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'We kept on running until we felt safe'

Rwanda genocide survivor Beatrice Smith tells MANDY PILZ how God looked after her family when they were forced to flee for their lives ...

Rwanda genocide survivor Beatrice Smith tells MANDY PILZ how God looked after her family when they were forced to flee for their lives   ...

My life was beautiful growing up in Rwanda. It was so peaceful. My dad was a church leader and I grew up in a Christian home.

Rwanda had been at war for a good four years before the 1994 genocide began, but the troubles were at a distance and we would mostly hear about it on the radio.

But when the president’s plane was shot down there was a change in atmosphere – there were road blocks, curfews. We started to understand the meaning of war.

As a 10-year-old I wasn’t allowed to go and play in the street any more.

I am a Hutu and my family sought to shield Tutsis. Quite a lot of people did that because our natural instincts were to help them; it wasn’t our war, it was a military conflict. 

The streets were quiet, so the sight of a pick-up truck full of people jeering and cheering one day was unusual. We could see they were going towards the pastor’s house where he and his family were hiding.

I remember feeling very scared.  It was horrendous because we knew the family would not survive the incident.

The jeering people hacked our friends to death with machetes. After this they came to our house and my mum called us to come out of hiding.

I can’t even find the words to describe that feeling. Nothing prepares you for that moment.

We complied because they had weapons and we knew what they were capable of. We sat down and resigned ourselves to what could happen.

When they did finally leave we were sure they would come back so were frozen to the spot for several hours.

Once we realised no-one was coming back we went into the house, but we didn’t think we were going to survive.

My aunt was forced to drown all of her children aged three to 15, one by one. The horror of those things is something you can never put away.

Our journey out of Rwanda was a search for safety. We feared so much for our lives that we kept on running until we felt safe.

We initially went to Zaire, as it was then named. We felt safe in the camps.

I thought it wasn’t so bad not waking up wondering whether I would be killed. But people were dying from cholera and other diseases, so our sense of peace went.

I don’t understand why we survived gunfire, killings and disease when others didn’t. I can only think God had a plan through it. We further relocated to Kenya then Swaziland.

Our aim was to fly to the UK – the only place where we believed we would feel safe, but we didn’t have passports! My mum had a dream where she heard: ‘All seven of you all at once’. This was the beginning of a miracle.

After the dream we began to pray into it. There was no evidence it was going to happen, but we believed God had said it and that he would do it, and he did.

When we finally got the documents to come to the UK we knew we were done with running. Dad had been granted asylum in the UK. 

Everywhere we had been up to that point had not welcomed us. In the UK we received a welcome from people who knew what we had been through.

We are alive now, but not fully intact so we live with a sense of sadness because of people we have lost. What shocks the world is that the horrific genocide happened over a short period of time.

In my book The Search for Home I point people to God because it was such a hopeless set of circumstances. The fact I am able to talk about it is because God has protected me.

To go through something like that and still have a sense of self and be sane shows he looked after us in more ways than one.

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