I was born and raised in Rwanda. I had five siblings and the most amazing parents. My parents were very devout and we went to church regularly. We read the Bible and prayed together every night as a family. We were taught to love and treat others like family too. When I imagined heaven, I pictured my family lining up before God and my dad introducing my mom and us children to Him. And then God would wave us through, leading us into heaven. I could not possibly imagine things going any other way.
But around 8 p.m., April 6, 1994, the presidential plane was shot down as it landed in Kigali. Within seconds, the Rwandan genocide began. Statistics estimate that around one million people were slaughtered in 100 days, and this number included my parents and two of my siblings. By the grace of God I survived with my three younger siblings, who were all under 10. I was only 13.
While I was thankful to be alive, my world was changed forever. I soon realized that my imaginary wings to heaven had been broken for good, so I had to figure out another way on my own. Having been cheated of my youth, my heart was wounded and heavy. All I wanted was something to erase my pain.
While at school one day, I heard someone shouting in the distance. As I made my way toward the sound, I realized it was a pastor. He was assuring his audience that there is Someone who can be a father to the fatherless and relieve their pain. I thought someone must have told him about me. They called out for people who needed prayer. I knelt down, sobbing, and asked God to become my heavenly Father. He became real to me through Proverbs 23:10-11 and Isaiah 43:2-4. He truly walked with me “through the fire” and provided for me and my siblings.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Since you were precious in My sight, You have been honored, and I have loved you; therefore I will give men for you, and people for your life. —Isaiah 43:2-4
It has taken me a long time to forgive those who hurt us. I still struggle sometimes. But one thought that keeps me from hatred is that I also need to be forgiven. If God weighed my mistakes against me, I would be ashamed. We all need forgiveness, hope, and love, which come from God—who will one day make all things right. —Alphonsine Imaniraguha, survivor of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and founder of Rising Above the Storms ministry