I recently listened to a lecture on “ethical responses to genocide” that took place at Stanford University on February 27 2007. In it I heard one of the most moving stories that I have heard in a long time. It was a so inspiring that I want to share it here.
Carl Wilkens is a hero whose name you probably have never heard. In 1994, he was the only one out of 257 American who chose to remain Rwanda after the horrific genocide began and stayed there throughout the duration of the 100 days of hell that claimed the lives of 800,000 innocent people. Wilkens was there as a missionary for the Seventh Day Adventist Church
Here is part of his epic true story….
…On April 9 and 10, the remaining American citizens, with the exception of Carl Wilkens, drove out of Rwanda to neighboring Burundi. U.S. Diplomat Laura Lane describes the struggle to get every American citizen out alive.
“I was the political security officer at the American Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, and I remember calling all the Americans and saying here’s your evacuation point – here’s where you need to go, and I remember making the call to Carl and he said, ‘Laura, there’s people here, they’re depending on me. I can’t go.’”
Carl says, “You know, right there in front of me was our house girl who’s a Tutsi. Worked for us for several years. I knew as soon as we left she would be slaughtered. There was a young man who was our night watchman. A Tutsi. He’d be slaughtered. And there was no way convoys were letting anyone take Rwandans with them. And at the time my family was evacuating, we lived on a dirt road, and I watched my family drive away down the road. I walked back up to the gate. Closed it and locked it, but as I went back up there and knelt down on the floor with our house-girl and night watchman, and we prayed for the safety of my family, it was a pretty empty feeling.”
Carl stayed there in Rwanda to care for hundreds at the Gisimba Orphanage.
One day the genocide came right to his front door. Carl recounts “And then, all of a sudden, these militia guys began to appear, circling the whole compound. All of them with assault rifles and grenades and stuff. Then all of a sudden, a car comes sliding in the dirt parking lot there. A cloud of dust, and out gets a guy we called Little Hitler.” … “I called Phillip at the Red Cross and said We’re surrounded. Looks like we’re about to have a massacre. How can you help me?’”
Carl eventually got Kigali police to show up and stop the attack.
“I drove out of there, past all the barriers. Militia didn’t hassle me. I said I’m going to the prefecture office. I went there and the secretary who had befriended me said, ‘Listen Wilkens, the prime minister is here today. Why don’t you ask him for help ? [This was] after I had explained my situation and I said, ‘What?! The prime minister? That’s like asking the devil for help!’”
“When you’d get into situations where you’d look for an ally, you’d look around for some sign of sympathy, whether it was just a look or a glance, and you’d appeal to that part in them. And so, when the prime minister comes out with his entourage, I stand up and say, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m Carl Wilkens, Director of ADRA.’ And he looks at me and says, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard about you and your work. How’s your work going?’ I say, ‘Not well sir, all the orphans are going to be killed.’ He stops and confers with assistants. Turns back to me and says, ‘I’m aware of situation and we’ll see to security of your orphans.’ And he was gone.”
That singular appeal to the most unlikely of advocates led to the lives of hundreds be spared.
It has been said that Mr Wilkens single handedly saved more people during the genocide in Rwanda than the entire Clinton administration. Can one man make a difference? Carl Wilkens answers that question.
(Excerpts from The few that stayed by Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith)