The Presbyterian Church of Rwanda - April 2019 Update
Casting the Nets into Deep Waters: Story of the Fishermen
A group from First Presbyterian Church Nashville, TN led by Outreach Program and Project Coordinator Ebralie Mwizerwa, traveled to Rwanda in early March to visit the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda (EPR). Luke 5:1-11 was the theme of the trip. Other team members were Sara DeVries, Parish DeVries, Erika Shapiro, Ada Shapiro, Kendall Posey, Tinsley Sheppard, and Dr. Jennifer Ellis from FPC Clarksville, TN.
Sara DeVries described her first moments in Rwanda: “We stepped out of the airplane into the fresh, thick Rwandan air, the night sky was clear, and the lights twinkled in the distance. We were greeted by EPR Vice-President Rev. Julie Kandema, Kigali Presbytery Vice-President Rev. Julius Ngendahayo, Kanombe congregation pastor Rev. Denys Niyonsenga, and many youths… there were probably 20 people at the airport. We each received flowers! It was such beautiful hospitality and such a kind gift to receive upon our arrival. We looked forward to what was ahead as we got to know new people so that we would be ever more aware of the grandness of God’s kingdom.”
Welcoming Brothers and Sisters
“After Sunday worship, the pastor and his family welcomed us and several other guests into their home for a delicious lunch. We were able to connect with the pastor’s children and a few other members of the congregation there,” said Erika Shapiro. “We were invited to sing as well, and though our songs were lacking in the movement department, they were rich in truth. We sang Come Holy Ghost and then did a performance of a Swahili song, Amani meaning Peace. Jesus is our peace! They clapped and cheered as we sang in a language close to their own. Swahili is spoken by many people in Rwanda, DR Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.”
Beyond Words: Vocational Training Graduation at CPAJ
Dr. Jennifer Ellis described the next day in Rwanda, which included an invitation to share devotional time with leaders of the EPR, tour the headquarter’s offices and participate in graduation for CPAJ (Centre Presbytérian d’Amour des Jeunes/Street Children’s Ministry) vocational training students, as “beyond words.” Indeed, no words can describe how we felt watching the skills training graduation.
EPR Vice-President Rev. Julie Kandema, the first woman to serve in this post, accompanied us on the short drive through the city to CPAJ. We were guests of honor at the ribbon cutting for the new Assembly Hall, built by gifts from Presbyterians in the U.S. including FPC Nashville through The Outreach Foundation! We watched the graduation ceremony for 79 students, many of them street children a few years ago. Inspiring words from church and community leaders testified to the importance of skills training for these youth. Their training ranged from sewing and tailoring to hairdressing and other trades popular in the Rwanda job market. The leaders also thanked partners for their support and mentioned these young people’s courage in trusting and casting their nets for a catch. We prayed their nets would soon be filled to overflowing!
The Presbyterian Church in Rwanda has also reached out to other segments of the community including children with special needs and their families. Tinsley Sheppard, another member of the team, described the school for special needs children in her own words: “The singing and dancing of these sweet children and their parents were so heartwarming and free. They even dusted off our feet as a way to symbolize rest for our weariness. The life and light in the hearts of these twenty children, their parents, and their two teachers were so precious as we got to color and make bracelets with them. We heard stories of progress and hope in their lives through the Itetero school and their staff of teachers and a temporary physiotherapist.”
For these parents (the majority are mothers) and their children, God is so real and has rescued them and given them life in abundance through this school. They are happily enjoying their obedience to the Lord by bringing these children out of hiding into the light, trusting the Lord for their care. Tinsley (and all of us) observed from the singing, dancing, foot washing, sweet advice, smiles, pictures, crafts, skits, beautiful clothing and hairstyles at the vocational school, God's faithfulness is so evident in the church in Rwanda.
The church has also been at work in Remera Presbytery, where we witnessed two more vibrant ministries. Made up of young people, the Dorcas group evangelizes and feeds patients who don’t have caregivers at a church hospital that serves as the district hospital for over 300,000 people. The hospital does not provide food or utensils for eating. So, you can see how meaningful it is to have this amazing group of Sunday school kids between the ages of 11-18 serve a meal and preach the word to the patients. We heard one of the boys from the Dorcas group preach on the Bible story about the fierce storm on the lake that happened while Jesus slept in the boat. The furious storm caused the disciples to wake Jesus to get him to intervene. This young man encouraged us, knowing that we will all have storms in life, by inviting us to wake Jesus to intervene in our storms. He was so poised and mature.
Wounds are Deep, but Reconciliation is Deeper
On April 7, 2019, Rwandans began a period commemorating 25 years after the genocide perpetrated against Tutsi in 1994. Remera Presbytery President Rev. Jerome Bizimana formed a reconciliation ministry that has been a road map for so many both in the church in Rwanda and outside of Rwanda. We met with a group of about 30 PC(USA) peacemakers and an even larger group of Remera locals who are part of a Light Group. Pastor Jerome, who received special training in reconciliation, formed the Light Group to encourage deep levels of personal, spiritual and communal healing. which meant that with some training and much forgiveness, this group was made up of both perpetrators and survivors of the genocide. They sat next to each other. They ate together. They celebrated the weddings of each other’s kids. One of the survivors spoke of the pain and difficulty involved in forgiving the man who stood in front of her apologizing for killing her husband and her child. Each member of the group had a story like that, from either the forgiven or the forgiver. We were speechless. It was almost too beautiful and painful for the human brain and heart to process.
The realities of the genocide against Tutsi in 1994 are undeniable. We visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial where thousands of bodies were buried. We also visited the Pastor’s Genocide Memorial, paid tribute to 41 Presbyterian pastors and lay leaders who were buried there and heard horror stories about the genocide. The call of both Rwandans and visitors to remember the genocide was hard but we would argue that it was the only possible way to prevent the evil from happening again. Yes, the wounds were deep, but the reconciliation was deeper. What an amazing picture of God’s grace!
Vibrant Congregation in a New Church Building
After witnessing the deep reconciliation and testimonies of the Light Group, we were excited to see the new Buganamana sanctuary and worship with them. The sanctuary was beautiful, and they were SO joyous! They have about 700 members in regular attendance and many had worked hard on the new sanctuary by carrying building materials and helping with construction. Rev. Ndagiro, the Presbytery moderator, preached the sermon from John 11:25 – Jesus as the resurrection and the life. He explained that this verse was the theme of the Presbyterian Church’s nationwide gathering in 2019. He called on members to listen and learn about Jesus, trust in him, and serve by reconciling to each other and helping others. We were so blessed. Imana Ishimwe (Praise be to God)!
EPR has about 400,000 members in 7 Presbyteries, with 212 congregations served by 120 active pastors. During our visit, we observed that they were training evangelists (80) who will serve in many rural congregations and prayer houses. Outreach is also helping to train pastors at the Protestant University in Butare. There remains a large need to train pastors for this vibrant and growing church.
Outreach partners with the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda in a variety of ways:
In the words of my colleague, Outreach’s Frank Dimmock, God is good, and it is a blessing to see how he is working to grow his Kingdom in Rwanda, through the Presbyterian witness.
Ebralie Mwizerwa, Projects Coordinator
The Outreach Foundation is seeking gifts for the following projects:
• Christian Education for Presbyterian Children: $10,000 for teaching materials and training for Sunday School teachers as well as for children’s classrooms and children’s Bibles
• Busanza Vocational Training Center: $10,000 for equipment for the school and scholarships for needy students
• Presbyterian Ministry for Reconciliation and Healing: $10,000 for training and counseling seminars
• Presbyterian Street Children's Ministry: $10,000 for food, clothing, and education
• Rwanda Church Construction: $30,000 for new church buildings and an additional $50,000 for roofing, doors, and windows on unfinished sanctuaries
• Scholarships for Presbyterians at PUR: scholarships for $2,000 per year for a minimum of seven Presbyterian students at PUR
Make a gift by sending a check to The Outreach Foundation or make an online gift HERE.