When I set out for Africa in 2014, my interest in governance was always challenging me to consider the ideal scenario for building healthy, functional and effective Christian denominations. Of course, I knew there would be many things I needed to learn about the African context that would challenge my pre-conceived ideas. It has certainly been a bit of a steep learning curve during the past three years. But I have come face to face with some of the realities of denominational leadership in Africa recently that made me sit back and reflect all over again. And it happened at the Africa Leadership Exchange (ALE). 

Photo: Jonathan and Rev. Saphano

This picture (above) is me and Rev. Saphano Riak Chol, Secretary General of the Faith Evangelical Baptist Church — South Sudan (FEBAC). He is one of 16 exceptional leaders who gathered for the ALE retreat in Naivasha, Kenya the first week of May. If you think you have problems in your job, Rev. Saphano is literally trying to lead his denomination in the middle of a war zone. South Sudan just gained its independence in 2011 after years of conflict. But in 2015 a dispute among political leaders has led to a civil war which continues today. Here are a few of the challenges Rev. Saphano shared with the ALE group:

  • South Sudan is a big country with very poor infrastructure so connecting with churches and leaders is difficult 
  • Mobile networks have limited coverage, and in some places the government has shut them down to interfere with rebel coordination. Many places are completely cut off from any form of communication
  • Because of the civil war, it is unsafe to travel. No one is safe on the roads — even pastors have been killed at roadside checkpoints
  • Poverty is widespread because no one can cultivate or harvest
  • Millions of people are living in refugee camps or camps for internally displaced people
  • FEBAC churches are growing but they do not have qualified pastors. There are only 29 pastors with theological education for over 109 churches

Yet, despite the challenges, Rev. Saphano talked about the response of the people, and particularly the leaders of FEBAC. He spoke of their courage as they continue to minister in terrible conditions. Many pastors and evangelists have left their homes so they can work among the refugees in the camps. He said, “they are my heroes. No one asks to quit.” 

So, in answer to the question, “how do you lead a denomination in a civil war” the answer is: Trust God, and carry on. Every ministry leader has challenges and opportunities to consider, and the burden of leadership requires us to make prudent, wise and strategic choices in order to further God’s work. 

Photo: Praying for the one another. 

One of the most inspiring outcomes of the ALE was the way people responded to each other. There were four delegates from four of CBM’s African partner denominations. After each partner shared about their denominational context including opportunities and challenges, there was a question and answer time followed by prayer. When Rev. Saphano finished sharing about FEBAC’s work in South Sudan there was a groundswell of support expressed by the other three denominations. One offered to provide theological training for their pastors. One offered to provide English training for school teachers. A third denomination offered support in peace-making and reconciliation. There was a deep sense of unity in the Spirit, and the subsequent prayer time was inspiring. 

Photo: Three men from FEBAC (South Sudan), and Dr. Jonathan Wilson our Devotional Leader

What is the Africa Leadership Exchange?

The ALE is an idea that I have developed with the support of CBM to provide a forum for African leaders to gather and discuss issues relating to leadership and governance. It is not a classroom in which Canadian teachers convey information to African students, but rather, it is a place for dialogue and peer learning among African leaders in a retreat setting. This first retreat (May 1-6, 2017) brought together four partner organizations: Association of Baptist Churches in Rwanda (AEBR, Rwanda), African Christian Churches and Schools (ACC&S, Kenya), Baptist Church in Central Africa (CBCA, D.R. Congo), and the Faith Evangelical Baptist Church (FEBAC, South Sudan). 

Photo: The Africa Leadership Exchange group*

This first retreat launched this ministry initiative by casting a vision for the ALE among these four partner denominations. Leadership and governance concepts were introduced and the participants provided input concerning their perceived needs for future sessions. We plan to hold four subsequent retreats over the next two years where we can explore these topics in greater detail. As I listened to each of the partners make presentations about their denominations, I was inspired by the quality of the leaders who are dedicated to building healthy churches for the sake of the Kingdom of God. 

Photo: Jonathan Mills and Dr. Jonathan Wilson*

One of the highlights of the ALE was the devotional leadership provided by Dr. Jonathan Wilson and his wife Soohwan Park. A professor at Regent College in Vancouver, Dr. Wilson and Soohwan led us in the fascinating devotional series “Ancient Wisdom: Reading the Old Testament as a Spiritual Guide.” Dr. Wilson also made a special presentation on Creation Care and Integral Mission. Rev. Jeremiah was very excited to get an autographed copy of Dr. Wilson’s book on Creation, God’s Good World

Photo: ACC&S Moderator Rt. Rev. Jeremiah Ngumo Kiguru with Dr. Jonathan Wilson’s book on Creation

The retreat was not all work. Part of the experience was to provide a retreat setting conducive to personal reflection and relationship building away from the daily pressures and responsibilities of work. The camp at Crater Lake provided the perfect setting for this retreat. In fact, because of its location down in a natural volcanic crater cell phone reception was very poor — which was frustrating to be out of touch with our families but turned out to be a blessing because work could not track us down.   

Photo: Morning mist over Crater Lake

We also made sure we maximized the nature reserve setting by setting out to enjoy God’s good world. A hike up to the top of the crater provided spectacular views, and in the surrounding open spaces we encountered a number of wild animals. 

Photo: A walking safari through the game reserve

Even in the camp itself, we were visited daily by a family of Colobus Monkeys. They were not afraid of people and everyone was fascinated to get a close look. It seems the feeling was mutual as this family group climbed a tree next to our meeting room so they could listen in. 

photo: A curious family of Colobus Monkeys

The next retreat for ALE is scheduled for November 2017. At that time, the delegates will reassemble for dialogue and peer learning in areas relating to leadership and governance. The goal is to facilitate engaging and lively discussions which bring together principles of good governance applied in the African context. After this initial gathering, I am excited for the future of the ALE and the impact it will have on the partner organizations. 

Please continue to pray for CBM’s work with our many overseas partners. For most Canadians, the context of their ministry is unimaginably challenging. But the ALE partners unanimously expressed their thanks, indicating that the support of Canadian Baptists helps to give them strength and encouragement to carry on. So, thank you for your prayers and ongoing support for the work of CBM. 


For more information (and pictures) about the Africa Leadership Exchange visit the blog of Aaron & Erica Kenny, the Africa Team Leaders.  

For more information about CBM and its work in Africa, please visit Canadian Baptist Ministries website.

*These photos courtesy of Aaron Kenny.

This week we were privileged to participate in the food distribution in the village of Mahama in the South East of Rwanda. During the last rainy season, the rains were not sufficient to produce a harvest and so the people in this region have been struggling with food shortages for some time. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), in partnership with CBM and AEBR mobilized a delivery of 73 tonnes of maize flour, 23 tonnes of beans, and 5800 litres of cooking oil to families.

Photo: A group of about 30 men unload the maize flour bags into the church

Photo: Three young boys volunteered to help (the maize flour bags left dust on everyone)

We were there when the final 2 tonnes of maize flour was delivered. It was amazing to watch this group of men carry bag after bag. They were almost running into the church. Each bag weighs 25 kilos. While it isn’t an overwhelmingly heavy bag to carry, they all made several trips and had the truck unloaded in about 15 minutes. 

 

Photo: Gabriel and Andre worked very hard to manage this distribution.

Three of the key people here in Rwanda who were instrumental in arranging the logistics and details for this food distribution are Gabriel, Andre and Ken Derksen (not pictured). They sourced food, coordinated the beneficiary lists, arranged for secure storage facilities and assembled a team to manage the distribution. It has required a significant amount of time and energy to get things off the ground. We thank these three hard working men, along with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank for making everything happen according to plan. 

Photo: Beans, maize flour, and cooking oil

Based on the World Food Program standards, a month supply of food per person consists of 12.5 kilos of maize flour (1/2 of the bag shown), 4 kilos of beans (one bucket full), and 1 litre of cooking oil. Based on a survey of communities, 8 villages in the region around Mahama were chosen because of the severity of the food shortage in this region. The local village leaders, called the umudugudu leader (“oo-moo-doo-goo-doo” – we love saying that word), carefully made lists of the families in their communities and great effort was taken to ensure it was those in greatest need who received their share of the food. 

Photo: A large group of people gather around the church (notice the boy in the tree)

Photo: Line of people waiting to receive their food allotment

The staff developed an efficient method for moving people through quickly. Each person presented their ID card, signed for the food, opened a bag they brought with them to carry the beans and oil, and then received one (or more) sacs of maize flour. The logistics for this kind of operation require a great deal of planning and coordination but the team did an excellent job. By the end of the second day, the food was gone and 1365 households (5728 people) had received food for a month. 

Photo: A young girl who is the head of her household

One very moving moment happened when this young girl arrived to pick up her food. The check in person said; “Where is this young girl’s parent? Her parent should be here to collect the food for the family.” But the village leader explained that this girl’s mother left home recently, and now this young girl is looking after herself and her younger siblings. There were many elderly women and other families who clearly needed the food assistance and this made the whole effort extremely rewarding. 

Photo: For people who live at a distance, bicycle taxis are a practical means for transporting their food

Photo: Woman carries 25 kilo sac of maize flour on her head

We were asked to participate in this food distribution in order to provide an extra measure of accountability to ensure everything happened according to plan and the food ended up in the hands of the beneficiaries. As we walked among the people, we had a number of beneficiaries walk over to us and express the most sincere and heartfelt “thank you” we have ever received. We were the ‘representative Canadians’ and for this reason we received this beautiful expression of thanks (on behalf of all of you back in Canada who have faithfully given to support those in need around the world). 

Photo: Many families making the long journey home

Gradually the crowds thinned as the beneficiaries received their portion and made their way home. Even though we did not have a strenuous responsibility, we found the experience extremely tiring because of the heat (32 degrees) and the emotionally charged atmosphere. We gained a tremendous sense of appreciation for the staff and volunteers who put in very long days literally carrying tonnes of sacs of food all day long. 

 

 


 

We have a number of photos we enjoyed so much we decided we just had to share them. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do. 

Photo: Late afternoon sunshine beams in through the church window illuminating the maize flour dust in the air. A woman’s yellow sac catches the light casting a golden glow. 

Photo: Beneficiaries wait patiently for their turn in the shade of a tree

Photo: A happy and appreciative beneficiary

CBM’s Andre Sibomana greets a woman beneficiary

Photo: Some women beneficiaries sitting in the hot sun (for the opening speeches by village leaders and pastors)

Photo: One of many men who carried heavy bags of beans and flour all day long in the heat of the African sun. 

On Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017, Jan and I had the privilege of attending worship in the small village church in Musave just East of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Our friend and colleague, Justin Uwubuntu (AEBR’s director of Education) started as pastor of the church just six weeks earlier. Together with his wife Esperence, they have seen incredible growth: from 16 people to 108 people in just six weeks (including children). The following is a short photo essay of our wonderful experience. 

Photo: The church in Museve. The roof was erected without proper supports, so it will probably have to be torn down. But for now, it keeps people dry when it is raining.

When Justin asked me to preach on Easter Sunday, I was very excited to say “yes!” I always consider it a privilege to preach and it is always wonderful to meet new people and encourage them. This Sunday, however, presented some unique challenges. Justin explained that this region was deeply affected by the 1994 genocide and many people continue to struggle. He asked if I could speak about that in the sermon. 

Photo: Jonathan preaching with his translator Simon Tumushime

The genocide against the Tutsis began on April 7, 1994. That was the Thursday following the Easter weekend. People who had been sitting next to each other in church, turned against each other just four days later. Even though 23 years have passed, the scars run deep. Every year on April 7th, people gather in memorials set up in villages and cities around the country and remember.  

Photo: Pastor Justin leading the service. The congregation is seated on 6 rows of benches. 

I decided to preach on John 20:1-18. It’s the story of Mary Magdalene as she visits the garden tomb. The focus was not on the joy she experienced when she saw Jesus, but on her grief and sorrow. While the rest of the world celebrates Easter as Christ’s victory over sin and death (and this is true), Rwanda’s Easter services are inextricably connected to the genocide, and Mary’s grief reminds us of the tragic suffering of Christ and the devastating loss experienced by His disciples. 

Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden, and he speaks her name, “Mary.” At once, she recognized him, and cried out “Teacher.” There is great intimacy in this moment — a distraught disciple, discovering the truth of the resurrection through this one word. For the congregation in Museve, the message is that Jesus comes to us in our time of grief and speaks our name. Like Jesus, we always carry the scars of life’s tragedies with us. But we do not carry them alone.

Photo: The Sunday School being held in a field next to the church

Watching the Sunday School children outside in the beautiful Rwandan countryside it is hard to imagine the violence that broke out in this country 23 years ago. We pray that the trauma experienced by their parents and grand-parents will never repeat itself in Rwanda or any other country. 

Photo: Janice & Jonathan with Pastor Justin Uwubuntu and his wife Esperence

It is hard to put into words the privilege we feel being able to worship in Rwanda on Easter Sunday. Not only do we have the opportunity to work along side such fantastic colleagues (and friends) as Justin and Esperence but we also represent Canadian Baptists here in the field bringing hope and encouragement on behalf of churches from coast to coast. 

May God grant peace and joy to you and your family this Easter Sunday. 

Recently, we were asked if we could write a blog on food in Rwanda. Here is an overview of our experiences both in rural areas as well as urban.

Our first visit to a person’s house confused us slightly as we were invited for a Fanta.  To us this meant that we were going to have a soda together and a short visit.  To the Rwandan this meant, bring a case of Fanta and we will have a meal together.  One of the cultural adjustments for us has been that one invites oneself to another person’s home.  So if we want to extend a hand of friendship, we say, “I want to come to your house for a visit.” A case of Fanta is now in order!

Photo: A typical Rwandan buffet lunch

When we are in someone’s home in the rural setting, the food is cooked over an open fire and placed in pots with the lids on.  Grace is said and then the special guests go first, then the “big men”, then the rest of the people and last the children. Rice, beans, cassava root, isombe (cassava leaves), potatoes, boiled bananas and sometimes a piece of meat (beef, goat or fish) are served regularly with a tomato sauce.  If it is a special occasion, a plate of avocados, onions and tomatoes will be served with a heaping dollop of mayonnaise. At the end there are usually bananas and even sometimes pineapple!  Fantas are always served warm and with a straw.

Photo: Buffet of rice, beans, chips, isombe and grilled talapia

A Rwandan buffet is quite different than a Canadian buffet.  In Canada, a buffet usually means go up as many times as you like until you are full.  In Rwanda, a buffet means fill your plate as much as you can as you are only suppose to go up once!  Even children manage to fill their plates to the max as you can see in this picture of a six year old’s plate.

Photo: Six year old takes a second helping at Christmas

 Only one piece of meat is allowed unless otherwise stipulated.  If you are muzungu (westerner), they don’t usually complain if you take more meat but they might charge you for the extra protein.  Cream of mushroom soup or Rwandan green soup (vegetable, dodo, etc.) is often served first at a nice buffet.  Then the usual carbs (rice, potatoes, baked beans, boiled bananas, chips, and ugali). Cooked vegetables are served depending on what is in season (carrots, green beans, aubergine) and usually some fruit is an option at the end (bananas, pineapple, passion fruit or tree tomatoes).  And of course the ever present Fanta!  But one has a choice of cold or warm.

Photo: Jonathan with a Fanta

Fast food is not really available here.  If you stop en route somewhere to grab a bit to eat, plan for at least an hour or two.  Unless you want just a snack like boiled eggs with Agabaga (hot chili oil), roasted corn, brochette (goat intestines) or a sambuza.  Often when traveling, we will grab a yogurt (with a straw) and maybe a mandazi (like a big day old timbit).  We tend to stay away from the roadside meat if at all possible as our stomachs just can’t handle it.

Photo: Hard Boiled Eggs

The urban setting is a lot different than it use to be.  Kigali has all kinds of restaurants and as Canadian Baptist Ministries staff we all have our favourites.  The Bustins love New Cactus as it has a lovely view of the city, good lemon buttered tilapia and friendly service.  The Derksens like Urban Blue as it is fast and their coffee crusted steak is to die for.  Andre Sibomana loves to eat at The Great Wall Chinese restaurant. We like The Indian Chef as it is authentic Indian cuisine.  There is even a Japanese restaurant around the corner from us now but it costs $30US per person to even have 8 pieces.  Being in a landlocked country means that seafood is expensive.   Jonathan doesn’t really care for seafood but I miss my shrimp.

Cooking at home has gotten much easier now.  When we first arrived it seemed like every day we ate ham sandwiches.  Our meals rotated between hamburger casserole or chicken & rice.  The grocery stores have a decent selection of western food but one has to be willing to pay for it.  Torilla wraps are available for about $5 to $6 US.  Kellogg’s cereal can be as much as $15 US.  But if you don’t mind some of the local brands then things are a little more affordable.  Our regular grocery store list would be: Rwandan yogurt, Rwandan gouda cheese, Rwandan coffee, oatmeal, raisins, chicken, ground beef, pasta, any thing from the expiry table that looks fun and is a good price (2 for 1).  Our house help goes to the market for us weekly and that list is usually: fresh milk, eggs, mangos, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, peanuts and Rwandan honey. We have a nice kitchen garden where we grow lettuce, peppers, onions and carrots.  Our trees also supply us with enough avacado, bananas and guava to feed the birds, monkeys and some people in our neighbourhood.  So nowadays we eat a lot of taco salad, curried rice, chili, casseroles, pineapple chicken, omelettes, smoothies, etc. We always have a case of soda in the pantry in case locals drop in unannounced for a Fanta. 

Photo: kitchen garden in our back yard

We really don’t want for too much although Jonathan constantly misses Twizzlers and I miss good chocolate.  Western visitors are always asked to bring these two things for us to enjoy and we seem to have trouble making them last until the next visitors come.  Sushi and seafood are my favourite foods but I ate Asian the whole time I was on home assignment so I can’t complain.  Jonathan would love to have a roast beef dinner at some point but it is hard to justify that for just the two of us.

So, if you happen to be in Rwanda, you are always welcome. If you want to drop in for a Fanta, it is ready for you. But don’t forget the twizzlers and chocolate! 

IMG_9471 copy 3During Short Term Mission (STM) trips, we are always aware of God’s hand at work in Rwanda. Recently, we experienced an STM that illustrated for us the way in which God is intimately involved in every aspect of our work here in Africa.  When Jonathan first mentioned an IT STM to me, I rolled my eyes.  But he was right and my geeky husband’s idea has and will bear fruit for our partner here in Rwanda.

Photo: Scott Klassen and Jonathan

Scene 1: The Derksens Arrive in Rwanda

Ken and Wendy copy

Back in December 2014, Ken and Wendy Derksen arrived in Rwanda to begin their appointment as Global Field Staff with Canadian Baptist Ministries. Wendy is a CPA in Canada, and her role is to “Walk alongside African partners to provide support and guidance as they develop policies and procedures around financial management and operational systems.” 

 

At the time, the Association of Rwandan Baptist Churches (AEBR) had only one staff person in the Accounting department and out of date financial management software. And the AEBR is an organization with over 250 churches, 18 Schools, and dozens of projects funded by international partners each requiring different reporting standards. It was a huge challenge. 

Since STM’s work best when they originate from the partner’s need, Jonathan suggested we initiate plans for an STM to  setup and install a computer server with financial management software adequate to serve the needs of the AEBR. At first, the idea seemed to be more about Jonathan’s “geeky” side showing but over time it became clear that this was a significant need for the AEBR. 

Scene 2: Engaging Kanata Baptist Church

Our church in Kanata is in the middle of one of Canada’s high tech sectors and the church has a number of highly skilled IT professionals. It seemed like an ideal partnership for pursuing this proposed computer STM. In January 2016, Jonathan and I invited interested individuals to come and hear about this ministry opportunity. Thirty people showed an interest in the project, and a new “virtual” STM was launched with Kevin Burr coordinating the team and Scott Klassen designing and building and setting up the server (it was ‘virtual’ because most of the meetings were held by Skype each week). The Mission Council of Kanata Baptist embraced the project and soon efforts were underway to raise funds for this “Virtual IT STM.” 

Photo: Scott showing Jonathan how the Server is configured

Over the coming months, Annie Burt travelled to Rwanda to conduct a needs analysis, and a great deal of effort was spent investigating the software that would best serve the interests of the AEBR. As the research started to point to SAGE 300 as the ideal software platform, Scott mentioned that his mother had some experience with SAGE 300 and he was going to ask her about it. 

Scene 3: Enter Christine Klassen

To say Christine Klassen knows a little about SAGE 300 is a bit of an understatement. She is a CPA who works as an independant consultant configuring and installing SAGE 300 for clients in Canada. When Scott asked Christine if she would be able to offer some advice to the team she responded: “This is actually an answer to prayer. For the past few months, I have been praying for God to provide me an opportunity to use my gifts and abilities to serve him.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Christine embraced this project and gave her time and talent joyfully.  

Photo: Wendy & Christine spending hours setting up and configuring the Financial Software

Once Christine was involved things started moving forward quickly. Wendy Derksen and Christine began the long and complex task of setting up the general ledger accounts and all the details that go into a brand new financial system installation and configuration. They both invested long hours over the coming months to build things from the ground up. Meanwhile, Scott was assembling the server in Ottawa and preparing things for installation. 

Scene 4: Is there any work for an Electrical Engineer?

In the middle of all this work, Christine’s husband Clarence expressed an interest in helping out; “Do you have any tasks that I can help with? I’m an Electrical Engineer.” The answer was an emphatic “Yes!!”

Photo: Christine & Clarence Klassen at Lake Muhazi

This, despite a lack of knowledge concerning the specific causes of the AEBR’s head office electrical issues. All we knew was that many of the lights were not working, the building was prone to blackouts and brownouts, and generally speaking, the electrical system was in need of some expert diagnostics and repair. We were impressed by Clarence’s willingness to do whatever he could to help, and his insistence on having a Rwandan apprentice work with him in order to share some knowledge and experience with a young person. 

 

Scene 5: Putting it all Together

In January, after a year of planning, preparation, independent work, installation and configuration, it was finally time for the STM to travel to Rwanda for final installation and training. Jonathan and Ken Derksen had installed networking cables in the AEBR offices and converted a small washroom into a server room. The server had been sent to Rwanda in our luggage in November. Now the Klassens arrived with bags full of tools and equipment to bring everything together. 

Photo: The Klassens, the Derksens, Jonathan and the AEBR director of Administration and Finance, Berthe

Scott is a computer engineer, so the server setup went smoothly (apart from the times when there was no power in the building). Jonathan provided support, and learned how to manage basic configuration settings. Within a few days, everything was setup and configured, and working! Scott returned to Canada after only a week. On his last morning, the server had shut down because of a power outage. Scott turned to Jonathan and said, “Okay, show me how to restart it.”  And Jonathan did!  Very proud of this man of mine who has no formally computer training.

Christine had already finalized the chart of accounts with Wendy through Skype calls. Now the task was to give instruction to the AEBR financial department which had now grown to three people. They not only had to learn a new financial management software program but they also had to learn new principles and practices of accounting. 

Meanwhile, Clarence was working with Ken Derksen to diagnose and repair whatever they could in the two weeks they were here. His young apprentice, Jean-Paul had been trained in electronics but had very little experience. Because of a lack of hands on training at the vocational school, he had never actually used an electric drill, but he really wanted to as often as possible. So, Clarence patiently build up his repertoire of experiences through two weeks of electrical improvements. 

Photo: Clarence supervising the work of his young apprentice, Jean-Paul

Scene 6: Wrapping Up

After two very busy weeks, the Klassens boarded the plane on the way home to Peterborough Ontario. As we reflected on the events of the past year, we were all amazed at how God had orchestrated this major ministry project. Some of the ‘God moments’ we identified:

  • The Derksen’s appointment to Rwanda (contributing financial and technical expertise)
  • The connection we have with Kanata Baptist church and its IT professionals
  • Kevin Burr, Scott Klassen and Jim McMorine working for months on this project
  • The eagerness of KBC’s Mission Council to engage in fundraising and support
  • Christine Klassen’s involvement, in answer to her prayers
  • Christine’s donation of time and expertise, without which, this project would be impossible
  • Annie Burt’s availability to conduct a needs analysis in Rwanda
  • CBM’s willingness to try a ‘virtual STM’ for the first time
  • AEBR’s openness to embrace this new financial management software
  • SAGE approving Canadian licensed software being used in Rwanda
  • Special SAGE promotion: 4 seat licenses for the price of 3 (the week we purchased it)
  • Clarence’s willingness to serve and his expertise in diagnosing the AEBR offices’ electrical problems

We thank God for the dedication and hard work of all those who contributed to this plan.  Special thanks to Laura Lee Bustin for managing the finances and logistics here in Rwanda. And to Adrian Gardner in Canada for being such an encourager. It will take many more months for the staff to be trained and equipped to use SAGE 300 to its full capacity, but the journey to financial self-sufficiency has begun and we know this change will bear much fruit for the Kingdom of God. 

Photo: Clarence and Christine Klassen with the AEBR & CBM staff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When CBM sends a team from Canada to Rwanda a great deal of cultural adjustment is needed.  Our Rwandan friends are very gracious about all our faux pas but it always warms my heart when I see Canadians adjust culturally.  Recently 11 women came from different places across Canada with the She Matters STM (Short Term Mission).  They led seminars on Child Development, Women’s cotton sanitary products and ministered to women from the DRC (Congo) and Rwanda who are victims of wartime sexual violence.  They learned about women’s literacy and food security as well.  But more than anything, they learned to be Rwandan.  Below are some pics of the cultural adjustments that these women were able to make.

Photo: Julie greeting an elderly woman

Greetings in Rwanda can get quite complicated.  One has to remember if you are greeting a new friend, a old friend, a man, a woman,  an elder, a big man, or a child.  In this photo, Julie Hunt is greeting an older woman with a great deal of respect as she shakes hands but also puts her opposite hand on her elbow.

Photo: She Matters Group (Congolese, Rwandans and Canadians)

Women do not always keep their head wrapped these days but our African friends love it when the muzungus (westerners) try to be traditional.  It was a lot of fun having our head-wraps done.  Congolese and Rwandans showed us how to do different styles.

Photo: Laetitia and Anne dancing

The retreat for the women involved a lot of sharing, crying and praying.  But sometimes we all needed to dance.  This is an important part of healing here.  Talking is good but dancing and singing is even better.  It is good for the soul.

Photo: Karissa carrying maize

So what does one do when one is handed five stalks of maize? One puts it on one’s head of course!  Once again we were blessed with fresh corn from the field of a friend.  That night we cooked it up and we all had a taste.  It was the best Rwandan corn I have ever eaten.  Honest!  Accepting a gift graciously and carrying it away on one’s head is adapting culturally.

This was just a small glimpse into an amazing two weeks.  If you want to know more about this trip and see more photos, let me know and I will do a second blog about it.  There is always too much to tell in just one brief photo essay. If you want to learn more about CBM’s priority for empowering and improving the lives of women and girls, visit the She Matters page at our website. 

Within the Baptist denomination worldwide there is a commonly held belief that in order to be a believer, a person must make a personal commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, Baptists wait until a person is old enough to understand the meaning of the Christian Gospel before they are baptized. The precise details of how baptisms are practiced are sometimes different from place to place, but the basic baptism formula is fairly consistent. A pastor asks a candidate if they have repented of their sin, if they have made a personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord. In response, the pastor baptizes the person “… in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19). 

The Regional Baptism Service at Kacyiru

Because the Kacyiru church is the main church in this region, and because most baptist churches do not have their own baptistry, candidates from all over Kigali come to this one big baptism service. Traditionally, baptisms are held around the new year. In this case, the service was Saturday morning, December 31. Here, Pastor Joel introduces the baptism candidates to the congregation early in the service.

Photo: Pastor Joel introduces the baptismal candidates to the Congregation

The service featured special music guests from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This brass band made the trip to Kigali in order to share their music. It helped make the whole service more of a festive event. 

Photo: A brass band from the Democratic Republic of Congo

The great time of celebration has arrived! The candidates are all ready to be baptized, and are lined up in eager expectation. 

Photo: People lined up to be baptized

This panorama photo shows the whole church (click on it to see more detail). On the left is the front platform which contains the baptistry. Many people are standing up front to assist with the service; some are leading singing; others are taking photos; others are providing towels. Down the central aisle of the church, you can see the line of baptismal candidates all waiting their turn. 

Photo: Pastor Capitale and a Woman Being Baptized

This is a very special photo. Pastor Capitale is standing in the baptistry with the very first candidate, and woman who is elderly and frail. She was so weak that she needed to be helped into the baptistry and the pastor is holding onto her so that she does not slip or fall. It was inspiring to see this woman’s determination and faith as she followed through on her commitment to be baptized in the church. 

The Baptism Service at Kiyovu

A week after the Kacyiru service, Pastor Andre celebrated the first Sunday of the new year with a service of baptism at his church in Kiyovu (also in Kigali). This was a very special service for our friend and colleague Andre, because three of his own children were baptized: Princess, Aaron and Marie Therese. 

Photo: All the congregation gathers around the baptistry to watch

The Baptist church in Kiyovu is smaller than Kacyiru, but it is a vibrant community with great passion and enthusiasm. You can see by the way the whole church gathers around the baptistry that they are excited to witness these young people making their profession of faith. 

Photo: Aaron being baptized

Reception at Andre and Theresa’s house

Following the baptisms, there was a reception at Andre and Theresa’s house. They want to honour their children and celebrate their step of faith — and celebrations are always done in community in Rwanda. So, they rented a marquis tent and 100 plastic chairs and hired a caterer to prepare food for all the church members, friends and family, and delegates from other churches in the area. All tolled, there were over 90 adults and 30 children. 

Photo: Back at Andre and Theresa’s house for a reception

Since Andre is our colleague and friend it was a pleasure for the global field staff of Canadian Baptist Ministries to be able to attend the reception. There was a buffet lunch, fanta, singing, a few gifts, and many many speeches. Everyone was in a happy mood and the atmosphere was very festive.

Photo: The Guests of Honour: Marie Therese, Aaron and Princess

We thank God for these many young people in Kigali who have made their profession of faith through baptism. It is the first step of a long journey. It is a recognition of the power of God at work in their lives to draw them out of their life of sin, and into a life-giving relationship with the Lord Jesus.

It is a joy to work with a ministry partner like AEBR. These baptism services are an indication of the spiritual vitality present in this denomination. We pray for continued growth as the AEBR reaches out to the people of Rwanda in word and deed. 

They often say that the best way to learn about your own culture is to visit a different one. This has been my experience as I have had the privilege of travelling extensively over my 50+ years. This truism was made even more clear to me as we visited Canada for our recent home assignment, which provided Jan and I the opportunity to travel extensively in Ontario and Alberta visiting churches and individuals to share about our ministry in Rwanda. Many times I thought to myself, how would I describe the Canadian climate to my friends in Rwanda who have never travelled outside central Africa (some have never travelled more than a day’s walk from their village). 

Today, I wanted to turn this question on its head, and describe for Canadians some of the different experiences of living in Rwanda’s climate. 

12 Hours a Day: 7 days a week, 365 days a year

Sunlight in Ottawa, Canada. 

In Canada, there are extensive changes in our experience of daylight hours because of our latitude in the Northern hemisphere. Summers are characterized by long, warm nights with spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Click in this Interactive Sunlight Graph for the city of Ottawa, Canada.  

Photo: a screen shot of the sunlight graph of Ottawa (click the link below for interactive data)

Move your mouse over the sunlight graph and you’ll see specific information for each day. At Summer solstice (June 21) Ottawa has 15:40 hours of daylight, and twilight lasts 1:15. In contrast, at Winter solstice (Dec 21), Ottawa only receives 8:42 hours of sunlight with 1:08 hours of twilight. 

Sunlight in Kigali, Rwanda

We live in the city of Kigali, Rwanda which is located just South of the Equator. Rwanda’s days are consistently 12 hours in length year round. Click this link for an Interactive Sunlight Graph for the city of Kigali. Notice how straight and consistent the lines are.

Photo: a screen shot of the sunlight graph of Kigali (click the link below for interactive data)

If you click on the Summer solstice for Kigali, the daylight hour figure is 12:00, with twilight of 45 minutes. At the winter solstice this changes to 12:14 hours of daylight (twilight is unchanged). The difference is barely perceptible. The passing of time becomes so routine that you really don’t need a watch as the position of the sun is a good indicator of the time of day. 

One of the difficult adjustments for North Americans and Europeans is the sunset at 6:00 pm every day, and short sunsets.

Photo: A beautiful sunset over the city skyline. Sunsets are shorter than in Canada, and seldom feature deep reds. 

Song Birds and Sunrise

The natural rhythms of nature also take on a predictability that is generally unknown in Canada. For example, the song birds begin their singing each morning just before dawn. We generally leave our bedroom window open at night, so when the birds begin their songs it can be quite loud. Generally, they sing between 5:15 and 5:45. I’ve included a few samples of morning bird songs to give you an idea (sorry, I don’t know which song belongs to which bird. I’ve included some bird pictures for fun). 

This first bird call is very beautiful and it is nice to awaken to it each day (even if it does come early at 5:30). 

This second bird call is also very beautiful (feel free to click your mouse to skip the quiet sections in the middle). 

Finally, a less interesting bird call, but a familiar sound for us each morning. 

Talk about the Weather

An unexpected corrolary to the consistent 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness is the consistent weather. While it is true that Rwanda has four seasons, they are very different than Canadian seasons. 

Canadian Seasons: Hot, Cooling off, Cold, Warming up. 

Canada is well known for its four distinct seasons. Particularly in places outside Ontario’s ‘banana belt’ (Southern Ontario), the cold winter weather makes for a very unpleasant season … if you don’t get outside and engage in winter activities and sports. Friends advised us to develop outdoor activities in Ottawa’s winter and we have found it makes the season much more enjoyable (although I remember a youth event skating on the Rideau Canal with a temp of -40 C with bone chilling winds. We lasted 10 minutes before going inside for hot chocolate and Beaver Tales!!). Canadians will tell you that there are some places in Canada where you can experience all four seasons in one day (Calgary, the Maritimes, etc). 

Rwanda’s Four Seasons

The four seasons we experience here are far less distinct. We really have only two wet seasons and two dry seasons. Rwanda is actually well blessed with rain because its altitude. Kigali is at approximately 1500 meters elevation above sea level. Musanze in the North is at an elevation of 1,860 m, with the summit of Mount Muhabura (a dormant volcano) rising up to a height of  4,127 m. The result is a much higher average precipitation in the North, with seasonal rains in the South. 

Photo: Mount Muhabura. The range of volcanoes forms a natural border between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The rains come suddenly and often violently.  But they are predictable for the locals and you get used to the patterns with experience. Most days (regardless of the season) begin with sunshine. During the rainy season, cloud cover builds throughout the day, and strong winds give warning of an impending downpour. In most cases, these storms pass quickly, often within 30 to 60 minutes. 

Photo: Heavy rains fall on our back yard, but in the distance, sunshine is already breaking through the clouds. 

Surprising, with the frequent experience of sunshine and rain together, one might expect us to see many more rainbows. But sadly, this is not the case. I think it is because the sun as so high above us (almost directly overhead) that the angle is wrong for seeing a rainbow. Nevertheless, I did capture one on my Blackberry just over a year ago. 

Photo: A rainbow over Nyarutarama

Aside from the rainy season, there is not much to talk about with the weather here. The temperature is very steady with daytime highs between 26 and 30 degrees C. We Canadians all have sweaters and light jackets, but we never wear them. 

On our most recent trip to Canada, we stayed from August to November. We soon got into the routine of checking the weather each day before going outside because it is important to dress for the conditions. 

Getting Ready for Christmas

Last night at 7:00 pm, as we were feeling very warm after a long sunny day, Jan said: “Do you feel like putting up the Christmas tree?”  We both decided that it didn’t feel very much like Christmas and we would put it off for another couple of days. It is very strange to have banana trees growing in the back yard during the Christmas season, but this is our home and this our reality. 

 

 

 

Return to Rwanda

Following three months of home assignment in Canada, we boarded a plane for our return trip to Rwanda. The flights were uneventful, although it is always a challenge to adjust time zones.

We were greeted upon return by a dozen colleagues and friends. It was a joyful reunion. We were certainly happy to step out of the airport and into the warm African night air as we walked to the waiting vehicles in the parking lot. Thanks to everyone who made our return so happy. 

Reconnecting

Photo: Canadian and Rwandan friends and colleagues (at the last CIM course, the DRC students gave the Canadians and Rwandans material. Those pictured had their material made into outfits to honour their DRC friends).

We spent the first week unpacking, resting, and reconnecting with various friends and colleagues. We tried to maintain contact during out time in Canada using email and Facebook, but there is no substitution for face to face communication. One of the most interesting conversations involved our friend Andre Sibomana (pictured) who had travelled to Denmark in June. It was his first experience of travel outside of Africa and we were anxious to learn of his adventures. However, we left for Canada before he returned to Rwanda, so it felt like a long time waiting to hear the details. 

Many of you will recall our comments concerning the pace of growth in Rwanda. It has continued in our absence as a number of improvements had been made to the airport, some new roads have been constructed, and a number of new buildings are nearing completion. It is quite remarkable to see the pace of change.

Certificate of Integral Mission

Photo: CIM students and official representatives pose for a photo after graduation.

We planned our return to coincide with the fourth and final module of the Certificate of Integral Mission (CIM). Students from Rwanda, the Democratic of Congo, Denmark and Canada have been meeting for 4 week long training sessions involving a number of key issues concerning theology and the practice of ministry.  Most of the participants are project managers who are learning best practices for writing proposals, building a ‘logic framework’ to ensure our activities are going to impact beneficiaries positively, and other ‘cross cutting’ issues relating to ministry. 

Photo: Jonathan teaches on leadership.

Jonathan was involved in presenting three sessions. Two of them were in the area of leadership development. All teachers from Kenya, Canada and Rwanda were appreciated by everyone. 

On Friday, CIM officially wrapped up and the students were all presented with certificates for their hard work over the past two years. It was truly a day of celebration with representatives from the denominations present to commission the students: Rev. Dr. Molo (representing CBCA in D.R.C), Rev. Dr. Gato (representing AEBR in Rwanda), and Rev. Dr. Aaron Kenny (representing CBM in Canada). 

Back to Slow Internet

Photo: Our night guard, Asciele, supervising the workman installing the fibre optic cable

The only two negatives of our return to Kigali include; 1) we both had a brief experience of stomach issues, and 2) we are forced to adjust to slow and unpredictable internet again. It was so nice to be in Canada with unlimited high speed internet nearly everywhere we went. Sometimes we stopped at a Tim Horton’s or Starbucks for a coffee and a bit of Internet surfing when we were on the road in Canada. It is definitely not as simple here … but all that may be changing. As we write this, there are workmen installing a fibre optic connection to our house here in Kimihurura. They installed the basic infrastructure in our neighbourhood in June, and the company is offering free installation until Christmas. So, we are early adopters of fibre optics in Rwanda. We will let you know how it works out after we’ve had a few months to try it. 

That is our news for now. We trust that God will bless you and your family in the months ahead. 

And please remember to consider the CBM Gifts for Change catalogue for some life-changing ideas for gift giving this Christmas. 

Homemade mandazi (Rwandan doughnuts) and a cup of fairtrade coffee made for the perfect start to our Rwandan night at Kanata Baptist Church. Over 100 people came out to hear about our adventures and to support the fundraiser.

Photo: Jonathan & Jan share some fun stories

Jonathan and Jan shared about some cultural adjustments.  Jonathan shared about different standards of modesty, and how he has felt “naked” both in Rwanda and Canada.  Jan talked about some of the differences between Rwandan and Canadian bathrooms.

If you missed the presentation here is a short clip:

Cultural Adjustment – Modesty from Jonathan Mills on Vimeo.

 

Sights and Sounds of Rwanda (and Burundi)

Photo: David Rukundo sings 

A friend from Matthew House Ottawa, David Rukundo, sang his original songs in English, French and Kurundi.  This young man sings from his heart with emotion and with his love for God.  It was a joy to see him again and see how God has blessed his life.

Photo: Grace and Christelle dance

Of course a Rwandan celebration is not complete without some traditional dancers. Grace and Christelle performed two beautiful dances to help the audience feel like they were in Rwanda.  “They were as beautiful as cows!” and even had the bells on to add to the music.

Photo: Sharing about the work of CBM and AEBR

The biggest part of the evening was sharing about the wonderful partnership between CBM (Canadian Baptist Ministries) and AEBR (Association d’Eglises Baptiste aux Rwanda). Integral Mission is key to everything we do together from Leadership Development to Food Security; “Embracing a broken world through word and deed.”   The ministries in Rwanda are a blessing to us as well as to the beneficiaries.

The IT Project

One Short Term Mission Team has been virtual until recently.  When the Mills asked members of Kanata Baptist Church to participate in building a server and network for the AEBR with enterprise financial software running on it, a number of IT professionals agreed to help. Over the past months this plan has seen incredible progress as the hardware, software and technical expertise have all come together.

Photo: Silicone Chip keychains. A perfect nerdy accessory

The Sept 23rd event at Kanata Baptist was a fundraiser to ensure there are sufficient funds to complete the server project. It is an exciting time for everyone involved in the project because the AEBR will finally have the right kind of software available to allow the Administration department to manage the finances of the organization efficiently.