A Hiding Place from the Slaughter
Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can. – John Wesley
Frodouald bit the inside of his cheek, wincing in pain as his blistered palms gripped the splintered handle of the shovel.
His back ached and beads of sweat trickled from his brow watering the red earth. Silently, the sun sleepily stretched awake on the eastern horizon.
He hummed softly to himself—partly to distract from his throbbing hands but mostly to drown out the sound of mayhem in the distance—while thrusting his shovel into the earth with rhythmic precision and tossing the crumbled earth over his head as the trench grew deeper and deeper.
Now and then, his blade would strike a stone, sending a painful jolt up the body of the shovel and into his wearying joints. Still, he kept digging.
It was April 1994. Thirty-eight-year-old Frodouald was a respectable Hutu builder and a good neighbor to all.
When the chilling news of the genocide reached the airwaves of the tiny radio that sat perched on the weathered wooden table, he kneeled down and clenched the threshold of his door in utter disbelief.
Frodouald had built homes and businesses for many Tutsis in his own community. But where were they now? How would they survive the innumerable days of slaughter ahead?
Sprawled in the open doorway, he finally lifted his head to the rows of newly tilled earth he was preparing to sow for his garden.
For days on end he had been working the land, clearing dead branches and debris, removing rocks to make room for young roots to burrow into the soil. The land, once covered by nature’s impenetrable skin, was now naked . . . exposed . . . much like the neighbors he knew he may never see again.
His eyes scanned the rows, one by one, and stopped at the silhouette of his father’s shovel propped against the fencepost.
Something entirely different must be planted here, cultivated and preserved in this crimson earth . . . A womb for the living instead of a grave for the dead.
Something inside of Frodouald—something primal and instinctual—sprang alive. Leaping up from the doorway, he raced to his motorbike and sped off down the hill. There wasn’t much time. He couldn’t wait until the hiding place was ready . . . it would be too late.
He knocked on the door of every Tutsi villager he knew and explained the coming peril. “Gather your things, your children, some food and water, and come to my home at nightfall. Don’t let anyone see you. Stay off the roads.”
One by one, the shadows of mothers and their children appeared at his door in the night. There were 17 in all, shoulders hunched, eyes wide with fear. Many of the men had left to join the resistance fighting miles away, unaware that their families were only moments away from being murdered.
That was nine hours ago. Frodouald had been digging trenches all night.
He hadn’t stopped or sat down. He didn’t eat or sleep. He only paused, every once in a while, to listen to the droning sound of horror in the distance . . . the mourning wails of the mothers, the panicked shrieks of children . . . the endless sobbing of the living who had stumbled upon the dead.
The sound rose above the haze of the dawn—maddening, thick, and increasingly closer.
Finally, leaning on the shovel, now stained with blood that had soaked through the fibers of his make-shift bandages, Frodouald’s trenches were finished.
Trucks rumbled in the distance.
Sprinting to the house, he frantically gestured for his guests to hide in the trenches.
Once every mother and child was lowered into the bowels of the ground, Frodouald scrambled to the piles of debris he had meticulously cleared for the garden plot. Dragging the scrawling limbs of tree branches and brush, he worked furiously to cover the mouth of the trench.
In a matter of minutes, his garden fortress was completely concealed . . . exactly as it had looked days ago, so that no one—not even his closest friends would recognize the difference.
Just as he was splashing his face with the tepid water left over from the day before, a convoy of trucks lurched to a stop in front of his home.
Men with machetes—many that Frodouald recognized from town—jumped from the beds wielding clandestine machetes spattered with blood. Their eyes were wild, transfixed, like wolves circling a trapped animal.
With a nod of approval (which meant that Frodouald was of Hutu decent and meant to be spared), the leader and several soldiers brushed past him to search the house . . . the yard . . . and then the overgrown field, which was glanced over impatiently without suspicion.
Finding nothing, the mob left as abruptly as they came. The pounding of Frodouald’s heart echoed in his ears. If they had arrived just moments before, the hiding place would have been discovered . . . every one if its tenants—young and old—savagely butchered; its builder, executed for treason.
For 45 days and 45 nights, Frodouald cared for his Tutsi neighbors hidden in the trench. He brought them food, water, and blankets.
Almost every day, more soldiers would arrive unannounced, hoping to uncover Tutsis in hiding. But they never found Frodouald’s guests.
Today, over 20 years later, Rwanda is still being stitched together by the kindness of people who continually choose to sacrifice for the sake of their fellow man.
They are the healers and defenders of the weak, the helpless, and the forgotten.
And the lesson they carry is one we may never fully understand, unless we listen closely.
But we hear it in the faint sound of a shovel’s blade hitting the soil . . . of men and women digging trenches in the darkness, like Frodouald, making a home, lighting a flame, and relentlessly defending those who have no other defender.
In a world where so many are trying to build glittering fortresses—lives hemmed in by impenetrable walls, we desperately need people who are willing to kneel down in the dirt and dig ditches.
Lives and futures in the developing world depend on it.
Interested in getting involved in Rwanda? Visit worldhelp.net/Rwanda to learn how World Help is partnering with visionary men and women to cultivate a national infrastructure that grows healthier by the day.