The Power of Pastoral Leadership in Kibungo
Sitting in Addis Ababa airport having just completed a hugely inspiring partner visit to Burundi and Rwanda, I feel quite overwhelmed by the kindness I’ve been shown. The final leg of my journey was a visit to Kibungo Diocese where I was warmly received by Bishop Emmanuel and Madame Joyce Ntazinda. My stay with them included a Sunday visit to the remote rural parish of Rwintashya where I had the great privilege of preaching at a special celebration communion service.
This was led by the newly ordained pastor Rev Augustin Ngoboka, who is one of six ordinands currently being sponsored through theological training by Knockbreda Parish, Belfast via CMSI. Augustin is a gifted leader whose fast-growing and youthful congregation numbers over 1,000 members. As if pastoring this parish - including its two daughter church “sub-parishes” – isn’t enough, Augustin has been studying part-time (Friday evenings and all day Saturday) for his Post Grad. Theology Diploma three hours motorbike ride away in Kigali at the EACC (East Africa Christian College). He rides back on Saturday nights in time to lead worship on Sundays, and then Monday to Friday somehow finds time to work full time as Principal of the local Primary School, with a roll of 1,800 students! Though young, he is already a legend in this community – the school is thriving, and his congregations are active agents of transformation in the locality through the love of Christ.
After a two hour safari over increasingly pitted and rutted red-earthen tracks - expertly negotiated by Laurent, the Diocesan driver at the helm of the Mothers’ Union Landcruiser - we finally arrived at the parish, to be met by a choral guard of honour: the Mothers' Union, Fathers' Union and Sunday School choirs. They sang at the tops of their voices, welcoming us with happy songs of praise to God. It was all I could do to walk on into the vestry without bursting into tears!
After robing and a prayer, the choirs led us in procession into the spacious brick and iron-roofed church, packed to the gunnels with people of all ages. With a large number of children and young adults, I estimated there must have been 1,000 worshippers. The two and a half hour service that followed was what I can only describe as the most joyful and uplifting service I have ever experienced with five choirs contributing songs, all accompanied by graceful, vibrant and at times euphoric dancing. It was absolutely impossible not to join in with this – although the heat in the church meant I could only do so for two or three relatively short periods – reviving myself with long draughts of bottled water!
After about an hour of praise, welcomes and prayers, my sermon was enthusiastically and seamlessly translated into Kinyarwanda by Rev Asifiwe Mugwaneza - evidently a gifted linguist - who is another ordinand/trainee being supported by Knockbreda. We then assisted with the distribution of communion, along with Pastor Augustin and three catechists*.
After we processed out, Rev Augustine welcomed us both to his home for a feast of matoke (steamed savoury bananas), chicken, vegetables and fruit. We also met his wife Olivia and two delightful young daughters both under four years of age. After the meal I used the new recording equipment Emma Lutton (or “Q” as I now like to think of her!) issued me with before departing for Bujumbura and made a video interview with Augustin and Asifwe using my mobile phone. Our day finished with a half hour drive down to the shores of Lake Saci (pronounced “Saatchi”) where a few boys were having fun swimming and we were able to breathe in the fresh air cooled by the water.
As Laurent drove us back along the dusty roads I was full of admiration for the clergy I had met and overflowing with praise to God. I feel proud that CMSI has been able to play a small part in their ministry and can’t wait to pass on news of what I’ve seen to Knockbreda! Their prayers and financial support have had a massive impact!
*lay readers, but with pastoral responsibility for the sub parishes