Arriving in Shyogwe Diocese, Rwanda, for my long awaited first visit, I was warmly welcomed by my host Bishop Jered Kalimba and met by smiles and friendly hospitality at every turn. Staying in the Halleluyah Guesthouse on the “Zion Hill” diocesan campus I soon felt very much part of the family, and quickly settled in to the packed programme of church visits organised by Marcel Sebahire, the young and gifted head of education in the diocese.
The first two days saw me buzzing here, there and everywhere visiting newly planted, extended or constructed churches in the vicinity of Muhanga city. I knew them all by name as over the last 3 years a group of link parishes in Ireland have been supporting these projects in prayer and fundraisding – Munazi, Hanika, Gahogo, Mukoni, Nyamagana, Kivumu, Kavumu – so it was wonderful to see the reality behind the reports, and even better to meet the people involved.
Apart from the obvious growth of these churches – they were all replacing much smaller buildings – what really impressed me was the dedication of the leaders and lay members I met. Most were very young – I met to archdeacons (Jerome and Venant) in their mid-thirties – and without fail they all beamed out love for God and excitement about the power of Jesus to transform communities.
The highlight of the week for me, however, was a visit that Bishop Jered particularly wanted me to make – to a remote, mountain region called Kiyumba. Rwanda is known as “the land of a thousand hills” and it certainly lives up to that description - there are stunning hillside vistas and gorgeous verdant valleys at almost every turn in the road. But the two hour drive up steep and winding laterite tracks into the mountains completely took my breath away. I had the privilege of travelling with Ven. Venant who patiently answered the avalanche of questions I had about the rural community life I was witnessing.
We were virtually the only vehicle on the road, but everywhere people were walking or sometimes cycling, carrying crops from the fields or fetching water. Others were out working the land – not a tractor or even so much as a rotavator in sight – wielding the characteristic long handled hoe in a patchwork of small holdings which cover the hills, punctuated with banana, sugar cane and coffee plantations. I saw women carrying huge bundles of beans on their heads, or large sacks of produce, and sometimes the men would be lugging a bicycle laden with 6 or 7 large plastic jerry-cans of water.
At the top of one of the highest peaks we came across the settlement of Kiyumba – with a scattering of single storey homes, a Government office and a school. On a little promontory a neat little building stood proud – a small newly constructed house-church and the object of our safari.
Upon our arrival we were met by two members of the congregation – Suzanne and Chantal – who led us inside and explained how the church had come into existence. It was the vision of Viateur Ntarindwa who had grown up in a similar kind of remote community, and felt God prompting him to found a church here. In 2017 he began visiting the homes, and discovered one person who wanted to pray with him, so they established a prayer meeting in his home – just for an hour a week. Gradually a few others began to join them in prayer, so they extended the meeting to a weekly all-night intercession with fasting. After this an open-air evangelism campaign was arranged, with door-to-door visitation culminating in preaching with an evangelist – and 11 people were added to the their number.
By now Viateur was looking ahead in faith and encouraged the little group to start building a pastor’s house. When it was completed it could serve as a small church, but in time (and as the fellowship grows) the plan would be to build a bigger church nearby, turning the smaller building into accommodation for their minister. Praying fervently for God to bless these plans, they worked hard to collect funds together themselves and by their own physical labour put up the walls and roof, adding a beautiful tiled floor. At this point Bishop Jered recognised their dedication and commitment so asked CMSI link parishes to lend additional to help finish the ceiling, windows, plastering, painting and the installation of a bathroom and water tank.
This work is now in process, and already the building has become a centre for holistic development training for the community members as well as worship gatherings at their prayer meetings and Sunday service. Suzanne told me they now have 40 members attending regularly on Sundays and often over 80 at the now twice-weekly prayer meetings (the former parish rector in me took a double take at that information although numbers are swelled by Christians from other denominations such as Catholic, Presbyterian and Restoration Church members, who have no other church nearby). Before this church was constructed many believers in the area faced a 3 hour walk to the nearest place of Christian worship.
After praying and singing together for a while we inspected the plot of land adjoining the house-church which they are praying will become available for them to buy, so they can start work on the church proper. I added my prayer to theirs, passing on the love and prayers of so many friends and supporters in Ireland – which evidently had a great impact upon them. As we left they returned those greetings with assurances of their prayers for us… and how much we need them!
I came away full of praise for the dynamic power of God to bring life to an area – and wondering if we in Ireland would be prepared to invest similar effort in prayer. I hope we would, but feel that many of us need to pay much greater attention to this priority, and to the voices of those who are practicing it and seeing such abundant rewards.