During Rwanda’s 1994 three-month genocide, the U.S. and other foreign governments evacuated their missions, leaving orphanages completely vulnerable to the widespread massacre that claimed over 800,000 lives. Thousands of expatriates evacuated, except one — missionary Carl Wilkens, who refused to leave. He risked his life daily to hide friends, supply orphanages, and even negotiate with murderous officials and predatory militias.
Wilkens, a former director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Rwanda, visited Padua Academy in Wilmington last week where he spoke to students in the Religion and Life Unworthy of Life classes.
In 1994, Wilkens’ family and the United Nations pulled out most of its troops. Carl was the only American to remain in the country. He would venture out each day into streets crackling with mortars and gunfire, he worked his way through roadblocks of angry, bloodstained soldiers and civilians armed with machetes and assault rifles in order to bring food, water and medicine to groups of orphans trapped around the city. His actions saved the lives of hundreds.
Padua students were transfixed by his story of bravery, compassion, and the spiritual impulse to do “what Jesus compels.” Wilkens speaks all over the world and yet his easy, authentic manner won the hearts of students. After his talk, many crowded around him and eagerly took copies of his book, I’m Not Leaving” which he generously donated. His accounts were both harrowing and horrifying, yet, he focused on Rwanda beyond its tragic past-its natural beauty and resilient people. Wilkens’s final message of “listening to God’s direction” in our ordinary lives was to “build peace through respect, empathy and inclusion.”
The Arnold D. Kerr Holocaust Education Endowment Fund and the Halina Wind Preston Holocaust Education Center of Wilmington sponsored Carl Wilkens’s talk. Padua thanks alum Joanna Liang for arranging Mr. Wilkens’s visit on behalf of Padua’s efforts to bring compelling speakers to our campus. This academic year, in addition to Women of Achievement’s Alison Levine, Padua has welcomed Holocaust Survivors, a concentration camp liberator from General Patton’s Third Army, war veterans, religious and community leaders, state and local politicians, professionals and scholars who bring the larger world of their experiences to Padua’s students.
Padua Academy Mission
Rooted in the Catholic faith, Padua Academy offers young women a transformational college preparatory education, challenging them to live Christ-centered lives of leadership and service.