We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure.
II Thessalonians 1:3-4
It was a fitting verse for me to come across after meeting the three pastors from Musanze: Reverend Mugisha, Pastor Fabrice and Pastor Bwende. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my journey or the interview with the pastors, but I left that meeting feeling very encouraged. These pastors in particular are part of what is called the Interdenominational Committee (IDC) in Musanze. There are nine pastors on the committee, each representing a different denomination (though there are 40 denominations in Musanze alone): Anglican, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Methodist, Free Methodist, Evangelical, Baptist, Reformed Baptist, and Pentecostal. The purpose of my conversation with them was to listen to their experiences of working in the church in Rwanda over the past thirty years.
An introduction to the history of Musanze is important to understand just how much these pastors have dealt with. Musanze is located in the northwest corner of Rwanda, along the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. Though the genocide in Rwanda officially ended in 1994, Musanze continued to be hurt by the genocide for the next five years. Because so much of the fighting moved into the DRC, many more were killed in Musanze. “This place was very affected by the genocide,” Reverend Mugisha said, “so many widows and so many orphans.” These widows and orphans are some of the most vulnerable people in the world…they are also the people that we are called to serve. It is a big world we live in, but it is important to recognize that there is need everywhere we look. Just like looking out your window and seeing the beggar on the street corner, you must also look to this small corner on the opposite side of the world and understand that the need here is great.
What the pastors wanted me to share with you is that though the need is great, the unity of the church is even greater. Through the genocide and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the church began to grow together to fight the things that could have easily torn them apart. Bwende said, “We (the church) were brought together in our fight against AIDS.” AIDS never used to be so accepted by the church as it is now. “Even when someone died, they would never say it was AIDS that killed them,” Mugisha said. Instead it would be blamed on an unknown sickness or malnutrition or any number of the many things which often devastate the Rwandan population. When World Relief came to Musanze, they encouraged pastors to teach their congregations about AIDS. Over time, pastors not only taught their congregations about AIDS, they also began to accept and support members of their congregations who were infected. The church turned their traditional views upside-down and life for the vulnerable began to change for the better.
What the interdenominational committee is doing now could have dramatic effects on the district of Musanze. Through AIDS prevention and support groups, vocational training for orphans and care for widows, the people who were once completely marginalized by society are now rising up to support themselves. “We can create hope in these people that they will LIVE,” said Mugisha. I don’t know how many of you have ever felt so hopeless that you feel there is no hope for life, but so many here feel that day after day. Slowly, though, through the church in Rwanda, people are coming together to support one another. Different churches are coming together to build houses for widows. Widows are raising abandoned children. Orphans are receiving rabbits as part of an income generating project. Entire communities are being blessed with the gift of clean water. There is HOPE.
To go back to the verse at the beginning of this post, I am continually struck by the amount of love the people of this country possess for one another. The church in Rwanda is exemplary of this verse because it is bringing these words to life. The faith of the church in Rwanda is growing and the love flourishes in spite of the immense trials they have faced in the past thirty years. Pastors are bringing reconciliation to those who need it and members of the congregation are putting together what little they have to see a Rwanda that is unified and healed. “Pastors in Rwanda are unified,” said Fabrice, “When we pray for our country altogether, we are one.” This unity is found in a country that has witnessed one of the most horrific genocides of all time, a country where people hated each other and a country where the people should have lost all hope. Yet a single strand of hope remained, a hope found in Christ. It is that single strand that has led to a unified church that holds love and support in their hearts.
When I asked the pastors how Bethany Community Church can pray for the church in Rwanda, they gave me many requests:
- Pray for the church in Rwanda to keep its unity: The church has worked hard to come together. It is possible that as development and modernization comes to Rwanda, churches will no longer see the need to depend on one another and will lose the powerful unity they have created.
- Pray for the church to be stronger: For many years the church has been working off of the support of others. The vision of World Relief is to empower the church to serve the most vulnerable and that is exactly what they are trying to do in Musanze. Bethany is supporting the church in Musanze so that they will eventually be able to support themselves.
- Help to keep up support for the orphans and widows: Many widows are still without livelihoods and many orphans are still unable to attend school. Pray that these vulnerable people will find love and hope and LIFE.
- Pray for those still in trouble from the genocide: Especially in Musanze, the memory of the genocide is still fresh in many hearts of survivors and perpetrators. Pray for hearts to seek reconciliation and healing from their immense hurt.
- Pray for Rwanda: The country will face many trials in the time to come, but pray that it will be able to successfully rebuild itself.
And the words of the pastors to the congregation of Bethany Community Church?
In our prayer requests, you were number one. There is joy in our hearts.
Indeed there was joy in their hearts, I could see it in their faces. When I told them I was Richard’s daughter, they were thrilled because they are already seeing a partnership beginning to flourish. A team will come in September and slowly, but surely, Bethany Community Church will be able to step into the heart of Rwanda as they hear the stories and see photos of a place that feels so very far away. In reality, though, it is not so far. Though the mosquito nets and bananas at every meal are not what you experience every day in America, the truth is that we are not as different from one another as you might expect.