The Light Shines in the Darkness
October 25, 2015
The night's rain stopped in time for our two-hour trip to Remera Presbytery for the dedication of the Karangara Church temple (as Rwandans call a sanctuary building). To build such a large building is a tremendous challenge that requires a great deal of work and sacrificial giving on the part of the local members as well as by the broader church across the entire country, and even the world. When they are building the walls, poorer members of the church bring their offering of a brick to worship each week. The roofing material and pew benches were a gift of First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, since those are simply out of the reach of the Rwandan churches. A year ago, this congregation faced a major disappointment when the walls they had been building up brick by brick fell down because there was not yet a roof to protect them from the rains.
This is the only new temple to be dedicated in the Rwandan Presbyterian Church (EPR) this year, and so today's celebration was the driving factor in the timing of our trip. Our hosts "dressed" us appropriately for the occasion! The pastors all wore green shirts with clerical collars, and all the women wore the traditional, brightly-colored silky skirts and sashes. At least we pastors did not have to wear the black pulpit robes that all the Rwandan pastors wore over their shirts!
From the time the official procession began, with the ribbon cutting by Rob Weingartner and EPR President Pascal Bataringaya, until the conclusion of the final benediction, the service lasted four hours and 40 minutes, with many speeches, presentations and songs. Rob's excellent sermon on Joshua 24:14-15, in which he charged us all to trust God's promises, obey God's commands, and choose to serve the Lord, was only the length of a typical American sermon. The joyous music is still ringing in my ears, but there was not dancing today. Though this was a great celebration, the joy is muted by the recent death of a beloved pastor in Kigali, whose funeral we will attend tomorrow, to grieve with our brothers and sisters. In Rwanda, even life's great celebrations are never far from the reality of the pain and loss, and so Rev. Dr. Pascal's blessing to Karangara Church was that it may be a place where they can come to find comfort and release stress, to get to know God, and then to go out from there to proclaim and demonstrate the good news of the gospel.
Following a delicious feast and good fellowship, we departed to the nearby Presbytery office where we were introduced first to a group of widowed AIDS sufferers who have banded together to support one another, to seek life, and to earn some small income. They displayed for us some of their beautiful hand-woven baskets and dyed fabrics.
From there, the President of Remera Presbytery walked us across the dirt road to the Pastors' Memorial, where 101 genocide victims are buried, including 18 of the 41 Presbyterian pastors who were killed. Many of these had hidden for months in the ceiling of the school until they were discovered. It was the more grievous because our team leader Ebralie's husband's family had lived there.
With this reminder of the genocide fresh in our minds, we crossed the street again to meet with the Reconciliation and Light Group. This group is nothing short of miraculous. There were about twenty men and women around the table, including both victims and perpetrators. We heard a testimonial from one widow whose husband and four children were killed and home destroyed. She shared with us how she has come to forgive and become close friends with those whom she knew had killed her loved ones – bit by bit, over a long time. They now share life in very close ways through this group, and even give one another their children in marriage. One man who had participated in the killings also shared his story. He had been convicted and jailed. On his release and return to the community, he sought out those he had wronged to seek their forgiveness. He shared how they have formed this solidarity group including perpetrators and victims. They sit together under the word of God, share how their lives are going, work for each other, doing their farm work, repairing houses, and other actions to demonstrate the new relationships they seek to live into in God's grace. This group, guided by Presbytery President Jerome Bizimana Nkumbuyinka, embodies the biblical call to be peacemakers and ambassadors of reconciliation.
I can hardly imagine the light that such a miracle shines into the darkness of pain that still remains 21 years after the genocide began. Rev. Dr. Jerome teaches peacemaking to new pastors, and the EPR would like to extend this ministry to other areas of the country. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. The bright light of this group has pushed many from darkness into the light, as the brave man testified before us.
For with God, all things are possible.