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Eyewitness Testimony: Carl Wilkens


I started to see the militia appearing all around, probably more than fifty of them. They could walk right between the bushes of the enclosure. They could walk in whenever they wanted. And it was after, like I said, two to three hours, that all of a sudden, here comes a little double-cab Toyota pickup with seven gendarmes in the back, in their little red berets. What a welcome sight these guys were. They pulled in the parking lot, the soldiers jump out of the back of the pickup truck, and they look around and size up the situation. The lieutenant who came with them went with me inside the office, and we tried to explain the situation to him. And I said, “Is there any way you can spend the night here because these guys—it appears we have a massacre about to happen.” And he says, “We’re just seven. There’s nothing we could do here.” He says, “The best thing is for you to go and talk to my leader.” Now these guys didn’t travel with any of their own radios or communication equipment. And so you got some hard decisions here to make, because—can you trust this man? Some of the police were involved in the killing. Some were saving and protecting people. What do you do? But it seemed like the only route to do was to trust him. The young brother said, “No. Don’t go. They’re going to kill us as soon as you leave.” And I said to him, you know—I promised him… I promised him, “I’ll come back.” And so it was with this sick mixture of relief and dread that I got in my car and drove away…

Carl Wilkens, Rescuer, Rwanda

In 1994, Carl Wilkens directed the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in Rwanda. His family evacuated when the genocide began, but Wilkens chose to stay to deliver aid to children in need despite the on-going violence.

He came into contact with Damas Gisimba, who directed an orphanage and was secretly providing safe haven for 400 people threatened by the genocide.

When militias prepared to attack the orphanage, Wilkens managed to get assurances from Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda that the militias would be called off and the people at the orphanage would be evacuated to a safer location.

After the genocide, Wilkens and his family continued their aid projects in Rwanda. They later returned to the United States, where Wilkens became an Adventist pastor. He continues to speak about his experiences in 1994 and the need to respond to genocide today.