Saturday, April 5, 2014


Kwibuka is "remember" in Kinyarwanda. April is the month of remembrance. April 6 marks the beginning of the Genocide 20 years ago. The month will be devoted to commemoration of the events, with memorial service at various locations around the country. This is a difficult time dealing with the past but it is part of the way forward for the future.

A colleague from Germany who taught with me in February and March understands the pain of remembering from a different perspective, from that of the child of German citizens who struggled with the memory and the guilt of the Jewish Holocaust of World War II. My colleague, Rev. Sylvia Bukowski, wrote a prayer after she returned to Germany, for her church to use during April, to be in prayer for Rwanda. With her permission, I share it with you and invite you to make it your prayer for Rwanda during this month.

Prayer for Rwanda

Lord of the Universe,
You promise to be near all who suffer
And to protect the defenseless and the weak.
But where were you,
When the great killing started in Rwanda?
Why did you hide your countenance,
Why did you keep silent to the cries of the victims,
Who remained without protection
Even in Churches?

Now 20 years later
We pray for the survivors of the genocide:
Until today they are wounded by the horror,
In which they have lost everything dear to them:
Beloved family and friends,
A safe home,
Their former trust in each other.
Give them comfort
When the wounds tear open in commemoration,
And place people at their side,
Who are willing to share their pain.

God, Judge of all nations,
We commend to you the killers and their accomplices,
Many of them still without remorse,
Still ensnared in lies and foul excuses:
Lead them into honest acknowledgement of their guilt,
And from true repentance let new beginnings spring
In the whole nation.

God, of Grace and Mercy,
we also pray for ourselves:
Yes we were shocked,
When we witnessed what happened in Rwanda.
But soon we forgot,
Because so many other things occupied our mind.
And so very often
We feel totally helpless
In the face of  the suffering,
Which still goes on all over the world.
Show us effective ways to prove our solidarity,
And keep our hearts from growing cold and from resignation.

Bless the peacemakers and those engaged in reconciliation.
Hold your gracious hand over Rwanda
And heal the wounds of all the nations
In our torn world.
God turn to us with the transforming power of your love.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Installation

Sorry friends for the long gap in writing. It is not because of lack of things to share but because of lack of time to do so. The last weeks have filled with teaching, grading, visitors, seminars, conferences and worship services. I will do my best to capture some of this for you in future writing. Today I want to focus on a first for PIASS – the installation of a chancellor.

New Chancellor in his chair
On March 7, 2014 Rev Dr AndrĂ© Karamaga was installed as PIASS’ first chancellor. This was in order to comply with the Rwandan government Law N° 27/2013 of 24/05/2013 that required all institutions of higher learning to have chancellors and vice chancellors. This was part of an educational reorganizational structure by the government. So our rector became the vice chancellor and the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences (PIASS) installed its first chancellor. The role is largely ceremonial, presiding at graduation ceremonies and the like. The installation sent the tone for just such occasions, with all the pomp and ceremony one could wish for.
The new chancellor is well-known in Africa. Presently, Rev Dr Karamaga is the General Secretary of All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC). From 2002 to 2008, he worked as Executive Secretary (African Desk) in the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He served as the president of the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda from 1995 to 2001. He brings ceremony and experience to his position.

The festivities began early in the morning with a first-ever alumni meeting. Alumni of theology go back to the 1970s. The small chapel was overflowing as pastors kept coming. They represented all the protestant denominations in Rwanda and included bishops and denominational presidents as well as “regular” pastors. The present faculty was invited to make an appearance and be introduced but it was evident that there really wasn’t room for “visitors,” so after the introductions, those of us who were not alums we were given the opportunity to escape and we did. But we re-appeared for the luncheon before the installation service.

To begin the installation service, the faculty dressed in full academic regalia and processed in to the main lecture hall, followed by invitees, among them government officials, alumni and the PIASS community. After welcome speeches, we moved to the main event. The new chancellor was introduced and sworn in and then given his chair, an imposing seat that was especially carved for the event. This was followed by more speeches, first from the new chancellor and then the guest of honor, Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, the former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, and today, the Ecumenical Envoy to South Sudan, who spoke on “Eradicating Poverty.” The festivities ended with photos and a reception on the lawn. It was a gala event and promises to pave the way for more ceremonial celebrations.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Pineapple Project

This last week I have had the privilege of traveling with a delegation from PC(USA) visiting Rwanda. The group included Debbie Braaksma, the Africa Area Coordinator, Nancy Collins, the regional liaison for south central Africa, Christi Boyd, the facilitator of women’s and children’s interests in Congo, Madagascar, Niger, Rwanda, and South Sudan, and Meg Knight, a volunteer teaching English to staff of EPR here in Kigali. Our purpose was to introduce Christi to the women’s and children’s work of EPR (the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda). Over the next few blog articles, I hope to share some of those experiences with you.

Worker displaying juic
The first of our outings took us to a pineapple project in one of the rural parishes. The original project was begun in 1987 by a group of widows, but all of that was stopped by the Genocide. It was begun again in 2005 with three of the original members and now men as well as women, working to restart their lives. They have had training and are working to expand the operation. At present, everything is done by hand. The factor, such as it is, is housed in a building of the local church. They make both pineapple juice and passion fruit juice – all by hand. In one day they squeeze 60 pineapples to produce 200 liters of juice, boil it, sweeten it and bottle it. The juice is then transported to market on local mini-buses. There are no fancy vans or trucks with logos on the side. They use the cheapest, most available means of transportation. That’s how they get their supplies for bottling as well. That doesn't sound like much, and in the scope of an automated factor, it certainly is not. They are, however, able to sell their entire product and have requests for more than they can produce.
Was a street boy

Can now support her child
But what is great is the impact this small operation is having on the lives of the workers of the project. This is a cooperative, so all the workers share in the earning of the small operation. This is making a great difference in the lives of the workers who would not have employment otherwise. A young man told us his story of leaving the area at 12 years old because of difficulties in his family and going to Kigali, where he lived on the street with other children (a common problem in much of Africa). After six years of struggling, he came back to the area and through the influence of the church, began working with the cooperative. He proudly told us that now he was able to support himself, no more living on the street, and is even able to buy new shoes, which he delighted to show us. A young girl told of going to Kigali to find work, only to come back home pregnant and shamed. She, too, is working with the cooperative and is able to support herself and her baby. Her family, the church and her job have helped her to regain self-respect. A widow told of her joy at having clean clothes and a safe place to live. It is amazing the difference a few pineapples can make in people’s lives.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Developing a Culture of Reading

One of my International students in English began a great discussion in class with one of her paragraphs and the discussion has continued in a number of other contexts. The subject was the lack of a culture of reading. She focused on Burundi, her home country, but the ensuing discussions have revealed that the same lack of culture is a struggle in other developing African countries. Her paragraph below will give you a frame of reference for the beginning for this ongoing discussion.

She wrote, “Reading is a challenge for educated people in Burundi. Actually, there is not a culture of reading in that country. For example, the rare bookstores which exist don’t have customers, and books stay in the bookstore for years. That situation can be explained in three reasons. First of all, there is a lack of libraries. The only good libraries that exist are in big cities of the country, and it’s expensive to get registered in them. The second reason is that there are no local publishing companies to promote local authors and to promote reading in the same way. The third reason is that the elite don’t read even newspapers or books. So the verb” to read” is spelled the same way as the verb “to drink” in Kirundi. A lot of Burundian intellectuals prefer drinking beer instead of reading.”

Since her writing, we have discussed why this is the case. Beyond the writer’s suggestions, many think that because the culture was an oral one before colonization that has set a frame of reference for the people. Others have suggested that the expense and the difficulty of getting books have discouraged reading. Others have suggested that the struggle with language and which is the preferred language of the countries is the cause. Most people learn the local language, be it Kirundi or Kinyarwanda or Swahili, but few books are published in those languages, so the reader is left to choose between French or English or some other alternative language, a language that is not as familiar and is more difficult to read. No doubt it is a combination of all of these reasons.

Present library at PIASS
The real question is what to do about this. Is it possible to change a culture? I’m proud to say that PIASS thinks it is. As this discussion has been going on in the classroom, the administration has been wrestling with it in the context of developing the programs of the college. The decision was that in order to develop the programs, we much also develop the library. At present it is small, with a mixture of French and English texts, mostly in theology. As the school expands with programs in Education and Development, more books are needed. As the teaching moves to English rather than French, there is a need to expand the English holdings but there is also a desire to encourage good Kinyarwanda writing. With the help of International partners, PIASS has launched a plan to more than double the size of the present library and more than triple the number of books. But one of the most exciting features of the new library is the proposed children’s section that will be open to area school children and will encourage them to come and use the library, to help foster an attitude and aptitude for reading from the earliest age. It is a beginning in developing a culture of reading.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Bamboo

The burned bamboo stand in August
 In August, you heard me lament the cutting and burning of a beautiful, mature stand of bamboo in my front yard. The motivation for the cutting and burning was to rid the area of fleas that were suspected of living in the bamboo. The whole process of “deforestation” of the bamboo took about 3 weeks and left a gaping exposure to the passing world. When I voiced concern to the administrations, they ordered the cut bamboo be trimmed to size to make fencing and I had a semblance of privacy again, for which I was grateful.

But one thing that I know about bamboo is that it is fast growing. That was my only comfort during the cutting process. The rains came in November and the bamboo began to grow again. I watched with fascination as the shoots sprung up almost overnight and began to mature into saplings and then a young stand of bamboo. At first, the charred sticks stood among the new growth. The new shoots grew among the destroyed remains and gradually overtook the old stalks.  By Christmas, I had shade again from the ever-growing bamboo. No, it is not yet mature, but each day it is expanding and filling in. It has swallowed the fence in its growth, so that the fence sticks of bamboo can no longer be seen, lost among the green of the growing forest in my front yard.
New growth just 4 months later

As I daily watch this replenishing, I am reminded of what God does in his creation and in our lives. Among the charred remains of the destruction that we bring, he brings life and new growth. He renews and strengthens. He refreshes and redirects. He does that with plants and trees. The Bamboos is testimony to that. I remember seeing the same new growth happen in Yosemite National Park in California after a forest fire destroyed acres. He does it in our personal lives when situations deteriorate and dreams and hopes die. That is certain the cases for me, having to leave Malawi but finding new hope and dreams here in Rwanda. He does it with nations. I look at the reconciliation and rebuilding that has happened and is happening here in Rwanda after the genocide. There is new life everywhere.

As I listened to a PCUSA webinar about the fighting and destruction happening in South Sudan, I looked out my study window on my growing bamboo grove. I prayed for the folks facing the disaster there. I prayed for the God of life to intervene and bring new life to such a desperate situation. I am confident that God can work his miracles of life there as he has in Rwanda. That is my prayer and my trust. The bamboo is a witness to that truth.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Gihinda Muyaga

Church leaders, my watchman in the center

Sunday I had the great blessing of preaching at a village church outside of Butare. The congregation is an evangelistic outreach of the large Presbyterian Kinyarwanda congregation near PIASS. This worship space is up the mountain from the city (but then in “the land of a thousand hills,” everything is up the mountain or down the mountain). The congregation is served by a student from PIASS and he is the one who invited me to preach. He and my watchman escorted me as we traveled on the back of motorcycle taxis off the tarmac road, onto a dirt road and then to a dirt trail up the mountain about 7 miles. I have taken motorcycle taxis around Butare, but never up into the mountains. This in itself was an experience.

The church building
Once there, we could see for miles around us. The student pastor and the senior elder escorted me around the grounds the church owns and explained the history. In 2010 the senior elder and a few of the elders from the main church, including my watchman, gathered with a few Christians from the area for worship and then house to house visitation. Soon they had 25 believers and began worship in a small house they rented. When the numbers grew, the owner of the house evicted them, saying they were too large a group for the small house. They continued the evangelistic outreach as they sought another house for worship. As their numbers swelled to 50, eviction came again. They determined that they needed a place of their own for worship. They found land and took a loan from the Presbytery to purchase it. As they paid off the loan, they worshiped in the open air, but on their own land. No one could evict them.  All the time, their numbers were growing. With the first loan paid for, they took another to build a church for worship. The walls, roof and windows are now complete. They have a few wooden benches and a table for a worship center. When there is an overflow, as there frequently is, they sit on mats on the floor. They now have over 100 members and 3 choirs (a sign of growth and commitment). The elder, my student and my watchman were so excited to share worship with me. I was thrilled to be there.

Praise of the women's choir
There is no vestry, so we organized the service and I robed behind the church building, in the open air. They hope to build a free-standing church office in the future, but that is not the priority now. Now their goal is to pay off the loan and then cement the floor, build more benches and bring electricity to the area. We entered the building to great singing and dancing by the choirs. The service was filled with praise and joyful singing. As one of the choirs led singing, I looked closely at the choir leader. She smiled at me. It was my housekeeper, Josephine. I learned later that she comes down the mountain every weekday to care for me and my house. I was humbled to see the commitment and leadership of both my house staff in this small church. After the Spirit-filled 2 ½ hour worship service, we had a meal together with the elders and I heard more of their plans for the future. They have such faith and optimism about what God will do in them and through them in this area. It is not just the building, but the outreach and fellowship. The elders and deacons have begun a savings and loan group to help each other develop their lives. Part of this is tithing to the church as well. They are forming a caring community on the side of the mountain. Many of these things are happening in many places around the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda. What impressed me was the spirit of joy. It is reflected in the name of the church. Before, the site was know as the place of wind, because of its location on the top of the hill. Now it is called Gihinda Muyaga, place of praise. They praise God with their whole beings.