A letter from Nancy Collins in Zambia
March 7, 2010
It was Saturday, the last day of my five day whirl wind visit to Rwanda. “Muroho!” The Rwandan call of welcome echoed in the small crowded building. The greeting was accompanied by the traditional two handed Rwandan wave. Fifty-three elders representing the 2,200 members of Ngeruku Presbyterian Parish in rural Rwanda — seemingly at the end of nowhere! — were excited by the chance meeting with their PC(USA) East Africa Regional Liaison, and they eagerly asked me to send their greetings and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
I’m sure the little old aqua-painted church with its plain blue pews must burst at the seams on the first Sunday of each month when members from the eight affiliated “chapels” all attend worship together. As in Zambia, the Church is unable to train and pay enough pastors to meet its growing needs. As a result, when new churches (called chapels) are planted, the pastor of the “mother congregation” is responsible for training and overseeing the lay leaders who disciple and nurture the new members at each chapel.
The pastor at Ngeruku parish with that daunting responsibility is Elias Ndinurwango. The congregation, primarily subsistence farmers, has not been able to raise the money to complete the manse intended to accommodate the pastor, his wife Claudette and their children: Eric, Jean Claude, Jules, and Princess. That was in fact the subject which the elders were discussing in their meeting.
The current house where Claudette graciously served us a generous lunch is a smaller equivalent of the church — old, simply furnished, just the basics. Claudette brought a pitcher of water and a plastic basin to the sitting room so we could wash our hands before the meal. The food — rice, beans, stewed vegetables, some meat — was served buffet style on a small bench. Why is it in these simple settings that love for and of God is so richly magnified into joy?
In addition to the church, the house and the brick and mud block walls of the manse under construction, the parish compound includes a primary school serving 1,500 students. Because of the level of poverty in the area, some years ago an American based NGO selected Ngeruku as the site of a Head Start type of program. So although it was Saturday, 199 students filled the classrooms to participate in a variety of life skills, spiritual and educational activities.
The final structure in the church compound is a small paved plot, the graves of the church pastor and his family who were murdered during the 1994 genocide. I was told that dealing with the emotional trauma of the genocide is a continuing struggle in the Rwandan church, especially now that participants are being released from prison and are returning to their former parishes. Prayer and programs of peace building and reconciliation are an ongoing need.
Dr. Elisee Musemakweli, President of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda (EPR); Pastor Bienvenu Musabyimana, Coordinator of EPR Church Growth Department; and Mr. Sophonie Rubyagiza, Coordinator of EPR Education Department were my gracious and attentive hosts during the five day visit. They arranged a program that included the EPR Center for Street Children, the Center for Training and Documentation, the Theological College in Butare, and congregational visits in five regions (presbyteries). I went north almost to the border of Uganda, south to just above Burundi, and west to Gitarama, the Presbytery partnered with Kiskimenitas Presbytery in Pennsylvania. I traveled on great highways and little byways with ruts clinging to the sides of the Rwanda hills where I could look down, down, down at the terraced fields of bananas, maize, cassava and sweet potatoes, and on trails that continued over makeshift bridges deeper and deeper into the countryside. Everywhere I went, I visited congregations like Ngeruku — growing congregations faithfully and creatively serving their members and communities but challenged by shoestring budgets. Developing income generating projects to support programs and personnel was a focus at both the congregational and presbytery levels.
I was surprised to learn two years ago the Rwandan government had decided Rwanda should switch from French to English as the national language. Apparently a decree when out and the populace was supposed to start speaking and teaching in English! Not much thought was given to a transition plan. Dr. Elisee asked for volunteers who could spend a year or two in Rwanda teaching English, and he asked for English language books for the libraries of the 12 EPR secondary schools.
Please pray for the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda — for ways of moving past the horrors and bitterness of the genocide, for resources to empower congregations to start income generating projects, and for English language volunteers and books. Please pray for wisdom and discernment and energy for me as I continue on my journey of learning about PC(USA) partner churches and institutions in East Central Africa. Sometimes this position calls for hard decisions, and sometimes it calls for stretching physical limits, and always it seems to call for paperwork and effective communication.
Charles turned 17 on February 23. When his Aunt Jeanie measured him — a family birthday tradition — he had grown another inch and a half. He has registered for his senior year high school classes with the thought that he will pursue digital media design in college. During his spring break he will visit the University of Oklahoma to see the programs offered there. Please pray for him in this great time of transition and also for his Aunt Jeanie and Uncle David who are giving him great support and encouragement as well as discipline.
May God bless you all richly during this Lenten season.
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 52