I was born in Gisagara in southern Rwanda. After completing primary school, I could not continue on to secondary school due to political discrimination that barred Tutsis. My father decided to send me to the neighboring country of Burundi, where I graduated from college with a major in education.
Since I was not authorized to work as a teacher in my native country, I stayed in Burundi to pursue a teaching career. I came back home to Rwanda in 1988 and switched careers. I found a job in Kigali, and began working as an accountant for a public utility charged with the production, distribution, and sale of water and electricity.
I married Daniel Ntagwabira in 1993. We both came from strong Christian families, and we hoped our faith would help us become role models to other couples. We lived in Kigali.
The genocide began in our area on April 7, 1994. The next day, Marianne, a Hutu neighbor who was a friend of our family, agreed to hide me in her home, but she refused to hide my husband. He was killed on April 10, in our home, while I was hiding with our neighbor. I think if she would have allowed my husband to hide with me, he would still be alive. I remember with sorrow that after he was killed, Marianne brought his wedding ring – the ring of our alliance – to my hiding place. It was covered with blood. The way she showed it to me made me feel that I had no right to cry or show my anguish. I was in shock, and somehow I thought that if I showed my pain at that moment, I would cause problems for her.
I was thirty-one years old, a widow without a child. We had been married for seven months.
After five days of genocide, on April 12, Marianne told me I needed to leave her home. She was worried that she would lose her life if the killers found me there. She did not want to take that risk for her family. Fortunately, she did not face any consequences. She found me a place in a vehicle that was evacuating military wives from Kigali. In this way I eventually arrived in my native village, where my four sisters, my brother, and my elderly mother lived. (My father had passed away two years earlier.)
The genocide had not begun yet in that region, and I believed I had escaped from death. Later, however, the killing spread to our area and I had to flee again. But God must have had a plan to keep me alive, because I succeeded in escaping into Burundi with my mother and three sisters on April 21. We did not know where to go, but God went with us and we reached Burundi safely and stayed there until the end of the genocide. Less than one hundred days later, the killers were defeated and we were able to return to our country.
I discovered that my brother, with his wife and son, my eldest sister, with her husband and five children, and many other relatives had been murdered. None of my family who stayed in Rwanda survived. All of our houses were destroyed and our furniture and possessions looted. Our cattle had been slaughtered. There was nothing left for us to start over with, but we thanked God that we were alive.
We did not have time to mourn for our loved ones. We had to get to work. I went back to my accounting job in Kigali. There I met other survivors, most of them widows. We met together to tell our stories to one another, to cry and shout, and to insult the killers of our family members. Each survivor was trying to cope with her trauma in her own way. Some widows had begun taking sleeping pills, while others used alcohol or drugs. Some turned to immoral relationships, and some isolated themselves. I constantly asked myself how I could restart my life without my husband. In despair, I blamed God and asked him why I was still alive.
Then one day, I read 1 Timothy 5:5-6, “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.” I decided to turn away from anger and despair, and started fasting and praying to ask God for inward peace. I asked what I could do to help other widows, and felt led to approach three of them to suggest that we should start praying together. At our first meeting, I shared the passage from Timothy. They were deeply touched. After some time, we received another message from God in Judges 6:24, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.’ Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord Is Peace.” We called our prayer group “Jehovah Shalom,” based on the name of that altar. I felt confident that God would heal our wounds and restore our lives. That’s how, in 1994, Shalom Ministries began. What started as a weeping group grew into a praying group, and then became a ministry.
As we gradually found inner peace and healing in our broken hearts through the Word of God, we were led to reconciliation. After experiencing this healing, I was able to forgive the people who murdered my husband and family.
In 1998, I left my job to work full-time for the nonprofit organization, Association of Widows of Genocide (AVEGA), where I received many hours of training in trauma counseling.
Over time, I was able build a new house and continue with my studies. I now have a degree in sociology. Although I do not have my own biological children, I have never been alone. God has given me many children to care for in my home. Some of them have graduated from college and gotten married. I am currently raising two orphans whom I love very much.
with over three hundred and fifty members. It was officially incorporated in 2008, but as I said, has been active since the end of the genocide. Because the murderers targeted mostly men and boys, survivors of the genocide are predominantly women. Shalom Ministries’ mission is to support widows and orphans across Rwanda by restoring their hope of living in peace; embarking with them on a journey of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation; and promoting their social and economic development.has become a charity
Today Shalom Ministries includes couples, youth, and children from different ethnicities and social classes. Everyone who needs to find peace is welcome, Hutu and Tutsi alike. How can we refuse to comfort someone if God did not refuse to heal and comfort us?
To give one example, in 2012 a genocide widow who is a member of Shalom Ministries talked with me about the difficulties faced by mixed Hutu-Tutsi couples in her district. The wives, Tutsis, were suffering because their marriages had not been accepted by their families. Their families accused these women’s husbands of having been involved in the genocide. This was partly true: some had confessed to killing their neighbors and had served or were serving prison time for the role they played in the genocide. Others had been recently released after serving their sentences. The wives were also not accepted by the Hutu families of their husbands because of their Tutsi ethnicity. They were suffering alone.
I started group counseling sessions with them, where they could express their sorrow. During these sessions, they talked about what divided them from others. They then wrote what had wounded them on a piece paper and tore it up as a sign of getting rid of it. After many sessions, when they had found healing themselves, I asked if they would invite their husbands to come with them to future sessions. They accepted my invitation and started bringing their husbands along. Now, praise God, they are able to meet with the other genocide widows without any problem. Before, it was impossible to get these groups together, but now they feel so united through forgiveness and reconciliation that it is as if they belong to the same family.
I have been Shalom Ministries’ full-time coordinator since 2011. I am happy for the days added to my life, because they have been fruitful. I have come to know Jesus more deeply than before. I am healed, have forgiven the killers, and am able to contribute to the rebuilding of my country by helping to promote unity and reconciliation. God is good! I thank him for all that he has done for me.
To learn more about Shalom Ministries, visit their website: www.shaloministries.org.