Have Faith: Surviving and thriving

Immaculée Ilibagiza, who lived through genocide in Rwanda, will share her story on the Island.


The Little Children of Mary, a faith-based local organization whose mission is to work for peace however they can and to support those in need, are hosting a special speaker this month at the Tabernacle. Immaculée Ilibagiza, survivor of the Rwanda genocide, brings her message of faith, hope, and forgiveness on Saturday, August 28, at 7 pm.

In order to find out more about Immaculée, I spoke with the president of the Little Children of Mary, Margaret Penicaud, and she stressed how important it is today to hear Immaculée’s message. It was Margaret’s participation in the Sacred Ground groups that met around the Island that made her consider how important it is to keep hope alive and to honor our differences. Sacred Ground is an endeavor for those of any denomination; it’s a dialogue series on race that’s grounded in faith. Small groups get together over the course of several weeks and go through our country’s history of racism.

“What a wonderful group of all different denominations,” Margaret said. “We started doing this together and what an eye-opener.”

Immaculée’s story is a powerful one. She was born and raised in a small village in Rwanda, with a peaceful childhood. She was a good student who went on to the National University of Rwanda to study engineering. It was when she was home on Easter break in 1994 that her life was torn apart. The president of Rwanda then, a member of the Hutu tribe, was assassinated when his plane was shot down. In retaliation, members of the Tutsi tribe embarked on a spree of mass killings. Immaculée’s father sent her to hide at a pastor’s house, where she and seven other women were hidden in a 3-foot-by-4-foot bathroom for 91 days while the genocide raged outside their hiding place.

The despair seems unimaginable. Somehow Immaculée survived and later found out that her entire family had been murdered. And Immaculée actually came face-to face with the man who killed her mother and one of her brothers. What did she do? She told him, “I forgive you.”

So yes, I’d love to hear how this woman who suffered such unbearable pain has been able to not only move forward, but to become a hugely successful writer and speaker. Immaculée prayed throughout the time she was locked in that space. For me, her life is an example of how God works in our lives.

Margaret was introduced to Immaculée’s story through her friend at church, Pat Tankard, who had seen the genocide survivor’s presentation in Boston. I had the opportunity to talk with Pat over the weekend — her brother, Bob (Coach T.) Tankard, will introduce Immaculée.

When Pat and I talked, she said that in some ways the pandemic put everyone on the same playing field. We all experienced isolation and we all had to follow rules that we had no hand in making. Immaculée’s message of love, faith, and forgiveness is important right now, Pat said, because it’s time to focus on our commonalities, not our differences.

“We’re really a lot alike if we don’t focus on the differences,” Pat explained.

It’s really not about race or gender or color or sexuality or money, it’s about recognizing each other as human beings and perceiving each other that way. When we accept that the person who we have always seen as different is another human being just like ourselves, we can begin to work with each other.

Margaret said that there is no charge to attend the event at the Tabernacle, thanks to the generosity of the M.V. Camp Meeting Association, but a freewill offering would be greatly appreciated. Bringing speakers to the Island is not an inexpensive endeavor, I’m guessing. They could use some support, so if you’re inclined, maybe you could help sponsor the visit. There are many sponsorship levels, some of them quite affordable, so reach out to the Little Children of Mary, 205 State Rd., Chilmark, MA, 02535, or email mmpenicaud@gmail.com to find out how to help.


The Rev. Greg Bar, pastor Beacon of Hope Church, is bringing a guest to the Island as well when Dr. William Devlin, a humanitarian who has worked in war zones around the world, comes to speak on Saturday, August 7, at 7 pm at the American Legion Hall, 176 Katama Rd., Edgartown.

Devlin will talk about his work and research around sex trafficking, the neglected and the marginalized, and the persecuted. This event is also free, and light refreshments will be served.


Maybe you were like me and were among those glued to the TV last January as the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock became the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Georgia. Warnock has visited the Island numerous summers and preached at the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury (FCCOWT), where his dear friend, the Rev. Cathlin Baker, is pastor. He’s coming to speak at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs this weekend as a guest of both M.V. Camp Meeting Association and the West Tisbury Church.

This is a don’t-miss opportunity to hear the senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church preach (as well as the new senator from Georgia). Another special guest will be musician Mark Miller, professor of church music and composer-in-residence at Drew University. Reverend Baker and the Rev. Julie Johnson Staples from FCCOWT will lead the worship.
Masks are required this Sunday, August 8, at 9:30 am, and the Tabernacle circle will be blocked off to cars by 9 am for the service. If you can’t make it, visit mvcma.org for a live streaming link, or attend an in-person viewing of the streaming service at the FCCOWT.


Also happening this weekend, the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center hosts a musical religious service, a Kabbalat Shabbat Service, with Rabbi Caryn Broitman and guests Yoel Sykes, a main prayer leader in the Nava Tehila Ensemble, and Yoni Battat, a Boston-based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. The service is at the Hebrew Center on Friday, August 6, at 6 pm. You will need proof of vaccination to attend. If you have any questions, call 508-693-0745.