Two weeks ago, I entered a church building made out of mud. The pastor was nearly three times larger than me and his skin color was about as different from mine as possible. Half of the congregation was made up of children. Beautiful children with hearts that should be full of sorrow, yet are overflowing with joy. The keyboard was connected to a car battery for power and the speaker looked like it was made in 1940. The service lasted for nearly four hours and I don’t think my smile ever left my face. As I sat in that building that smelled of many strange things, I should have been upset by the fact that the general offering was 10,000 francs (a little less than 20 dollars) and the people live in the middle of the mountains far away from anything I would call a comfort of home. But I was not upset by those things. I was upset by myself.
Get a grip, Holly, these people know a deepness of life that you are just barely getting to know. The smiles of the people in that church building will surely stay in my heart forever. Dancing with the children and listening to their beautiful harmony of voices as they sang songs of praise was an unforgettable experience. It was a most excellent reminder that our worshipping God should not be contingent on what the worship band sounds like or if we have pews or chairs. No, that isn’t it at all. I remember when Bethany was building their new building. So many discussions about what the building should look like. Should it look like a church or should it be multi-purpose? Should it be wood or brick? Should it have pews or chairs? Carpet or hard floors? White walls or colored? Each discussion was so well thought out to create the beautiful building we are blessed to have now, but weren’t we all guilty of forgetting the purpose of it all?
What I learned from Grace Church in Musanze is that it is not about the building. It is what goes on inside that building when the people of God come together to worship. What I learned from those pastors in Musanze is that it is not just what goes on inside the building that matters, a significant part of worship is what goes on outside that building as well. When I asked Pastor Bwende what his favorite part of being a pastor was, he said counseling. There are needs, he said, and it is an honor to be able to listen to people and help them through their troubles. It struck me to hear that his favorite thing about being a pastor was counseling. To me, counseling sounds exhausting, difficult and something that would continually weigh heavy on my soul. Yet it is Bwende’s favorite thing. I asked him again, just to clarify, and he assured me that it is by far his favorite thing. There are certainly a lot of things I have still to learn from a rural African pastor and it is a joy to be on this journey.
I write this not to make you feel guilty for what you have. Something I have been struggling with is wondering why I was born in the time and place I was. Why was I born in a prosperous nation state when others here have not been so lucky? Phil Smith spoke on Jeremiah 29:11 last week. It’s one you’re all familiar with, I’m sure (I know the plans I have for you…). The purpose of his devotion was not to tell the Rwandese staff that God will make their lives prosperous. That verse is so often taken out of context and it is important to realize that God told Israel that in seventy years they would prosper. It’s not an instant gratification of ask and receive…such a message would be a lie to this country. They asked for God and at many times it felt like God turned a blind eye. So many times since I have arrived in Rwanda I have asked God, “WHY?!” Crying out in frustration, I think about the blood that ran throughout these streets and I desperately search for an answer from God. But sometimes God keeps quiet when I ask him the questions of why.
I have no answer for you, for divine revelation has yet to arrive. What I can tell you is that Psalm 72:3-4 is a prayer of hope for Rwanda.
The mountains will bring peace to the people, and the little hills by righteousness. He will bring justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of the needy, and will break in pieces the oppressor.
The mountains in this beautiful country do hold peace. I have seen it with my own eyes and experienced it with my own heart. There is hope in this land and as I look out at every square kilometer that is being cultivated on the hillsides, I see that God is here. He is alive and He is at work in Rwanda. Do not think that because darkness once penetrated the hearts of the people here it is an evil place. I remember before leaving that many were fearful of my journey. Why Rwanda? Rwanda has been ravaged by genocide and is a wicked place. It’s not true. If anything, Rwanda is simply in need of prayer to overcome the problems that are still prominent.
Jean Paul Ndagijimana is currently the Africa regional director for World Relief and he has shared some brilliant words:
As we rejoice today and exchange greetings, please let us be mindful that there are those who are still hurting and suffering, that children are still dying of preventable and curable diseases, that AIDS is still claiming lives, that poverty and hunger are still ravaging, and that social injustice is going on in this world we live in.
Do not forget your calling to serve the most vulnerable people of the world. You were born into a wealthy life and there is a purpose within that. Use the gifts you have so generously been given to serve those around you. Do not feel guilty because you are wealthy and so much of the world is not. Rather use that wealth to serve. In serving you will learn. I have learned so much from the people I have been “serving.” The truth is, they are serving me so much more than I feel I have served them. All I have done is arrived in Rwanda to experience this side of the world and they have taught me so much about how to live. As the children in Bwende’s church reached out their hands to invite me into their dance, I grabbed hold and I worshipped through dance. The words were in Kinyarwanda, but our God is the same. Please, join in the dance and realize the significance of what it means to worship God alongside the vulnerable people you are so honored to serve.