Those of you who have had the pleasure to spend time with PFR’s Founder and Executive Director Pastor Deo Gashagaza may have already been rendered speechless by his amazing and inspirational story. For those that haven’t had this opportunity Pastor Deo has been persuaded to put pen to paper and begin to write it, in the hope that this may one day lead to an entire book, his stories could certainly fill one...
‘I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1963. My parents had fled there from Rwanda during the massacres of 1959. Many members of my family did not make the same choice, they stayed in Rwanda. It was their home and they did not want to leave. I first saw Rwanda, a country that I had grown up hearing about, in 1995, in the wake of the 1994 genocide. After 32 years of living as a refugee I had come ‘home’, to a country that was devastated. Personally I was going through a lot of trauma, 45 members of my family had been murdered, including my sister who had returned to Rwanda prior to the genocide. She had been killed in the southern province of Bugesera where she was living with her family. I don’t know why but I felt that this is where I needed to go, maybe in the search for answers and for closure. Whatever it was, it led me to Bugesera prison where those who had killed her would be being held. I asked to enter the prison as a Pastor to speak to the inmates about the word of God, it was something they needed to hear. They had committed the most horrendous crimes but they were still people, and I still saw them as people.
Pastor Deo telling his story for an exciting documentary
I was the first Pastor to be permitted entry. The genocide had finished not so long ago and genocide ideology was still fresh in many perpetrators minds, some justifying their actions to themselves, others to try to save themselves from punishment. When I walked in many of the prisoners took one look at me and asked ‘why is he still alive, this Tutsi?’ others said ‘we should finish him off.’ I was terrified, shaking, sure that I was going to die and asking why God had wanted me to do this, just to be killed like all the other members of my family. There were so many prisoners, and so few guards that really if they wanted to kill me they could do so easily. After much discussion the prisoners that seemed incharge decided that they would let me speak first, and kill me after. This was really my one chance, I had no other option, so I began to speak. I told them that God loved them no matter what they had done, I spoke to them about sin, confession, repentance and hope. I asked them to have faith that this was not the end of their lives, that the damage they had caused could be mended and that maybe once again they could return to their families, their villages, and live a normal life again. I did not trivialise their crimes, but I wanted them to know that with time, and with work that maybe one day they could be forgiven, if they really understood the error of their ways, and were truly and deeply sorry for what they had done. They needed to understand that we are all sinners, nobody is perfect, and whilst yes their crimes were to many, incomprehensible, if I could find it in my heart to talk to them and perhaps even one day forgive the very people that had killed my own sister, then I thought that maybe others could too.
When the moment came for me to finish I was so scared, I wanted to go on talking forever, but I knew that if I was killed then it was doing something that I believed passionately in. So I finished, and to my great surprise many prisoners began to approach me, hug me, shake my hand, some were in tears. They asked me to come back again, to tell them more stories from the Bible, to teach them to word of God. Of course I was overwhelmed with happiness and agreed to come back the following week. I had put my life in God’s hands and he had protected me, my faith was stronger than ever.’
Today Deo takes his message around the globe
If after reading this you simply think it is unbelievable then trust me I know the feeling. When Pastor Deo first told me his story I could not even respond, I had so many questions...why would you put your life at risk when you had escaped the genocide? How could you bear to be in the same room as people that had killed members of your own family? Did he really think they could be forgiven? But I knew what the answer would be to every question...everything is in God’s hands. Pastor Deo is a deeply spiritual man and he seeps kindness. Just being in his presence makes you feel good and loved, so really it should come as no surprise that he offered this incredible level of compassion to the prisoners of Bugesera. PFR today owes everything to Pastor Deo and to this first brave venture into Bugesera prison.