A Review of book,
I’m not leaving., by Carl Wilkens
Carl Wilkens was the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. He sent his family out of the country when evacuation orders came, and remained to stay by the side of his household employees who had Tutsi identity cards.
The book title hints at the heroic themes to follow. When I consider the legacy of abandonment that the United States left in the genocide, even the title of Carl’s book, feels like cool water on a painfully burning issue.
I love this book. It’s short (only 165 pages), self-published and gets straight to storytelling. Carl does not try to extend the book with political background or much reflective philosophy. He explains his reasons for refusing orders to evacuate, and then goes on to tell countless unbelievable stories of day by day survival and his efforts to protect orphans located in various orphanages around Kigali. He makes simple but poignant observations throughout his book about faith, love and humanity, that knock you over with power of truth.
For me, the largest truth that I drew from Carl’s story, is the high value of individual relationship; the power of one to one humanity, over ideals, institutions or causes.
One passage drawing out this truth was letter exchange between Carl and the President of the Seventh Day Adventist World Wide Church, who ordered him to leave Rwanda by appealing to the greater good of the cause:
I have tried various means to communicate with you personally and orally, but it has not been possible under the present conditions.
Thus I must resort to the written word. Your total commitment and dedication is both heroic and exemplary. Needless to say, I, and my fellow leaders appreciate you, and what you have accomplished. However, it is for this very reason that I am “asking” you to depart Kigali as soon as possible.
It goes against my very nature to use the word “order” in this context; however, that is the word that most accurately describes the sense that I must convey. I am aware that most of the UN personnel have left the area, and therefore expect you to determine a reasonably safe method of evacuation.
We must use your skills and knowledge to define future work in Rwanda. Therefore we are asking that you immediately relocate to Nairobi to work with others there in the vital look-ahead plans.
Your remaining in Kigali would deny the church and ADRA the input which you could provide, and can be counterproductive. For the greater good of the cause, (emphasis added) I want you to lay down the good work you have been doing in Kigali in order to become part of the larger task ahead.
This directive is given after much prayer and consultation. It is a decision, not a request. Please contact us immediately upon reaching Nairobi. Our prayer is that Christ will be with you and protect you as you relocate.
Yours in Christ
Robert S. Folkenberg.
President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.”
Here is Carl’s reply:
“Dear Elder Folkenberg,
Thank you very much for your letter. I am not refusing to obey your directive, but I need your help with two things before I can comply.
First, I need your help telling my friends and Rwandan coworkers that God will be with them and protect them, and explain to them why I can’t stay and rely on that same presence and protection.
Secondly, I need your help in making arrangements for the safeguarding of the two young people in my home who have Tutsi ID cards that will surely lead to them being killed.
As soon as you are able to help me with these two things I will be glad to join my family in Nairobi.
Let us follow Carl’s example of releasing our cause, for the sake of one or two souls! He disregarded any opportunity to “define future work in Rwanda” in order to save the life of two household employees.
There is no doubt that ADRA had done great work in Rwanda. But too often, we put the value of a great human institution, before the value of one person. Jesus radically showed us the reverse. Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep, of the shepherd’s willingness to leave the many, to rescue one desperate person.
Carl’s story goes on to describe very many unbelievable moments of decisions that lead to life or death. While he initially stayed to protect his household employees (who did indeed survive), he ended up saving the lives of hundreds of others, working alongside many Rwandans who sacrificed themselves to protect their fellow Rwandans. He describes how he learned to relate to the killers as human beings, and elicit their cooperation, in order to protect many orphans and people under his care.
I also realized by reading Carl’s story that I think about justice and fighting against evil in black and white ideals. Carl’s story teaches me that fighting for justice is a messy job that we shouldn’t judge. A person’s desperate fight to survive or to save others, confuses the distinction between good and evil, removing clear paths to justice.
Read Carl’s book. He will ground you back to one-to-one relationship, and simple truths of love and faith.
By Serena Morones
Carl’s book can be purchased from his website http://worldoutsidemyshoes.org, or here on Amazon.com. http://amzn.com/1450780806