All posts by Jonathan Mills

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.

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. 

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. 


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. 


Photo: The Director of the Babazi Health Centre

The Association of Baptist Churches in Rwanda (AEBR) operate two health centres in Rwanda. Despite many improvements in national delivery of health care in recent years, there is still a need for regional health centres in the rural areas.

Photo: The hilly terrain of Western Rwanda. Many villages are only accessible by foot or motorcycle

Here in Bubazi, the health centre has been serving the region for many years providing diagnostic services, basic surgical care, maternity and delivery, medical counselling, and emergency care. More significant medical emergencies are referred to hospitals nearby.

Photo: A lab technician provides important diagnostics for local residents

When I was very sick and in the hospital last year, I remember how much of a relief it was to know that the lab would determine whether I had malaria or not and soon start treatment. I just remember lying in the hospital bed recalling the words of my friend, Dr Tim Kelton: “Malaria is probably not going to kill you, but you may wish you were dead.” Apparently, that’s how bad it feels to have malaria. It turns out I only had amoebas. But I’ve never been been so thankful for the lab technicians making their diagnosis so the treatment could begin.

photo: a traditional Rwandan stretcher

This is a photo of a traditional Rwandan stretcher. We had seen one in the museum in Butare but we were told that they are not in use any longer, so it was a surprised to see this one. If you look at the cross beams supporting the stretcher, you can see some round banana leaf rings near the ends. The stretcher is carried on the heads of four men – and the leaf rings provide a little cushion. These men carried this women for several kilometres over treacherous terrain to bring her for treatment. This is a great example of how the community members support one another. Believe it or not, in the above photograph the woman is still in the stretcher. She was very very sick, as you can see from this next photo.

photo: A very sick woman is helped from the stretcher to the triage room

In recent years, the health centre’s role has changed somewhat. Today, they send health workers into the local villages to meet people and provide basic health care information. It is a more proactive role that is aimed at prevention. Visiting the centre was quite inspiring knowing how much of a difference these men and women are making in the lives of thousands of locals in that region.

photo: A well equipped bathroom

It may seem strange to be taking a photo of a bathroom, but it was to remind me of the challenges they still face out here in the countryside. This health centre has excellent facilities with showers, sinks and hand washing stations, and toilets — but the water pipe that services this area has not been operational for more than 5 years. This means the centre has to have its water carried in ‘gerry cans’ every day. It also means that proper sanitation is a much bigger challenge than it would be if the water was hooked up. We are hoping a water project will happen in the near future to address this problem.

photo: One of the offices where dedicated medical professionals provide advice and assistance to local villagers



A few weeks ago, we posted photos about the long journey which led Doug and Annie Burt to Rwanda for a building project. Follow this link to read Building a Church Roof in Rwanda part 1. Also, Annie was busy visiting women’s groups while Doug was doing all this construction work. You can read about Annie’s adventures at A Week with Women.

Photo: Doug and Annie show photos of their family to Pastors Joseph & Anthony (Partially finished church stands in the background)

Preparing for Work in Africa

Despite having many years of experience building churches in Canada, Doug knows enough that you don’t just climb a ladder and start working on a church in a different country / continent. Building standards are different, tools are different, safety standards are different, and building materials are different. There is definitely a learning curve involved in this kind of undertaking.

Photo: Doug measures the wall for the proper positioning of the trusses

Fabricating the Building Trusses

The first order of business was fabricating the building trusses. In Canada you send the drawings to a shop and they get delivered to the job site. Here in Rwanda, you have to build them yourself. The process involves finding a level spot and carefully piecing together the first truss. Then, one by one, additional trusses are build on top of the previous ones. Once they have all been fabricated and welded, they are removed from the pile, flipped over, and the welds are completed on the opposite side. They are painted to prevent rust, and then carried by hand into the building.

Photo: Doug and the Engineer examine the fabricated trusses all stacked one on top of the other

Photo: A workman welds the truss together

Lifting the Trusses into Place

While there are cranes to do heavy lifts in Rwanda, these were not in our budget. So, Doug learned how truss lifting is done by hand. Once they were fabricated and carried into the church building, the crew prepares the tops of the walls to evenly carry the weight. Working together, a group of men lift one end up onto one side, then the other end onto the opposite wall (it is inverted when they begin). Next, they lift the truss until it is up as high as the men can lift it by hand. Then, they get long lifting sticks with a Y on the end. The sticks are carefully place into the truss, and the lifting continues. Eventually, the truss is lifted and secured just before it reaches 90 degrees (it will rest on the supports to keep it in place until they are ready to secure it later).


Photo: the workmen lift the first truss into place

Photo: The third truss is lifted into place

Fastening the Cross Members

Finally, the trusses are welded to each other using cross members. These cross pieces will eventually be used to hold the “iron sheets” on top to make the roof complete. But as you look at these photos below, you will see that this ‘high steel’ work is not for the faint of heart, nor those who are afraid of heights.


Photo: Cross members being fastened. Note the handsome guy in the overalls (front right). 

Photo: Climbing up to the very top with an arc welder to fasten the cross members in place

Photo: The view from the truss as it is being lifted into place

The Finished Church

Unfortunately, Doug’s month in Rwanda ended before the iron sheets could be fastened to the trusses — completing the roof project. However, the team appreciated Doug’s energy and enthusiasm, along with his wise advice on the job. Together, they build a structurally sound church building that will be a hub of spiritual growth and activity in the Musanze region for years to come.

Photo: The roof is beginning to take shape

Photo: Putting up the last truss

Photo: Doug and Simon, his translator for two weeks

Whenever you go on a Short Term Mission (STM) team, you never know what might happen. Take for example the recent visit with Randy and Cheryl Vanderveen from Grande Prairie, Alberta. They visited a literacy graduation presentation in the remote village of Nyangahinika. Following the service, Randy wanted to get a good photo of all the graduates, so they assembled everyone for a nice group shot. Just as everything was ready to go, a cow decided to photo bomb the scene leaving everyone smiling!

Photo: A cow brings smiles to the literacy graduates

No problem. They sometimes have stray cows in Grande Prairie too, don’t they? Randy handled the situation in stride, and the group photos eventually were taken.

Randy is a professional photographer who has produced a number of beautiful show books following previous STM trips to Rwanda. CBM’s communication department took notice of his excellent photos and entered into discussion with him about the possibility of a specific STM aimed at taking quality images for CBM to use for various projects. Before long, Randy and Cheryl were boarding a plane in Canada in early November for a three month experience of Rwanda.

Photo: Speaking of unexpected things: The Women’s cooperative group gave Cheryl & Esperence each a Live Rabbit

The Vanderveens are no strangers to Short Term Mission experiences. Nor were they unfamiliar with Rwanda having served on several STM trips with their home church in Grande Prairie over the past 10 years. McLaurin Baptist church, and their sister church Webster, became STEP partners with CBM 10 years ago, and the Vanderveens have been key leaders for many of the STM’s over the years.

Photo: Randy working his magic with the camera

Randy wasn’t the only one using his talents for good use. Cheryl applied her experience as a nurse in a number of settings including our walk through of one of the AEBR’s rural health centres. In addition, she was involved in many conversations with everyday Rwandans in various settings including the gentleman (pictured below) who had suffered a stroke a few years earlier. Cheryl showed great patience and love as she learned of his daily challenges. After prayer, we made sure he had some essential food provisions before driving back to Kigali (Rabbit stew, as it turns out).

Photo: Cheryl speaks with an elderly man in his home

We enjoyed having the Vanderveens in Rwanda for their three month visit. Only now, a few weeks after their departure, are we hearing stories of how many lives have been impacted by their gentle, compassionate relationship building. A number of families have reconnected with the church and recommitted their lives to Christ after being visited by Randy and Cheryl. Perhaps one of the enduring symbols of the impact they made, are the names given to them by the church in Kinigi. The Rwandans were finding their names difficult to pronounce, so they gave them the names Amahoro (peace) and Urukundo (love).

Photo: Jonathan saying goodbye to Randy and Cheryl at the airport

The seasons in Rwanda are not marked by large swings in temperature as they are in Canada. Instead, they are characterized by rain or no rain. I was first introduced to this concept in Kenya when they explained to our short term mission team that they had ‘long rains’ and ‘short rains’ which were separated by two dry seasons. The situation is similar in Rwanda except that the landscape is much higher in altitude which forces the air to rise causing precipitation.

Rwanda is blessed with an abundance of rain not enjoyed by many neighbouring countries. Generally, these rains are reliable and the country is mostly green and agriculturally productive, particularly in the two rainy seasons (the South East is the exception where lower elevations mean drier weather).

Photo: a view of our street with dark clouds in the distance

For the past few weeks, one of our prayers has been to see the rains begin. After a very long dry season, the grass around Kigali is dry and brown and people are anxious for the new growing season to begin. Most will wait for the rains before they plant their crops, and everything hinges on the timing of the first rain. The delay in the start of the rains has been a concern and it has a potentially devastating effect on subsistence farmers if they are not able to produce a good harvest.

So, yesterday I decided to take our dog, Sadie for a good long walk. We set out in the afternoon and I clicked a quick picture of our street (above) because I thought it was interesting the way the road crews had dumped these truck-loads of gravel in preparation for resurfacing our street.

After about 10 minutes, it started to rain but I was prepared — I had taken my umbrella.

It turned out I was not as prepared as I thought I was, as the rain quickly became a torrential downpour. Winds picked up and at times the rain was falling at 45 degrees reducing the umbrella’s effectiveness to the upper part of my body. Within 3 to 5 minutes, the dog and I were both soaking wet.

Photo: The view of our street 10 minutes later after a heavy downpour

By the time we had walked back to the house, we were dripping wet. This second photo shows how much water had fallen in 10 minutes; the road had turned into a small lake. My pants and shoes were completely soaked. I can’t even imagine how miserable it would have felt if I had forgotten the umbrella.

Photo: Our little dog Sadie arriving home completely soaked to the bone

Doesn’t our dog look sad? I tried to cover her with the umbrella but it was no use. We arrived in the house and dried off and then Sadie curled up under a blanket and fell asleep.

Apart from the inconvenience of being caught out in the rain, this is good news for Rwanda. The soil received a good soaking and the growing season can begin. Here in this country, rain is always considered a blessing. It is a symbol of God’s provision and care for all people. We thank God for the rain.

Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.  Exodus 23:16

Last year I posted a brief note about the annual celebration services that are held in all 13 regions of the AEBR each year. Denominational leaders and local dignitaries and officials gather for a wonderful worship service full of music, dance, scripture, and reports of what God has done in the church over the past year. Instead of having a formal, annual meeting as we might do in our churches in Canada, the AEBR churches choose to incorporate their annual reports into this worship service each year.

Photo: The church is too small for all the guests so the service is held outside

The typical service will have three large marquis tents set up in a U shape. The guests are seated according to ‘protocol’ with the Legal Representative and Regional pastors sitting in the front rows, along with politicians, civic leaders and other high ranking officials (there is no ‘separation of church and state here.’ We have had mayors, regional leaders, Provincial governors and even Members of Parliament at many of the services).


Bring in the Choirs!

Photo: A choir member illustrates the song visually by building a brick wall

As the choirs sing, they always dance and use hand gestures as a way of acting out the song lyrics. It is also common for someone to illustrate the song, as this woman is doing, using some kind of object lesson. I believe it was to illustrate that the church is built on the foundation of Christ.

One of the reasons these celebration services are so long (typically between 4 and 6 hours!), is because all of the churches in the region participate and most have at least one choir. Canadians might suggest making a limit on the number of choirs in order to streamline the service, but who do you cut? It is a wonderful feast for the senses as we enjoy the many different songs of worship.

Photo: Seraphim Melodies choir

These previous two pictures are of the Seraphim Melodies choir (and the band). I joined the choir about eight months ago and it has been a great challenge learning lyrics, new song rhythms and a very different style of playing for both bass and guitar. Even though it has been a bit of a steep learning curve, it has been a fantastic experience to sing and play music in a different cultural context.


Fomal Introductions

In the worship services, as I mentioned earlier, the seating is always arranged by protocol. At some point in the service formal introductions are made. Politicians, leaders from other denominations, and the AEBR leaders all come forward to bring greetings and introduce themselves.

Photo: The Regional Pastors and their Spouses

Photo: Wendy and Ken Derksen and Jonathan bring greetings to the congregation

Service of Ordination

Photo: New Pastors are introduced

This was a special Sunday for the Kacyiru church because seven pastors were ordained. This photo is taken as they were being introduced to the congregation. Following a service of dedication and prayer, they received their collars as a symbol of ordination. (Blue shirts are first level ordination. Black shirts are second level ordination. Wine shirts are for Regional Pastors).

Photo: Our colleague, Justin, kneels for the ordination prayer with his young daughter

Preaching the Word

Photo: Preaching the Word of God with translator and colleague Andre Sibomana

It was a very great honour to be asked to preach at this celebration service in Kigali. Even though the Kigali region is numerically smaller than most of the other regions, it is the location of the AEBR head office and it has a significant leadership role for the whole denomination. This is also our home church (in Kacyiru) and so it was a double honour for me to be able to preach at my home church for the first time.

Traditional Dance

Photo: Children from the church stage a beautiful traditional dance

One of the wonderful traditions preserved in Rwandan culture is dance. It is always a treat to have a group of young people perform a choreographed dance as part of the worship. It is wonderful to see the way Rwandans have been able to preserve and celebrate their culture.


The End of the Service

After reading the annual report to the congregation, there is usually a time for final speeches; with the most senior government representative giving a short talk (usually about 30 minutes). Then a final hymn is sung and a benediction draws the service to a close.

Photo: Dark clouds start to move in

However, on this particular Sunday, dark clouds began to move in during the reading of the annual report. By the time Pastor Gato was finished, it had started to rain and everyone huddled under the marquis for shelter.

Photo: It rained so hard, the ground was covered in water within a few minutes

Soon, the sound system was dismantled and whisked away to the church to keep it safe from the rain. After 15 minutes, one of the pastors ventured out into the rain with an umbrella and shouted a benediction over the sound of the pouring rain. Despite this somewhat anti-climactic finish, the service was a great success and everyone was encouraged and uplifted because of it.

Imagine a service like this in each region for 13 consecutive Sundays every fall! It is a great way to celebrate what God is doing in the churches and to witness first hand the vitality and health of this denomination. We are so thankful to be part of what God is doing in the AEBR.