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Immaculée Ilibagiza: Rwandan Genocide Survivor on Hope, Faith and Peace (ep. 676)

Immaculée Ilibagiza

John O’Leary welcomes Immaculée Ilibagiza on the Live Inspired Podcast to share how she survived the Rwandan Genocide and chose to embrace a life of peace, hope and forgiveness.

For 91 harrowing days, Immaculée Ilibagiza huddled a tiny bathroom with seven other women while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Today, Immaculée stands as a beacon of hope and resilience.

Join us at Immaculee shares her excruciating experience, how she found her faith and taught herself English in the midst of unimaginable terror, and most incredibly, embraced a life of peace, hope and forgiveness, even for those who had murdered her family.

My friends, Immaculée’s story isn’t just about survival; it’s about the boundless capacity for faith and resilience that lies within each of us. It’s a reminder that no matter how dire the circumstances, we all have the power to rise above, to find peace within, and to spread love and hope to the world.

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  • Growing up, Immaculée learned never to need much in the world and never knew the reason to have a second pair of shoes.
  • “We’d go outside in the evening and see lightning. We would pose thinking it was God taking pictures.”
  • How can I love? In fourth grade, Immaculée and her classmates would have to tell the others if they were Tutsi or Hutu, the two different groups of people in Rwanda during the early 1990s.
  • April 7, 1994: After the president was assassinated, the Rwandan government seals the border, preventing any Tutsis from escaping, and very opening giving orders to eliminate an entire group of people.
  • As leaders in their small village, 10,000 people looked to Immaculée’s parent’s for guidance.
  • “Do not judge people and put them in boxes because one of them have done something wrong to you. Always judge people individually.”
  • Anticipating what was coming, Immaculée’s father gave her his rosary, sent her to the house of a friendly Hutu pastor where she was hid in a 3-foot by 4-foot bathroom with seven other women ranging from seven to 55 years old.
  • Telling his children he chased these women away, the only food the pastor was able to offer was leftovers.
  • The Hutu extremists searched for Immaculée eight times, even touching the door handle of the bathroom before deciding to leave the house. This moment gave Immaculée hope.
  • After 91 days, emaciated and unable to walk, Immaculée and the women were brought to a refugee camp where she learned that nearly one million people were murdered including her parents and two brothers.
  • “I have come to understand people who do evil, they don’t understand the consequences will come to them. They don’t even understand the pain they cause others.”
  • “That pain they went through, it did not last forever.”
  • “Your life is a gift. And it is up to you how to use it either to love. or to hate, to uplift, or to put down, to be kind, or to be mean. If you choose love, I’m with you.”
  • Get a copy of Immaculée Ilibigza’s book Left to Tell here.

Did you enjoy today’s episode?

Hear another Rwandan Genocide survivor Jeanne Celestine Lakin share her story of courage, strength and the power of forgiveness. For 100 days, nine-year-old Jeanne and her three-year-old twin sisters hid in bushes to stay safe. Heartbreaking and unimaginable, Jeanne reminds us that we all have the power to choose forgiveness, leave a legacy of peace and move forward. Listen to Jeanne Celestine Lakin on ep. 346.


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  1. Q. What is the best book you’ve ever read?

    Imitation of Christ by  Thomas à Kempis.

  2. Q. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today?
    A. The innocence of being a child.
  3. Q. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be?
    A. My Bible.
  4. Q. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be?
    A. The Virgin Mary.
  5. Q. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
    A. Hold on to God and pray.
  6. Q. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
    A. Trust your parents.
  7. Q. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read?
    A. Just to love. Love in the most difficult ways. Love people. And that forgiveness is a part of loving. Love not just those  who love you, but even your enemies. See the good in them.