Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rwanda Roof Project

Editor's Note: In our partnership with the Gikomero church in Rwanda, we are joining with them to pay for a new roof to their church building. God is providing, and we will celebrate his provision this Sunday! In the article below, Sue Koehler describes her perspective on God's work in Rwanda and the importance of this new roof.

My first encounter with Rwanda was June of 1995. It was one year after the genocide. I was on staff with Food for the Hungry International in Mugunga Refugee Camp just outside Goma, Zaire. The camp was home for about 150,000 Rwandan Hutus who had fled the oncoming RFP soldiers that finally ended the slaughter of the Tutsis. It was one of five camps of approximately the same size along the Rwanda/Zaire border. At that time, eighteen years ago, I couldn’t imagine a Rwanda reunited with the nearly 1 million refugees living in these make-shift cities of UNCHR-issued plastic sheeting. Tensions were high. Fear and rumors of invasion were constant. The future looked bleak.

Fast forward to 2011 when I joined a small team from Apostles to travel to Gikomero, Rwanda to explore how to further develop opportunities for members of Church of the Apostles Raleigh to build relationships with our sister church in that rural Rwandan town. My first time back to Rwanda in nearly twenty years, much had changed. It was no longer a country in crisis, but a country reunited and rebuilding. The camps no longer existed, Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Hutu and Tutsi once again living side by side in Rwanda. Yet, the fears of the camps were not gone, they were just pushed underground. They were veiled behind each face I saw along the sides of the road as we passed by in our mini-van and behind the new construction and new moto-taxis zipping along the road.

Our team worshiped the final Sunday of our trip at our sister church in Gikomero; a small parish perched atop one of the many mountains in that beautiful ‘land of a thousand hills’. The whole congregation was there for their monthly gathering. Most had walked a great distance to reach the church for the service. They’d walked along dusty trails in their Sunday finest to meet for baptisms, communion, and a message by the Mizungu (white man) from America, Pastor Patrick Dominguez. The small church building was our backdrop, not our shelter. We worshiped under the blue sky. Women shaded themselves and their babies  under multicolored umbrellas. I marveled at the site. Two decades prior, it was a place of bloodshed during the genocide. Hutus, on order from leaders, murdered Tutsis who had fled from neighboring communes to this location seeking shelter. Now, it was a place of worship. I looked out at the crowd and wondered if I’d worked with any of these adults as children when they were separated from their families and living as orphans in the camps.

Patrick Dominguez led another Rwanda Partnership team this past summer. During the trip he was made aware by Pastor Etienne of our sister church’s plan to construct a new church building; one that was larger and capable to hold services indoors with the congregation, so they wouldn’t have to meet outdoors. It would also provide for a place for the students of the elementary and secondary schools to meet for large events. A request was made for financial help to cover the cost of the roof of the church. The congregation had already raised over $3,000 towards the construction of the building. The roof was estimated to cost $15,000. Patrick returned to the Rwanda Partnership Team and the Leadership Council with that request.

My first thought was, “That’s a lot of money for a building. Couldn’t our money better be used for AIDs work or some program to help orphans and widows?”. But that changed when I considered the significance of that local church in living out the gospel in Gikomero, as an agent of change in the hearts, minds and bodies among individuals and thereby the community. It's not a development agency run by expatriates, but the church made up of men and women from their neighborhood. Church of the Apostles in Gikomero is reclaiming a violent place with a sanctuary. One made of bricks and mortar for sure, but also a spiritual place of sanctuary amidst darkness, both past and present. What a beautiful sign of God's hope and redemption in a place that will need much of that in the years to come. What a privilege we have, Church of the Apostles Raleigh, to share in that effort.


  1. Sue - BEAUTIFULLY written and very much captures the essence of what was - and what Rwanda and Rwandans are becoming. It brought back many memories of our time together in Goma. I'm so proud of what you're doing!

  2. Love this, Sue! I remember how much that trip meant to you, and so enjoyed getting the update. Thanks for passing it on - and well done!


  3. Great review of God's grace to this Rwandan community and congregation since the Genocide.