In many accounts of the Rwandan genocide, the church is cast as complicit in the killings that took one million lives in a country the size of Maryland. Indeed, since 1994, United Nations tribunals have found many church leaders guilty of murdering neighbors or aiding Hutu in hunting down Tutsi and moderate Hutu.

But Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Tutsi, has a Hutu pastor to thank for saving her life.

When Ilibagiza was 23, Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down over the Kigali airport, inciting Hutu–Tutsi violence the country over. In response, Ilibagiza’s father sent her to hide with the pastor, who took in seven other women and hid them in his family’s three-by-four-foot bathroom. They stayed there for 91 days while Hutu militia came by the house daily searching for Tutsi. The bathroom became the setting for Ilibagiza’s test of faith and forgiveness, which began by praying the Lord’s Prayer many times a day.

When I visited Rwanda this summer (with HOPE International, a microfinance nonprofit based in Pennsylvania), I was told to avoid asking two questions: “What tribe do you belong to?” and “What was the genocide like for you?” Rwandans—who have enjoyed a remarkable level of peace and stability under president Paul Kagame—see the topics as unnecessarily divisive. Yet Ilibagiza speaks openly about both so that others may know that forgiveness is possible and can heal both offender and offendee.

Ilibagiza spoke recently at the 2017 Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Afterward, she sat down with CT to share about the process of forgiving the man who killed her entire family.

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