Rwanda's Evangelical Churches bring revival to the nation

The healing ministry in this land
( [email protected] ) Apr 26, 2004 06:27 PM EDT

Many believers left Church since the breakout of the genocide in Rwanda a decade ago, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed within 100 days, which is one of the most tragic incident in modern history.

"I no longer go to Mass because of what I saw and heard. I no longer see the church as a holy place because the killers yelled, even God has forsaken you.' Karasira Venuste, one of tens of thousands of Rwandans who have left Rwanda's Catholic Church since the 1994 genocide, said.

"The only thing that will get me inside a church now is a funeral," said Venuste, the right sleeve of his shirt dangling empty, a testament to the work of a machete blade.

During these 10 days, Rwanda's Pentecostal, evangelical and charismatic churches arise and bring revivals to the nation.

"There's a great turning back to God in Rwanda," said Antoine Rutasiyire, 46, one of the country's leading evangelists. "The genocide created a great awareness about God."

"The Catholic Mass is not dynamic. People under the age of 40 want a different kind of worship service, with clapping and singing. Our churches are more down-to-earth and more open to talking about our wounds," Rutasiyire said.

In the capital Kigali alone, the 4-year-old Zion Temple Pentecostal Church numbers has increased in number to 7,000 members. This increasing strength has also impact the upper tiers of Rwanda's government.

During Rwanda's presidential campaign in August, evangelical leaders took a leading role in staging rallies for President Paul Kagame and his ruling Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front.

Rutasiyire and other evangelical leaders now hold twice-a-month prayer breakfasts for Rwanda's leaders and lead a weekly Bible study at the home of Rwanda's foreign minister, Charles Murigande, a former statistics professor at Howard University in Washington.

Evangelical leaders recently forced the government to tone down a billboard condom advertisement whose wording they believed promoted promiscuity, Rutasiyire said. In a country where as many as 1.1 million people are thought to be infected with HIV/AIDS, the successful lobbying effort was of no small consequence.

Rwanda roughly has 4.8 million, or 62 percent, of the country's pre-genocide population of 7.8 million identified with the faith, making Rwanda the most Catholic country in Africa.

The Genocide began with the conflicts between two ethnic groups—Hutus and Tutsis. They are actually very similar, they speak the same language, inhabit the same areas and follow the same traditions.

The Tutsis considered themselves superior to the Hutus. They enjoyed better jobs and educational opportunities than their neighbours. Resentment among the Hutus gradually built up, a series of riots in 1959. More than 20,000 Tutsis were killed.

The genocide was sparked by the death of the Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994.

At least 20 Catholic officials are awaiting trial in Rwanda's national courts on genocide-related charges. Because the Hutu political establishment with which it had become so intertwined, prominent leaders of the church and some of its thousands of priests and church workers were avowedly racist. Hutu extremists cunningly co-opted religious language and symbols, propagating for instance a "Hutu Ten Commandments" that included among its injunctions,"Hutus should stop having mercy on the Tutsis."

Still, although the Catholic Church's position in advance of the genocide put it in a league of its own, the Vatican has refused to accept any institutional blame for the genocide on behalf of the Rwandan church.

In 1996, Pope John Paul II wrote that the Catholic Church in Rwanda could not be blamed for acts by individual members.

"The church in itself cannot be held responsible for the misdeeds of its members who have acted against evangelical law," the pope wrote in a letter addressed to Rwandans. "All the members of the church who have sinned during the genocide must have the courage to bear the consequences of the deeds that they have committed against God and against their future."

In the 10th anniversary of the genocide of Rwanda, the World Council of Churches visited this country. According to WCC, “Healing is essential dimension of the church's ministry. Through its programmatic activities, through its relationships and partnerships, has always taken healing very seriously. I believe that the Council can and must express, in tangible ways, its healing ministry in Rwanda. This could be done within the framework of the Focus on Africa as well as through other programmes and actions of the WCC."

Reconciliation is based on forgiveness and forgiveness must be based on confession. Therefore, it is confession that generates healing and forgiveness.

WCC urges the churches to promote the kind of juridical-legal system where preventive, punitive and restorative justice are taken together for the transformation of the whole society.