All posts tagged Rwanda

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

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

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

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


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

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

Photo: Beans, maize flour, and cooking oil

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

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

Photo: Line of people waiting to receive their food allotment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Many families making the long journey home

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




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

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

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

Photo: A happy and appreciative beneficiary

CBM’s Andre Sibomana greets a woman beneficiary

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Jonathan preaching with his translator Simon Tumushime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: A typical Rwandan buffet lunch

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

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

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

Photo: Six year old takes a second helping at Christmas

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

Photo: Jonathan with a Fanta

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

Photo: Hard Boiled Eggs

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

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

Photo: kitchen garden in our back yard

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

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

Look who’s back in Canada for Home Assignment!

We are in Canada for the next three months and we are speaking at different churches every Sunday. We also have a few Friday evenings planned for Rwanda Nights just in case you want a more detailed update. After the schedule are a few pictures to peak your interest in the ministries that you help support.

Schedule (all dates are Sunday unless noted otherwise):

  • September 4th – Kanata Baptist Church (Ottawa) @ 9:30am
  • September 9th (Friday) – Donway Baptist Church (Toronto) @ 7pm
  • September 11th – First Baptist, Beamsville @ 10am
  • September 18th – Revive (Alexandria) @ 9am
    • Breadalbane Baptist Church (near Vankleek Hill) @ 11am
  • September 23rd (Friday) – Rwanda Night at Kanata Baptist Church (ticket event) 7pm
  • September 24th (Saturday) — Cambridge Street Baptist Church (Lindsay) 5pm
  • September 25th – Edmison Heights Baptist Church (Peterborough) @ 10am
    • Gilmore Memorial Baptist Church (Peterborough) @ 6pm
  • October 2nd – First Baptist, Listowel @10:30am
    • North Dresden Baptist Church @ 4pm
  • October 9th – Marchmont Baptist Church (Orillia) @ 10:30am
  • October 16th – Changes:
    • First Baptist Church Ottawa @ 9am (Cancelled)
    • Pleasant Park Baptist Church (Ottawa) @ 7pm
  • October 23rd – Kipling Baptist Church (Warren) @11am
  • October 30th – King Street Baptist Church (Cambridge) @ 9:45am (Combined Sunday School class); and 10:50am at the worship service.
    • First Baptist, Whitby @ 6pm
  • November 6th – Edmonton, AB (TBD)
  • November 13th – First Baptist Cornwall @ 9am
  • November 20th – Kingsway Baptist Church (Toronto) @ 10am

Hope to see you soon! Here are the photos:

1) Health Centres

Photo: Woman Technician at Babazi Health Centre

2) Schools

Photo: Students at High School in Musanze (Northern Province)

3) Guardians of Hope

Photo: Children in the Guardians of Hope Program — Psychosocial Support Group

4) Evangelism. Gikumbi church plant West of Kigali

Photo: People gather on hillside at Gikumbi church site for an evangelistic service

5) Leadership – Capacity Building

Photo: Jonathan with Rev. Leonard Kabayiza, President of the AEBR

6) Women’s empowerment

Photo: Jan with the President of Women’s Ministries, Musanze Region

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

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!

Confronting the Rwandan Genocide

Photos of Victims at the Genocide Memorial

This past week we had our first Short Term Mission (STM) group arrive from Canada. The team consists of women from across the country representing Canadian Baptist Women. Two days after arriving in Rwanda, they visited the Rwanda Genocide Memorial in Kigali. It is a difficult and emotional experience but it is important for anyone who wants to begin to understand the people of Rwanda.

After visiting the site last week, the team came to our home in order to debrief the experience and try to put it into perspective. Despite the passage of 20 years since the genocide, the event still haunts the people of Rwanda. In a land where the people are so warm and welcoming, it is difficult to image that such a tragedy could occur.

The Difficulty of Discussing the Genocide

The government of Rwanda has pursued a very proactive educational program to keep the memory of the genocide alive in the consciousness of the people. To this end, it is a crime to deny the genocide, and there are many educational programs designed to help remember this terrible human tragedy in order to make sure it never happens again.

But on a personal level, things are altogether different. It is not considered acceptable to ask a person about their ethnic background. Occasionally, we will hear that someone we know lost a spouse in the genocide, or perhaps several family members were killed. But we do not broach the subject because it is painful and everyone was affected in some way. Undoubtedly some will never share their personal story with us and that’s okay.

A Very Personal Genocide Experience

Into this context, we had a very personal experience relating to the genocide this past week.

The background of the story takes us back to the immediate aftermath of the genocide in 1994. Hundreds of thousands of dead bodies were scattered around the country. Many of the bodies were left out in the open creating a public health crisis. Eventually large numbers of bodies were gathered and buried in mass graves, while others were hastily buried in shallow graves wherever a piece of land could readily be found.

Pastor Jean de Dieu with Isaiah

Last Friday, a man was digging in a plot of land when he uncovered a human bone. When he uncovered the skeleton of a man, he was able to use clothing and other personal effects to identify the body. It was the father of one of our AEBR colleagues, Isaiah. He was 18 years old at the time of the genocide, and when his father disappeared the family feared the worst but they never gave up hope that he may have escaped to safety. Now, 20 years later, they finally discovered the sad truth that he had perished.

While it is difficult and painful to be confronted by the truth, there is at last closure for the family. On Saturday, they were able to finally lay Isaiah’s father to rest and grieve for him.

Peace Building and Forgiveness

Isaiah teaching local farmers

Isaiah’s story was shared with us at staff meeting Monday morning after another colleague offered a devotional message about forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation are themes which dominate the life of Rwanda. And while there is much more to do in this regard, much has already been done.

We have seen this in the life of our colleague, Isaiah. He has grown up to become a man of peace. He cares deeply for the people of Rwanda and has dedicated his life to the alleviation of poverty through improved agricultural techniques. As a Supervisor for Farming God’s Way, he is having a significant impact in many communities.

Isaiah is a loving husband and father. We know his father would be proud of him.

As I sit here to blog, African drums are in the distance, birds are singing, a monkey is eating from our guave tree and some school children are singing “Mr. Sun” (not quite right but it is still helping them learn English).

Me in the kitchen with our little ‘cooker’

It is hard to believe that we have only been here for four weeks.  We have found a house and bought all the basics for every day living.  Jonathan knows the city really well and can find any place (at least it seems like that to me).  Robert is doing well at school and is even on the basketball team.  (He still dislikes school but he is coping). And Sadie is getting used to the creepy crawlies and monkeys that she faces on a daily basis.

Woman passenger on moto with child on her back

When we were heading to a hardware store the other day, we were about to park when a friend said, “We will just wait for the chickens to get out of the way first.”  This statement struck me as really funny and I started to laugh.  It is surprising how quickly one gets used to a new environment.  I remember being in Kenya and a pastor asked me, “Jan, how do you keep the goats out of your church in Canada?”.  This is no longer an odd question for me as it really is a nuisance when a goat comes into a church service!  But I also realized that we have become accustomed to our environment.

Woman carrying bananas on her head
A boy carrying a pail on his head

A typical view on the street involves hundreds of people walking, babies on backs, three people on a moto, trucks stacked twice as high as they should be, and fruit everywhere. I love how African woman can carry anything on their heads!  Seeing someone with a load of fruit or water is normal.  But just as normal is seeing someone with furniture balanced on their heads! We saw a man yesterday with ten mattresses.  The strength of the Rwandan people is admirable.  Physical strength and emotional strength are both evident.  But there are sad moments as well-  a young child picking through the garbage, a woman with a baby begging for food, and many, many amputees from the event 20 years ago. This is the daily view, yet we see hope for the future in people’s smiles.

So with what do we become comfortable?  It is a fine balance between adjusting to one’s

Young child from rural Rwanda

environment and accepting many things as “the new normal” but also not becoming overwhelmed by the poverty and need of the people.  Many people in the city live in mud homes with few luxuries. Those in the rural areas have even less amenities and have to walk for miles just for water.  A cart boy said to me yesterday, “You have a blessed life.”  Not sure if he meant it as a wish for me or if he was making a statement.  I took it as a statement because he is right:  I do have a blessed life.

Today, I am thankful for the mattress on which I had a good night’s sleep.

I am thankful for filtered water to drink with my meal.

I am thankful for my environment into which I am settling into quickly.