Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The New Rwanda

“In all my travels, I’ve never seen a country’s population more determined to forgive, and to build and succeed, than in Rwanda,” writes Rick Warren on the cover of Bishop John Rucyahana’s book, The Bishop of Rwanda (2007)  My husband and I also witnessed the new Rwanda in our travels in East Africa in 2015.  We had not expected to travel to this small, mountainous country, but God provided us with a unique way to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary at the Seeds of Peace Retreat Center by the shores of Lake Muhazi, near Konyonza, in eastern Rwanda.

We had been wondering how we could celebrate our silver anniversary and were intrigued when our Tanzanian bishop invited us to a pastor’s retreat in Rwanda which was scheduled to take place the same week as our anniversary.  We talked and prayed over the invitation and believed the Lord to be directing us to join Bishop Kwangu on this trip.  Even though the other pastors eventually backed out of the retreat,  our bishop still went because he had several meetings scheduled with the Rwandan bishop.  As it turned out, we were blessed with a private time at the peaceful home of Bishop Alex, the Anglican Bishop of Gahini Diocese.  He lives in a small home provided by the diocese while maintaining his private home, nearby the conference center, as a retreat place for special guests.  We had five lovely days of reading, resting, and relaxing by the lake shore in the evenings while listening to the birds calls and  croaking frogs.  We also enjoyed strolling down the lane to dine at a small resturant located on the retreat center grounds.

We were delighted to discover a very clean, industrious place as we walked around the grounds of the diocesen offices.  Bishop Alex took us on a personal tour of the property, located around and on  top of a scenic hill, showing us the office buildings, an elementary school, a library, several hospital buildings, and the old cathedral.  We appreciated his story-telling abilities as he shared various miraculous events in relation to the property and church.  We asked about a large area being freshly bulldozed and learned of his visionary plans for a magnificant new cathedral combined with modern offices better equipped to handle the various ministries of his growing diocese.  There was also a large wooded area which he spoke of developing for outdoor camp meetings.

In the center of the property at the top of the hill we stopped at a triangular monument containing a painted picture of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovering over the lake region and a hand resting on a stone altar near a Christian flag.    This spot was the birthplace of  the great 1930's East African Revival which brought about much repentance and spiritual renewal to Christian churches throughout this region of Africa.  Many people came here to openly dedicate their lives to Christ by placing their thumbprint on a public document.  Over the years since then, numerous people have come to this same historical spot to find healing and restoration for broken relationships as they prayed together in this small triangle.  My husband and I prayed in this sacred place for God to restore our own brokenness as well.  We find that God is a God of mercy  still as he brings  healing into our lives in marvelous ways.

Bishop Alex has been bishop here for over 20 years.  He suffered with the Rwandan people during the 1994 genocide, and then led the people in the process of reconciliation and restoration in the years following the genocide, as all of Rwanda was recovering from this tragic event.   The people of Rwanda experienced changed hearts as the entire nation embraced forgiveness and repentance.  In 1997, the Church held a national conference on reconciliation, involving the new government in this life-saving undertaking.  This reconciliation was necessary for all Rwandans, to bring healing to both the guilt-laden people and the survivors who endured unspeakable horrors at the hands of their longstanding neighbors.

Bishop John Ruchyahana wrote in his book, "Gradually the entire nation of Rwanda has seemed to embrace repentance and forgiveness."  He went on to describe the process by which  this took place.  The perpetrators of the genocide who confessed and repented  of their crimes met with the survivors from their communities and received their forgiveness.  Those who were in prison could apply for a pardon after demonstrating true repentance.  They returned to the same communities where their ancestors have lived for centuries and learned live in peace with those whom they had formerly sought to murder.   The genocide survivors had a need to actively and  publically forgive their neighbors in order to be healed of the deep wounds -- or else bitterness would have consumed their very souls and destroyed them.  For restitution, the perpetrators of the genocide worked alongside the survivors of their community and rebuilt homes for their former victims.  They could not bring back the loved ones who were killed, but they could rebuild the homes that they looted and burned down, and they could rebuild community relationships.  This restitution has taken place throughout all of Rwanda.

Only God is able to bring about this true, heart-changing reconciliation which has made a new Rwanda.  This Rwanda has no ethnic divisions.  People are no longer identified by ethnicity, but are simply Rwandans.  These people have actively embraced unity and cooperation.   Bishop John Ruchyahana concludes his book with, “Rwanda as a nation sought God because it was desperate, and God answered because He is a loving God.  That is what is behind our healing and the power of our reconciliation, and it is available to the entire world.  The God who is healing and blessing Rwanda wants to heal and bless the entire world if it will but call upon Him.”  

“Therefore,  if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away;  behold,  all things have become new."  2  Corinthians  5:17

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Mama Anna and Brother Nathan

Retreat Center at Gahini Diocese, Kayonza

Bishop Alex and Bishop Boniface
Breaking ground for the new cathedral

Birthplace of the East African Revival

Artwork depicting the work of the Holy Spirit

Restoration has come to the  countryside

Lake Muhazi
The Seeds of Peace are bearing fruit.

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