May 25, 2017
Rwandan names are significantly different from American names. There are no family names. Instead, when a child is born, the parents give him or her two names: a Rwandan name that reflects something of the child’s birth situation, the family’s situation at the time of the birth or a wish the parents have for the character of their child, and a European name—for Christians, the baptismal name.
Several weeks ago, in the English chapel that I pastor, I preached about the power of God to change our characters and identities to be more like him and then to change the labels we carry to reflect that change, as he did with Abraham and Simon Peter. I applied this to the hurtful names we assume, like depressed, discouraged or fearful and that God can change our identities to hopeful, encouraged or faithful. Then God allowed me to see his power at work.
One of my first-year students in theology came to me after the service and said that he wanted to change his name. The Rwandan name his parents had given him was Ntambabazi, which translates to “merciless” or “unforgiving.” He explained that the name had to do with his family’s situation after the genocide. The scars for the genocide are deep. As a Christian and one preparing for the ministry, he could no longer live with this name. He was one who had experienced God’s mercy and his forgiveness. He felt his name was a hindrance to his witness and would be to his ministry in a church. He asked me to pray for the strength to change his name.
Several days later, he explained that to change his name, he had to petition the government, showing his reasons and producing his birth certificate and documents from his village. All of this takes money, because of legal filing fees and new documents that need to be issued. He asked me to continue to pray because he was determined to do this. He had already gotten all the required paperwork and half of the money needed. This name change costs about four months’ allowance for a student, but he was determined. We prayed and agreed to continue.
This week he came to share the good news that the name change procedure is underway. Within two months the official process will be complete. Then we will have a “renaming” service—not a baptism, but a celebration of his identity in Christ. I asked him what name he had chosen. He smiled and said Tambabazi—which means “mercy” or “forgiving.” Dropping the “N” at the beginning changes the word from negative to positive. I could see the change in his smile as he spoke of it. God is in the name-changing business—healing wounds and giving us a new identity in Christ.
Rev. M. Catherine Day, PC(USA) Mission Co-worker, Rwanda
Today’s Focus: Rwanda
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Powerful God, continue to change our identities to make us your faithful people. Amen.