The backbone of this story was told to me by a friend in Rwanda, and although I have added details and chosen to leave out some of the more graphic specifics, everything in this story is based on fact. These things really happened, and they happened to real people. To me, this is much more than a story. It is a testimony to how powerful family is, and it has given me a new way of defining the word “orphan.” An orphan is more than someone without parents. An orphan is someone who has no one to love them and provide for them, and we are called to care for them all, in whatever strange way that may be because if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that they have always been part of our family anyways. The man who this story is based on inspired my heart. He taught me these lessons and gave me the courage to speak the truth even when it is difficult to say. That is why I chose to write this story, and I pray that I have done my friend justice. He is truly a remarkable man, and I am blessed to call him “brother” as a part of God’s family.
The moment when terror becomes your only friend is the moment that you are no longer human. You are Satan’s supper, and these people who have masqueraded as your friends, these beings that you have smiled at and frowned at every day of your life are actually forks and spoons and knives. And machetes.
Machetes: tools for growing life sustaining food… and for snuffing the light of life out of beating hearts.
Friends: hands that wipe the tears from your eyes and then cut them out from behind your eyes, without any hesitation.
How unashamed the demons were! They came in broad daylight and walked through open fields, the neighbors watching, but never stopping them from their march. They marched on steadily, feet pounding the dirt, sweat from their brows watering the crops. Then they reached my doorstep. Their familiar faces had a unexplainable wildness about them that frightened me. I hid in a mud pit behind the barbed wire fence and watched my father and sister come out to meet them. They were greeted with the usual smiles of their friends. Then, with no change of visage, the animals spoke, telling them of their fate, of how they would be slaughtered.
There is something about a slaughtering, some terrible magnetic pull, that makes it impossible to tear your eyes away from it, even when the eyes of those in front of you are being torn out. Terror, the big brother of petty fear, pierced my soul, as I watched my father and sister being torn apart. One by one, I heard their bones break. Their screams invaded my tender ears, never, ever leaving them.
When it was over, I pumped water for my father while my sister lay still on the ground. I looked at my father slowly. This once strong and proud man had been reduced to a babe, though less complete than a fetus in the womb. They had torn his arms off! I remembered the school boy who had torn the arms off Lillian, my sister’s sack doll. My father’s work worn and calloused hands had gently taken the doll, wiped the tear tracks from Berthilde’s face, and sewed the shoulders back into place. How my heart longed to do the same for him! But I could not sew.
“Be a good man,” my father said to me as blood poured from his arm sockets. “Forgive as Christ forgave his crucifiers. Care for the one who has no one- the orphan.” Then he rested, Berthilde beside him in the dust. He was so strong and so broken. My eyes rejected him, and my legs started running, dragging this corpse I had become, my senseless body, along with them. But then the terrible truth set in. I was not a corpse. Father and Berthilde were the corpses, and I was alive.
I ran. I could not stop for fear that fatigue would overcome me, and I could not allow that to happen. I could still see the animals in my mind, the icy demons inside them betrayed in their eyes, and I began to drown in my terror. These animals were not the dogs that run wild in Rwanda attacking its people. They were not the villains of fairytales or ghost stories. They weren’t the creatures that lurk in the shadows of the night that strike fear into our children’s hearts.
They were my friends. My doctors, teachers, pastors, cousins, classmates… my friends. With machetes and hatchets in blood-lined hands, they stalked me in my home, but I was not running from their blades. I would escape the blades. Instead, I ran from my father’s body lying on the stones and his arms on the grass and his blood chasing me on my pastor’s hatchet. I ran from my sister’s ripped hair on my doctor’s shirt and her tooth caught in my teacher’s beard. I ran from the stick carrying my sister’s torn dress. It was no longer hers. She and my father had been overcome, and they lay broken in the dust, the lesser and kinder animals– the dogs– presiding over their funeral.
And so, with one dull blow of a machete, I became an orphan instead of a son. Instead of a citizen, I was a refugee, and there was no refuge for me. My country had betrayed me and had opened its mouth to drink my blood and grind my body to dust. In church, my pastor had preached warnings against the power of Satan. Now he had been consumed by that power. I had met Satan… face to face. He was no joke, not a red creature with horns and a tail, and he was ruthless. He knew my weaknesses, and he was consuming everything around me. But I was determined to hold on to truth. I would be a good nine-year-old man, and I would trust in God’s hope. It was the only way to survive in a world where there was no rest.
For three months, I ran, taking refuge in the homes of murderers and thieves. I ate scraps from the dogs and drank dirty water when I could find it. The churches had become morgues. Whole congregations had been baked inside them. One million people were slaughtered in three months. Bodies and pieces of bodies covered the roads like cobblestones, none distinguishable from any of the others. They were a sickening milky yellow color, not resembling the rich ebony their skin had in life. This was what my nine-year-old eyes saw in the sunrise. This was the genocide.
The genocide will never be confined to something of the past, for those who lived it, because the terror still lives somewhere in all of our hearts. It is a poison that rules our nightmares, but we will not let it break us. Why I forgave, how I healed — no one will ever understand. I had a choice. I could either forgive the animals, the men, or fall to the demons myself. And then what grounds would I have to judge the men? For God and my daddy, I became a good man, and by the grace of God, I was not the only one. The country of Rwanda, my friends, knew that we could either forgive one another and care for this new population of orphans or be destroyed, and we could not fall. God was the master of our lives, not Satan. We sought out each other and cared for one another. We became a new family, the Best Family. God’s family.
This is the story I tell my children, the babies I find alone in the streets. I pray expectantly that it will remind them of the hope they have in Christ. If I can give them nothing else, let it be said that I have given them hope. Christ’s hope, his promise to sustain me, was all that I had those three months when I was nine. And though I was a refugee with no hope, God picked me up and sewed my heart back together until I was overflowing with His love. Now, it pours out of me into my children. Now, as I turn out the lights, looking over these children, this new generation of orphans God has entrusted to me, I am reminded of the promise I made to my father long ago. I will be a good man. I will forgive, and I will love and care for those with no one else. I will be a father to the fatherless.
I walk silently to a certain bed and place a kiss on a certain boy’s head. He favors his dead father, except for one small detail. His wild eyes betray no demons. There is no malice, no bloodlust in his heart. Instead, the boy’s eyes have passion, determination, and a deep love for truth. I recognize the look. I saw it every Sunday for the first nine years of my life, staring down at me from the pulpit. I wonder, what do his father’s eyes look like now in heaven?
About the Author
Anne Louise Pass has grown up with a passion for orphans, which she credits to her family. Her father is an international missionary for Visiting Orphans, and she has two adopted siblings, one brought home from China and one adopted domestically. She has traveled to orphanages in China and Haiti and plans to go to Rwanda with her father in December to visit two orphanages and her twenty year old “sister,” Amèlie, the girl her family has fallen in love with and considers family.
These experiences have given Anne Louise a unique perspective and fostered a mission to “speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves,” as she says. As an eleventh grader at The Montgomery Academy in Montgomery, Alabama she plans on continuing her education in order to bring glory to God and share his hope with those who have none, wherever that may take her.