1994, Rwanda, Carl Wilkens’ Story

“Carl Wilkens is the former head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in Rwanda. In 1994, he was the only American who chose to remain in the country after the genocide began. His choice to stay and try to help resulted in preventing the massacre of hundreds of children over the course of the genocide.”

The World Outside My Shoes Speaking Tour

Carl Wilkens visited our Religion 11 class March 4. In preparation for his visit, we studied the various news accounts of the Rwandan genocide, watched “Hotel Rwanda”, and examined the Adventist connections to the event, both positive and negative.

At some point we hope to report on what Carl Wilkens shared in detail. He proved to be an effective communicator. For our class of ninety minutes, the interaction between the students and Mr. Wilkens remained focused and lively.

He used Google Earth to show the geographical setting. He mentioned Hôtel des Mille Collines of “Hotel Rwanda”. He went there several times during the crisis. Paul Rusesabagina, the hero portrayed in the movie, attended Gitwe Adventist Secondary School.

He reported that he had been so busy that he had not become acquainted with his neighbors but that his children played with their children day after day. A friendly rapport developed. During the crisis, this saved their lives. People stood up for them. They had some Tutsis hiding in their house. But the people protected them.

Wilkens showed pictures of the people affected by the tragedy. Seven people hid away in a friend’s bathroom for three months on meagre rations. Another man had to whisper in his place of hiding for so long that he could not speak otherwise afterwards for some time. One boy found his mother among the dead. He noticed a pulse. Got her to a hospital. Begged for them to help her. She lived.

The Adventist pastor convicted of war crimes declared his innocence until his death. Carl Wilkens knew this pastor-administrator. They had worked on church matters together. The pastor was on the opposite side of town from where Wilkens was when the church betrayal took place. The pastor went to jail. Even while in prison, he gave Bible studies to his fellow inmates. His accusers related stories of him taking certain individuals out of the church before the massacre began. Grenades were thrown into the church. As people ran to escape they were cut down, slaughtered.

The pastor’s medical doctor son drove around in a jeep with a machine gun. His complicity was obvious.

Church administrators ordered Carl to leave. Even President Folkenburg sent a personal message telling him to leave. They did not want to order him to do so, nor to violate his conscience, but that he should get out.

He stayed because people need him. He saved lives by staying. He stressed that he did not do this all alone. He worked together with others. The children and adults connected with an orphanage owe their lives to his intervention with the Prime Minister who was one of the main perpetrators of the genocide.

There were many international soldiers present in the country; the UN, etc. They could have prevented the massacres.

We asked him how the experience affected his faith in God. Before the crisis, he was a weak, insecure Christian. The crisis helped him realize that his salvation was in Jesus and that he could count on Jesus for his assurance of salvation. This awareness of salvation in Christ inspired him to live for Him.

More on Rwanda can be found at The Adventist History Library at Covenant Forum. ***HERE***

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