55: Expect Miracles

55: Expect Miracles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Expect Miracles

Miracles happen to those who believe in them.

~Bernard Berenson

During the Rwandan genocide of 1994 more than a million people were murdered in three months; by the grace of God, I was not one of them. At the time I was a twenty-four-year-old university student visiting home on Easter vacation when the long-brewing tribal hatred in my African homeland erupted into an unspeakable slaughter of innocents. When the killers arrived at our doorstep, my dad sent me running to a neighboring pastor for protection.

For the next ninety-one days I cowered in a hidden, tiny bathroom with seven other terrified women while rapists and murderers relentlessly hunted for us. I opened my heart to God and prayed night and day that He spare my life and also, spare my soul, and not allow the hatred I felt for the killers to turn my heart to stone.

God heard my prayers and answered them.

Whenever the death squads ransacked the pastor’s house searching for us, God blinded them from seeing the bathroom door and finding us.

Three months later, the genocide was over and I came out of hiding. I was emaciated, but alive. My heart was sad and I wanted the killers brought to justice, but I wasn’t filled with poisonous hatred. On the contrary, to my amazement, I was ready to love and forgive.

With those prayers answered, I thought I’d used up a lifetime allotment of miracles. But I was wrong.

Outside the bathroom, the world I had known was gone. My once breathtakingly beautiful homeland had been transformed into a grotesque landscape of death and destruction. All my neighbors and my immediate family, with the exception of one brother who was living abroad, had been viciously murdered. My childhood home, which my father had built with his own hands as a wedding gift to my mother, had been burned to the ground. All I saw was the smoldering ruins of burnt out houses and a countryside strewn with corpses.

I had gone from being a happily pampered, only daughter to a starving orphaned refugee.

With no money, food or a single friend left alive, I made my way toward the Rwandan capital of Kigali in hopes of finding work, but there was none. No stores or businesses were open, there was virtually no power, no buses were running, there was precious little clean water to drink, the roads were littered with leftover landmines and wild dogs fed on the bodies that still lay in the street.

On my way to the city, I met and joined a band of fellow refugees at a temporary camp for displaced persons. One woman in the group owned a house in Kigali, so at least I had a roof over my head — but we had no food and faced starvation. The only remote possibility of employment was secretarial work at the United Nations office that had just reopened. Unfortunately, I didn’t speak English, I couldn’t type, the only clothes I owned were the rags on my back and I hadn’t had a bath in months. On top of that, the United Nations wasn’t hiring, and even if it was, it had a long-standing policy of not hiring Rwandans.

Nevertheless, I walked the dangerous footpath to the UN every day to fill out a job application. Every day, they told me not to come back because they had no jobs. But I continued this routine for weeks until my legs buckled beneath me one day, not strong enough to keep walking to a job that didn’t exist. I sank to my knees on the charred brick and broken glass of the ruined city in despair, and once again opened my heart to God.

“Lord, you have given me so much already, and I wouldn’t ask for your help unless I truly needed it, but I need it Lord! I don’t know what else to do. I have no money, my clothes are falling apart, and no one will give me a job. I know you didn’t save me from the killers to let me starve to death in the streets. Help me find a way to make these UN people notice me and give me a job! I don’t think I can last much longer.”

I stood up and brushed myself off, certain God would answer my prayer—and I wanted to be ready when He did. I trusted He would arrange for me to have an interview at the UN, so I would need my high school diploma and some presentable clothes. The only place I could possibly find both would be my university dorm room more than 200 miles away and completely impossible for me get to.

At that very moment a car pulled up beside me and the driver rolled down his window.

“Immaculée, is that you? I hardly recognized you, you are so skinny now. I’m so happy you survived. Can I drive you anywhere?”

I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. It was one of my professors from the university and he just happened to be making the five-hour drive to the campus!

I arrived at the university the next day and the dorm was in shambles; the door of my room had been heaved in with an axe and all my clothes and books had been stolen.

Everything was gone, except for a single envelope on the floor. It must have fallen beneath the bed when the looters pillaged the room. I picked it up and opened it . . . to find all my school records and $30 from my scholarship award! Suddenly, I was rich! I had enough cash to hire a taxi back to Kigali, with money left over.

When I returned to the city, two shops had reopened near my house while I was gone—a secondhand clothing store where I purchased a new outfit, and a beauty salon where I had my hair done. On the way home I used the last few dollars to buy groceries to feed all my housemates for a week.

A few days later my prayer was answered in full—after an interview, I was picked to start a new job at the United Nations.

I also started a new life, knowing that whenever I opened my heart to God I could expect miracles.

~Immaculée Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin

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