After several busy days in Kigali, we have finally made our trek north to Musanze. For those of you unfamiliar with Musanze, I will try to depict just how beautiful this place is. As you drive out of Kigali, the road quickly climbs up, winding through mountains, with a new incredible sight at every turn. Just when you think it cannot get more beautiful, the hillsides somehow seem more green and small waterfalls that you’ve never noticed or wildflowers you’ve never seen now come into sight. The sun is beginning to set and the road is smattered with people returning to their homes after a long day of hard work. Women balance large bundles of sticks on their heads, men walk slowly with tools over their shoulders and children are running with small yellow jerry cans in their hands. You can see anything balanced on a woman’s head or on the back of a bicycle and it never gets old. It almost becomes a game on these long drives to see who can find the most crazy thing balanced so perfectly on someone’s head as they walk down the road.
As we pass the sign that says, “Welcome to the city of Musanze,” Pastor Bwende says, “You are most welcome here in my home, Musanze.” I cannot believe I am back here. It was dark by the time we arrived last night, but when the sun rose over the steeple of the Catholic church this morning, the dark shadows of the Virunga Mountains appeared in the distance (these are volcanoes located on the border of Rwanda and Uganda where wild gorillas roam freely) and it felt good to be back. The air is crisp and fresh in the mornings and it feels like home. Like my Seattle home, that is, but I suppose it is only accurate to say that Musanze is my home as well. I nearly cried when Bwende introduced me as his “guest of honor,” his daughter, his friend. Bwende was so very happy to have the team from Bethany in this lovely place where hope is rising and life is improving quickly for many vulnerable people. He is happy to have us here because we play a role in this hope and we are beyond honored to learn what is happening.
The first half of this day was devoted to time spent with nine pastors working the Musanze Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ). A CEZ is a specific geographic area (in this case it is Musanze) where World Relief partners with churches in the area to reach out to the most vulnerable providing hope in many different ways and slowly but surely transforming lives, one household after another. After we heard about all of the incredible change for the better that is happening in Musanze, one thing stood out to me above all others: we are all part of one church and we can accomplish so much more when we overcome our differences and work together. Sitting in this room there were pastors from the Evangelical church, the Pentecostal church and the Anglican church. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…there are more denominations in Rwanda than one can count, yet when they enter into partnership with World Relief, this difference in denomination becomes a strength, not a weakness.
Church leaders in Musanze are responsible for picking out the most vulnerable people in their communities and discerning the best way to meet their practical needs, be it purchasing school books or building house. For a part of the world that has 85.7% of its population living off of subsistence agriculture, it will come as no surprise that vulnerability is high. So, when a pastor named Boniface explains to us that churches used to only be concerned about their own congregations and now reach outside of their church and work together with five other denominations, I feel now more strongly than ever that we must embrace the fact that we are one church called to one thing: to love. I’ve said it before on this trip, but I say it again because it is a truth. There is absolutely no reason that the Church should be spending its time and energy in any other way but loving the world it is a part of. In a time when humanity feels increasingly dark and cruel, why not put your faith and your energy in something that instills beauty and hope? That is what each and every one of the pastors, staff and volunteers that we have met so far have done and it is resulting in an incredible wave of change in Rwanda.
Our team was moved by what the pastors had to share about all they have learned in the process of changing their mindset from “every church has different ways of believing” to “every church has the same calling.” Leif stood up to share with the pastors, comparing them to the church in Acts.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
So, as Pastor Theogene said, when the church grows the community will grow with it. As churches continue to cross denominational lines, more savings clubs will start. More children will use mosquito nets. Clean water will become more accessible. Homes will be built for widows. Those living with AIDS will no longer be rejected, but will be supported. Let me turn this around though and remind you that the pastors in Rwanda are ahead of the curve. Look at Bethany and look at Seattle. How many differences have you gotten over recently? Imagine for just a moment how many more people you might be able to reach out to you if you stepped outside of your non-denominational church and opened your eyes to “the other.” Would you be able to with hold your judgement and instead ask how you can work together? Please hear Bwende’s prayer and take it with you.
Let us pray for Bethany, that they too may be empowered and reach out to many more people.