A letter from Nancy Collins, regional liaison for East Africa
Dear family and friends,
“Every constructive action—no matter how small—is important.” That was the message I heard in a variety of contexts during my August visit to the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda (EPR).
On my first day in Kigali I visited EPR Kabuga and Muyuba congregations with Rev. Olivier Munyansanga. I saw the fruit trees—lemon, papaya and orange—that he planted on the grounds of both churches. Based on his experience, the compassionate Rev. Olivier is convinced that if someone plants and nurtures just one fruit tree, it can have a significant and encouraging impact on the person’s spiritual and emotional well-being. He is researching this effect as he works to complete his Ph.D. dissertation in Switzerland.
Over the next few days I visited four EPR mission schools—primary and secondary—where I had the joy of meeting with students who have joined newly formed social unity peacemaking clubs in the schools. The kids had two days of training in peace building and conflict resolution shortly before they went on term break in July. It was amazing how many of them used their new skills in their homes and communities during the term break to address conflict. A young man at Rubengera Secondary School shared an experience concerning two families in his village who are fighting. He dialogued with the children in the two families to encourage them to help their parents solve the problem. Another student spoke of restoring peace between two students—one who had stolen school supplies from the other. A third shared her sense of internal disharmony and how the lessons in peace building were helping her personally. These young people all felt a strong sense of commitment to their new clubs and to the importance of working for peace at a local level in Rwanda.
Late one morning I was able to talk with Rev. Prince Karangwa, presbytery exec, and Mr. Desire Nibagwire, an EPR “focal point agent” working to address poverty in Kirinda Presbytery, Rwanda. Mr. Desire introduced me to Mrs. Judith Karmayanja, president of COPEVANEMU Cooperative, whose 52 members—all women—have been trained in making professional local crafts. Judith told me one of the woven plates the women make takes three days. In her role as cooperative president, Judith maintains contact with international marketing channels and identifies local markets that enable the women to increase income so their children can attend school and family members can afford health care.
Mr. Desire also introduced me to Mr. Claude Nizeyinana, accountant for Savings and Business Cooperative (COSABU). The idea of the cooperative developed during a meeting Rev. Prince and Mr. Desire held with representatives of congregations in Kirinda Presbytery in June 2008. The one bank in Kirinda requires collateral for loans, so it is not possible for the poor to obtain funds. When the church members decided to pursue the savings and loan program, EPR provided some seed money and members each contributed 3,000 Rwanda francs (about $5 US). Prospective members were given a six-month period to raise the 3,000 francs; the cooperative opened for business in January 2009. Since then, through those $5 contributions, the cooperative has played a significant role in empowering members to improve the quality of their lives. The 138 members of the cooperative can borrow money from the pool of funds to begin an income-generating activity, for school fees for children, and for health care.
On my drive back from Rubengera in far western Rwanda—on the well maintained highway that twists and turns through the Rwandan hills—I witnessed small but significant efforts of people to develop their country. In several locations people were constructing bulwarks against mud and rock slides on the steep embankments. Each individual carried one boulder at a time up the slope. It looked like a painstaking way of working, but the bulwarks under construction were very substantial.
At the end of the week I went to Kamuhoza congregation in Kigali with Mrs. Therese Gasenge, head of the EPR diaconate, to visit child-headed households. I was introduced to Jeannette, a 16-year-old who is responsible for her siblings: 13-year-old Joseph, 11-year-old Janvier, 9-year-old Freud, 8-year-old Jean, and 6-year-old Marie Claire. Mrs. Therese is organizing a program to give one goat (costing about $20) to each of 850 child household heads to provide them with milk, garden manure, and a source of income.
On Sunday I worshipped at the congregation of Rev. Therese Mukamakuza, presbytery executive of Kigali Presbytery. Her sermon came from Matthew 25—the story of the master who gave money to three servants before he left on a trip. Two of the servants used the money productively and the funds increased, but one buried his money in a hole and returned to his master just the coin he was given. His master praised the two but called the third a wicked and lazy slave. This message reinforced what I heard on many occasions all week. Let us all remember that every small act, done in love for Jesus Christ and for our neighbor, has an impact and makes a contribution. Let us each do what we can according to our time, our talents and our resources.
On a personal note, son Charles is now a freshman at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He seems very happy with his studies and with university life in general. I head back to the United States in just a few days to participate in the PC(USA)’s Mission Connections Live! speaking program. The program ends October 11. Afterward I will continue with additional speaking in Florida, and then in an arc from Ohio to Rhode Island. I will see Charles in Rhode Island for Thanksgiving and again in Iowa at Christmas just before I return to Lusaka. I am looking forward to sharing my ministry with all of you who have expressed interest in having me speak.
May Jesus Christ bless you all richly with His peace and joy.
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 66