By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Could you do it? Could you … really?
Of all the Chapel challenges of the last few years, of all the spiritual gauntlets thrown out during the course of the weekly talks at Grand Canyon University Arena, the example Rose Mapendo set Monday might be the most daunting.
Her Banyamulenge Tutsi family was abducted in 1998 during the ethnic genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo and taken to a prison camp.
Within two weeks, all the men in the camp were murdered, including her husband.
She and her seven children (one of her daughters had evaded capture) were starved and abused in unimaginable squalor for 16 months, prevented from so much as washing, brushing their teeth or even changing their clothes.
She was pregnant when they were seized and gave birth – to twins – in those conditions, cutting the umbilical cord herself with a piece of wood.
And she forgave the men who did that. She forgave them.
The seminal moment in her captivity, the result of the Tutsi genocide that started in the 1990s, was at her lowest point, when she prayed to God to kill her and take her out of that misery. Instead, she heard the words that she had come to know in Matthew 6:14 (For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you).
“God spoke to me clearly: ‘Forgive your enemy,’” she told her audience. “I did not survive when I come to U.S. I survived the day I made the decision to forgive my enemy. Hallelujah! Nothing changed outside, but something changed in me. Hallelujah!”
Hallelujah. After opening with a song in her native tongue, Mapendo said the word early and often in her talk, often at the top of her lungs. She said, “Amen,” a lot, too, often combining the two. It made her words that much more meaningful.
Mapendo said she felt as if a weight dropped off her shoulders as she came to that forgiveness. “I felt like a new person,” she said.
She started treating the soldiers differently even though they had threatened to kill her children right before her eyes. She even went so far as to name the twins after two of the commanders.
“God is to make the impossible to be possible. Amen?” she said. “I know many people that think that to believe in God is like wasting time. It’s wrong. Amen? God is everything. You can lose everything that you have, but when you have Jesus, you still own everything. Amen?
“We’re not alive because we ate. We’re alive because we have the word of God.”
She told of how she didn’t feel any sense of compassion before that. After all, she and her husband had moved the family to the city to build his business and had been doing quite well.
“We lost it all in the blink of an eye,” she said. “I was so angry. I was thinking, ‘What have we done to deserve that?’
“… I was so angry. I said, ‘Why? Why, God, He create me a Tutsi? Why God create me in Congo?’”
“God, He had a purpose for it. Amen? Hallelujah!”
And that purpose is:
“When I survived, God, He put in me a message, like a vision, to work for peace and reconciliation. That is the reason why I survived. That is the question I ask myself every single day – why am I here?”
Clearly, she has done that work. She hasn’t just survived. She and her family have thrived.
The Rose Mapendo Foundation seeks to unite women of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi and try to bring peace to the region. Among the awards she has won are United Nations Humanitarian of the Year in 2009, the 2015 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian of the Year Award for Gender Equality, and CNN Hero.
She has spoken at the White House. She was the subject of a documentary, “Pushing the Elephant,” that told the story of being reunited with her daughter who had been spared the torture the rest of the family endured. Her son Bikonzi Moise, who was 7 when they were captured, graduated from GCU in 2016, is working on his master’s and is the Local Outreach Coordinator in Spiritual Life.
Mapendo talked of the special strength that women have. She urged the thousands of students in the audience to recognize the turning points in their lives and make the right decisions.
“To reach your destiny, you have to pass through the trouble. Amen?” she told them. “… God has a purpose for everyone. You can never ever go to the next level unless you pass the test. Are you in that test? What is the situation? Why are you here? Are you going to fail the test of life?”
She sees what is happening in the United States, and she is saddened but more determined than ever to deliver her message. Which is:
“You have to pray. You have to pray for your country. … This is the country of our refuge, but the people are not happy, for no reason, for no reason. That’s why evil keeps causing a lot of trouble.
“But today is a message of hope. Let’s honor each other and work together. I lost everything, but here I am.”
Yes, there she was Monday. Amen. Hallelujah.
● Chapel replay.
● Next Monday’s Chapel speaker: Dr. Tim Griffin, GCU Pastor and Dean of Students
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.