Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Adventure

  I have had several opportunities to go to churches of my students on a Sunday. Usually I am able to hire a car and driver from PIASS but this past Sunday I was not able to. I was going with two students from the same area. We were going to Edith’s church and Samuel was to translate for me. We decided that we would take to bus to a certain point, drop at Lugobagoba trading center and then take motorcycles from there to the church, about 17  kilometers. Then the pastor contacted Edith and insisted that we hire a taxi driver who had driven the pastor, to make the trip easier. We agreed and all was put in place.

We left the PIASS campus at 6 a.m. to walk the mile and a half to the bus depot in town to catch the 6:30 bus. At Lugobagoba we had to wait for the taxi for about 20 minutes, but he finally arrived. On the way to the church was the church where Samuel worshipped, so he had made arrangements for us to stop there for the pastor of his parish to greet us. In true African fashion, he had tea prepared for us, even thought he was leaving to go to one of his chapels for worship. He entertained us as if there were no rush. After tea, we greeted the Sunday school of over 200 children which was being held in the church sanctuary, then continued on to Edith’s parish.
Edith's church, prepared for Cummunion

We arrived at about 9:30. The congregation had gathered and was singing, waiting patiently for the service to begin. The building has been under construction for the past ten years. It is a large structure that is now roofed, but without flooring or windows or doors, but that does not stop joyful worship. The pastor and I processed in with Edith and Samuel following and the service began in earnest. Five choirs sang. Before the preaching, the congregation dances and sang. We literally had to wait for the dust to settle after the dancing. I preached and Samuel translated for me and then the pastor and I served Holy Communion. Following communion, there were testimonies and offerings. Here, as in many rural churches, folks bring produce as offerings and the bananas or beans or onions or avocados are auctioned off and the proceeds are added to the offering. This process takes time. The service ended at 1:30, which is not an unusually long communion service. After greeting the congregation, we had lunch with the elders. We called the taxi driver to come, but he claimed he had a problem with the car, so the pastor called another taxi driver who arrived within 15 minutes. We said our farewell and headed off, to make a few stops along the way.

Samuel (5th in back) with his family
The first was at the house that Edith owns near the church.  She and her husband built it but he is now working in Kigali and she in at school in Butare, so they rent it out. She wanted me to see it and offer a blessing on the house, which I did. From there we headed to Samuel’s family. But the taxi driver stopped the vehicle, refusing to take us, saying the road was too rough. After much negotiating, he agreed to take us so far and we could walk the rest of the way, but he grumbles that the muzungu (white person) should not walk. I insisted that I was able and wanted to. We proceeded on a very rough road for about 6 miles and stopped the car in a small village where Samuel’s uncles live, then walked about 2 miles on the hillside on a narrow path, up and down to a small cluster of houses, which are Samuel’s mother’s and his three older brothers’ homes. They were waiting to welcome us. It was the first time they had hosted a muzungu. We could not stay long because it would soon be dark and there were storm clouds gathering; rain was near. We had drinks and prayer; they gave us gifts of pineapples and we took photos and said farewell, but in Rwandese fashion, all 18 of them escorted up the road to the car, including Samuel’s 70 year old mother. We chatted all the way, asking one another questions and laughing at some of the answers of one another’s cultures. The 2 miles did not seem so long. There is great blessing in walking together.

We drove quickly to the main dirt road and reached it before the rains began. This was a blessing, too. By the time we reached Lugobagoba, the rain had stopped. We boarded a mini bus and headed to Muhanga, where we hoped to get a large bus back to Butare. With many stops long the way to drop of and pick up passengers, we were late. Because it was Sunday, the buses stop at 6 p.m. We arrived at 6:20, too late to get public transportation to Butare. But God is good; we were not stranded. My colleague Celestin, the president of Gitarama Presbytery, lives in Muhanga. I called him and explained our situation and he sent his car and driver to take us to Butare. I gladly paid for fuel and the driver Donah’s time and we  had a comfortable ride right to our doorstep. We arrived at 8:45 p.m. and praised God for a wonderful adventure and for his gracious provision. It had been a blessed day, .

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Bicycles

Bicycles are a large part of life in Rwanda. As in much of the rest of Africa, they are not toys for children, but transportation for adults, and for merchandise to and from market. They are a status symbol of sorts, as well, to show a certain level of prosperity or at least success at the job. Like motorcycles, they can be a source of income for those who offer rides to those without bikes. That is a big business in Butare. A bicycle gives one options.

Jean Baptiste came to me a few weeks ago with a need. He has build a house for his family and that is a great blessing, but it is further from town than the house he had been renting and he was finding it difficult to get to work here in town. He was hiring either a motorcycle or a bike to transport him, since it was over 4 miles to walk. This was getting expensive. So he wanted me to help him buy a bicycle. He assured me that he would use it for errands for me as well, so it would help us both. I carefully thought about it. I had not asked him to move further away, but I know that the location of the house was the only property that he could afford. He could have left earlier to walk to work and arrive on time, but that took time away from his family and he works long hours for me. I asked him to get some quotes for bikes and I agreed to help him buy one. He gave me a great sales pitch on why a new bike was a better deal than a used one and the cost difference was not that great (about $25) so I agreed to the new one. He was elated and moved quickly to purchase the cherished transportation. He is thrilled to have the independence that a bicycle provides.

Josephine and Jean Baptiste with the bikes
But that created another dilemma for me. I had bought him a bike but Josephine, my faithful house girl, was still walking or paying for a ride. To be fair, I asked her if she needed a bike, too. Of course the answer was yes. So I instructed Jean Baptiste to go with her to assist her in getting the same quality of bike as he had gotten. I gave him the same amount of money for hers. They proudly returned with a bike and change. She said she did not want as “flashy” a bike as he had gotten because hers would be uses mostly in the village. The truth was that she did not know how to ride a bike but would not say no to a gift like a bicycle. She walked the bike home and her family is using it for transportation and marketing and so forth. This small investment on my part has provided a new source of income for the family. It is all a blessing. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gala at GItarama

Sunday was a gala event at Gitarama Presbytery. This is one of the seven new presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda (EPR). The church has restructures and moved from 17 regions to 7 presbyteries. Sunday was the installation of the new leaders of the presbytery and was also Partnership Sunday, celebrating the partnership between Kiskiminetas Presbytery of PC(USA) and the new Gitarama Presbytery of EPR. So it was a big celebration. I was there as a pastor of Gitarama Presbytery and as a representative of PC(USA), so I celebrated both events.

Installation of Presbytery leaders
Praise choir dancing
Since it was a large event, it was held outdoors, with tents set up on four sides of an open area in a square for the congregation to have shelter and an open area in the center for the installation, the choirs and the dancers. As part of the worship service, Rev. Boyd Edmondson of Kiski Presbytery, who with his wife Shirley are living in Gitarama for 6 months as part of the partnership exchange, preached the sermon. What a delight to hear a wonderful sermon in English and to rejoice in that growing partnership. After the sermon, the new officers of the presbytery were installed. The new president happens to be a good friend from PIASS where we teach together. That was an added blessing.

But to be honest, as wonderful as these elements were (and the reasons we were there), the real delight of my heart was the music and dancing of the event. There were two wonderful choirs who sang and danced for joy before the Lord and a traditional music group who entertained at the end of the service. The one choir used contemporary Christian music, complete with western style drums and keyboard. The fun there was the young drummer who was maybe 12 years old but knew how to get the most out of that drum set. The second choir sang more traditional Rwandan praise choruses and danced in Rwandan style. That same style was presented but the traditional dancers who used Rwandan drums and native wear. Each was wonderful in its own way but the contrast of the drumming was what captured my attention the most. Drumming is a part of life here and to see the two styles mixed and matched was fun.

Words fail to capture the joy of the moment. Pictures help, but the sound was the most impressive. Unfortunately, I was not able to capture that is a way to really share it with you but I did take some photos and hope you enjoy them. So this is more of a photo essay than a written one. Enjoy.

The young drummer

The traditional drummers

Traditional men dancing

The moves of the lady dancers

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Answering God

Tomorrow I am leading devotions on James 5:13-20, which encourages the faithful in prayer. As I was preparing, I reflected on my time in Malawi and how God so faithful answered my prayer for his protection and provision. Our Answering God answered in big and small ways.
The provision began in Kigali. I arrived at the airport at 7 a.m., two hours before my flight. As I approached the check-in counter, I was alone, except for the two ticket clerks. They jumped to action, one taking my check-in bag and the other my ticket. After a bit of conversation, the one handling the ticket decided that my seat assignment was wrong for my needs and reassigned me to an aisle seat at the front of the section, with extra leg room. He switched the assignment for both my flights. That certainly made for more comfortable traveling. When I arrived at Lilongwe airport, I discovered that, due to the ebola scare, the officials were carefully checking health cards. I fumbled for mine. I always carry it, but I was a bit flustered and couldn’t locate. The health officer looked closely at my passport and waved me through. (I later found it just where I had put it, safely in a small notebook to keep it from wrinkling.) When I got to the baggage claim, my bag was already off the conveyor belt and waiting for me. At the security check, I was waved through, without having to put my bag on the x-ray belt. Only when I got to my friends Sam and Lonnie’s did I see that the luggage had been tagged “priority” by the second helpful young man in Kigali.
Two days later, Sam and Lonnie and their son and I were traveling down to Zomba in Sam’s minibus. Our plans changed and we did not leave as early as we intended and then made a stop along the way. Before reaching Ntcheu, we saw an accident where a trailer truck had rolled over on a minibus. People were standing around and offering assistance, so we continued on our way. About ten minutes later we got a call from Sam and Lonnie’s daughter, who was meeting us in Zomba, wanting to be certain that we were alright. It seems the radio had reported the accident, with the information that the minibus was operated by a family traveling from Lilongwe to Zomba. It happened at the time we should have been passing through there, if we had not delayed in leaving and made a stop. (The family had a few injuries, but everyone walked away from the accident.)
My driver Maxwell and the minibus
Sam “loaned” me one of his drivers for whenever I needed or wanted him, so I would not have to do all the driving, particularly not the longer distance driving. Twice while he was driving for me he stopped to check something he heard that none of the rest of us in the vehicle heard. Once it was low tire pressure. He took the minibus to have the tire changed. The second time it was lug nuts that had worked loose and he quickly and easily tightened them. I don’t know that I would have heard either warning of possible trouble.

My flight back was delayed by four hours getting out of Lilongwe. That meant that I missed my connecting flight in Nairobi. Before boarding the plane, my name and two others were called to the check-in gate. The airline had arranged for me to take a later flight out of Nairobi and I was given my boarding pass there in Lilongwe. When I got to Nairobi, I realized that the same had not been done for many delayed passengers and there was a scramble to rebook flights. I was provided for.
Each of these may seem like small things, but I believe that God was answering my prayer and was protecting me and providing for me. I believe he is the Answering God.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mututu Fundraiser

 Mututu parish is a rural parish on the Burundi border. I visited them before and was impressed by the young pastor’s energy and imagination as he brought solar power to the church and manse and then enabled some of the members to open a shop to cut hair and charge batteries, using the solar power. From the proceeds from the shop, they have been able to assist members with pig farming and goat raising and bee keeping. So when he invited me to come and preach for the end of a evangelistic rally and a fundraising, I accepted. An extra bonus was that one of my students is a member of that parish and he was doing his first year internship there. I would get the opportunity to see him, as well.

The old church that must be replaced
Since we have been having rains, I arranged for the PIASS vehicle, a sturdy 4-wheel drive that can easily go on the narrow, muddy roads to Mututu. Bosco, the driver, was more than willing. (He is a good sport.) So off we went at 6 a.m., to pick up the pastor at the turnoff from the tarmac road, so we would have a guide. He was with several members of a choir from a nearby town that was singing for the service, so we had a full car. The drive on the dirt road was about an hour. We had to stop once to repair a wooden bridge before proceeding, but otherwise, it was an uneventful trip, with lots of conversations. During the ride, the pastor explained that the district officials had decided that the church building was not good and therefore needed to be replaced. The parish determined that if that were the case, then they would rebuild nearer to the market area and the population center, rather than on the border, in the midst of farm land. So that was the reason for the fundraiser.

Joyful worship
The service was the end of the evangelistic rally of the day before, held at the market area, and a fundraiser, so it was a full service. There were two visiting choirs and five parish choirs. (One of the visiting choirs had walked 8 kilometers from a neighboring parish to join the service.) That alone makes for a full service. Add to that my preaching which needed to be translated, testimonies, and the fundraising, and it was a 4 ½ hour service. I was impressed by the energy of the worship and the singing of the choirs. Because of the solar power, the choirs were able to use a keyboard and that added a contemporary flavor to the worship. But I was more impressed by the giving of the congregation. This could be described as a poor, rural church, but they don’t see themselves that way. They see themselves as capable. From pledges for iron sheets for the roof, bags of cement, and selling items that some individuals brought from their resources, the church raised almost half a million Rwandan francs or $750, about a third of what they need for the building. They will begin and then do more fundraising when the next crops come in. The pastor is confident that they will easily complete the project.  He is pleased with the good beginning. I was greatly impressed once again by their giving and their determination.

Me with my student and his mother
After the service and a meal, where the ladies of the church fed the visitors and all the choirs, we took pictures, especially with my student. Everyone loves to have a picture taken with the muzungu (white person). We loaded the car with choir members and headed back the dirt road to the tarmac and finally to Butare. The rains held off the entire day. We arrived home at 5 p.m. It was a full and satisfying day. I so enjoy being in village services.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The 65th Birthday Party

 Where does one begin with a wonderful trip to see family and friends? I guess with the reason for the trip, my 65th birthday. I decided months ago that I wanted to do something special for this “landmark” event and determined that spending it with family and friends was the best way, so I booked a trip to Malawi as my vacation/birthday journey. My sons were thrilled and immediately came up with all sorts of plans for my time with them. My only request was that we all spend my birthday together. My dear friend Sam Ncozana said he would make those arrangements. He booked the CCAP cottage on the Zomba plateau for us all. That meant 17 people in the three bedroom cottage. This included Silas and Margaret (Sam’s parents and my close friends) Sam’s family of 6, Charles’ of 4, Thomas’ of 4 and me. Silas and Margaret determined to have dinner with us but to spend the night in their own Zomba accommodations. This was family at its fullest, a delight to my heart.

Sam's new dining area
We had hoped to gather for lunch, have the day and then dinner and the night. Things never go just as planned, but that is Africa. Thomas had a funeral he had to attend, so that meant that we had to delay, since Sam’s family and I were driving from Lilongwe to collect Thomas’ family at Liwonde and then go on to get Charles’ at Malosa then proceed to Zomba, an orderly movement south. We needed to delay at Liwonde, so we took the opportunity to make the trip a leisurely drive, stopping a few times and then having lunch at Sam and Lonnie’s newest project, a safari camp at Liwonde. It is under construction, so we roughed it a bit, picnicking on a stone platform that will soon be a dining area for the camp. Who could object to lunching under an ancient tree with an orphaned young elephant grazing just a 100 meters away? This in itself is a birthday gift.

Margaret and me chatting
Once we gathered all the family and did our shopping in Zomba, greeted by a number of vendors who remembered me, we headed up the mountain. Silas, Margaret and Sam and Lonnie’s girls were waiting there for us and the celebration began. The guys fired up the grill for the meat and the gals headed to the kitchen for the rest of the meal. Margaret and I were banded from both places, so we played with the grandchildren – hers and mine – and we caught up on each others’ lives. There was chatter and laughter throughout the house and on the lawn overlooking Zomba city below. By the time dinner was ready, it was dark and cooling off, so we lit a fire in the living room fireplace and gathered for prayer and food. The food was abundant and delicious, as was the laughter. Cake, singing and gifts followed. The boys’ families had a dress made for me that fit perfectly. Sam and Lonnie gave me a Dedza pottery round house with a grass roof to remind me of life in Malawi. Then I had gifts for all of them, too. It was fun to reverse the giving tradition.
The dress from the boys' families

By the time all this was done, and prayers offered, it was time for bed. The logistics of sleeping took some time to sort out but everyone had a bed, with Sam and Lonnie’s kids opting to sleep in the living room, near the fire. This is something they look forward to at the cottage.

As I drifted off to sleep, I thought what a blessed woman I am. At 65 I am still doing a job that I love and I have good health but the greatest blessing was being with the ones I love, to have sons and daughters-in-law who are like daughters, and grandchildren and good friends to share life with. What a great gift!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


The Presbyterian Church of Rwanda (EPR) has just undergone a major restructuring of the organization of the church. This was approved at the General Synod meeting in April and has been ratified by all the new Presbyteries. So on Sunday, the presidents and vice presidents of the presbyteries were consecrated at a festive worship service that featured seven choirs, a brass band and a line of drummers.

The restructuring was carefully planned to decentralize the administration of the church. This involved reducing the 17 regions, all answerable to the general offices in Kigali, to seven presbyteries that would set their own plans for growth and management of resources, with assistance for the general office in Kigali. This makes the presbyteries much larger and gives them more resources to manage. New presidents were elected along with new vice presidents. In the last three months, each of the new presbyteries have met and adopted constitutions and elected administrative councils. Sunday was the culmination of the reorganization as the new officials were set apart for special service to God and to the church. This came at the end of four days of spiritual retreat and an evangelistic rally for the entire church.

New officials being sworn in
Because of duties at PIASS and filling in for colleagues of EPR who were needed at the retreat, I just went for Sunday’s worship service. A car load of us from PIASS left at 6:30 a.m. to join the EPR pastors and faithful at Rubengera, near Lake Kivu. The pastors met in a building to robe and process up the hill to the retreat center. A field area next to the retreat center had been set up for the gathering, with tents for seating and shade and a stage for the choirs. The center area was prepared like the chancel, with a communion table, a pulpit and a space with pillows for kneeling. As the pastors processed in, the band played a rousing hymn. After a number of choirs and the preaching, the new officers were called forward with their spouses to answer constitutional questions and then to be prayed for. It was a moving moment, to be a part of this historic event in this 107 year old church that is, as we might say in the States, “reformed and ever reforming.” This reforming is designed, not by European founding churches, but by the Rwandan church to meet the needs of the Rwandan culture, to reshape the church to make it more responsive to the needs of the local congregations.
Drum line that lead praise

A personal joy was that two for the new presidents are colleagues from PIASS with whom I have become very close. I delight in seeing their gifts used in such a significant way (not that teaching is not significant). Another two of the presidents are woman I have come to greatly admire for their gifts of leadership. A much smaller delight was the drum line that served to lead the applause and encouragement from the crowd of nearly 5,000 who had gathered for the celebration. It was a distinctively Rwandan touch, with the big drums sounding forth thanksgiving and appreciation.

The new presidents then ushered in the candidates from their presbytery for ordination. EPR now has 9 new pastors. Ordination is always a blessing and was particularly moving as it was the first official act of the new presidents. Again, there were choirs and drums and the band to help us celebrate. The service was a mere 5 hours of singing and praising and consecrating to God’s service. As the carload of PIASS folks left Rubangera, we sang “We are Marching the Light of God,” using 5 different languages, represented by folks in the car. It seems to fit the spirit of the day.