Finding Faith in the Unlikeliest of Places
I have struggled with my own faith for years. I never fully understood why it was so pivotal that I should need a strong connection to any religion. Most religious folks strike me as very invasive and extreme. Of course, I did not want to believe that when we die we become nothing.
I felt in my heart somewhere deep that there must be an afterlife. There must be a purpose to our existence. There must be truth in the moral virtues religious people devout to.
I wouldn’t say I am religious Christian, but more so spiritual in the ideology. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago I completely lost my faith…
I was attending a Roman Catholic college during the time I lost my faith due to seemingly unforgivable pain my father had caused me. It’s a requirement that students take at least two theology classes to graduate. One of the theology classes I signed up for was called, Forgiveness. Odd, I thought, that one common word could mean religion. I imagined the class to be dictations regarding the bible, students and teachers praying all day, and judgmental inclinations.
I didn’t think anyone, let alone my teacher, Sister Sheila, could convince me to obtain back my faith.
I had no idea that the class would be the opposite of what I had wrongfully assumed in my mind. First thing Sister Sheila presented to the class was a book by a Tutsi Rwandan survivor, Immaculee IIibagiza, titled, Left to Tell.
This book grabbed me the moment I picked it up and started reading it.
In the story, based on true events, Immaculee goes through the horrors of the genocides that occurred in Central/Eastern Africa and the ugly racial discrimination her and her family endured. This young woman who was raised by caring philanthropist parents simply yearned to go to school, help her community, and be with friends like any other normal person would. But, although, her parents were well known for helping a great deal of people in the community and truly embodying the morale of their Catholic faith, troubled times were brewing between the Rwandan races of the Tutsi and Hutu tribes.
Thousands of people including Immaculees’ family have been killed. These lives were taken because of hate. People hated what was different from them and so that hate turned into fear and fear turned into murder.
Immaculee barely escaped with her life…by the grace of God she stumbled upon a good Pastor who hid her and seven other women in a tiny bathroom behind a dresser for three months. They hid from Hutu hunters and armed forces who would shoot, torture, or kill any Tutsi person on site. With little water and food to survive on amongst the women, Immaculee and the rest had to endure dreadful agony of not knowing whether they would be killed or live to survive another day. Once the war was over, and Immaculee along with the rest of the women she shared a bathroom with, everything and everyone was destroyed. Immaculee couldn’t go back home for her home was gone. She couldn’t see her family again because her family had been murdered.
She had to pick up the pieces of what little was left of her pre-war life and start a new one, post-war.
Years went by and as Immaculee grew and learned more about her past, she came to realize what her parents had instilled in themselves all those years ago about faith and love in the community. Immaculee realized that the war started because of hate and indifference. She could no longer bare to repeat the same mistakes. The killer of her family members still lived and was released from jail. Immaculee faced her family’s killer, looked deep in her broken heart, and decided to forgive him. She forgave the man that killed her family. Most of the African tribes have a way of beliefs that they practice spiritually that most others do not comprehend. They believe that in order to live in peace, one has to come to peace and forgive.
I was blown away.
How could a woman who has suffered through so much unspeakable pain just easily forgive and learn to love again?
How could a woman like Immaculee do it but I could not?
I could not forgive my own father who has committed terrible things. But it was nothing close to killing someone, let alone my loved ones. Forgiveness isn’t just a Catholic or Christian virtue. Forgiveness can be found in any religion, in any spiritual being and in anyone whether they believe in a faith or not.
Sister Sheila proved me wrong; I got my faith back. I forgave my father. I learned it had to come form within. I suddenly felt the love of my spirituality deepen.
I have come to understand the purpose of religion and the profound meaning, when handled carefully, of the powerful goodness it can hold. Humanity is not lost if we can learn to keep our faith.