Providence and Promise in Rwanda

My wife and I live by a simple proverb: “Blessed are the flexible for they are not easily broken.” Over the years we have learned the hard way to hold everything loosely. This commitment to flexibility has once again proved invaluable. For the past six months I have been planning a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Zambia, and Ethiopia. I had scheduled training seminars in each location. However, the visa process for the DRC stalled when I was unable to receive the necessary documents from the DRC immigration officer. With less than a week to go before I was scheduled to depart for Lubumbashi, DRC, I was forced to cancel the first part of the trip and reroute my itinerary.


With only a couple of days before departing I realized I had essentially no time to apply for a visa to any country in Africa and get it back in time. However, after a brief plea for divine wisdom, I discovered Rwanda allows you to apply for a visa on arrival. It was settled. I would go to Rwanda, meet with our ITEM team there, and spend some time with my good friend and ITEM associate Dr. Nathan Chiroma before heading to Zambia. After some last-minute fancy footwork from my travel agent, I was ready to go.


On Tuesday, we were up before the crack of dawn and headed to the Richmond airport. After making a brief connection in DC it was then a grueling thirteen-hour flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we would layover for a few hours and then finally head on to our destination in Kigali, Rwanda. However, God’s providence was at work in rerouting my flight. On our flight to Addis Ababa, a distinguished man sporting a clerical collar was sitting near us. We happened to strike up a conversation and discovered he was a bishop for a local association of over 50 churches in Tanzania. After discovering that I worked with ITEM in training pastors, he eagerly asked us to come and train his pastors. The Lord in His providence closed the door to the DRC but opened another by putting me and this Tanzanian pastor on the same flight and in the same seating area.


I was immediately reminded of Paul’s experience during his missionary journeys. On several occasions he planned to go to one place, but the Lord providentially shut the door and directed him to another. We often fret when the Lord interrupts our best laid plans. Nevertheless, it is typically because He has something else in mind that will bring Him glory, bolster our faith, and extend His kingdom. Therefore, when your best laid plans go awry, remember to hold them loosely. God has something better in mind.


After arriving in Kigali, it was on the hotel where I was looking forward to laying before the Lord for a few hours. Perhaps one of the best feelings in the world is to be able to stretch out horizontally on a bed when you have been confined to an economy airplane seat for over 17 hours. After a delightful nap and a delicious dinner of African Chicken Fajitas–a sizzling platter of chicken, green peppers, zucchini, and carrots along with chapati bread–it was off to la-la land.


Having awakened from a good night’s sleep, I was in for several wonderful surprises. First, the hot water was actually hot! I cannot overstate how exciting it is to have hot water. The second surprise came at breakfast. I was expecting to be greeted as usual with weak coffee (Nescafe), but to my delight, I discovered the hotel restaurant served cappuccino. A third surprise came when I discovered the restaurant also had Coke Zero in cold glass bottles. I had hit the trifecta! Now I know God is no respecter of persons, but I couldn’t help but feel as if I was His favorite today.


After imbibing my newfound bounty, it was time for my meeting with our ITEM Rwanda team. We had a wonderful time discussing strategy, challenges, and hearing testimonies about the impact ITEM’s training is having on the field. A couple of things stood out to me. First, each trainer remarked on the transformation they are seeing from the pastors they are training. One of the things that we have made a concerted effort to do in our training is to make it practical. We are not interested in just filling heads with theological knowledge. Our aim is the transformation of leaders and churches. By God’s grace we are seeing that transformation occur. I was also excited to hear that we have ninety pastors currently in the process of training.

While many wonderful things are happening, we are experiencing challenges as well. Two stand out. First, we have many illiterate pastors in rural areas asking for training. I was disheartened to hear today that we have turned them away because we do not have a curriculum for oral learners. The challenge of oral learners is not just a problem in Rwanda, but all over the majority world. We cannot continue to turn these pastors away. We need to develop an oral curriculum that can instruct them at their level.


A second challenge is that several years ago the Rwandan government issued a law that all pastors had to obtain a degree to be eligible to pastor a church. Of course, this leaves most pastors in Rwanda in a significant bind because they do not have the ability to attend Bible college or seminary. I was told in the meeting today that if ITEM registered with the government as an official ministry, that our training would meet government standards. Please pray with us about these challenges and opportunities.

On a related note, this past year we received a grant for French translation theological resources. Therefore, I was able to bring a box of systematic theology texts translated in French for our team. It was a joy to see their eyes light up as they received their gift. In fact, our translator didn’t put the book down from the time he received it until the time he left.


After lunch we had a brief rest and then it was on to a tour of Kigali. We ended the day with dinner on the top floor of the at the Ubumwe hotel. The views overlooking the city were spectacular. The Chicken Tikka Masala wasn’t bad either. The best part was that dinner for three with a stunning view and delicious dinner was only $36.

Well, that’s all for now. Good night from Kigali!