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Protais-A Rwandan Genocide Survivor’s Story

Protais-A Rwandan Genocide Survivor’s Story

 

Pastor Bill and I first met Protais Nshogoze when several Rwandese pastors joined us at Faith Bible College-Lugazi, Uganda as international boarding students. They had chosen to enroll in their first Master Degree, 2 week intensive program. Pastor Bill is the professor over Pastoral Theology and I, Linda am the professor over Christian Counseling. I have found Pastor Protais to be a sensitive, tender man with deep wisdom and compassion. Please, take the time to read his story. Your heart will be challenged and stirred, but you will not be disappointed.

Protais Nshogoze was born August 8th, 1964 into a Roman Catholic family. His childhood was that of any ordinary Rwandan child. Everything in his life changed in 1973, when his father was slaughtered in a massacre based on hatred between the Hutus and the Tutsis. After the murder of his father, the mother could not care for Protais; and he was sent to the home of his aunt and uncle who were devout Muslims. In his desire to be accepted, Protais joined their faith. As he aged, he increased in status in the Islamic religion. He became an Imam in a mosque in 1982, and trained to become a specialized instructor of the Islamic faith. He started an Islamic group whose purpose was to convert the Christians of Rwanda to Islam. Protais would beat Christians, believing that he was gaining favor with Allah. This background sets the framework for the incredibly extraordinary events that would change his life forever.

 

 

The house was quiet and dark. Protais, at that time known as Abdul Karim, was asleep along with the rest of the family.  It was a Monday night in 1986. Protais was awakened by a bright light. He was shaking as he realized that he was not alone. He looked up and saw a shining man surrounded by the most brilliant light. He couldn’t see the man’s face because the brightness of the light, but he clearly heard his voice. The voice said, “Abdul Karim, now I will change your direction.” The shining man placed two books into Protais’ hand, and placed his palm on Protais’ forehead. The vision disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. Protais was left with the feeling of immediate fear falling over his heart. He had not stopped trembling and was not in a deep sweat. Startled, his wife woke up wondering what was wrong. He described to her exactly what he had seen and heard. His wife tried to convince him that demons were trying to have power over him. Unsatisfied with her answer, he went to the mosque to discuss it with his three Imam counselors hoping they could discern what the vision meant. They came up with the same answer as his wife; and even prayed against the demons. He still felt an immanent fear pervading his thoughts.

The following Sunday, his wife woke him up to go to prayers. Protais refused to go to the mosque. He told her there was talk of Christian churches praying over people and demons were cast out.  He was determined to go to the Christian church that very day. He snuck over, hiding himself in the trees so as to avoid any Muslims seeing him. He entered the church, and sat in the service. It was like nothing he had ever experienced before. He absorbed everything that the pastor taught. He confessed his sins, accepted Jesus as his Savior, and now understood the vision asChrist’s call on his life. He exited the church rejoicing loudly and waving his new Bible in the air. The Muslims around him were angry and confused, thinking the Christian demons had claimed control and manipulated him. His behavior had changed; and his treatment toward his wife and children was so different, that the wife also wanted to know Jesus. The children followed their parent’s decision. Protais began training to become a pastor.

While Protais’ personal life was wonderful, the political climate was heating up daily. In 1994, the extreme tension between the Tutsis and the Hutus came to a head when the President’s plane was shot down. The leader of Protais’ district told the Tutsis to hide in the woods hoping they could escape being killed. He told them not to worry about their homes or belongings because they might at least save their lives. Protais took his wife, three children, his friend, Francois, and Uncle Laurent to hide in the trees. Sometime later, about forty killers found their hiding place. The called out, “Hey, you cockroaches! This is your last day to be alive. Your time has come to die!” Protais and his companions tried to remind them that they were people too; and they were not cockroaches. But the killers still took them. They separated Protais from his wife and children; taking them men to the road. Protais didn’t know was going to happen to him or what had happened to his family until many weeks later.

The angry, violent men forced the Tutsi men to the road where they immediately decapitated Uncle Laurent, sending his head and body in opposite directions. They cut Francois on the face. He scrambled for a bundle of money in his pocket, begging them to let him go if he paid them. The killers took the money, and chopped off Francois’ head as well. They started arguing about the money, fighting over the whowould get what. One man remembered Protais and hit him over the neck extremely hard with a huge stick. Protais fell to the dirt, soaked with the blood of his relative and friend. The men ran off, still arguing over the money. Protais lay there for two hours until he was found by a group of Tutsis. They took him to a church and cleaned off all of the blood.

Soon the militia came to the church and starting shooting everyone, killing the women and children. Protais was able to run and he escaped to the swamps where many other people were hiding. He hid his body under the water and brush, trying to stay hidden from the helicopters that the militia had sent out, armed with machine guns and grenades. They fired over the swamps, trying to kill everyone they could. It was there, partially submerged in water that he waited . . . for something! He stayed in the swamp, without food; drinking only the contaminated water for 41 days.

The RPF soldiers came, calling out to the people of the swamp, assuring them they wouldn’t be harmed if they came out. The desperate, emaciated people who managed to survive (an immense number of people died waiting in the swamps) decided to trust them and were taken to a temporary refugee camp where they were nursed back to health. For the first few days, Protais could eat very little. By the end of the week he was eating fairly normal. After two weeks, he was asked to go back to his village to bury the dead.

When he arrived, he saw that there were dead bodies everywhere. He learned that his wife, children, and mother had been murdered.Many other members of his extended family (46 in all) had also been brutally murdered. He was so angry, so bitter! He found a place to live, buried the dead, and tried to move on with his life; but his hatred toward those who heartlessly murdered his family and his peopleate away at him day and night. Many Tutsis, including Protais, accused all the Hutus they could of being killers. They sent people to prison who they may not have even had any part of the killings. They simply wanted revenge, someone to blame for all the atrocities of the genocide. The Tutsis and even the Hutus were traumatized by all that had happened.

A year and a half later, Protais received a letter from a lady who had fled the country. This lady claimed to have taken his four year old daughter with her. Protais didn’t believe her at first, and challenged her to come back to Rwanda in order to prove it. The lady came six months later, and brought the frightened little girl to her daddy.

The woman told the story of what had happened to Protais’ wife and children. After they  wereseparated, the men taking his family walked through farmland, taking them out of the way to be murdered. This woman had come out of her house and stopped the group, asking them if they were going to kill the Tutsi family. The men responded that they would all be killed. The woman said, “That little girl might be useful to me later on. I can keep her to work for me on my farm since I am getting old.” The men agreed, since the girl was only four years. They left her with the woman, and took her mother and the two brothers further into the fields to complete their assignment. The woman took the small girl and fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo where they would be safe, until she could reach the father with word of his daughter’s survival.

When the daughter was first reunited with her father, she would just sit and stare into space. She was so traumatized that her mind didn’t connect with reality. She didn’t even notice when people were touching her. The young girl spent six months at a clinic receiving professional care. She is now a beautiful 23 years old woman attending the University in Kigali, Rwanda. The elderly woman who rescued her lived with the father and daughter as a close family member until she passed away recently.

Protais met a woman survivor who had lost her husband in the genocide. They soon married and had five precious children together.

Protais attended a pastoral training program at a YWAM base for several months. Each morning the leader read out loud from Matthew 6, “The Lord’s Prayer”. One morning while the group was working their way through the prayer, Protais felt something extremely painful down in his soul. He read verse 12 where is says, “Forgive me my sins as I forgive those who have sinned against me.” He realized that God wanted him to forgive the people who had killed his family, or else his own sins could not be forgiven. He knew that Jesus had forgiven him of everything evil and that his responsibility, his calling right then, in response to that free forgiveness, was to forgive and reconcile with the men who had acted out the greatest evil against his family and his people.

He began to weep; crying deep, wracking sobs. The leader held him as he let out those feeling of distress, doubt, and horrified pain. He them was able to ask God to help him to forgive the killers. He felt a release in his heart as years of anger and bitterness broke beneath the incredible weight of God’s grace and mercy. His spirit felt a peace he had forgotten existed. As he left, he detoured toward the church where he pastored. The church’s yard bordered the prison where three men who had participated in the killing of his family were held. He knocked at the gate and asked the guard, who was also a survivor, if the three men could be brought out. The guard went into the prison and pulled the three men out of their cells and brought them to the front of the prison.

When they saw Protais, the men asked him, “Are you here to finish us off? What do you want to do, kill us now?  Make us feel bad now?” Protais just looked at them, took a deep, strengthening breath, and said, “I have come to ask for your forgiveness.” (Did he get his words mixed up? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?) The men’s jaws just dropped. They looked at each other. One stuttered, “Why do you ask this of us? It doesn’t make any sense.” Protais answered, “I have killed you in my mind over and over. I have killed your children and your wives again and again in my mind. This is a great evil and I ask your forgiveness.”

The men fell to their knees and began to sob. Protais joined them; and they held each other in a small, huddled group on the ground. They cried and spoke words of forgiveness for a long time. Finally, a guard said he was tired of hearing men cry; so he hustled the prisoners back to their cells. He flailed his arms at Protais yelling, “Get out of here, you crazy pastor!” Protais walked away rejoicing at the strength the Lord had given him. He went to the prison back every week, bringing the men food so they wouldn’t starve while imprisoned. Later, the government decided that those who confessed to their crimes were to be released from prison, and were to be tried by the Gacaca Courts. They would be given a sentence of community service for however long their crimes demanded. In this way they could assimilate back into the culture and start the reconciliation process. The three men who Protais had forgiven were the first ones to confess being guilty of their crimes.

Protais’ story really speaks for itself. Christ is powerful . . . more powerful than we could ever think. His love overcomes the hate between murders and victims. His love brings freedom from anger and bitterness. If we actually believe in and are following Jesus Christ, we can forgive, should forgive, and must forgive. Don’t believe the lie that says, “I can’t forgive__________ for what they have done to me.” God will help us to sacrifice our “right” to demand compensation and our “right” to demand a skewed version of justice in order to give back some humanity to the person who wronged us. The Spirit brings us this power. Don’t let it sit idly by.

Protais is now pastoring and working as a peace advocate in his town, encouraging survivors and perpetrators alike to reconcile and forgive each other. He is also organizing outreaches to the Muslim communities, sharing his experiences to further the kingdom of God. He exhorts people to take the same stance of love and grace that God empowered him to take.

Pastor Protais has a heart to bring healing through Christian counseling to couples where a genocide survivor married another survivor while their hearts were still full of unforgiveness and pain. As he sees marriages struggling, he wants to bring Christ, the answer to them. He is a dynamic and godly man who is passionate for the Lord. He has a strong desire to attend our Master of Christian Counseling degreed program at Faith Bible College-Lugazi as an international boarding student. He will stay on campus in Lugazi, Uganda for two weeks sessions, once each quarter.

 

 

Please, is they a family or a church that would love to sponsor Protais so that he can complete his Master’s Degree in Christian Counseling at Faith Bible College-Lugazi? Please contact Pastor Bill or Linda Campbell  athttp://preparethewayministry.com/Make a difference for all of eternity by investing in Pastor ProtaisNshogoze training to bring healing to the nation of Rwanda.

Together with you, pushing back darkness to bring in God’s glorious light.