Dr. Phodidas: I was 22 years old when I became a church elder (leader), and the genocide happened when I was 24 years old. In just 100 days, over 800,000 people were killed.
You know? God will prepare you before you go through a terrible crisis. There’s no surprise. There was an army attacking the country and the government killing civilians. Some of those who were attacking happened to come from my ethnic group members. At that time, my ethnic group has been fighting the Hutus for centuries
CK Team: What caused the genocide?
Dr. Phodidas: After my ethnic group wanted to go back! “Hutu” and “Tutsi” were the two groups, and I am part of the Tutsi. (But we all look alike.) At first, the Tutsi was favored but, eventually, we became the outcasts. Some who had fled the country wanted to come back, and, of course, the Hutus didn’t want that. The government said if all Tutsis want to come back, they ought to put away their weapons. The Tutsis refused—they were determined to share power.
That’s how the Rwanda Genocide started. Those who fled wanted to come back, and the government announced a decree to kill every Tutsi living inside the borders. I was one of them.
CK Team: Where were you at that time?
Dr. Phodidas: Many fled. Some ran to the boarder, but I stayed. The genocide started on Wednesday night. It was April 6,1994. The day before, a group of young church member wanted a spiritual revival. We fasted and prayed because fears and hatred were rampant, and citizens were being trained to use guns by the government. When the president decided to share power with the Tutsi, the extremists killed him and started killing Tutsi as well. To make matters worse, they started to give incentives to those who killed Tutsi.
It’s a genocide. They went to every home and asked for their ID cards. If they see a Tutsi ID card, they’ll kill right away. And, they did not spare chidlren. If you and your family are Tutsis, they’ll line you up and shoot. (By the way, shooting was a favor.) It was terrible. Since Rwanda is very hilly, you can see everyone. It’s a country of a thousand hills. It’s like the area near San Francisco. If you were there, you, too, could see people in the hills being shot, stabbed, burned.
CK Team: Did you keep your ID then?
Dr. Phodidas: Yes. I was supposed to go to church on that Saturday morning, but there was no way to go to church. Roadblocks were placed everywhere. I asked some boys to gather those who wanted like to pray. He managed to bring some together and we prayed. Some were Hutus. Yes, not everyone was bad. Not every Hutu. There were Catholics, nuns, Christians. I preached “The Time of Trouble” from the Great Controversy. “Even in a time like this”, I said, “God is still in control, He can protect our lives.”
As I was teaching, I saw a militia men walking towards us with guns and machetes. They yelled: Open the door! The boys opened the door.
Immediately, the militia men asked for our IDs. I prayed quietly, “Lord, I will not lie.” It’s better to die than to lie. So I showed my Tutsi ID. Some people said, you should’ve turned the ID and lied. But, I remembered Psalms 15 and Revelations 22 and couldn’t ignore the Holy Spirit. I thought: If God wants to protect my life, He would and if He doesn’t, I would die.
The militia men shouted, “We got one. Get ready to kill.” They raised their machetes and knives as I held onto my Bible. “On that ID, it’s written Tutsi”, I said, “but my citizenship is in heaven.” The leader of the group became furious and trampled my Bible, but God was in charge. Even though the bible was under his foot, and all the knives were hovering above my head. You’d think they’d stab me. No. They were screaming and shouting but no one dares to kill me. Instead, they suddenly said, “Now take us to your room. Where’s your room?” I continued praying as I led them into my room.
(To be continued.)
BY Dr. Phodidas, Karen Gardner, Katie C.M. Li
Dr. Phodidas has shared his stories at various universities and conferences. He authored Preaching From The Grave.