Up From the Ashes
Pascal Amani Ndagijimana
The End of Happy
No one who survived the civil wars that engulfed the Great Lakes region of Africa and the1994 Rwandan genocide was left unchanged. Many in my family were brutally killed—including my grandfather, uncles, aunts, cousins, and many friends. On the evening of December 16, 1994, our village was attacked, surrounded by people who began killing everyone—as if we were only mosquitoes.
At this time, I was eight years old. I had had a happy existence, living with my father (my mother had left us a few years earlier) among a large number of relatives and friends. Our family was known as a Christian family who served in the church. Life was easy, and I was happy.
When the killers came to our home, my dad tried to bribe them with money. He threw a bunch of bills toward them, and as they stopped to pick up the money, I ran out of the house as fast as I could. All I knew to do was run, so I ran and ran. They killed my dad.
Terrified and thinking I was going to be killed too, I joined a crowd of refugees who were fleeing to Zaire. We ran almost 25 kilometers to get to the border. When we reached Zaire, I realized I had fled alone, and I would have to survive on the streets of Zaire alone. Even in Zaire, the killers were still chasing people down. At night we hid by spending the night in the tops of trees. We were afraid to cook by day or by night because fires could be seen at night and smoke would be seen in the daytime. I survived mostly by eating fruits and raw cassava and sweet potatoes. Refugees looked after each other as much as they could, but life was really hard.
Life on the Streets
I lived nearly a year and a half in Zaire, until September 1995, when word came to us that the wars were over. Returning to Rwanda without family, I was forced to live as a street kid. At night I slept in an abandoned house and scavenged for food in the daytime. I never had enough money to buy food. I felt so alone. There was a big hole in my heart, and I longed for someone to hold me and tell me I was loved. Just to exist was a struggle. This was the way I lived for many years.
Once during the time when I was living on the street, I fell sick with malaria. With no one to take care of me, I was hopeless. I felt shattered, deeply depressed, and knew that surely I was going to die. Then a Muslim friend of mine named Ishmael came to see me. My body was burning up with fever, and I could not talk. He ran back to his home and told his mother that I was dying. The family hired a car and took me to the hospital where I was admitted and received malaria treatment for ten days. Afterwards, they paid the hospital bill and took me to their home.
I stayed with this kind Muslim family for three months. During this time they pressured me to become a Muslim, but it was a difficult decision for me. I wanted to show my gratitude to them for saving my life, but I also remembered that my family was Christian. The pressure was good for me because it made me want to know more about my family’s Christian faith.
The Day My Joy Returned
After leaving my Muslim friend’s home, I returned to living on the street. I was without joy or purpose, and I carried a heavy weight of grief in my heart. One day I was walking by a church, and I could hear people singing. I listened to the words—and they touched my soul! “What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and grief to bear!” I went into the church and met the pastor. After hearing the story of all that had happened to me, he asked if I had ever received Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I told him that I was born into a Christian family. He then explained that salvation is personal. No one can be saved because his parents are saved. I realized that I had never received Jesus into my life—and that I wanted Him and needed Him! So, in that moment, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ to be my Savior and Lord.
As I began to trust the Lord for provision and guidance and to experience His blessings, I and five other orphaned boys were chosen by an NGO (non-governmental organization) charity to receive fees for schooling. In the evenings we could go to a vocational training school where we acquired skills that helped us to help ourselves. I learned how to work in masonry, and after six months of training, I began to be hired by people to do jobs— which gave me enough money to pay room rent. I was finally able to get off the street!
Gifts from the NGO continued throughout my school years, so I was able to complete my high school education. I was also growing spiritually, understanding more about God’s love. I became convinced that God wanted me to forgive all those who had wronged my family and to forget the evil they caused me to suffer. I needed God to help me forgive—and He did! I was set free! For many years of my life I was without joy, and now my joy returned! I wanted to serve Jesus the rest of my life, so I entrusted my future to Him.
From Ashes to Riches
Through the encouragement of my pastor and the kindness of others, God opened a way for me to attend Global Theological Seminary in Jinja, Uganda, to prepare to serve God in full-time ministry. A gracious lady who came to do mission work at my church paid for my tuition and transportation. God provided so abundantly, and I am very grateful! One experience I had while in the seminary will always remain in my heart. A boy started coming to my Bible study who was a true orphan, living on the street—much like I was a few years before. I brought him to my house, showed him love, and taught him about the Lord. I helped him get into a welding school, and he now makes doors, windows, and metallic objects—and lives on his own. He has also become a believer and plays the keyboard at my church. What an opportunity to give forward to this boy the love and kindness that I received in my life! It is truly “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
In 2012, although I was in ministry, I was still single. I was praying that God would bless me with a wife, someone who loved and feared Him and who would work alongside me in ministry. On one of my mission trips I met a beautiful lady named Peace. She was a believer and daughter of a pastor. Our relationship grew and on May 24, 2014, we were married. God has blessed my life through Peace. She is a blessing to the church also, because she loves children and teaches them God’s Word and music.
God has truly raised me up from the ashes to inherit the riches of His love! Sometimes God allows bad things to come our way so we will recognize that He exists. Even though we may face really bad times in life, God is always with us.