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 genocide against the Tutsi began in Rwanda, 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!

God is not “Fair”. He is JUST!

By definition, being fair means: “free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice. A fair decision; a fair judge; legitimately sought, pursued, done, given, etc.; proper under the rules.” When we get what we truly deserve, in a good way, it’s called fairness. The jurisdiction system should be fair.

On the other hand, God is not “fair“. This is simply a definition we give to “justice”, in our eyes, not God’s. A simple example is Psalm 103:10 (NKJV): “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.” If you read the definition I shared above, this is not fairness at all. If you continue and read a few more verses up to 14, in lieu of fairness, we see mercy.

So, digging deep into the meaning, if God was fair, there shouldn’t be tragedies. Of course God does not cause them but He is mighty to stop them from happening, right? But we, as human beings, have ways of justifying what we “think” is right, or fair. But this does not necessarily mean that God sees it the same way, although we tend to believe so.

Let’s look at these few examples:

  • The city of Moore, Oklahoma pummeled by the tornado is beyond comprehension. Emotions of lucky parents reuniting with their survived children from the two elementary schools debris were simply contagious and very moving. The news of some other parents who waited on what may be their loved ones’ fate was simply heartbreaking.
  • Watching the news as the death toll climbed every minute, of people whose lives depended on the little money they made for hours in a country half way across the world, at a Bangladesh garment factory, didn’t make sense at all.
  • Words cannot depict the earthquake that reduced the Haitian capital city to rubble, where more than two hundred thousand people died in January 2010 and the country incurred heavy irreparable damages. My heart was overwhelmed with fear as I waited for the news of a good friend we met in grad school: Katarina, her husband and their baby boy, who was less than 6 months old at the time. By God’s grace, although they lost everything they owned in Port-au-Prince, they were safe and later returned to the United States. My friend’s survival story is unthinkable.
  • Last but certainly not least, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda remains the worst atrocities of the 20th century; about a million Tutsi (and some Hutu who opposed the genocide) were killed in a period of 100 days. Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian UN Force Commander (UNAMIR 1993-1994), with an objective to assist the implementation of “Arusha Accords” between the Government of Rwanda and the opposition, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), wrote about his experience. I highly recommend his book: Shake Hands with the Devil.

Romeo Dallaire

You can add a lot more stories, and sadly more are happening as I type. Of course the cause of these tragedies always has little to do with people who encounter them. Also, the conclusion is not about who suffered the most or who deserves the most attention. I personally believe that it’s about what we learn from the experience and finding God’s Power & Plan amid the situation.

In my human mind, of course it’s not fair for children to die, or innocent people to suffer, or bad things to happen to good people. It is very hard to understand that some people may be in abundance while in some places others die from hunger. When all this happen, we start blaming God and wonder where He is as everything happens. Many expressions in Rwanda later quoted that the “God of Rwanda” was absent starting the evening of April 6, 1994.

In some scenarios, we even take it further, by suggesting the Mighty God what would have happened, had He been there! We’re not the only ones though. When Jesus arrived 3 days after his friend Lazarus died, his sister Martha started to blame him. She instructed Jesus that if he had been there sooner, that her brother wouldn’t have died (John 11:21). Of course Jesus was there to not only raise Lazarus from the dead, but to also glorify His Father’s Name. If Jesus healed him instead, I am pretty sure that the miracle may have not been as powerful to them as bringing him back to life.

The truth is, no matter how one may seem to have it all together, we each have struggles on our own levels. We face different challenges in life, but the good news is that God cannot give us more than we can handle. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it“. 1 Corinthians 10:13

To sum up everything, I know without doubt that God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. It’s absolutely not because certain places or people are cursed that they should deserve what happens to them. “For God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust“.(Matt 5:45). God is Just, Almighty, a Healer, a Counselor, a Father to the Fatherless, filled with unwavering mercy and everlasting grace. Along with that, His calendar, schedule, curriculum, budget, judgement are NOT reasonable to our terms.

God does not cause earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes, but He is right there when and as it happens. After all, we hear survivors’ amazing stories. After all, it’s not by their own power that those are spared. God is forever on the highest throne; His ways are not ours, nor His thoughts are like ours. You cannot advise Him nor question what He’s doing. He does according to His will on earth as it is in heaven. He rules the world with Truth, Grace and Justice. If you trust Him, when everything falls apart, you will be safe in His arms.

Weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who celebrate. Treasure each day you have, tomorrow is not granted. Be eager to lend help, you never know when you may need it, too. Be considerate, mindful and sympathetic. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.

May God comfort those who mourn today and ease pain for those who are suffering, in the name of Jesus. May today all those who are in distress hear His soothing voice and may their hope be lifted high.

May His Holy Name be praised, now and always!

“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.” — Maya Angelou

“But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.” ~ Mitch Albom

It still bothers me sometime when I meet people who say that they aren’t really that close to their parents or siblings. It also breaks my heart when I read or hear stories about abandoned children by abusive or drug addicted parents and taken away by social services. I understand that some people grow apart; but it hurts because ultimately, children have to pay the price, when indeed they did not even ask to be born. In my home country Rwanda, you are normally expected to stay in touch with everyone who is related to you by blood, all the way to your extended family.

My Mom Colette was a mother who would do whatever it takes to be there for me and my siblings. If she ever had a problem, although being the second children (in a family of 6) and the oldest girl, I never learned or knew about it. She perhaps kept the pain or trouble to herself, and we, children never realized it. If my parents ever had a fight, I never found out. In the nutshell, our world was a paradise. We were given everything they could afford, and if they struggled in any way, we never learned the details.

When I was growing up, it was uncommon for parents to be emotional in front of their children. My parents never told me that they loved me; it’s still the same in many families in Rwanda. Regardless, I knew that they loved me so deeply. While gifts exchanging was uncommon, whenever we achieved a milestone in our lives (doing well in school, learning how to do chores at home), we would get small prizes. Learning how to do some chores was a big deal, particularly because even to this day, many families can afford housemaids/nannies/helpers. When I was little, we had 2-3 workers around the house, and they lived with us.

My Lovely Mother, in 1976, shortly before her wedding.

My Mom, my inspiration! Weeks after her engagement to my Dad (Late 70s)

I was spoiled pretty much. I knew how to do just a few things. It was the same for all my siblings. No wonder why from the day the genocide began in Rwanda (April 7th,1994) to the day she surrendered her final breath, this was my brave mother’s daily prayer: her entire family to die all together in a painless, fastest death possible. I don’t remember if she prayed to be shot instead of being cut into pieces, but I know that her prayer was answered differently, 17 days later (April 24th,1994). Perhaps she thought, and I am entirely sure, that none of her children would be able to survive on their own. She did not have to explain.

Dear Mommy, not only that four of us survived, we also rose above the storms. The God you loved and thought us to pray, Has been everything we ever need! We miss you with deep sorrow but we know that God loved you more than we did, and wanted you by His side. All your surviving children truly praise Him with gratitude! You dwell in heavenly eternal peace. We will finish what you started!

My mother was a selfless mother, everything to us, and an inspiration. She loved and treated everyone like a family, even those who didn’t like our family. Actually, one of my mother’s sisters-in-law had a dream in 1993. In it, a tragedy was coming to Rwanda where she saw many people getting killed. As she was about to die, she prayed that my mother would survive. In the dream, she was convinced that if my mother survived, that she would raise my aunt’s children as her own. That’s the caliber of a mother I am proud to call a woman who brought me into this life! Although I only got to know her for a few years, she remains my hero and role model, all my life!

After the genocide ended, I vowed that I would not call anyone mom or dad ever again. I actually despised hearing some fortunate classmates at my high school bragging about their parents. I was extremely bitter. I kept my word though, until August 2008 when I met the most amazing woman at a mutual friend’s dinner, in Rochester, New York. Her name is Glori Lovall. Few months later, she gave me the greatest possible honor: to call her my MOM. To make things even better, she’s only two years younger than my mother Colette would be. For the first time since I lost my parents, someone called me “daughter.” I rejoice everyday!

Maman et moi. Mars 2014

My Mom & I on my birthday: March 2014

In a few words, I raised myself. I never had a role model, or just someone to give me an advice on how things work. It’s ironic how I still struggle to adjust to a life where my new Mom tells me things, and when it exactly turns out as she told me, she says: “may be you should start listening to your mother”. Or something like reminding me to eat, visit some people, print out directions to get to places even when I have both a smartphone and a regular GPS, simple things like that. I can’t imagine a life without hers in mine. I am truly humbled by God’s wonders.

One small town in upstate New York has captured my heart forever! The kind of feeling that overwhelms my soul with joy each time I set my foot on the grounds of its airport cannot be expressed in words!

When I go back home, my new home in Rochester, my Mom always has a calendar of things I would do while there: visiting friends, family and friends coming over to see me etc. I don’t set the alarm clock when I am home. She exactly knows how much time it takes me to get ready. She knocks at my door until she hears my response because she knows how much I love my sleep. She cooks the best food and I eat so much when I am home. My Mom flies in to see me every year around my birthday! She is exceptional!

I know my mother would have done exactly the same. Glori is full of life and very loving. Each day that passes, I’m amazed by how my Mom and I find things we have in common, from physical aspects to life’s passions. It blows my mind, and brings me down to my knees before the Lord. From Colette’s ashes, God blessed me with a new mother, an incredible one!

If your Mom is incredible and still alive, hug her today and tell her that she means the world to you. If she is in heaven with God, treasure your memories of her. Write it down and do never stop talking about her. Colette is my hero, and she is alive as long as I shall live, and beyond. Glori is my gift from heaven, and Jesus’ love on display in my life.

I’m forever thankful to both of them, but more importantly, I praise GOD who loved me so much and honored me with two most amazing Mothers in my life! I am BLESSED!