestly, if my past, present and future sins were converted in any type of currency, I’d be imprisoned for the rest of my life. They are too many to number, for sure. Because I’ve been forgiven too, I don’t want to be like this unforgiving servant. My only part in this all, is to forgive, even when those who have wronged me don’t deserve it or ask for it.

  • Everyone will be held accountable for their acts, someday!

This life has an end, no doubt about this one! One day, we will all stand before God, whether you believe in Him or not, and our work in this life will be measured and tried. Hebrews 4:13 states that: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account”. God knows it all, and His judgement is beyond ACCURATE!

Our life example has been set on the cross where Jesus died in shame to reconcile the world to God. He is the finest example of what it is to forgive even when it hurts so much.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healedIsaiah 53: 4-5

 “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12: 19

Sins may carry different weights, but I am not the one to determine who has committed unforgivable ones. GOD sees it all, and He is the right Judge. Who am I to replace Him on that seat? I’m not skilled to thoroughly understand God’s ways, nor I’m qualified to question what He’s doing.

This is very assuring to me more than anything, and knowing that He will avenge on my enemies, I want to learn how to truly forgive, and leave the rest to God’s wrath. This is my understanding on forgiveness!

 “You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.” – Lewis B. Smedes.

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” ~ Catherine Ponder

Inconceivable Heroism Amid Horror

My siblings and I grew up in a large family: two boys and four girls. I am the second and oldest girl; but this post is not about me. I want to share with the world about the fourth child, my little brother Jean Eric Claude. I vividly remember when he was born, I was almost 5 years old. He was a big baby (about 10 pounds), extremely beautiful with chubby cheeks and so much curly hair. I asked my mother if I could hold him, but I was unable to because he was too heavy for me. I am sure you are wondering if I am describing the right person basing on the below picture. By the way, that makes two of us! I am not sure how he grew up to become thinner than the rest of the family.

When Eric was young, him and I used to fight a lot. I am sure I provoked him but he was not that easy either. He played outside always, and was injured all the time from different utensils he collected or perhaps some fights he may have been involved in. He was a stubborn little guy.

On Sunday afternoon, April 24th, 1994, exactly 17 days since the Rwandan Genocide began, everything changed! God must have stirred something unimaginable in this 8 year old’s heart after my Mom, my old brother Jean Felix, my cousin and I were led by the infamous interahamwe militiamen to the mass grave in the lower Kanombe, suburbs of Kigali, to be killed.

Sparing you the details for now, I miraculously survived but my Mom, brother and cousin didn’t. Although death was everywhere, I undoubtedly cherish that afternoon because God gave me another chance to life. However, the same day I got separated from my brother Eric, and sisters Alice and Mireille, who were all under 10. At this point, they were so certain I was dead, and I thought the same for them.

My handsome brother
My handsome brother, now a grown up man! I’m eternally honored to be called his sister.
With no instructions on what to do next or a moment to think about it, my baby brother immediately assumed the role of a big brother and a parent. Fleeing amid rain of bullets, blood thirst machetes and hiding in unfamiliar areas, he tied up a piece of blanket around his neck so his two sisters could hold on to it.

Sigh…

I often wonder how the blanket didn’t choke him or how he figured out that this would be the best approach for his dear sisters. Few times, the youngest Mireille who was 3, got separated from them; unable to decide what to do, she would simply stay wherever she was left. Was she scared? When you are aware that death awaits you any minute, the sense of feeling becomes numb, even at such age.
As soon as my brother realized that she was missing, when parents left babies to cry to death and everyone was just running for their life, my brother turned around to look for Mireille. No wonder why their hearts have been knitted together ever since!
Also each time they found something to eat after days, my little brother would let my sisters eat first. After they have had enough in their little tummies, only then he would grab some.
Their stories after we got separated still wound my heart greatly. It certainly is where my forgiveness is tried the most. But I praise GOD, for keeping them safe, allowing me to be part of their precious lives, and His amazing Grace!

The spoiled brat quickly became a MAN at that young age, a selfless one. I doubt I would have been able to put my life in danger to find my little sister or keep them safe, when sounds of terror and weeping voices of sorrow rang across all corners of the country. Only extraordinary, rare people would do that. I often wonder what was in his mind, but the LOVE he had for his little sister sure overcame his fear and selfishness of saving his own life. God Almighty knew well that I was incapable of doing such a heroic act and led me alone.

Mireille and Alice: My greatest happiness!
My Beautiful Girls, my Greatest Blessing, my Treasure! Mireille (left) and Alice (right).

Only those who have been through the Genocide can understand my inability to describe the cruelty of the humans who became ferocious animals: babies were cut out of their mothers’ wombs and smashed against walls; relatives denied each other, neighbors turned their back on their friends, husbands killed wives and children, hell engulfed Rwanda. Amid terror, my little brother didn’t care about death that surrounded him, and God used him to keep my little sisters alive. He is my hero, my best friend! If I could get hold of the whole world, I would freely give it to him; if I was part of the Nobel Prize organizing committee, he would get at least a few of those!

My brother’s last name “Mudacumura”, means “innocent in both English and French. This truly depicts who he is. He has every quality you can possibly look in a great man: selflessness, humility, passion, compassion, a big heart, brilliant, kindness, funny, sweet, down to earth, loves God, handsome, a true gentleman! Until this day, he puts his siblings’ interests before his. He is the rock of our family, an exact replica of our father.

I CANNOT wait already for the day he will tie the knot with this incredible woman of his dreams, probably the luckiest girl on this planet. No one deserves happiness more than him. And I can’t wait for the day we will again see our parents, so I can narrate all about a little boy they left behind, now the most amazing man in the whole wide world.

I love my brother with everything functioning in me. Him and his two sisters are the reason I am alive, there is no doubt about that.

They will never, EVER, need anything my ability can provide; God and my parents in heaven have my word!

It hurts my feelings when I think that one day I may not be the first person they all run to for help. Of course I work hard for their independence, but it will greatly shatter my heart. They will always be my children, little in my eyes. And they certainly have all my love and attention, all my days!!!

And this, my friends, is the source of my strength and hope: God, the great I am!