Grassroots home churches thrive in Rwanda

The Center for Training and Documentation of The Presbyterian Church of Rwanda meets the needs of leaders and lay workers

by the Rev. Célestin Nsengimana | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Célestin Nsengimana during a U.S. partnership visit in 2017. (Contributed photo)

KIGALI, Rwanda — The Presbyterian Church in Rwanda opened its Center for Training and Documentation in 1996, two years after the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi.

With the lives of more than 1 million Tutsi taken during genocide, the church created the center to equip church members and religious leaders with knowledge and skills to help meet community needs in a post-genocide Rwanda. Indeed, a church-wide grassroots home church program, also called the Basic Communities program, is working to strengthen members’ spiritual lives and promote community. Each week, seven to 15 families from the same neighborhood meet at one of the family’s homes for Bible study, socialization, sharing of concerns and prayer. Through the center, the church provides an annual booklet for use by these grassroots home churches. The booklet includes 52 topics for discussion and study, one topic for every week of the year. The program has been deeply embraced by church members, all of whom are engaged in these weekly meetings, which has contributed immensely to church-wide vitality.

“At 6 p.m. every day, all family members stand up in their houses and say the prayer of our Lord and recite the Apostles’ Creed together with the whole church in the world,” said Rev. Dr. Pascal Bataringaya, the president and legal representative of the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda. He explained that during the current context of COVID-19 pandemic, the grassroots home churches are meeting electronically, mainly through WhatsApp groups. “For the sermon, we send an audio message. Those who don’t use WhatsApp communicate by short text messages. This way is used by many church members, and it is very helpful in the current situation of COVID-19 and lockdown,” Bataringaya said. For church members who do not have a mobile phone, Bataringaya said that the church sends hard copies of the teachings.

In February, before the COVID-19 lockdown, participants enjoyed a time of study and prayer during a grassroots home church gathering in Rwanda’s Kanombe Parish. (Photo provided by Kigali Presbytery)

Through the center’s Theological Education by Extension program, elders, deacons and preachers from various Christian denominations meet weekly in groups of about 20 to reflect on lessons prepared and published by the center on topics from the Old Testament, New Testament, homiletics, church history, Christian ethics, church and society.

In addition, a capacity-building program provides in-service training of church ministers on important issues such as conflict management, environmental challenges, gender-based violence and family planning. Training materials are compiled in a booklet and shared with trainees and others who may not have had a chance to participate in the in-person training, so that all can work together to examine the topics and preserve church unity and identity.

 

Men and women from Christian and Muslim faith communities meet together for discussion in December 2018. (Photo provided by Gisenyi Presbytery)

A Christian-Muslim relations program promotes peaceful cohabitation and interdependence of people of both religious groups. It brings together members of both faith communities to reflect on common political and socio-economic issues, promoting the spirit of tolerance and mutual respect in the midst of theological and doctrinal differences.

To keep track of empirical research on challenges faced by the post-genocide Rwandan community, and how churches can address these challenges, the center created a library at its offices. The library houses books, journals and articles to help church ministers, Christians, theology students and lecturers access learning materials for intellectual and practical enrichment. The center plans to create an electronic library and long-term data storage to provide a way for materials to be accessed remotely by various denominations.

The Rev. Emmanuel Muhozi (left), the Rev. Célestin Nsengimana (center), and the Rev. Paula Cooper, World Mission’s regional liaison for East Central Africa, at a meeting of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda’s Center for Training and Documentation in March. (Photo contributed by Paula Cooper)

Through varied programs offered by the Center for Training and Documentation, the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda not only maintains church unity and identity, but also contributes to the process of rebuilding and consolidating relationships among Rwandans through research and training. The church is grateful for the consistent and ongoing support of national and international mission partners in meeting its goals of organizing training sessions in different areas of the country, creation and publication of learning materials, and research and acquisition of books and articles for its library.

Learn more about the work of PC(USA) mission workers and partners in Rwanda.

The Rev. Célestin Nsengimana is coordinator of the Center for Training and Documentation of The Presbyterian Church in Rwanda, launched in 1996 to equip church members and leaders of other Christian denominations with knowledge and skills to help meet community needs in post-genocide Rwanda. In addition to his work at the center, Nsengimana teaches Theology and Development Studies at the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences (PIASS). He was in the second cohort of students to study theology at PIASS after the genocide and is past-President of Gitarama Presbytery. He is also pursuing his doctorate in Liturgical Studies at Protestant Theological University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  


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