Life in Rwanda

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! 

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. 





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



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 Master Plan

You know that most cities have a master plan. It is somewhere in city hall and it lays out the future plans for the city. In most cases, the focus is on transportation and infrastructure with zoning designed to establish different types of future development (zoning for housing, industry, recreation, etc).

Since moving to Rwanda, I have thought a lot about this kind of foresight in planning. I don’t know about other countries in Africa but Rwanda has a master plan — both for the city of Kigali and also for the country as a whole. This is a testament to their well developed governance at the national level. Given the very limited size of the country (26,338 sq Km), and the growing population (11.7 Million; which makes it the most densely populated nation in Africa), they have to be extremely proactive in planning for the preservation of farmland and the creation of higher density residential communities in order to avoid disaster.

Photo: City of Kigali Plan for New City Centre

But how does a country go from a poorly planned infrastructure to a place where the buildings and roads are modern and functional? It starts with a plan, and it must be implemented step by step. As the saying goes; “You have to walk before you can run.”

The Example of Roads

When I get stuck in traffic, I often find myself thinking; “If they could change this road by adding ‘this’ or ‘that,’ they could resolve this traffic congestion problem.” But I am guilty of the most basic error of international development: a country’s infrastructure must grow incrementally.

For example, Toronto did not have a multi-lane 401 highway in the 1950’s. It wasn’t needed at that time. But as the city has grown, the roads and infrastructure have grown with it.

So, as a Canadian living in Rwanda, I might like to see a multi-lane super highway connecting the cities but that is an impossible dream for now. The country is struggling with basic infrastructure such as clean drinking water, sanitation, universal public education, and economic development. With the majority of the population having access to only one form of transportation–walking–roads are simply not the highest priority.

In reality, I need to adjust my attitude and think about the long process of development. It is frustrating at times, but just like boats riding on the tide, everything grows together.  Rwanda’s pace of development is accelerating rapidly. But even so, I need to remember ‘you must walk before you run.’

So, I take great comfort when I drive outside the city. Along all the major routes, there are red & white cement posts every km on either side of the road approximately 10 to 20 feet from the edge of the current roadway.  These posts mark the future roadway which will be built some day. There is enough space for a 4 lane divided highway. The red posts inform residents that if they build anything (a home or store) inside this space, it will be torn down when they expand the road some day. It will be many years before these expanded roads become a reality, but there is a plan.

Photo: The Red & White post marking the land reserved for widening the highway

It’s a great lesson, actually, for life and ministry. Without a plan, sometimes it’s hard to keep on track and make progress. But when we have a plan, we can track the progress and remember that we are on a longer journey which takes time. It’s gives me something to think about … when I’m stuck in traffic.

“… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6

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.

Since arriving in Rwanda last August, we have enjoyed a number of trips to the three main National Parks in Rwanda: Akagera Park (a typical African safari park), Nyungwe Park (a rainforest), and Volcanos National Park (the Gorilla protected area on the side of the volcanos in the North). There are also some pictures of wildlife made while travelling, and the monkeys who periodically visit our back yard.

We have enjoyed taking pictures of wildlife as we have opportunity, and the following gallery is a collection of some of our favourite photos. The photo credits are spread around: Janice Mills; Jonathan Mills; Calvin Mills; and Samantha Larsen. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

You can click the slideshow, or click a thumbnail and browse through the images – click the arrows to navigate through (the comments will only appear when you click on the pictures). Enjoy!

What business does a pastor have in a local saloon?!!

Well, it took us a while to figure it out but this somewhat salacious title actually means something very different here in Rwanda. For some strange reason, Rwandans spell salon with two o’s. So, it is actually a hair salon (not a saloon in the ‘wild west’ sense of the word). On one or two occasions, we have tried to explain the difference to local Rwandans but the humour of it gets lost in translation.

Photo: The “God is King” Saloon. No booze, just hair cuts

Not long after settling into our neighbourhood in Kigali, I noticed a saloon not far from our house and I decided that it would be a good idea to get over my fear and uncertainty and just go for a haircut (I think my upbringing in the military has left me with a deep sense of ambivalence when it comes to getting a hair cut!). So, with some Rwandan Francs in hand, I went to the saloon and asked the young man if he knew how to cut Muzungu (white man) hair. He assured me he did, and so I sat in the chair for my first hair cut in Africa.

First a description: the small room was sparsely furnished. There were two straight back chairs for the clients, and each had a thin side table in front of it with a small mirror. The barber had one electric razor. That’s it. No combs. No Barbisol. No apron. No scissors. Just a single razor. For the majority of Rwandans, a simple short shave is the standard hair cut and so the one razor is sufficient.

The Haircut

It wasn’t long into my haircut that I realized I was in some trouble. My friendly barber was clearly struggling with the unique characteristics of straight hair. In fact, he spent more time talking than cutting because he was very interested in why I was in Rwanada and what my ministry was going to entail. We had a long, wide ranging discussion about many things including the economy, the lack of jobs, and the need for entrepreneurialism.  And this is where things really got interesting. My friendly barber confessed that he had not had any hair cutting training; he was a business student who had recently graduated from University and couldn’t find work. So, he decided a saloon was a good opportunity since the startup costs were low and the customer base was limitless.

After some time, he finally finished the cut and I paid for my haircut (he asked for $1.40 Canadian but I gave him $2.80). When I got home, Jan and I had a good laugh at my haircut. Soon, she was pulling out our own scissors and comb to try to ‘tidy up’ the haircut. Of course, one of the great things about a bad haircut is that it will grow out sooner or later.

Photo: Jonthan’s Haircut. Don’t worry, that bald spot in the back will grow out.

Entrepreneurs and Opportunities

One of the great challenges of many developing nations is the need for job creation. Governments can do a lot to create incentives for job creation but often the responsibility falls to the citizens themselves to create opportunities for self-employment. But it is a big challenge given that the majority of the population are still subsistence farmers. Produce is sold at the local market and people make enough to provide for life’s necessities, but not much else. Since few people have very much disposable income, there is not a big market for non-essential products, and so it is difficult to start businesses. It is a vicious cycle.

In the year that we have been here in Rwanda, we have seen a number of hopeful entrepreneurs like the barber shop owner. He had drive and ambition and was willing to take a personal risk to start a business, but he didn’t consider the customer’s expectation that his service would be of a high standard. Sadly, his saloon closed about 2 months ago. We have seen other examples of entrepreneurs who have started their business well but they failed to consider the long term operational expenses and they were not able to sustain their business for the long term.

Capacity Building

One of the very important ministries carried out through the CBM/AEBR partnership involves economic development, particularly in rural communities. In many families, the first need is to help them to be in a better position to provide for their everyday needs so a goat or a big is provided as a means to improve their livelihood. In addition, training is provided to help them increase their capacity to grow a small business. For example, a small investment in pig feed will increase the size and quality of a pig’s litter. More piglets means more profit which more than offsets the small investment in pig feed.

Several other projects are underway to help build economic capacity in rural communities. For example, a cooperative is an easy way for a group of people to contribute a small amount which can be pooled together to provide the purchasing power needed to begin a business. All profits of this business are divided between the shareholders. In every case, these projects are not ‘giving someone a fish’ but rather they are ‘teaching someone how to fish.’ In this photo, a large cooperative has met to discuss their progress and learn from AEBR field agents how their investment would used to purchase a small grinding mill to process grain into flour.

Photo: The Gahara cooperative learns about their investment and how their business will provide a profit 

The economic challenges are significant but we have seen some remarkable success stories which are used to inspire others and show a way out of the crushing grip of poverty. Please remember the poor and make it a part of your regular giving to provide a helping hand to those who are in need.

Click this link to read more about CBM’s work in Food Security and Community Development or to make a donation.

It is hard to imagine what it is like to live on $2 a day.  This is the average income of a person in Rwanda.  Living in a house made from mud bricks, fetching water from the river, eating rice and beans every day make for a simple life.  In some ways it almost sounds appealing to leave behind the hectic lifestyle of North America.  However, the Grande Prairie STM (Short Term Mission Team) got a first hand account of what it is truly like.

Photo: Stephanie and Andreas fetch water from a local stream

Ten members from Webster and McLaurin Baptist church were looking forward to spending a day with a Guardians of Hope beneficiary (for an explanation of this program, see below).*  They went in teams of two with a translator to a traditional Rwandan home.  Most of the families couldn’t believe that these muzungus (white people) were willing to humble themselves and do every day chores with them.  Fetching water from the stream, carrying the jerry can on their heads (or attempting to do so), working in the fields, and cooking a meal were part of the experience.

Seeing Pastor Luke peeling potatoes in the muslim home was a moving experience.  The wife has been a part of the GOH group and her children have been attending Sunday School. But  the husband has not accompanied them.  He was quite overwhelmed by the situation.  His words later were, “Now this is love in action!” Since eating together is an important part of Rwandan culture sharing lunch with the family made a big impact.  It is said, “We can’t cry together unless we have eaten together first.”  The young three year old even shared her potato with Pastor Luke after taking a few bites herself.  She cried when they left and still asks after them today, more than a week later.

Photo: Pastor Luke peeling potatoes with Joanne and their translator Laetitia

However, not all families were able to eat with their guests.  Father and daughter team (Trevor and Stephanie) went to the home of a young 23 year old girl.  She had returned home from the city to raise her siblings after her mother died from AIDS.  Unfortunately the mother had sold everything to feed the children in her last days even the roof and the land surrounding the small house.  Inside there was a mattress, a pot (for cooking) and a jerry can (for carrying water). The GOH group had managed to put a new roof on the little house and secure the windows. The team members had brought food with them as a gift but there was no way to boil water without wood or charcoal.  A child was sent to borrow a charcoal burner and buy some hot coals.  A small pot of porridge was put on for the children.  Trevor and Stephanie went without food that day in order to leave more for the children.  This is especially important to note that HIV/AIDS meds can only be given if children are eating regularly. Often the young 10 year old is denied medication until the older sister is able to feed her. The pastor of the area is mentoring this young woman to be self sufficient and to set up a fruit and vegetable stand in order to earn income for her young family. The teenage boys have left for the city to order to try and find work.

Photo: Trevor and Stephanie with their host family

Two of our team members, Andreas and Tabea (brother and sister) got to help build a house!  The woman they were visiting had asked for prayer just the month before because she was living on her own with 8 children in a 10 x 6 ft. stick home.  The government had come through with some iron sheeting for a roof.  The GOH group helped with bamboo-like supports for the walls and roof.  Then Andreas, Tabea and others helped make mud bricks to build the walls.  This was quite an exciting day for the family and the team members.

Photo: Andreas puts the finishing touches on mud bricks

Photo: Tabea helps prepare food for lunch

Courtney and David spent the day with Beatrice, a widow who lives with her 6 children and her 104 year old father. She radiates joy and hope in her every action.  Cheryl and Randy helped at the home of a grandmother who also has HIV.  She has only one of her own children left at home but is also raising many of her grandchildren.  She has been quite resourceful as a business woman in the community.  Whether she is selling fruit and vegetables, eggs, manure, or milk she is a great example to the group about hope for the future.

Photo: Beatrice with Courtney, David and Michel their translator

The STM learned a lot from this day but it also helped the GOH participants.  They are often ostracized by the community because of the stigma of being HIV positive.  Having muzungus in their home raises their status in society.  Not just for the day but for many months to come.  It gives them hope for the future that someone cares and is praying for them.  Regular check ups on each of these families is done by field staff and we are looking forward to the future for each of them.

Photo: Cheryl and Randy visit a woman raising her grandchildren

It is building partnerships like this that making being the Global Discipleship Facilitator so very exciting.  Many people question whether STMs make any difference in mission work.  Maybe sending money would be better.  But when you see the smiles on the faces and the joy in the hearts of both the team members and the nationals, one sees the importance of relationships in mission work.  God uses us in ways that we can not imagine and we need to be open to whatever He calls us to do.  Even if it is peeling potatoes…

*Guardians of Hope is a CBM/AEBR program that helps families affected by HIV/AIDS. Click this link for more information about CBM’s strategic work in AIDS and healthcare, or here for a Fact Sheet.


As I have been sitting in worship here in Rwanda, there have been many times that I have thought about the differences in the way they do things here. Some things seem, in my opinion, to be things Canadians could learn from while other things are areas where our Rwandan friends could benefit from a little Canadian influence. This is all part of the cross-cultural experience of worship outside of one’s familiar context.

One does not need to travel around the world to have a cross cultural experience in worship. I remember how different it was moving from a rural church in Nova Scotia to a big city church in Toronto in the 1990’s. The country church was informal, casual and generally stuck to a few favourite hymns of the faith (Fanny Crosby seemed to be on the list every Sunday).  In contrast, the city church was liturgical with an emphasis on excellence in music. There was a definite preference for classical music and everything was done with great dignity and formality.

Learning and Sharing

We have posted a previous blog on worship in the Baptist Churches in Rwanda. At that time, everything was so new and interesting. Now,  seven months later, things are becoming more familiar. We enjoy the vitality and the energy of the worship here and even though we still don’t catch very much of the language, we feel very much a part of the worshipping community. There are definitely times when I think to myself, “I wish I had experienced this when I was getting started in ministry since I could have benefitted from the way the Rwandans lead their services.”  And there are other times when I think to myself, “In this area, I think our Rwandan friends could learn from the Canadian church.”

So, this blog is about the sharing of strengths between Rwandan and Canadian Baptists. Some personal reflections on two very different kinds of worship.

An Introduction to Rwandan Worship

A typical worship service starts at 9:00 am and runs until around 12:00 noon. It starts with the worship team leading the congregation in singing, followed by the presentation of songs by the choirs. Interestingly, every choir starts with a short ‘warm up’ song (usually a familiar chorus) which is not rehearsed. This is followed immediately by their anthem. Our church has 6 or 7 different choirs and each choir sings two songs (this is one of the reasons why the services are so long). Interspersed in all the music are a variety of Scripture readings, formal greetings (welcoming newcomers, testimonies, etc) and the offering. Finally, the Pastor preaches for about 60 minutes. Then there are announcements and the final worship song.

So, I have compiled a few short video highlights of some things which are very different in the Rwandan Baptist churches (compared to Canadian Baptist churches) — followed by one comment about a possible lesson to learn.

1) Movement; No Words; Call and Answer

This is a short video of the worship team singing. Notice that they cannot sing without moving (noted in our previous blog). Also, there are no words for the worship team or congregation to follow (they do have a song book, but it is seldom used). Instead, the music tends to be structured in a ‘call and answer’ format. You can hear the worship leader giving the first words of the following line of music as a cue which the worship team and congregation follow. While this style is more challenging for the worship leader, and tends to be more repetitive, it is wonderfully liberating to focus one’s attention on worshipping God.

*Canadian Church take note: You can learn to sing songs from memory.*

2) The Choir Warm Up Song

This is a peculiarity of Rwandan worship I have not encountered elsewhere: each choir sings a short warm up song before they sing their main anthem. This very brief video captures the initial moment when the choir song leader begins singing the warm up song. Listen carefully and you will hear the pianist search for the key. This is because the singer always starts first, establishing the key for the song (and the musicians have to find the key before they can play along). [All my Canadian musician friends are having a heart attack at the thought of having to adapt the music to any key signature (five sharps anyone?)].

*Rwandan Church take note: Good preparation (at practice earlier in the week, and vocal warmups on Sunday) should prepare you to be able to start singing your anthem without the need for a warm up song.*

As a side note, my musician friends will be intrigued by the Kinyarwanda song book which does not use musical notation but rather the do re mi scale for the tune. I’ve never seen this before, but it is quite useful since the songs seldom have a consistent key signature here. Look at the top of this example to see Song #75 – What a Friend We Have in Jesus written in ‘do re mi’. (you can click on the image to enlarge).

3) Enjoy the Music!

Here is where the Rwandan Baptist worship is full of joy and enthusiasm: movement and dance. In this video, the whole congregation is moving in sync  with the worship team. The ladies immediately in front of us are dancing! If you can catch a glimpse of the worship leader in front (in the yellow shirt), he is jumping up and down. The song is about being liberated of our burdens and the worshippers respond with joy when they declare God’s goodness.

*Canadian Church take note: Loosen up! Worship and music are to be enjoyed!*

4) REALLY Enjoy the Music!!!!

One of the favourite worship experiences in Rwanda is when a song picks up the tempo and the song leaders begin to dance with great enthusiasm. It is not uncommon for this dancing to be contagious and a number of people leave their seats and run to the front to join them. Only the woman in the pink dress is part of the worship team — the rest of the dancers are men and women who came to the front to join in the fun (they are using a traditional Rwandan style of dance).


*Canadian Church take note: As David danced before the Lord, there is great joy in using your whole body in worship (1 Chron. 15:27-29).*

We have thoroughly enjoyed the worship in Rwanda (even when it goes on for 4 or 5 hours). It has been my experience over the years that there is always room for growth no matter where/how you worship. I hope this blog can be an encouragement to all worshippers (in Canada and Rwanda … or elsewhere) to constantly seek to learn to grow in the art and practice of worship.