BEFORE THE MERCY SEAT OF GOD
(By: Christine Sobiat)
It took us two hours to go 20 miles because the road was lined with bodies. I was in Goma, traveling with a group of American Medical Relief Team workers, who came to respond to the need caused by the Rwanda 1994 refugees influx. This was their first day, and it seemed none of them were prepared for the sights.
On the roadside, a baby was crying next to its dead mother. Past the third roundabout, thousand of tired refugees were crossing the Rwanda/Zaire border where the noise of heavy weapons could be heard, in the last battle of 1994 war.
As people fled to Zaire, the many miles they had to walk, the lack of food, water and shelter caused cholera and many more diseases to ravage through the masses of refugees fleeing their homes. Under the eucalyptus trees, numerous bodies were lying on the ground. The nearly dead joined the corps, where they had to wait for death! These were my compatriots, human beings like me! Seeing them dying like grass pushed me to think about what was happening to their souls after death.
Many people have never seen such a thing! I wish I could describe the scene so that everyone could picture it, but my words are inadequate. Abandoned and lost kids were crying, despair was on everyone's face. There was horror and anger and finally silence.The team was so shocked! Some of them called it "the road of despair", others "hell on earth"...
That night, I could not get sleep. Instead, each scene of what happened to my country, Rwanda, and my family came into my memory. I had heard of wars, I had learned and read about them but in my entire life I never thought I would live through a war. How wrong I was!
In 1990, a war broke out in Rwanda and many people lost their lives during the fighting. Day in and day out, the situation grew worse. I would find myself many times, in a place where I could hear nothing but the sound of shooting and bombing. I was in places where many were killed, but not me. WHY? WAS I A HERO?
During those hard times, I would make numerous vows to God, "If only you could protect me now, I would praise you forever." But, as soon I was safe, I would break my vows and take it for granted and convince myself that I was a hero. I believed there was a God but I would never turn to Him until I was in trouble. What a selfish relationship! Does it sound familiar?!
April 5, 1994: For three years now my country had been at war and this was the worst it had ever been. The afternoon of April 5th was unlike anything I had ever known. The sky had a red tinge and the atmosphere was oppressive, something was going to happen, but what?
I was visiting my Sister Francoise in the capital city, Kigali; she was married a year ago. It was exciting for me to visit her and see her baby for the first time. That afternoon, did I know it was the first and the last time to hold that cute baby? Did I also know it was my last time to see Francoise? Francoise was older than me by two years. With her, I never felt parentless even though I had been orphaned for years.
That afternoon, we snatched a few hours conversation, but before evening came, I changed my mind to stay over night. I felt pushed by something inside me to go to the countryside where my grandparents lived. My sister and her husband could not understand why I changed my mind so quickly. We argued without agreeing and finally I left promising to come back again. Was I really the person making the decision?
It was a party when I got to grandma’s house but in a matter of time, this turned out to be a tragedy. As we were listening to the evening news, we heard that the plane of Rwanda President was hijacked and brought down. At once, the President was killed with some members of the congress. I knew at once the president’s death would be followed by massacres because since the beginning of that war, an indescribable hatred had been growing between two tribes, Hutus (many on the president’s side) and Tutsis on the rebel’s side. It then happened: Killings in which more than 800,000 people lost their lives in a period of 3 months.
My first thoughts went to Francoise and her husband Vivy and their little Cindy. They were living in the capital where ways were immediately closed and where killings took place first. Later on, a report got to us that shortly after the incident, Francoise and her family got tortured and killed. Had I not gone to grandma, I surely should have been killed as well! Until today, I am reminded of that fact.
Lots of individual as well as mass killings took place before everyone's eyes. I can remember those days when houses, churches were burned with thousands of people inside. Those days when kids whose parents were massacred would spend days and nights living in the parish cemetery, without any care. Those days, when before someone would get killed, he would be given only two choices: Either to dig his grave before being killed or to be killed and never be buried. I remember those days when I lost many of my family members and best friends... I remember those days when sin increased exceedingly, but what an awesome God we have! "... WHERE SIN INCREASED, GRACE ABOUNDED ALL THE MORE."
Through sweat and tears, I came out that war safe. I ran to a neighbor country - Zaire, where I met the American relief team and started my life as a refugee. Yes, I looked back and decided to not go back to Rwanda. That country of horror, nightmares and bad memories. I was sure I will get peace in Zaire. However, a few days later, I figured I was wrong. IT DOES NOT MATTER WHERE YOU GO, IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW PERFECT YOU WOULD TRY TO BE, WITHOUT JESUS YOU WILL NEVER HAVE PEACE.
Who Am I? Where Do I come From? Why am I here? Where am I going?
As I write this, I have a picture of what took place that day when I approached my mother to ask where I came from and who made me. I remember the story very well! I was turning six and I had that question burning inside me. I could not have peace until I talked to my mother who told me that she and my dad had made me. Still, my question remained unanswered because I was wondering who made my parents. That day, when I talked to more people, I learned that my parents were made by my grandparents. I was not satisfied then either. I wanted to know that one who is at the beginning of all; the one who is the maker of all things. "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)
It is after all these questions that my mother started reading for us the Bible. What a night it was when the first chapter of the first book in the Bible was read! "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..." After the reading, I had no more questions! I was so amazed by this story that every word read was engraved into my memory and became real. Yes, there was a God who is above all and who is mighty that He created the earth and all that is in it! A God who created me and my parents and my grandparents. I understood I am on this earth for a purpose: To do His will, obey Him and have intimate relationship with Him...and that one day, I will be with Him in heaven.
At that age, I had much interest in the living word of God. However, since I did not know how to read, I would depend on my mom to hear this Word of Life again. Unfortunately, she could not read the Bible as much as I wanted her to. In my family we were ten children. Besides that, my parents adopted more children and they had therefore to work hard to raise us. We were mostly depending on my father who had a good job. My mother would be busy taking care of us. It was not possible for her to read me the Bible anytime I wanted. Besides, that book, the Holy Bible was considered so holy in the house that she would not trust everyone to touch it.
Two years later, I was in my second grade of school. I so quickly learned and I started reaching for this Bible and read it with passion. My mother was not happy with that because most of the time, I would not know how to take care of it. However, I would steal it anyways and read in a hidden place. What a joy and hope I had as I read the book of Revelation! The word of God became so real. Within me, I honestly made this prayer: “Master, God of the universe, let me have my name written in the book of life". The following days, I felt God so real. I was so little, yet I had a relationship with Him.
Growing up, my mother used to take us to a Catholic Church every Sunday. There again, the word of God was read and I enjoyed it. Once back home, before we go to sleep, she would lead us in long memorized prayers. Those memorized prayers repeated over and over again did not make much sense to me compared to the relationship I had started with God. But I would stay in tune and say them anyway.
As I was turning ten years of age, my mother's health started deteriorating considerably. She was most of the times taken to the hospital, very sick, and since my elder brothers and sisters were either abroad or in boarding high schools, I would spend lots of nights at the hospital watching over her. In the morning I would go to school. That was a hard time for me. Seeing my mother suffering; I was even afraid that I may lose her any time. Talking about fear! I started living fear from Monday to Sunday. Like Job, what I feared most came upon me and what I dreaded befell on me. Both parents died of sickness, first my father, then my mother (in 1984 and in 1985).
There I was an orphan, at the age of 12! I saw God taking care of everything I ever needed. My siblings were graduating and they were blessed that I never lacked of anything a Rwandese child would receive from his parents. However, because of my surroundings, my love for God grew so cold. Of course, I kept on going to church not because I loved the Lord but because I had lost my first love and had become religious. It came to the point where I could barely make a true prayer and finally I gave up. By that time I believed that by only being a good person, following the rules, I would possibly enter heaven, ignoring that Salvation is not the result of my own work. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."
Goma-Zaire: October, 29, 1996: That horrible day, I had been so worried, sending faxes to my brother-in-law Steve, who was in Denver, Colorado. I was at the office of the Lutheran World Federation where I had been a secretary for two years. A few years before, when the American team had left Goma, I was blessed to have this incredible job, where I had received raise after raise.
When I saw the end of my life almost coming I took the phone, I did not care how big the bill would be and I rang Steve: "The war is so bad. Shooting and bombing are heard everywhere." Those became my last words he heard from Goma. Two weeks earlier, Rwanda had engaged into a war with Zaire to bring by force all Rwandese refugees. By that time, I was living with my sister Chantal and young brother Philbert. What a terrific thing it was to go through a war again and in a foreign country.
When this Goma war started, like in the Rwandan war, our lives were in danger. Those who are believed to be on Rwanda's side were arrested, true or supposedly. Chantal my sister got falsely arrested. I heard it from work and rushed to those I believed were my true friends. To my surprise, one by one, they refused to hide her even for one night. I cried "Listen, that's all I have left; her life is in danger, they want to kill her." But none would care, none were moved.
Today, I am glad that I found Jesus. In Him I found a true friend who remains, at all times and in all circumstances. Friends may come in your life, best friends indeed; they may walk out the same way they came in. They may even leave you at the time you needed them the most... BUT JESUS REMAINS. No trials, no situations, nothing can stop Him to be there for you - anytime.
I rushed back to the new apartment I had rented. The landlord did not want my sister to be in the house. He told me "it is better for her to die alone rather than all of us." When I was going to give up on her, a friend I never thought may help showed up and offered to take care of her.
Evening came so quickly. As fire exchanges between the adversaries became intense, many people left their homes to run away in the mountains. Goma became desolate! The landlord urged us also to leave his house because he did not want to be in trouble having Rwandese. I looked outside, it was pulling out, thundering, so windy. I had had many flights but I wondered if I would ever make that one! I was willing to obey but my young brother resisted because the landlord did not want to give us back the money we paid for three months. We finally stayed because this guy did not want to lose that money.
Whilst everybody in that house was hiding under their beds because of many shootings, I and Phil were forced by the same guy to climb up and stay under the roof, where not only we could hardly breathe but were also exposed to much shooting and bombing. We stayed there all night long, suffering. I could not close my eyes; instead, my spirit started wandering. I had run, over two years ago from the Rwandan war, there I was again under the same war, and worst of all, I was in a foreign country. Through that noise of heavy weapons, I remembered the Bible story about Jonah. Like him, I had run from the Lord but Where can one hide from His face?
Goma-Zaire: November 13, 1996: The war was over. Rwanda had taken the town of Goma. Also in this war, many people had lost their lives. I had no other choice but to go back to that country of bad memories.
On my way to the border, I passed by the UNHCR's office, that huge building where we used to have our offices, serving the refugees! We had put in over two years working hard there, but everything in those offices was looted. All the files, all the work destroyed - I looked over and over again and I realized "What a waste of time. Does not the Word of God talks about riches which are never destroyed? Have I ever invested there?"
I kept walking and there I was at the Rwanda/Zaire border, the same border I had crossed a few years earlier! During my stay in Goma, I never thought, never thought I would go back home. That was an idea I had completely buried, NOT KNOWING WHAT WAS AWAITING FOR ME THERE! In fact if I knew, I should have come back as soon as I could!
As my feet crossed the border and as I stepped in the Rwanda territory, I felt an unusual feeling, a vibration going through my whole body, from the top of my head to my feet. Within my heart, there arose a new song "Great and mighty is God, He is a God of possible." I never questioned, I never doubted: This was God's work to bring me back home. With the vow I had made to never go back home in my entire life, none else would have been able to break it but God.
When I got home, I thought I was dreaming! I went to my parents' grave and knelt down. I felt the same feeling I had when I was crossing the border. I wanted to pray but I did not know how. Looking to what used to be our farms and houses years ago, what a difference! Those houses which used to be filled with laughter and parties; those beautiful houses in that country of a thousand hills were empty, looted! No step could be heard, it was me and God. That night, I knelt down again before I would go to sleep, I had a desire to tell God how great is His work, but I had not prayed for a long time and I did not know how.
During the following days, the world was falling apart all around me. I had attacks from every side. One of those days, I saw my sister-in-law coming, tears rolling down her cheeks. I knew what she was going to tell me: "Your brothers were killed!" Yes, I knew. That week, I had had scary dreams where I saw my brothers being murdered, and now the reality was before my eyes. Since the time I lost my parents and Francoise, I had placed my total hope in my brothers, I believed they were my answer, my everything. Where was I going to lean then, since those in whom I had put my trust were gone?! Days after this event, I lived in total darkness; I could hardly make a difference between day and night.
This is where I met God! At that place where you have nothing. At that place where the world around you looks like a desert - little did I know that it is in that desert, where a precious present was wrapped - waiting for me. I am talking about the precious present, the hidden treasure that is described in Mathew 13:44.
This is how I discovered it: Chantal had gotten this new job as a store manager. The first night when she came back from work, she looked so different. I could tell. As I watched her before she slept, she went on her knees and started talking to God with an open heart. When I inquired, she told me she was working with born again Christians who took her to a church during lunch hour.
That night, I was sleepless. I started having a fresh flashback of all what had happened to me all these last years. In the midst of my meditation, I heard a gentle, sweet voice: "Are you ready? Where would you go if your life is required of you tonight, like it happened to your brothers?" I never argued, I immediately understood where I would go.
Friend, when you see the glory of God, you easily find where you belong. God is not a God of confusion, it is either white or black, heaven or hell; no questions. That moment, I had no personal relationship with God and I understood where I would go. The presence of this Mighty Being stayed and became even greater in my room.
The same gentle voice said again "Why were you not killed? Was it because you were a special person, who knew how to protect better than others?" What a gentle, comforting voice: "Can you remember the day when you made this prayer? 'Master, God of the universe, let me have my name written in the book of life.' At that moment, I could not help crying!
January 15, 1997: True peace, unspeakable joy, assurance…that's what people could read so easily on my face. It was a new day, a new life as I was walking from the stairs from Inkuru Nziza where a few minutes earlier, I saw an "Extension of Heaven on Earth."
First of all when I had walked in 2 hours earlier, I had no clue of what I would see. I had gotten there on time (I did not wait for Chantal to invite me, I went by myself), they were singing the first song, raising their hands, with passion; praying with assurance and praising someone they really knew, worshiping in truth and in the Spirit.
They had something I wanted to have: Love, radiance on their faces but I could not know how to get it. As they got into the worshiping song "How Great Thou Art", I felt the vibration again, the same feeling I had when I was crossing the border, the same feeling I had when I got home for the first time.
As the preacher rose up to speak, a war started within me. I had to fight in me the voice which was telling me "if you become like them, you will miss fun." I did not care what the voice was telling me, I wanted to have the relationship these people had with their God; I wanted to have the freedom they had at any cost. Immediately, I heard the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit telling me "When you become like them, you will not miss fun but you will miss sin."
Before the service was over, in my heart I had already given my life to Jesus. The word preached was as sharp as a sword. I felt something like a blanket wrapping me from my back to my whole body. The presence of God came on me so mightily, and for the first time I tasted heaven. All worries, fear, problems, darkness & sickness vanished.
Friend, do you know what happened? I had been suffering from my back pain for years, but as the word was being preached, Jesus healed my back. As the service was over, I stepped in front and I accepted the Lord Jesus as my Savior, to never never be the same again; to never carry again any burden, whatsoever. Apparently, there may show up problems, but it is not me who deals with them. I saw who God is, the mistake I will never make again is to not trust Him entirely. The preacher told me "Jesus now is coming to stay within you." In reality, I did not know what he meant! "In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me and I in you." (John 14:20)
I knew during the whole service I had been before the mercy seat of God. Yes, mercy triumphs over judgment. I left the mercy seat, FULLY FORGIVEN, FULLY ACCEPTED, FULLY RESTORED AND FULLY SAVED. The second I stepped outside, I was different. I could not help seeing two pictures before my eyes: the old Christine and the new Christine - That time I understood what Jesus meant "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Yes, I was born again! That moment, if you had asked me to give up my Jesus in exchange of all the gold in the world, I would have laughed at you.
God means what He says. Jesus came in, filled me with His Holy Spirit. Before I got home, I encountered miracles after miracles. I say He came in because I could see Him working through me. When I would meet people, I wanted to grab them and let them know about this Supreme Being I had come to know. What a peace, what a joy.
From then on, I started receiving blessings, favor and grace upon grace. There came a song of praise within my heart. I started hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, Who also taught me the Bible and I started to commune with Him (I am not talking about religion).
Within a short time after being saved, I had almost finished reading the entire bible and I was witnessing to people. I am glad to be part of the kingdom of God and friend, I encourage you to "Be part of it too." The only regret I have till today is: 'Why did I wait so long to respond to God?'
The Lord wants to save everyone. He has talked to you through situations and circumstances and in many other ways, but He is a gentle person. He gives you a free choice, you can choose to accept or reject Him. He will never force anyone.
Jesus said "For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Philippians 4: 13 says "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me." Friend, let me challenge you - What will you freely choose?
Eternity is a long time, life is very short....for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions. ...The land of a rich man was very productive, and he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?" Then he said, "This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'soul, you have many goods, laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat , drink and be merry.' But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you, who will own what you have prepared? So is the man who stores up treasures for himself and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:15-22)
"...Make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, and unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Thank you for taking your time to read my story. What's yours? Please, let me hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Reader - are you at peace with God? If not, you can be. Do you know what awaits you when you die? You can have the assurance from God that heaven will be your home, if you would like to be certain. You can even have that assurance RIGHT NOW! Either Jesus Christ died for your sins, or He didn't (He did!). Are you prepared to stand before God on the Judgment Day and tell Him that you didn't need the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross to have your sins forgiven and get in right-standing with God? We plead with you...please don't make such a tragic mistake.
To get to know God, to be at peace with God, to have your sins forgiven, to make certain heaven will be your home for eternity, to make certain that you are in right-standing with God right now ... please click here to help you understand the importance of being reconciled to God. What you do about being reconciled to God will determine where you will spend eternity, precious one. Your decision to be reconciled to God is the most important decision you'll ever make in this life, because in Christ, it is impossible to put a value on the worth of your soul in light of eternity.
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Remember: All that we do in this life comes back to our God-given purpose which is to serve and glorify God. The money and assets we accumulate, the fame and power we've attained or seek to attain - all of the things of this nature will one day pass away, but those lives of others we impact for Jesus Christ will last for eternity, and we will be rewarded for the part we helped play by impacting those lives ... for eternity. (Matthew 6:19-20 is our assurance)