It was actually not an easy transition from Togo to Rwanda. Rwanda, even though it had undergone such tragic events between 1959 and 1994, was a much easier place to live than Togo. It was immaculately clean, the people were, for the most part, very reserved and soft spoken and the country itself is one of the most naturally beautiful countries that I have ever seen. “So, what made it difficult?”, you may ask. It was that our work was needing a complete overhaul. In Togo, it was very straightforward. You go to a new village that had never heard the gospel. You asked if you could teach about Jesus. If they agreed you then began teaching and with time a church was born and then … It was traditional missions, only with the challenges of Southern Togo, which were many.
Typical village in Southern Togo (photo credit to Radford University)
Rwanda was a different story. It had a very complicated history. It was one that also included great fault and guilt on the traditional church and missions for not only aiding colonialists to set up and grow an ethnicity division campaign but, also, during the genocide many churches actually assisted the killers by inviting in those being hunted under the guise of protecting them only to then call in the perpetrators to murder them in the churches themselves. Like, I said, complicated and tragic. We were told that we would need to prove social and economic benefit to Rwanda before being allowed to obtain long term visas. In doing so, it also necessitated us forming an NGO (non-government organization or as we would say a non-profit organization) instead of coming in as a church group. We were left scratching our heads and then scrambling to figure out what each of us had to offer Rwanda, that Rwanda itself would value.
The thing is, it fit as a different model of missions that we were actually shown the year before at a conference that presented a “Church Planting Movement” model. It had been very effective in India and in other nations that stood opposed to traditional church planting methods. Oddly, even though in the early 1990’s Rwanda had been considered the most Christian nation in Africa, the post genocide Rwanda definitely seemed “fed up” with church. As well, in this model you focus on relationships through service that is valued and in those relationships you are provided the opportunity to initiate studies that are led by others and not yourself and have all the “DNA” of what church should be but often falls short of.
Still we were left with the perplexing question of: ‘What do we have to give?’. I chose to build rocket stoves initially. They are these great cooking stoves that cook in half the time and use half the fuel. We could get really bogged down in the science of it, but I just knew everyone in Rwanda would want one! They didn’t. Their list of complaints was long and I found out that Rwandans don’t change traditional things very quickly. I then jumped on the environmental and economic opportunity bandwagon and quickly developed a press for making biomass charcoal. It provided businesses, utilized waste wood and field cuttings, and was a low cost startup. It was a bust. Turns out they didn’t want to change their cooking fuel either.
The problem with all of this is, that God had already told me what I would do that Rwandans wanted, but my issue was that it just didn’t make sense, and I was a bit terrified that all our supporters would call it quits when they found out. In my sons’ first week of school they came home incredibly excited to tell me that there was a Taekwondo club at their school. I decided to visit. In visiting, I observed that my 13 year old son was a better instructor than this young man. I asked him for his credentials and he asked me for mine promptly as he didn’t have any. After inspection and his agreement for me to teach him how to teach he then asked me if I would be the grand master for Rwanda and start a federation here as that is what the people really wanted. I laughed and said, “No way!”
John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
Too many words! Story to be continued in next post …. 3b – Launching