AEBR

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. 

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. 

Babazi-Health-Centre-Director

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

 

 

When we first visited the church in Musanze, they had recently suffered a great tragedy. Pastor Dismas, the Regional Pastor in charge of this parish, was very close to completing the construction of the church building. It had taken several years to save money and arrange for the construction of the four walls. Only a week before my visit they had installed the main rafters for the roof. But tragically, a severe wind storm had come one night and all the rafters fell down, destroying them all and leaving the church community reeling.

Photo: Pastor Dismas and the damaged church rafters 

Meanwhile, back in our home church in Ottawa, Jan was having some conversations with Doug and Annie Burt. Doug is a master carpenter who has build and renovated over 50 churches in Canada during his career, including Kanata Baptist Church. When the Burts first heard about our appointment to Rwanda, Doug immediately said to Jan, “If you ever have a build, let me know.” Doug and Annie had been to Kenya on an Short Term Mission (STM) team in 2009, and Doug has also been involved in construction STM’s in Jamaica and Mexico. After visiting the church in Musanze, we both immediately thought about Doug and Annie, and we started discussing the logistics of how and when they might be able to come to Rwanda.

Over the Christmas holidays, this ‘possible’ STM became very definite. Annie made it crystal clear to Jan that she believed God wanted them to come to Rwanda as soon as possible. They had already started to take steps to come for the month of March. Everything was moving forward.

More Challenges for the Musanze Church

Shortly after the collapse of the church rafters, Pastor Dismas retired. This meant that the congregation suffered another loss with the departure of their long-serving pastor. The once strong church of Musanze was soon down to a handful of Christian men and women.

In December of last year a new Regional Pastor was appointed; Rev. Joseph Hdayambaje. He is a young, energetic man with passion and great capacity for leading the parish of Musanze, but he began with many significant problems. The church building, with its broken down rafters seemed a fitting metaphor for this troubled church community.

Jan and I travelled to see Pastor Joseph at the parsonage in Musanze in mid-February so that we could tell him about the upcoming Burt STM. As we spoke to one another, there was a loud clanging sound coming from outside. We went to see what the noise was all about and discovered a truck unloading long sections of steel tubular steel. Pastor Joseph was very happy and he explained that these had been ordered to build new rafters for the church. He told us that the church had experienced a miraculous turn around in the two months since he had arrived. The small handful of believers had already grown to over 200 Christians. Everyone was excited and eager to get working on the church again and they had already hired an engineer and ordered the materials for the church.

Photo: The tubular steel for fabricating the new rafters

Confirmation from God

My first thought, when I saw the new materials for the rafters was; “Oh no, the Burts are only a few weeks from arriving in Rwanda, and the church has made their own plans to rebuild the rafters. What is Doug going to do when he gets here?!!”  But I kept that thought to myself. Over lunch, Jan told Pastor Joseph she was excited to see the new steel arrive because there was a couple from Canada coming in March to help rebuild the church. He was overwhelmed with emotion and spontaneously shouted; “Praise the Lord!” In fact, he was so emotional at this news, it took him a few moments to compose himself. Finally, he told us why he was so emotional.

He said: “Three days earlier, he woke up in the morning and his wife said, ‘I had a vision in my dream last night.’ She told me that in this vision she had seen a group of muzungus (white people) visit. They had come to help rebuild the church.” Then he looked at us with a trembling voice and he said; “And now you are telling me they are coming!” It was a moment of great joy for us all as we started to see that all these isolated details were coming together into one cohesive plan. And we all realized that it was no mere coincidence. This was a divine moment with God moving the hearts of two families who had never met, in preparation for this important project of building up and strengthen the church.

Photo: Pastor Joseph and his wife

Day One in Musanze

Yesterday (March 11) we drove up to Musanze with Doug and Annie after a few days of orientation in Kigali. The wait was over. The time had come to roll up our sleeves and begin!

After the obligatory introductions and speeches, Pastor Joseph took all of us on a tour of the church to inspect the current status of project, and begin making plans for the next steps. Our Canadian colleague Ken Derksen also joined the group for the day since he is an Architectural Technologist. After many questions from Doug, the Pastor called the architect who drove over and gave very helpful answers about the current walls, the planned rafters, and how things could be expected to progress over the coming weeks.

Photo: Doug Burt and Ken Derksen discuss plans with the Architect and Pastors Joseph & Anthony. They are standing in front of the tangled steel salvaged from the previous rafters. 

It is hard to describe how significant this project is for the community of believers here in Musanze. It is more than just a house of worship. It is also a place for women to learn to read; for teens to learn about nutrition and healthy relationships; for mothers to encourage one another in raising their children; for children to come and play together and learn about the love and mercy of God. We thank God for the opportunity to make an impact on the people of this region, and look forward to seeing progress over the coming 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

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.

In my last post, I mentioned the importance of relationship building and all the travelling I have been doing to meet personally with all regional pastors. I posted the blog on Saturday, July the 18th. Later that day we learned the sad news that Habyarimana Francois, one of the regional pastors, had passed away the same day.

On April 24th, I had visited pastor Francois at his home in Gikongoro (gee-kong-gore-oh). About eight weeks later, I saw him at a meeting in Kigali and he told me he was not very well. It was clear from his face that he had lost weight. A week later, he was in the hospital with a diagnosis of Tuberculosis. Apparently the x-rays showed that his lungs had suffered extensive damage.

Photo: Jonathan with Pastor Francois and his wife receiving a housewarming gift of flour and sugar

The Funeral Service

On Sunday, July 19th Rwandan Baptist (AEBR) and Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) staff all drove out to the church in Kabaya in the Western province for Pastor Francois’s funeral service. Since embalming is not practiced here, the funeral service usually happens within 24 hours of death. As members of CBM’s field staff, we were invited to sit at the front of the church in the places of honour among the regional pastors.

I was given a special honour of being invited to be one of the pall bearers, along with the other pastors. In addition, I was invited to place a bouquet of flowers on the grave as a representative of CBM and all Canadian Baptists.

Photo: The pall bearers carry the coffin to Pastor Francois’ final resting place

While I did not know Pastor Francois extremely well, I was drawn to his quiet, humble nature. He was a ‘big man’ but he carried himself as a humble servant, and he was respected for his many acts of grace and kindness. Many people recalled how he would appear at their house with a bag of flour or a basket of fruit to give to the family in a time of need. It is our prayer that his life will inspire many more pastors to lead, as Pastor Francois did; with humility and integrity.

He leaves behind a wife and nine children.