The Dance of Life in Rwanda

(Publisher’s note: “Biblical Partnerships that Advance the Gospel” is our theme for this edition of Lausanne World Pulse. Just two months ago, I had the privilege of preaching the gospel and dialoguing with church leaders in Rwanda. The article that follows is the result of that time. I trust it represents the first half of a gospel partnership. Why the first half? Because in 2011 we at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College will be inviting evangelists and church leaders from Rwanda to come to the Chicago area to preach the gospel and minister to us. You might think of it as “reciprocal partnership.” We minister in Rwanda and Rwanda ministers to us. We give our best to them and they give their best to us. Like many in the West, I believe we are in the era of “mutual missions.”)

Several months ago I proclaimed the gospel of Christ in Mukamiri, Rwanda. Several congregations gathered in a large, concrete structure. Grey and barren of art or color, nevertheless, it is their church. The service went 2 ½ hours before I spoke. Different choirs, filled with men, women, children, and youth sang and told the gospel story. Above all, the choirs danced. Oh, how they danced.

One example of reciprocal partnership in
evangelism is taking place between pastors
in Rwanda and the Billy Graham Center
at Wheaton College.

Earlier in the week I’d witnessed and experienced the same on a hillside outside the Anglican Cathedral in Musanze. Africans love preaching and we had given them our best efforts. Preachers from the West (like me) and African bishops and archbishops took turns declaring the word. It was, I’m told, reminiscent of the East African revivals bursting upon these lands in the 1930s. We preached and we sang. But most of all we danced. Bishop Nathan grabbed my hand after we’d just finished preaching together and said, “Come, Dr. Lon. We dance.” And did we dance! Hundreds of Africans, many who had just come forward to commit to Christ, danced. The dance was a glad, exuberant kind of dance, unstructured and full of complex and vibrant African rhythms. I’m not absolutely positive, but I believe I saw Jesus in the crowd.

The dances of Rwandan life are sometimes overwhelmingly sad as well. Our trip started with a sad dance. We’d come to Rwanda from Vancouver and Chicago as a team of ten. Part of our purpose was to experience and learn from Rwanda. The sad dance defies descriptive words. I sum it up with one: genocide. In the spring and summer of 1994, chaos and evil reigned. Neighbor betrayed neighbor, family betrayed family. Ethnic cleansing spilled blood throughout Rwanda. More than one million people perished. Today, memorials are found in every region of the country. And at each memorial are buried bodies.

At the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, 250,000 bodies are buried in vaults; most are nameless. We witnessed a bombed-out church where grenades had punctured the walls and five thousand people had perished, mostly from machetes. Skulls of that destruction and the clothes they wore are on display. Dark brown blood marks puncture many of the walls and the floor. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” reads Job 5:7. Rwandans get that.

Sixteen years later, the country and its ten million people still struggle to find ways to cope, understand, forgive, and when possible, reconcile. The Church of Jesus leads in the reconciliation, teaching and guiding the way to peace which only the gospel affords. The government participates as well. In many places, reconciliation leads to restitution and restoration. Across the red dirt street from the bombed-out church are new homes built for families who lost loved ones. The builders are remorse-filled perpetrators of the genocide.

The genocide will not go away. Anyone you get to know beyond a first name will answer softly and reverently if they knew someone who died. The common answer is, “Yes, many.” You ask no more questions.

In this climate, God’s people preach, counsel, guide, and rebuild the souls and structures of their society. And brethren from the West, like our little team, join them. Shoulder to shoulder, text to text, prayer to prayer, we joined. We realized we were among people knowing pain most of us have never known. And because of that, we understood that the Church also knows grace and mercy at levels beyond our understanding and experience. There were giants of the faith among us. And yet, they seemed so grateful we’d come. Bishop John told us why: Rwandans remember when they cried out and the world did not come…until it was too late. Somehow, in our coming now, they find comfort.

It was by faith I preached in these places. The word of God and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins were my only theme. My brothers and sisters did the same. Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the word of God. And the mystery of salvation, the breathtaking wonder of watching souls born anew—experiencing grace, forgiveness, and hope—happened over and over again. Our best estimates suggest we preached to over ten thousand people in our meetings. And we watched as approximately 1,750 responded and stepped into (or back into) trust in Jesus Christ to save them in this life and for the next.

What is next? We are now planning and raising funds to invite key Rwandan Christian leaders to come to America and preach Christ and reconciliation to us. Like the Macedonian, we cry out, “Come to America and help us!” We were with some giants of the faith. Perhaps God will use them to save our people and our land.

Leaders in both Rwanda and Tanzania have asked me to return next year and stand with them in other settings, to preach the gospel of Christ, and dance, dance, dance. I hope to return.

Dr. Lon Allison is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He also serves as director for the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.