New pictures of Rwanda
A congregation in Cyangugu, Rwanda, hopes to strengthen its youth ministry with the assistance of the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program.
By Anne Basye
In Rwanda’s Amahoro Stadium, a ceremonial flame is burning brightly.
The torch was lit on April 7 during a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide, when neighbor turned against neighbor and 800,000 people died in 100 days.
The 40,000-member Lutheran Church in Rwanda is among the civic groups observing the hundred-day commemoration. In its congregations, Rwandans are gathering for public conversations that look forward as well as back. Always, their goal is to continue to shape a reconstructed, reconciled Rwanda.
And in August, shortly after the torch is extinguished and the 100 days are over, six ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission volunteers will arrive in Kigali for 365 days of service in the Lutheran Church in Rwanda.
A young church with a unique history
The Lutheran Church in Rwanda also celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Pastors say that their church is trusted because it was founded just after the genocide by refugees returning from Tanzania. Because the Lutheran Church in Rwanda played no role in the events of 1994, it doesn’t struggle with the legacy of the churches, pastors and priests who betrayed people — sometimes their own parishioners — to their pursuers.
In the chaos that followed the genocide, church leaders began creating health and development ministries to heal and renew their country. These are the ministries the six young ELCA volunteers will serve.
A congregation in Cyangugu, near the Congolese border, hopes one of the volunteers will help strengthen its youth ministry. A congregation-based vocational training school in Kirehe looks forward to expanding its programs with a young adult’s time and energy. The science teacher at Ramagana Lutheran Secondary School is excited to have a lab assistant.
Wherever they end up, the young people will serve in areas identified by leaders of the church, says Kate Warn, an ELCA pastor and the Rwanda-based coordinator for the program. “This might mean ministry work, working with women and youth, or in some cases, teaching English.”
Preparing for their year
“Living in the shadows of the genocide and in the light of Easter hope will be a significant current of their experience here,” says Kate.
Visits to genocide memorial sites and conversations with survivors and participants will inform their first weeks on the ground. Orientation leader John Rutsindintwarane, also a pastor, plans to introduce other facets of Rwanda’s culture, language and history, as well as equip the new arrivals with basic community organizing skills — an approach that the Lutheran Church in Rwanda has used successfully in grassroots development projects.
“When they are deployed to their parishes, they will already have some pictures of Rwanda, instead of just having one,” he says. “It’s good to give them several pictures of what Rwanda looks like, how people think about churches, culture, our prophetic message and our work.”
Deepening the relationship
Companion synod relationships, mission personnel and grants for key ministries are part of the relationship between the Lutheran Church in Rwanda and the ELCA.
Mugabo Evariste, bishop of the Lutheran Church in Rwanda, and ELCA leaders anticipate that the Young Adults in Global Mission program will add another dimension to the relationship, says Kate.
As the young people share their gifts, they will also learn and grow from Rwandan Lutherans and their expertise in building sustainable ministries based on people’s strengths and assets. John sees a grassroots opportunity for the young adults “to sit down with other young people to develop ideas and envision the future.”
“It’s exciting to think about the Young Adults in Global Mission being participants, learners and partners in that process,” says Kate.
Today, Rwandans of all backgrounds live, work and worship together. “In many areas, it’s hard to know who is who unless someone tells you which group they belonged to,” says John. “People have hope, there is less corruption than in neighboring countries, and the country is more organized than countries that have never faced genocide.”
“It’s unbelievable, and it’s not just people’s efforts alone. It is God who has enabled us to come back from exile.”
Editor’s note: Through Always Being Made New: the Campaign for the ELCA, our church committed to providing 200 more young adults the opportunity to participate in a year of global service. The launch of the new Young Adults in Global Mission program in Rwanda was made possible through a generous donation from an anonymous donor. To learn how you can support Young Adults in Global Mission, visit their sponsorship page.
Anne Basye lives and writes in Mount Vernon, Wash.