Forgiving the Unforgivable, Part 2
By the time we were able to leave the refugee camp 300 souls were ready for baptism!
The story thus far: After losing his entire family during the genocide, Pastor Isaac was taken to a refugee camp in the northern part of Rwanda. While there, he organized an Adventist church.
We organized a committee for the church and we met as a congregation every Sabbath. Even though we were refugees, whoever had some money kept giving tithe and offerings as if they were still at home. Sometimes people from Uganda came to visit and would give us money, from which we gave tithe and offerings. We set the tithe safely aside until the church in Rwanda could began working again, and we used the offerings to help treat people who had been injured in the war.
In addition to those of us who were already Adventist, many others worshipped with us each Sabbath. By the time we were able to leave the refugee camp four months later, 300 souls were ready for baptism!
After the Genocide
When the genocide was over, I returned to Kigali and found that no Adventist church was operating. So I went throughout the city, pleading with people to return to church. Slowly, people returned to the churches, and I was asked to serve as president of this field for two years before working in publishing at the Rwandan Union.
Five years later I was given the most challenging invitation I have ever received—would I be willing to serve as president back in the very area that included the Mugonero compound where my family had been killed?
I prayed about it and decided to go. This would be the first time to go back and work with the people who had killed my family. And so when I went back there by myself, I didn’t know what to say. I prayed, “God help me and give me strength and words to say to these people.”
I remember one night just after arriving back in this district, I prayed the whole night asking God for clear direction. In the morning when I went to the office I had a very distinct impression telling me, “Call everyone together for a meeting.”
I think that if I had returned and not called the people to come close to me and opened my heart to them, I would have failed as their mission president. I went there to work, and I told myself I must do it, I cannot fail.
Opening My Heart
I knew that if I didn’t speak with them at the beginning, they would always feel threatened by my presence, wondering if I was going to seek revenge. I realized that I needed to open my heart to them and tell them that I have no problem with anyone, and that no one should for me. What we had in common was the work that Jesus left for us to do— to preach the good news. I wanted to show them what brings us together, rather than what separates us.
So I called for a large district meeting the first Sabbath I was back, and before preaching I shared my heart with them.
“The [Rwanda] Union has sent me here to preach the good news, and to lead this conference,” I said. “I don’t want anyone to tell me who killed my family. I don’t even want you to tell me that you’re my friend. My friend is the one who loves God and who loves God’s work. Let’s work together in that spirit.”
I worked in Kibuye for three years before being called back to Kigali to serve as president of the East Central Rwandan Mission (Conference now), which is where I am still serving today. We praise the Lord that our conference has grown from 65,000 church members in 2004 to more than 110,000 today.
My favorite Bible verse is John 3:16—“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV). If God had not loved everyone in the world, I would have gone back and killed the killers! But God loves them, and He gives them time to repent.
When I was in the refugee camp during the genocide, a journalist came to interview me. He had heard about how I had lost my entire family and asked, “What do you think about revenge?”
I took my Bible and opened to Hebrews 10:30-31—“For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
“It’s a scary thing when the Lord will come and catch you!” I said. The journalist was amazed. He thought I was going to encourage revenge, but I had the answer from the Bible.
When people say bad things about the killers, I like to remind them that we have a God who is very patient with us. And He’s very patient with everyone. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. That’s the only thing that can help someone going through such circumstances. Whenever anyone comes to God and asks for forgiveness, God forgives that person. There’s no sin God can’t forgive. Death is not something that scares God. It’s not a big problem to God. God has a solution, even today.