“From bush to bush I dodged bullets and machetes, hiding when I could and running like a hunted animal when there was nowhere to hide. For days I didn't eat. I learned to sleep while standing. I had to push dead bodies out of the way in the lake to even get the smallest drink of water.
"I lost my home. I lost my family. I lost my identity. I lost my life," recalls Theoneste (Theo) Makombe, a Tutsi survivor of the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide in April 1994.
"I grew up in a strange time in Rwanda. For decades a hatred for the Tutsi had been building in the Hutu. The Hutu held all of the governmental power and positions of authority. They began to believe that the Tutsi were cockroaches, a curse, a plague. It was the job of a good Hutu to hate the Tutsi," Theo explains.
His parents, who had lost their own parents in the first genocide of 1959, could sense the mounting racial tension and tried to prepare their boys for what was coming.
"But I didn't understand. I was a child. I was just a boy who fought with his brothers and loved to play soccer," Theo remembers.
Then the day came when the Hutu militia invaded the area of Rukumbeli where Theo's family lived and turned their peaceful village "to a living horror show, flooded with blood".
"The ground was covered with bodies and the rivers ran red with blood all the way to Tanzania," Theo recalls.
"My friends and family were cut to pieces. I didn't know where to go or what to do. There was nowhere to run because we were surrounded by lakes, but I still ran."
In 30 days the Rukumbeli population was reduced from about 50,000 to 300. "But those of us left knew that we had died with [the others]," Theo confesses.
"[Death] haunted me every night as I died in my dreams and every day as the images I had seen constantly replayed in my mind."
He tried to drown his pain and fear with alcohol.
"I no longer lived in this world, but I couldn't escape it. Night and day, light and dark, good and bad all looked the same to me. Nothing made sense."
Before the genocide Theo had been to church and knew there was a God, a heaven and a hell.
During the genocide, he held onto the words of a song from the church choir that spoke of God's promise: "Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened."
"It became my prayer, I asked God to spare my life, even though I didn't believe He could. I told Him that soon I would be knocking on the door of heaven and I asked that He would let me in.
"When the killings ended I forgot about the song, my prayer, and God, but God never forgot me," Theo says. "I was full of anger and hungry for revenge."
For six years after the events of 1994, Theo continued to suffer physically, emotionally and mentally, searching for something he wasn't even sure how to define.
Then a group of friends at school gathered around him, placed their hands on him and prayed over him.
"That is when the Holy Spirit began to minister to my spirit. I had my first taste of Jesus and I knew that it was what I had been searching for all that time.
"As they prayed for me, it felt like a shower from the inside. Pain, bitterness, anger and fear were washed away. I had my first taste of peace in my whole life," he shares.
That night when the killers came for Theo in his dreams, "before they could reach me, Jesus came from behind and picked me up. I then flew in freedom above all of the chaos and hatred.
"From that point I gave my whole life to Jesus. I knew He was the answer and I followed my friends everywhere learning how to serve Him."
Theo never touched alcohol again.
"Instead of trying to cover up the pain, I found the true God that takes it away," he beams.
“I don’t want revenge anymore”"I immersed myself in prayer meetings, church services and the Bible. God continued to heal my inner wounds and is still healing me today.
"I don't want revenge anymore. I used to be angry, but now I am full of the joy of the Lord. I used to be lost, but now I have purpose. Even before the genocide, I was cold and did not connect with others, but now I have the love of God in me that causes me to reach out to those around me.
"I hope and pray that those who killed my family can know the forgiveness and freedom in Jesus that I know."
Because of his God-given compassion for the hurting, and because there are many people in Rwanda still suffering as a result of the violence they inflicted or endured, Theo, who now lives in Ohio, has decided to take his family back home.
"We are going back to show others the God of healing and hope that I know," he concludes. •