Thursday, February 20, 2014


Antoinette Kanyabutembo and me
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak at the Rwanda National Prayer Banquet in Silver Springs,  Maryland.    Antoinette Kanyabutembo asked for me to speak on, “My experience with the nation of Rwanda.”
            The Lord gave me the privilege to pastor in Rwanda.   With that came the experience of sharing in the rituals of life – birth, marriage, sickness, and death.   One great privilege was listening to the bzee (elders) of Rwanda.    We live in a season of history in which those who experienced the East African Revival will soon be gone from this created earth.   Now we have the opportunity to listen to their voices.   Frequently this is at family gatherings and even hospitals.

Prayers at the Banquet
The bzee of the East African Revival had the original vision for the East African Community.   They began in an isolated village of Gahini, Rwanda.   Yet, all who consider themselves Balokole (Born Again, Saved, or Evangelical) in Sub-Saharan Africa will trace their history back to Gahini.   The Revival started with prayer.   It concluded that unity was no respecter of divisions of nation, race, ethnicity, nor denomination.    The Revival spoke a simple word of our Lord, “Go.”  It went to locations like Burundi, Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda.   Those who went planted churches.   They started schools.   They preached, “Man is made in the image of God.”   They began the intellectual seeds that broke colonialism and called for independence.   

East Africa Revival Leaders
            Some of those who went, “disappeared.”   Factors like poor communication systems, distance, and political instability resulted in their extended family being unaware of the outcome of the “going” for generations.    They lived out the words of our Lord, 

And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29.  New Living Translation.)”

Jesus' Great Commission
One of the privileges I had with the nation of Rwanda was being with extended families when those who had left during the Revival grandchildren returned.   It was a privilege to see bzee meet their nieces and nephews of departed brothers and sisters.   The Lord’s words were true.    They had received a hundred times return plus eternal life.   Some of those simple Rwandan missionaries of old were buried in unmarked graves.   They had little power of earth.   Yet, few have their enduring influence.

Another part of my experience with the nation of Rwanda is in my wife, Jana’s childhood in Kenya (1968-89) and our young adult years in Uganda in the 1990’s.    Though some may argue that Rwanda was peaceful in the 1970’s and 80’s not all Rwandans lived in peace.   Political nonsense created refugee living.  

Yet, our experience watched as agaciro (dignity) refused to accept the fate of destitution.
Joseph receive his brothers
  Like Joseph of old, Rwandans excelled.   They were good students.   Farms and businesses that employed Rwandans thrived.

As we were “foreigners” and out of place it was frequently these Rwandan refugees who gave us compassion and wisdom.    They gave key advice came at just the right moment as we pondered new understandings and undertakings.  

Our family was next door in Uganda when the Genocide began.   We initially thought, “Surely not.   This must be an exaggeration.”   Then the bodies began drifting into Lake Victoria.   We did nothing.  My repentance has been a resolve to engage.

From 2005 to 2012 we had the privilege to serve in Rwanda.   We lived during a season that was much like the stories of Judah’s return from Babylonian exile.   

Rwanda Presidential Scholars Graduation 2010
As Ezra taught the law we saw the building of educational institutions.   University attendance boomed to over 72,000 students.    New schools were built.   Scholarship programs thrived.    

With this came a compelling vision and new policy framework.   President Kagame told us, “Others can walk.   We must run.”

Like Nehemiah building the wall of Jerusalem our security in Kigali was excellent.   My beautiful daughters were safe to walk at night.  Roads, infra-structure, schools, churches, hospitals, and businesses were being rapidly built.   

It was a privilege to serve in such a season of hope.

As my family prepared to go into exile as missionaries to America it was the bzee of
Mzee William Rugege
Rwanda who blessed us.
    I had the privilege to serve Mzee William Rugege Holy Communion my last Sunday in Rwanda.   As I walked him back to his seat he held me close and whispered God’s blessings in my ear.

As our family has returned to America after 19 years of service in Africa the transition has been overwhelming.   It is the Diaspora who nurtured us.   They have called and asked those simple questions, “How are you?   What can we pray for?”   When we feel at loss we remember we were blessed by Rwandan bzee.   The best advice comes from them.   They tell us heaven is home.   Everything else is temporary.   Yet, while on this earth we must make it as much like heaven as possible.

As many of us at this Prayer Banquet are in exile what should we conclude about our temporary stay?

Have you seen today’s USA Today headline, “Hope Dims for Immigration Bill”? (

Can you imagine such a headline in New Times?   Can you imagine a Rwanda headline of dimming hope?   Can you imagine a Rwanda that is unable to empathize with those living in exile?  Can you imagine a Rwanda whose leaders don’t open a Bible to see that all who follow Christ are described in terms like “foreigner, alien, and refugee.”?

Our temporary stay in exile is about being missionaries to America.    You see America needs Rwandan missionaries in her midst to become all God intends.   I can quickly find five areas where Rwandan Diaspora must speak to America as missionaries.

Boy Jesus at Temple with Bzee
First, America’s bzee (elders) are lonely.   Few listen to their wisdom.   One joy I have repeatedly seen is Rwanda youth taking the time to listen to American bzee.   Few others do.

Second, in a fast paced America with many To Do lists Rwanda teaches America that children are a blessing.   We have time to be with them.   Their cries in our solemn assemblies are actually the whispers of God that our community is alive.     

Doreen Rwigambo
Third, I believe when we get to heaven we’ll see a Bible where the Lord chooses which language best describes His intent.    When God’s word says, “Made in the image of God,” and English translates the concept as “dignity” God’s full intent will best be said with the Kinyarwanda word, “Agaciro.”    Humanity in creation is full of dignity.   All life is infinitely valuable.    Our human creativity and labor reflect God’s intent from Creation.

Fourth, is Umuganda (community work.)     I live in Chicago.   We’ve had lots of snow.   I can’t believe as I watch elders, widows, and single moms try to shovel out of snow alone.    Umuganda tells me that when our community has a little hiccup of life all of us with some measure of physical strength go outside, pick up a tool, and labor together.    America needs Umuganda.

Kinyarwanda dancing at Prayer Banquet
Lastly, when I was a child in America I remember being told that the nuclear family is the basic social building block of society.     When I arrived in Africa I had a startling realization.   Africa sees the basic social building block to be the extended family.   When I read my Bible I realized Africa was right.   Why do we have all these genealogies if extended family is not how we build society?

In the America I returned to I believe most Americans now see the most basic social building block to be the individual.   In the process America has become a lonely polarized nation.     America needs Rwandan missionaries to teach America about community.

Honorable Ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana
Thank you very much for this opportunity to share my experiences with the fine people of Rwanda.