The Shyogwe Diocese, led by Bishop Jarred for the past 17 years, encompasses roughly ¼ of the country of Rwanda and now includes 33 parishes, each of which is represented by a main church and smaller chapels covering its geographical area. Gikomero, our sister-church, is one of those 33.
As a business guy, I was incredibly impressed by the Bishop’s clear mission “a healthy body and a healthy soul” for the people of Shyogwe, which he was proud to share with us at the beginning of our visit. The mission is clearly stated on a sign at the entrance to the Diocesan property.
After 3 days on the ground I am even more impressed seeing the mission lived out in the parishes we have visited. The Bishop’s vision is based upon a holistic ministry model incorporating evangelism, health and education. People are getting access to water and electricity, children are being educated in schools, adults are being taught skills and trained to start and run small businesses, health centers are providing care to people who previously were not reach, but most importantly people are finding the healing power of Jesus and salvation through the church which is the center of community change.
On Tuesday, we made our first 45-minute trek to Gikomero, our sister-parish. As our van pulled into the village – men, women and children of all ages (including babies on backs, school-children, and elderly with canes) came from all around with huge smiles and cheering to greet us. The greeting resembled a large family reunion yet we were clearly very different. The only explanation for the enthusiastic familial welcome is our relationship through Jesus which has been developed and nurtured over the past five years. The fruit of the relationship is evident on the people’s faces and throughout their village.
Honestly the welcome was a bit overwhelming, as a first time member of the team. Nothing could have prepared me for the twenty plus minutes of multiple hugs, handshakes, greetings, “MooRahHoh” (hello), and smiles. As soon as people realized I was “Hillary’s Papa” I had another large crowd of people to greet. As a member of the Apostles Team – I was immediately loved and I too was family. With greetings complete, we were ushered to the center of the village where Gikomero’s pastor, Pastor Atienne and the crowd excitedly pointed us to the largest structure in the village – their new church which is 70% complete.
A beautiful banner hung from the main entrance, “Gikomero - Church of the Apostles ”. I was especially excited to see the Carolina blue color chosen for the roof Apostles provided the money to have built. I am not sure who was more proud, the people of Apostles or Gikomero. Thousands of miles away from Raleigh – we are at home here!
After a time of celebration in the church, Pastor Etienne took us to see the well project Apostles-Raleigh built and then the development that has resulted. To provide a “healthy body and healthy soul” (the Diocese mission) water is crucial. It was great to hear members of our team who visited four years ago describe the transformation water has had on the village. Water pumped from the valleys to the top of the hills where the villages are located provides sanitation, fresh drinking water, and in Gikomero’s case it allowed the health clinic to open its doors and provide healthcare to over 14,000 people.
Our team devotions Tuesday evening were from John 4 – the Samaritan woman at the well; “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” The sister-parish partnership gives Apostles-Raleigh the opportunity to be an integral part of the work the Lord is doing in Gikomero.
Gikomero is not a project it is our family. Tuesday we spent a couple hours hearing testimonies of our brother’s and sister’s consistent prayers for us – our pastors, previous and past and current team members by name. That love was evident on each break as you would find an Apostles team member at the center of huddles around the property.
Four members of our team met with 35-50 people for 2 hours Wednesday morning preaching and teaching on marriage, while 2 were in a local health clinic training nurses and 2 others were teaching English in the school. In the afternoon, Eric and I had the privilege of being directed to a primary school class room to teach English. Now I understand how Daniel felt when he was thrown in the lion’s den. 45+ wide-eyed 7-10 year old students what Eric and I had for 2 ½ hours to teach.
Knowing many of you were back home praying for our team is the only thing that kept me from turning and running. With NO supplies, books, or lessons – Eric and I were given a couple quick ideas and told “good luck.” The class’ teacher spoke very little English herself and seemed to enjoy watching Eric and I sweat and work really hard! Counting to 10, saying and singing the ABC’s, and reciting the days of the week filled some of the time. Eric rescued us by drawing pictures and making flash cards while I worked on introductions. We drilled the students as they learned to say and write the English word for the item on each flash card. The children’s highlight was using Eric as the model to teach body parts and watching him lead the class in “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” at increasing speed and then ending with the “Hokey Pokey”.
The most rewarding part of the day was teaching the students how to introduce themselves in English… “My name is….” I pray that one day the students English skills will allow them pursue education through high school which only a fraction of the students have the opportunity for today. At the end of the afternoon, Eric and I went around and shook each child’s hand as they introduced themselves to us in English looking us in the eyes and saying their name clearly. As we left the classroom the teacher asked, “when will you be back?” When we said “next year”… she simply would not accept our response – insisting … next week… next month…
You may be thinking, as I have been the past 4-5 years; “yes… isn’t that wonderful – a great project that I feel good to be a part of.” I was sadly mistaken. Rwanda is not a “feel good project” it is a way of living for Apostles-Raleigh. The partnership is a real opportunity for you and I to fulfill the commandments to love God and to love our neighbor and to fulfill the great commission. Loving my neighbor in Rwanda includes building a relationship with them; getting to know their names, their needs and praying for them. I thought Gikomero needed our money - and while money is appropriate at times, I know that they want our love, encouragement, and support more. They love us and want to get to know us and spend time with us. They are thrilled to have us here. While money is much easier to give than ourselves, God’s goodness and abundant blessings await Apostles in Raleigh and Gikomero as we love our neighbors in this way.