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Interview: Immaculée Hedden, counsellor, evangelist

26 January 2018

‘When we forgive, it relieves us and it helps to release other people from revenge’

I’m a qualified counsellor, and I speak about my story of surviving the genocide in Rwanda when invited. I published it — Under His Mighty Hand — and it’s been trans­lated into several languages. People said to me, “I’m scared to read your story about the genocide,” but most of them come out encouraged to
see how God was real at that time.


My mother-tongue is Kinyarwanda, and I now speak English fluently. I speak French, but its standard has come down since I’ve been living in England.


I’ve been working in missions, pri­marily with YWAM [Youth With a Mission], sharing the gospel and helping to disciple young people; so I’m busy doing counsel­­ling and pre­par­ing speaking engage­ments. I’m also making preparations for doing further work in Rwanda to help re­­store the country, through my coun­selling and missions skills.


We trust God that he will make a way, like he has done in the past, but I’ll still need support in many ways because here, we receive clients and the clients will pay, but there, the clients have no money.


The clearest symptom I had after living through that genocide was that I was forgetting so much. I would forget things easily — even things important to me. Also, I used to dream so much about people I lost: I used to dream that they hadn’t died, even asking them in my dream, where have they been? Where have they been hiding? Why didn’t they come quickly after genocide? It’s been hard to bring closure.


The genocide affected me in so many ways. Afterwards, I used to wonder whether where I lived was the same place. I lost a lot of relatives and friends, and my country was not the same as it used to be.


To help survivors is not only to give material support, although that can be important. People need to be heard. Give time to listen to them, and encourage them to speak. Build trust with them to allow them room to talk about the harming situation. Help them to know that they must make a choice to live. Sometimes, survivors don’t want to live, because people they love have gone; but try to give them comfort, let them know they’re not alone.


I’m still in touch with relatives and friends in Rwanda, and I was there two months ago. There is so much forgiveness, reconciliation, and re­­build­ing the country.


When we forgive, it relieves us, and it helps to release other people from revenge — releases us from any prison we might be in.


I grew up separated from most of my biological family, who were Tutsi. The genocide in 1994 was the biggest one, but there was violence since 1959, and I was separated from my parents. I was brought up by an aunt, who died when I was two years old, and then, after that, her son, my cousin.


With God, all things are possible. God can heal broken hearts and sadnesses. God was really real to me: I’d ask anything and I’d see the answer quickly; it was so obvious. I honestly respect people who went through that who didn’t know God. But many said, “O God, if you are real — if you are there. . .”, and who are now Christians.


Why some Christians are saved and some perish is a hard question to answer, because I don’t have full knowl­­­edge of what goes on. When we see God, we will have full revela­tion. All I know is that God loves those who were lost in the same way that he loves those who were pro­tected miracu­lously.


I live in Hertfordshire now, with my lovely husband, Richard, who is English, and serves with me in the mission work we’ve been doing. I came to study English with YWAM in Harpenden in 2000. My teachers organ­ised an international-culture night for students to cook food, dance, talk. Someone invited Richard, and I asked him to take our group photo. He asked me where I was from, and asked about the genocide, and that’s how we met.


The genocide happened because of bad leadership that didn’t look after people it was supposed to protect. The leadership had been killing people from my people, and the Presid­­ent was himself assassinated when the extremists took over and ordered the killing of all Tutsi, from babies to old people. It was said that even those who didn’t support this genocide were to be killed as well. There was selfishness among people in leadership looking for their own interests rather than being servant-hearted leaders.


Colonisation played a part in destabilising Rwandan society, fav­­ouring one people then switching sides, causing hatred and prejudice. The Belgians brought the same divi­sions they themselves had, because of Belgium being Walloon and Flemish. There were benefits from the colonial period, but also devastating con­sequences.


But, ultimately, why do genocides happen? The slaughter of so many Jews in the Holocaust, the Tutsi in Rwanda, Cambodians under Pol Pot, and so on: the devil is the chief of hatred. But there was also bad leader-ship, the negative fallout of colonisation and poor education which put people down, dehumanising and even demonising them.


I believe that, if the president of our genocidal regime did not incite the killing, from babies to old people, it wouldn’t have happened as it did. The leaders were — and still are — the gatekeepers of good or evil that happens in the nation. Also, if the Church had stood up and challenged the voice of the politicians, they would have had influence in sub­sequent events.


The international community some-how abandoned Rwanda in the time of need. Roméo Dallaire [Com­­mander of the UN Peacekeeping Force] re­­quested 3000 men from
the UN, and believed that he could have stopped what happened; but he was denied the resources that he needed.


Two of the people who have in­­fluenced me made risky decisions at the time of danger. The first is Damas Gisimba. God used him to protect many of us who sought refuge in his orphanage during 1994. He had a big heart, and showed courage to do the right thing.


The second, Carl Wilkens, was asked to leave, but he wouldn’t. He’d come to help Rwanda, and saw that if, at any time Rwandans needed help, it was in 1994. He helped me and about 400 others in Gisimba Orphanage to survive.


Injustices make me angry — when someone acts unjustly to someone else.


I love being with people, chatting, and having fun. I like going for walks with my husband. I like painting when I have the time and opport­unity. I love the sound of birds chirp­ing and singing.


I love intercession, and the thing I pray for most is that people will
get to know Jesus, receive salvation, and know God as their loving Father.


It makes me happy when people around me are treated with dignity.


If I could choose to be locked in a church for a few hours with anyone, it would be Jesus. He is my super-hero.


Immaculée Hedden was speaking to Terence Handley MacMath.


Immaculée tells her story with the support of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (www.hmd.org.uk ).

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