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Preaching to the Killers, Part 1

Before killing me, the killers decided that I should dig my own grave.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of powerful stories of forgiveness from survivors of the Rwandan genocide that took place in 1994. Please note that these are real experiences and at times include graphic details.

Phodidas (foe-DEE-dus)—whose name means “I worship the Lord”—was born into a Seventh-day Adventist home in the mountains of Rwanda. At an early age Phodidas showed leadership abilities and a dedication to God’s Word. He was active in school, Pathfinders, and in the Adventist Youth (AY). He became responsible for the spiritual life of his peers and preached the morning devotionals at school each day.

Over the years his Bible became marked with numerous underlinings and highlights of various verses. Little did Phodidas realize how that marked Bible would help to save his life during the horrific Rwandan genocide in 1994 when he was given grace to preach to his killers.

In his own words he tells what happened:

Digging My Grave

Before killing me, the killers decided that I should dig my own grave. As I was digging, I was also praying. “Lord, I believe you can deliver me. You can protect me from being killed by these people. I’ve preached about Daniel in the lion’s den, and about how you delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. Are you still the same God? You can show me now. Please give me that faith.”

I was hoping that God would give me wings to fly away, or that He would send fire from heaven. But God answered in a much different way from what I could have imagined.

As I was digging the grave, one of the killers picked up my Bible and was looking at it. Noticing the many markings in it he asked, “What do all these colors mean?”

“Those are my favorite verses,” I said.

Interested, the man started reading the many highlighted verses. “Are you sure you’ve read all of these?” he asked incredulously.

“Yes,” I responded. I could see that the man had some pity for me.

Turning to his fellow killers he said, “Friends, I know we’re going to kill this man, but please let me help him dig!”

The leader nodded and the man jumped into the hole with me and started digging. “Lord, I prayed, “this grave is going to be finished quickly now. What are You going to do?”

God Had A Plan

God had a plan, but sometimes we want to try and force God to answer our prayers in the way that we think is best, rather than just trusting Him.

To my surprise, as soon as we were finished digging, the grave digging killer said to his colleagues, “Why should we use the grave for this man we don’t even know? Let him go and dig another grave near the highway. This is our field; why should we bury him here?”

The group agreed, and decided to use the grave for another man they had just killed. Then ironically, one of the killers said, “Before we bury that man, why don’t we pray for him.”

I watched as the group gathered around the body of the person they had just killed before coming after me. “Mary, mother of Jesus, receive him,” they said before rolling the corpse into the grave that had been meant for me.

All of a sudden my entire outlook changed. “Lord!” I gasped, “Don’t allow me to be separated from these people before I tell them who You are! These are people who have never heard about You. They think they can pray for someone they have killed. And we are partly responsible. We never came and taught them the truth about You.”

Right after they buried that man, we moved closer to the highway. I was about to start digging another grave when the man who had my Bible asked if he could keep it. I said, “yes,” but the other killers told him “No! It’s ours—you’ll have to pay for it!”

I could see that the Holy Spirit had already touched this man’s heart, so I begged him, “Please, can I have that Bible and say something before I dig another grave?”

The man was excited and said, “Go ahead!” but another one shouted, “No! He’s our enemy. He has nothing to tell us.”

Then the arguing became very sharp, with some of the group insisting that I should be given the opportunity to speak, while others insisted that I had nothing to say. Just when it appeared that the killers were going to fight each other, one who appeared older than the others asked, “Why are you going to fight over someone you don’t even know? Those who want to listen, sit and listen; others, sit and shut your ears. When he’s done, we’ll kill him.”

So they all sat down and I started to preach.

To be continued.