This is the second part to a three part series written for First Alliance’s Storyline Magazine. Please visit here: https://www.faccalgary.com/storyline-magazine
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...” It seemed these words had deep profound meanings to me after much of the suffering & loss that I’ve experienced in life here in Canada. And yet, as I listened more to my friend Des’s story, my shadows of death seemed to pale compared to the depths of his valley’s & the fear of evil was overwhelming to that which surrounded 1994 Rwanda.
They had climbed into the bleachers of the local soccer stadium as a much anticipated national match was taking place. Des described sitting there with his Muslim friend, talking about Jesus while cheering with the crowd. “And then, out of nowhere,” Des said, “A laud BOOM came from outside the stadium!” It would be later that he found out the President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, & the Burundian President, Cyprien Ntaryamira, had been assassinated after their plane was shot down. It would be hours later on April 6th, 1994 that one of the bloodiest genocides of the 20th century would begin in Rwanda.
Living with a local Hutu Rwandan family, Des became extremely concerned as they began questioning his Tutsi family background. Hutu government aliened solders were coordinating with community block leaders & going from house to house, killing any Tutsi residents. Arriving 5 am at the home Des was staying in, a soldier began questioning him, “Where is the Tutsi who is living here?” Knowing it would confuse the soldier, Des spoke in French, “This is not a Tutsi house. I am from the Congo.” Arguing with the soldier Des spoke boldly, “You are killing innocent people.” Finally, the solder tells the others, “Come on. Let’s go.”
After several days, the Hutu had put up several road blocks & it was becoming difficult to travel without being stopped by them & questioned. Des was trying to get back to the Congo & over the boarder to his family. It was at one of the road blocks that Des was arrested along with an Ethiopian woman. Leading them to a mass grave by gun point, they explained that they were going to shoot them. Des could hear a faint voice from a little girl, “Please, help me.” Moved by her cries, Des ran into the grave. “We are going to shoot you!”, the soldier said. “Ok,” Des shouted back, “shoot me but I’m going to that little girl.” Embracing her, Des was overcome with emotion & wept as the little girl looked at him crying, “Daddy?”
Looking boldly at the soldiers the Ethiopian woman shouted, “Why are you killing these people?!” Seeing her & Des returning with the little girl, covered in blood & the mud of the grave, the soldiers were filled with fear. Pointing & shouting they said, “Devil! Devil!” With the guilt of all the people they had killed, Des explained that, “they thought we were the ghosts of the people in the pit, returning to harm them.” Running away from them, Des found himself standing free with the little girl in his arms & the Ethiopian woman beside him.
Over the next month while trying to avoid blockades & soldiers in the streets, Des, along with the Ethiopian woman, the little girl, & two others from Somalia, traveled from Kigali, across the wild countryside, & finally making their way to the safety of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I couldn’t help but ask how they managed to find food & Des openly shared that, “I can’t account for the time that past as we ran from those trying to kill us. Sometimes it would be days before we found raw vegetables, like sweet potatoes, in the farm fields.”
It was on one occasion that Des was scrounging for food that a woman caught him near her home. He would later find out that she was the wife of one of the senior commanders who was in charge of the soldiers killing the Tutsi people. Filled with compassion, she brought Des & the small group into her home, giving them food & hiding them in the barn with the animals. It was one evening in this home that the husband of the woman heard the small band of refugees amidst the farm animals & when he confronted them, the little girl stood out front. Des told how the man’s wife spoke boldly to him saying, “Please, she is just a little girl. I know you have killed many people but remember, you are also a father. How can you kill a little child?” The man was conflicted & while wrestling with the inner demons of his past, he chose to spare them.
They spent five days in this home & during that time the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) took power in Rwanda. As the RPF arrived at the home to which Des & the others were hiding in, Des along with his small band of companions were finally able to leave & complete there journey to the Congo.
The Canadian Peace Keeping General, Romeo Dallaire, was quoted famously about his experiences in Rwanda saying, “I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there is a God.” It is hard to believe that after being touched by so much death, my friend Des was here to tell me his story with such hope & a beaming smile in thankfulness for life. Even while walking through the many Rwandan valley’s, filled with the shadows of death & despair, he would find a table of hospitality prepared amidst the threat of enemies, & a Spirit of goodness that would guide him in righteous pathways & compassionate shelter.
Dallaire would also go on to state that, “If we cannot provide hope for the untold masses of the world, then the future will be nothing but a repeat of Rwanda, Sierra Leone, the Congo and September 11.” It is a gospel message that Des would find leading him to return once again to the land of Rwanda following the tragedies of 1994. He was inextricably bound by his love for these people & the desire to share a hope that could only be found through the power of forgiveness. That is the third & final part to Des’s story that we shall return to in the next Storyline Magazine.
“Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” – Deut. 31:6