The book we are featuring in this quarter is Preaching From The Grave. Without going into the macabre details, Dr. Phodidas takes us through every experience he had encountered with the militiamen during the Rwanda Genocide. It's not only a book on faith, but one on forgiveness. After the genocide, you would find Dr. Phodidas meeting the killers and sharing the message of love with them. Here's a chapter that we want to share with you this month:
As I settled into this new hiding place, I prayed to the One I knew I could always turn to. "Lord, You are the Creator of the universe. Nothing is too difficult for You. Whatever is impossible for men is a simple matter for You. Send Your angels to surround this bush and protect us (again) now. Show us once more that You are with Your people. Let others know that You are in control and that You still answer prayers."
My strength was running out, and I struggled to breathe during these terrible hours of the night in the bush! I was almost freezing in my sackcloth, which I had tried to wrap around my body. I kept praying and trusting that God would bring about a solution.
It was around ten or eleven o'clock in the morning when I heard shouting and bells ringing. I looked through the bushes to determine what was going on. I saw a dog moving back and forth as if it were hunting for a wild animal, and I overheard a couple militiamen talking as they approached the bush.
"Would anyone hide here?" one man questioned.
"Even if we did not kill them, the snakes would," the other responded.
To my dismay, the dog came straight toward me and barked. As I peered through the corner of the sack covering my head, I look into the dog's eyes as if I were negotiating with the animal. The dog would not move. It continued to make a strange growling noise while staring back at me. I tried to scare it away, but that only made it bark louder.
"You had better surrender," one man commanded me as he signaled his friends, who were already a few meters past where we were hiding. "It's two of them! I have found them!" he exclaimed.
"Come out!" they commanded.
I stood up, holding my sackcloth and the plastic bag that contained by Bible. I made my way toward the militiamen, who were waiting impatiently for me. Joel followed. At that moment, God gave me unimaginable courage. I felt no trace of fear and moved to greet them before anything could happen. Extending my arm, I tried to shake the first killer's hand, but he refused. I held out my hand to the second man, who agreed to shake it but then withdrew his hand right away out of fear. Another man came up and asked for my ID card. I gave it to him. Just as he was studying my ID, we heard a loud bang. Someone was shot about a hundred meters away.
"We will kill you," the man holding my ID card told me.
They then escorted us to the place where they intended to kill us. I felt afraid to die. Most of these militiamen did not have machetes, but knives and clubs with sharp nails in them. I heard them say they called these clubs, ntampongano. In the Kinyarwanda language, this means, "there is no ransom for the enemy. There is no bribe you can pay to redeem yourself." By giving their clubs this name, the militiamen in this area were saying that they were so ruthless to let anyone go.
It terrified me to think of them striking my head with these evil instruments. I tried to negotiate with them and begged them to shoot me rather than kill me with their cubs or stab me to death.
"No!" one of them shouted. "We don't have bullets to waste on you!" We came to a certain place where some people had gathered. After a quick survey of the grounds near one house, they selected a spot. This is where they told me what to do next.
"Take that hoe and dig your own grave. We don't want to strain ourselves. Dig your grave, and then we will kill you and your friend and bury you both there," a militiaman directed, and the rest of the group shouted their approval.
Though still weak and tired, I had no option but to pick up the hoe and start digging my grave. I thought about my long journey since the killings had started in Kigali. I recalled all that God had done for me and the miracles I had witnessed. My confident and hopeful prayer was that God would intervene before I finished my grave.
As I dug the hole, the militiamen were bragging about having found us. They were also talking about the horrible way they intended to kill us. Some suggested that they did no have to waste bullets, and others suggested that it was better not to waste their strength in hitting us. I heard one propose that they should just bury us alive.
Though I felt fearful, I also felt that these power were not only doing evil, but that they were like demons, looking down on God as they kill innocent people and made light of what the were doing. I pleaded with God in prayer, asking Him to show Himself as God and to let these killers learn about His power.
"Lord, I have preached about You since my youth. I have talked about the experience of Daniel in the lions' den and shared the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. I've told people that You worked miracles in ancient times. Are you still the same God I have been serving? If You are the same, show me I have not told lies to others. Show me You are the same God. Do something, Lord! Whatever You choose will be fine with me." Thus, In continued to pray as I dug my grave.
While I was digging, one militiaman picked up my Bible from where I had laid it down. He opened it for amusement. But as he turned the pages, he seemed to show some interest in what he was reading. He became curious about the highlighted section throughout my Bible.
"What do these colors mean?" he asked. "Why are they different?"
"Those are my favorite verses. They have strengthened me, and that's why I highlighted them." I responded.
The man continued to looking through my Bible. As he opened page after page and read every highlighted verse. his interest was increasing. He seemed to have gone beyond mere curiosity to reflecting on what he was reading.
"You mean you have read all these verses?" he asked.
"Yes," I responded, looking up from the ever-deepening hold. I feared that my grave might be finished before God could do something. I continue to pray. This time, I gave God suggestions about how to answer my prayers. "Do something about this, oh Lord! You can send down fire and all of us will run."
I Kept praying with an expectation that fire would come from heaven at any moment, and everyone would have to run for his life while Joel and I walked away. But there was no fire. God seemed to be silent.
"You never run out of resources. You can send thunder which will scatter us all!" But God did not send thunder.
"What are You doing about this situation? I will soon finish the grave, and all these people will not learn about Your power! Do something about this now! You can give us wings, and we will fly away before their eyes." Yet there were no wings given as I waited.
Interrupting my flow of prayerful thoughts, the man who was holding my Bible spoke up again. "Brother," he said with sincerity, "before you die, I beg you to give me this Bible."
"That would be fine," I replied. "You may have it."
One militiaman standing toward the back of the crowd objected. "That Bible does not belong to you alone," he told his companies. "It belongs to all of us! If you want it, give us some money!"
"Whatever amount you ask, I will give you." said the man holding my Bible.
I continued digging and praying. But God seemed not to be answering my prayers. I felt impatient, but I knew He was in charge. I kept praying, expecting something to happen!
Moved by what he was reading, the militiaman who was holding my Bible made a request to the group. "I know we will kill these people, but will you please allow me to help him finish digging this grave?" he asked.
Having been touched by the Word, he was trying to be compassionate toward us. He did not want the continue suffering although he knew they would eventually kill us. But this was not a good solution for me, since the faster the grave was dug, the sooner they would kill us! We needed more time, not less!
The kind militiaman's offer to help pleased the others, who believed that I had been attempting to delay the inevitable. He jumped into the pit and helped me get out so that he could dig.
Knowing he would soon finish the grave, I intensified my prayers. "Lord, this man is very strong, and he will finish the grave now. What are You doing about this situation?" I felt anxious. For me, finishing the grave meant an immediate and torturous death. God was delaying, and I was almost out of time!
Although I thought of the finished grave as the final deadline fro God to intervene on our behalf, I discovered that there was something I still needed to learn. God wanted to teach me the lesson that He is always on time, even when He seems to be late! He is always there, even when He seems to be absent. For Him, there is a way out, even when there seems to be not way! I needed to remember that God did not intervene before the three Hebrew boys were thrown in the the fiery furnace. He also did not intervene before Daniel was thrown into the lion's den! All the time I had been suggesting to God what He should do for me. He was already answering my prayers and was only leading me through a process.
As soon as the grave was finished, one militiaman shouted, "No, brothers! This is not the right thing to do! It is not even fair!"
Everybody wondered what had happened to turned their attention to this man as he laid out his complaint. "Why should we bury these stranger in our field? We don't know them. This is private property. Instead, we should let this Tutsi dig another grave along the main road, which that is state property. We should use this grave to bury our friend's brother-in-law instead!" He spoke his words with convictions, and everyone agreed with the suggestion.
I later learned that the man they decided to bury in my grave was a Tutsi who had been shot right at the time when they had discovered us hiding in the bush a few minutes earlier. His sister was married to a Hutu. He had tried to hide in the bush, but feared the militia would discover him and kill him with machetes. To make death easier for himself, he asked his brother-in-law to shoot him, rather than face being killed by strangers.
They brought the body of that man, and after they had laid him in the grave, one of them suggested, "Why don't we pray for this man before we bury him? The he said, "Mary, mother of Jesus, receive him!" Everyone else in the group just repeated the same prayer: "Mary, mother of Jesus, receive him." Then some men took shovels and filled the grave with soil. They took turns, and in a short time the burial was over.
Hearing their prayer, I wondered what they were doing. I concluded that they were scorning God and acting out of ignorance regarding biblical teachings. How could they kill innocent people and then pray for them? After observing these things, my mind-set shifted. I was no longer thinking about myself and praying for my safety. I forgot about my problem and focused on theirs. Once again, I felt a strange courage coming over me as I prayed.
"Lord, these people don't know You. Help me now. Even if I may die, allow me to say something that will change their lives for the better. Don't let me die before I tell them who You are!"
(To be continued.)
BY Dr. Phodidas & Katie C.M. Li