How Rwanda Was Written into My Story
Rwanda has been an ever-present part of my Christian journey since I journeyed into the Anglican tradition. When my wife Sonya and I landed at our first Anglican parish in the summer of 2010, we learned that it had a connection to Rwanda. In the early 2000’s, Anglicanism in the United States went through a profound theological crisis. Even the highest levels of leadership in The Episcopal Church had departed from the ancient, historic teaching of the Church in matters of faith and morals. And because godly apostolic leadership is essential to the Anglican faith, this put faithful, orthodox Anglicans in a challenging place. Thanks be to God, faithful Anglican bishops from South America, Africa, and SE Asia offered their godly pastoral oversight during those challenging days. The church that Sonya and I had landed at had been recipients of the gracious missionary efforts of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.
Not long after being confirmed as an Anglican in 2010, Sonya and I experienced our first visits from Rwandan Anglican clergy and bishops, sitting under their preaching and hearing their stories in small groups. As a seminary student just months after becoming an Anglican, to my surprise I suddenly found myself chauffeuring Rwandan bishops to and from airports. When I was ordained as a priest in 2014, it was into PEARUSA (Province de l’Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda-USA), the missionary district of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.
A Visit With Ephraim
About a month ago, one of my brother clergy, the Reverend Jim Sallie of Redeemer Parkersburg, reached out about the possibility of arranging a visit at St. John’s with a Rwandan priest and archdeacon named Ephraim. With my past experiences and connections to Rwanda, I knew that this was an opportunity that we could not pass up!
Jim and Ephraim met with about a dozen of us from St. John’s in my home over a meal. One of our members even baked and decorated a cake in the style of the Rwandan flag- Ephraim loved it! Ephraim was also delighted when my son pointed to Rwanda on a globe and brought over a gorilla plush toy- gorillas can be found all over Rwanda’s mountainous countryside. Over dinner we got to know one another and talked about our churches, our families, and our faith.
After dinner, Jim shared how Rwanda has played a role in his faith journey and in his ministry as an Anglican priest. He told us how he and Ephraim had actually been ordained as priests by the same Rwandan bishop. Jim shared a bit about the country of Rwanda- that it is roughly half the size of West Virginia but that it is home to 12 million people, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world! Jim shared about how Redeemer Parkersburg has partnered with Ephraim’s ministry in Rwanda, assisting in building a church and visiting Rwanda to witness Ephraim’s ministry.
Then it was Ephraim’s turn- he had us begin by clapping a beat while he treated us to a Rwandan worship song accompanied by dance. His joy was exuberant and contagious! Ephraim shared how God had come into his life and radically changed him when he was fourteen years old. He shared about how he had been called into ministry and how he had been charged to plant churches in the Gashonga Diocese in SW Rwanda, a remote and rural region in the country. Ephraim shared about the successes and God’s faithfulness to his ministry and how God has called hundreds of people to Christ under his leadership.
Ephraim also shared about the challenges. A number of years ago, the Rwandan government passed legislation that required certain safety features in places of worship. Ephraim shared that while this was a reasonable response to the dangers of earthquakes and poorly built church structures, that this put about 8,000 churches out of their buildings! He also shared how some of the church planters in his diocese are living on $20 per month and that they are at times discouraged. We all shared how we would be discouraged long before those difficult challenges! Ephraim also shared about the horrors of the Rwandan genocide that took place in 1994. He also shared about how the Church has worked with the government to effect widespread, radical reconciliation in the years since.
Jim and Ephraim closed by sharing their vision of inviting other small churches together to pool resources to support Ephraim’s ministry. They shared how, for a very modest cost, churches in America can contribute to build churches that serve as effective places of transformation in their communities. Ephraim shared how churches still function as social hubs in Rwanda- acting as education centers, community gathering places, and even enabling locals to office and work. This provides rich soil for outreach, evangelism, and community transformation. Jim also shared about his intention to take a group over to Rwanda for a visit in May of 2021 and he invited us to consider whether any of us might be a part of that group!
We closed by praying for Ephraim and his ministry and asking that if it was God’s will, that God would make a way for us to walk together. I was humbled by his joy in the midst of much adversity, how much his Church has done to support Anglicans in the United States, and I was challenged by his example to serve God, even at great personal cost. Ephraim finished by gifting St. John’s with a beautiful Rwandan nativity. He described how it depicted our Lord resting in a simple Rwandan cattle stall, but how the blood of the little Christ child was powerful enough to make us all- Rwandan and American- one. Amen, thanks be to God!