Mary curled her baby sister into her chest as she turned her into the well wall, sheltering them from the stones being hurled at them from outside. She had just watched her parents brutally killed with machetes. “I will never forget the fear I felt as one of my captors slid down a rope into the well with us. It was then that reality was far worse than any of my nightmares.” Her captor grabbed her sister and shoved the infant against the well wall. She screamed as she heard the baby’s skull crack and fall to the ground. The man then proceeded to rape Mary.
“I thought I was going to die. I wanted to die, but that was not to be.” The man called to his friends and they lifted her out of the pit only to torment her further. When they were sleeping, she was able to escape to the cornfield. “I felt hatred I had never experienced before. I would live…I would survive. I would get revenge.”
I first heard this heart-wrenching story several years ago while visiting Rwanda. My heart ached for Mary…for her loss…for her pain, but what she told me next shattered my worldview. “The man who killed my sister was my neighbor. We went to church together”
She knew this man! How could anyone do this to a stranger, much less to a neighbor? I came intimately acquainted with the sinfulness of man.
Rwanda was in the middle of a civil war — Hutus versus Tutsi. Mary and her sister were attacked because of their heritage…they were Tutsi’s in a Hutu empowered village. Hutus were called to “exterminate the Tutsi’s.”
Mary’s story doesn’t end there. Fast forward six years. The war was long over and her attacker was released from prison. He moved back to his home, next door to her. “I hated him. I wanted nothing to do with him or his family.” He would come over and offer to plant seed or plow her fields. She refused to accept his help. He would apologize over and over again.
“One day, God began to soften my heart. I realized that God had forgiven me so who was I to withhold forgiveness.” In time, Mary not only forgave her captor, but she reconciled with him and they now worship together in the church once again.
“It was only when I forgave that I experienced freedom. For years I harbored anger, resentment, bitterness and heartache, but once I forgave him I was free at last.”
I share this story on July 4, because freedom is much more than patriotic liberty. True freedom brings peace. Mary needed peace to move beyond the hatred and bitterness in her heart. Her attacker needed peace from the guilt and shame that plagued him night and day. Mary had to surrender her drive for revenge in order to find freedom. Her captor had to surrender his will and plead for forgiveness in order to find freedom. Both had to surrender to the Lordship of Christ.
I’m not sure I would be able to forgive as Mary did. I also realized that all of us are capable of detestable sin like her captor. We are all in need of rescue from bondage.
I pray that today you experience this type of freedom.
*Mary is not the person’s real name.