Imagine being a young woman during the 1994 Rwanda genocide and emerging from a bathroom where you had hidden for months, only to discover that your entire family had been slaughtered, and your home and everything in it had been destroyed. You owned nothing except the clothes on your back. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a wealthy married man seeks you out.
He says: “I heard what happened. I will give you a car, a house, a driver, a sari, and people to work for you.” Left unsaid is what you must do for him in return.
Immaculeé Ilibagiza, author of the bestselling book “Left to Tell,” and host of EWTN’s new series, “I Forgive With Immaculee Ilibagiza,” (https://bit.ly/3EPAKX9) faced just that situation. She was at a crossroads. She says: “Would I choose to trust God or the devil?” Her “friends” told her she would be foolish not to take what the man offered. She decided otherwise!
“What helped me was faith: Jesus will take care of me! [If I had made a different decision], I wouldn’t have the family, the children I have today. I would not be in this beautiful country, helping people. All of that wouldn’t have happened [if I had said yes to that married man]. If you decide with faith and not as a human, that faith will save you. Don’t be too smart. Just be simple with God.”
Immaculeé says she goes to God every day with her problems and challenges and things work out.
“I’m not going to sweat because the plane is not leaving on time,” Immaculeé said. “Maybe God will work through [the people involved in this] too. I won’t waste my time. I’m going to pray. If I have done that, the rest is none of my business.”
Immaculee admits she can still get worried, but she says the people around her think she takes things “really easy.” She says: “I just say the Rosary – Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious. That is what Our Lady said. If I have done those, I have done my part. If I know I’m not sinning or doing something evil, I’m going to try not to worry.”
She says she is often asked to do things, like raise millions of dollars for a church to erect another building on their property. She says she simply prays with people and, if God wants the prayer answered, someone frequently steps up to the plate and “miraculously” supplies the needed funds.
“Just don’t interfere with Him,” she said. “That’s what we do with our sins. And don’t help Him. If I try to do what is good, [He does the rest.] He also comes through our desires. If our desires are good, don’t worry about what is lacking.”
We asked Immaculeé to share the reaction her countrymen have had to her testimony in which she recounts not only how she survived the genocide by praying the Rosary in that tiny bathroom, but how she got through the grisly aftermath.
She said that culturally, the Rwandan people don’t typically express themselves. But many have told her they are able to handle what they went through because of her story.
One man added, “It’s not just your story. You are also smiling. You are happy. You are grateful. You are a friend of all the tribes.” Because of her witness, that same man told Immaculee he wanted to be the person she was and to do what she did. “I decided to get baptized,” he said. “I want to follow your God.”
He later sent Immaculeé photos of his child receiving Communion and Confirmation. He said: “If I had not turned my life around and I had not followed the God you follow, I would not be the man I am. I would not be married. I would have been in a lot of trouble. It’s not just that I want to smile like you, but I want to do [things the way] you did. Give me strength Lord.”
After the head of the Rwandan military read “Left to Tell,” he told Immaculee he obliged all his officers to read the book. “I want to show all the men who are becoming officers what happens when we don’t do our job well. Either we do good or we do bad. If we do our job well, we can protect our people from this.”
Here in America, two different women told Immaculeé they decided not to commit suicide after hearing her testimony.
The first woman said that her son was going through something so terrible that she wanted to take her own life. Immaculeé shakes her head when she thinks about someone taking such an action at a time when her family needed her most. Fortunately, she heard Immaculee’s testimony.
The woman told her: “I heard how you prayed during the worst situation. I decided to pray the Rosary from morning to night. I took time off work. I prayed from morning till night. I decided to ask Our Lady and Jesus to take care of this.”
The woman began to find some peace after two weeks of reading the Bible and saying all the mysteries of the Rosary over and over. Then, one day while praying in front of a statue at church, she told Immaculee the statue and the flowers around the statue disappeared and in their place she saw Our Lady from the neck down. She said even though she didn’t see her face, her hands and even her neck were so beautiful. She was encouraged by “the woman” to keep going; not in words, but she understood Our Lady wanted her to continue to pray the Rosary.
The woman said to Immaculeé: “I felt this woman had gold and diamonds and all the answers in the world; God entrusted her with every answer.”
Immaculeé says this woman “was doing everything good she needed to do. All she needed to do was realize how small she was; what a sinner. She was crying. She said, ‘I need to tell you this.’ She realized how her prayers were helping her son, her husband, her other children. [The woman said] the darkness that had come over her family lifted. She found herself back in the same church. She had peace. She said she knew everything would go away.
She told Immaculeé that only a few days later, answer by answer, her problems were resolved.
Immaculeé is humbled when she hears testimonies like this: “What did I share that made this happen?” she said. “It makes you feel small. Honestly, in truth, the help is not mine. My job is to just be an honest witness. God doesn’t need my help.”
In the second instance, a woman at one of Immaculeé’s retreats said she was encouraged by her husband to give her own testimony to Immaculee. She said she had been going through a lot of pain. She had been hurt and abused and she couldn’t forgive. Someone gave her a copy of “Left to Tell,” but she put it aside because she felt she couldn’t handle any more pain or depression in her life. Then one day, she decided she’d had enough. Through tears, she penned a goodbye letter saying: “I am done.” But then, she caught a glimpse of the book she had put aside on a shelf. She decided she might as well read it because she was going to die anyway.
Said Immaculeé: “She read the whole story; how the Lord helped; how praying the Rosary helped. She read until morning. She forgot to kill herself. She said, ‘The God who was there for his woman [Immaculee], I’m going to follow Him and see if He helps me forgive the people who have hurt me too.’ The next morning, she decided to look for a church. She completely converted. Her pain was healed. Her husband was crying. He said: ‘Thank you for giving a good example to my wife. I would not have had her to go to retreats [with], to pray [with].’ They were so happy.”
After telling that story, Immaculeé said she always prays to Our Lord saying: “God, please help me not to interfere with you. What you have done is beyond me. Good comes out of this [testimony]. I will continue to share.”
“INSIDE EWTN” PRAYER: Dear God, after all You have done for me, why am I not filled with complete trust in Your Love? Please help me to love and trust You as You deserve; to know from the bottom of my heart that You want the best for me. Help me not to interfere with Your works by my sins or to try to do more than You give me the grace to do. Help me to know that my prayers and good intentions are enough, and to always remember that You Lord, supply “all our needs according to [Your] riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) Amen.
Note: In addition to leading retreats and filming shows on EWTN, Immaculeé says she now takes people on pilgrimages to places like Kibeho, Medjugorje, Lourdes, and Fatima. Her invitation: “Come with me and pray and enjoy it.”
Select episodes of EWTN’s show, “I Forgive with Immaculeé Ilibagiza,” are available On Demand at https://bit.ly/3EPAKX9, and at the time of this writing is airing on EWTN at 11:30 p.m. Sundays, and 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays.