Special Opportunity: Emmanuel’s Return
When Emmanuel Mbonihankuye and his wife, Angelique, ran from the sudden onslaught of genocide that had arrived at their college, they had no idea what they were facing. Crossing the river into Congo, they found a family in the forest who was willing to take them in, and there they hid, helping with farm chores, fetching water, and waiting out the horrors that overtook Rwanda as one tribe sought to wipe out another.
They thought that the forest would provide protection, and their little daughter was born there, but soon after, rebel soldiers raged through that part of the forest, taking Emmanuel, their host family, and the baby. Only Angelique was spared, unnoticed on the path to fetch drinking water at the river.
First, she waited by herself at the deserted cottage. Weeks passed, and eventually a few of the Congolese family straggled home, breaking the heartbreaking news that the baby had died on the trail. Still she waited, hoping that Emmanuel would appear, and they could return to the school in Rwanda, or their home in neighboring Burundi. The genocide was over, Angelique’s Tutsi tribe had taken over peaceful leadership of Rwanda, and after months of waiting, Angelique went home alone.
Daily she prayed and waited for news, but none came. She finished her school program in Rwanda, and next went to Kenya for training in ministry and social work. Her prayers never wavered, but no news ever arrived… until eight years later, when a message reached her that Emmanuel had escaped his slavery to the rebel group, and had made his way back to Burundi. He was waiting for her there, hoping that she was well, and had not given up and married another. He had only recently learned of the death of their little girl.
It was truly a miraculous reunion, astonishing that both had survived, had not married again, and were spared permanent injury or the ravages of AIDS. Angelique was hired by ALARM, (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries) to head their women’s work in peace-making and income generation for the poor. Emmanuel had to regain his strength and pick up the life he had lost eight years before. At 35, he humbly put on the khaki shorts of a secondary student and finished that diploma, which equals junior college here. He was in the midst of exams when I met him on a trip to Burundi, and visited the work that ALARM does there.
Angelique is a quiet, gentle soul, who gives no hint of the suffering she has gone through, and puts her energy into helping others in poverty and conflict. She didn’t tell me her story until I asked her what her forgiveness story was. Everyone in Rwanda and Burundi had one, but I never expected to hear a tale of slavery and loss from a peaceful woman like Angelique. I rejoiced to see that she held her 18-month-old son in her arms as she told me her story, which seemed to be a miracle of “happily ever after.”
I went home and set about to raise scholarship money for Emmanuel to attend college. He is studying social work, so that he can minister to others who go through similar trauma. When a donor finally agreed to fund his first year, I got on my computer to email Angelique the good news, but she had just written to me: her sister had died in Rwanda, leaving five children, and she was taking in four of them, aged 19 through 18 months. They all live in a tiny Habitat for Humanity home, and the older children help care for the younger. Angelique was pregnant at that time, and her twin boys are doing well, adding to the family to make nine.
In January, Emmanuel will start his last year of college. He needs $1500 for tuition and fees. God has always surprised me with a donor, and I am hoping that this year some of you might like to be a part of this story. The donation will be passed through ALARM (www.alarm-inc.org) and so will be tax deductable, but I promise you, that will not be your greatest reward!
For eight Christmases, Angelique hoped for the return of her Emmanuel, and our God answered her prayer. What a marvelous God we have, and what an honor to be able to hear stories like this one, to have a small part in their lives, and to link in friendship with such courageous brothers and sisters!