By Kate Stevens
November 2, 2007
"Deborah Nyirakabirikira was a mother who had survived the genocide in Rwanda, Africa, in 1994. Along with the rest of her country, she was trying to put her life together again after the killing and violence. Deborah's husband had been killed, so she relied heavily on her eleven children. One son, nineteen-year-old Innocent, was a special source of joy and satisfaction in a life that had been framed by death and disappointment.
Being a woman of deep faith, Deborah had a practice of praying every morning in the back room of her small house. In April 1997 she had been troubled by a vision that Innocent was going to be killed. Deborah felt so strongly about this devastating image that she shared it with Innocent. She recalls that they even spent time together discussing and praying about this. On a subsequent evening, after Innocent had cooked a meal for the family, some soldiers came to the door and asked for Innocent. They explained that they wanted to ask him some questions, and assured her they would not kill him.
Shortly after leaving with the soldiers Innocent returned to his mother and said to her, 'Mummy, they are going to kill me.' She embraced him, but the soldiers pulled them apart, and minutes later Deborah heard the gunshots that took her son's life.
â€¦Some weeks later, three soldiers came to her door. Her first thought was that they had come to kill her. Then one soldier, whom she recognized from the previous visit, stepped forward and led her by the shoulder into the sitting room. He closed the door, and Deborah expected to be killed. Instead, he returned to her and said, 'Pray for me.' They got down on their knees together and she began to pray for him.
After the prayer, the soldier said, 'My name is Charles,' and began to cry. Charles admitted that he was the one who had killed her son as the result of Innocent telling the authorities about a theft he had been involved in. As time had passed he had felt increasingly guilty and despondent. He said to Deborah, 'Would you forgive me? If not, take me to court and I am prepared to be killed for my crime, because this is the law.'
Deborah was stunned at first and then began to pray for direction. Her response would become part of Rwanda's healingâ€¦Deborah told this young man that she was prepared to forgive him. She had no desire to turn him in to the authorities because he would simply rot in jail and eventually be executed. She had already lost her son; there was no reason to lose another young man.
â€¦Deborah describes how a great burden had been lifted from her, even though it was very hard. She told Charles, 'The only punishment I can inflict on you is to take you in the place of my son and to feed you the food I would have given my son.' Charles turn to her and said, 'I am your child now. I will visit you whenever I can.'"
I cannot help but recognize the power we have in Christ to respond to injustices done against us with mercy and forgiveness. The forgiveness that Deborah showed to Charles was more than anyone would have expected her to show and some of us may even disagree that she should have responded this way at all. Most of us will probably never face Deborah's situation, but can still apply this principle of mercy and forgiveness in so many ways. When I struggle to forgive much more petty injustices, I really should try to remember Deborahâ€¦
Until Next Time,