20 years after Rwandan Genocide, healing and reconciliation continue
International charity Samaritan's Purse is passionate about enabling and equipping local churches to transform their communities, and has today announced the extension of a scheme that hopes to raise 10,000 families out of poverty in Rwanda.
The central African country is still recovering from the genocide of 1994, during which 800,000 people were murdered in just 100 days. Those who were children at the time are now in their twenties, and many are just now coming to terms with the depths of their loss.
The Right Reverend Louis Muvunyi, Bishop of Kigali, has been a key figure in the implementation of 'Raising Families', a Samaritan's Purse programme in his diocese which has been working with 83 local churches and 1,660 families to improve access to healthcare, education, sustainable livelihoods and spiritual support.
The bishop is currently on a speaking tour in the UK to share more about the work being done through the Raising Families programme.
"Poverty is blocking the healing, reconciliation and restoration that we want," he told reporters in London on Tuesday.
"The Church has to do something. It is well placed to bring holistic transformation in our society and make an impact in Rwanda. That is why the Church is there."
Bishop Louis believes that Christians must be involved in meeting the practical needs of their community, as well as the spiritual, and is keen to discuss the way that Raising Families "unlocks the potential in individuals and in local churches and villages".
The scheme encourages churches to focus on what they do have in terms of resources, skills, money and tools rather than what they do not, and in doing so to pool these assets for the good of their local community through Community Action Groups (CAGs).
Local people living in extreme poverty are thus able to benefit from their own community working together, and people like Gentille, a Rwandan woman who has never been able to walk but now makes and sells mats at the local market, have been given money to start their own businesses and create a sustainable livelihood.
During the past two years, Samaritan's Purse has seen the percentage of families in Kigali who are connected to the local church with a regular income increase from just 13 per cent to 84 per cent, and Bishop Louis contends that faith has had a significant role to play in that.
"It all starts with knowing God, and with the healing, confidence and hope that people rediscover in him," he says.
"The focus and aim of Raising Families is to show the potential, strength, power and confidence that God gives."
The bishop understands the importance of restoring that hope to the people of Rwanda, as he himself suffered intensely as a result of the genocide 20 years ago. He was studying in Tanzania at the time, but back home 20 members of his extended family were murdered, including his three brothers.
"I was very angry," he recalls. "I thought I had no message for Rwanda. How can I preach about love, reconciliation and forgiveness?
"But then this verse spoke to me," he remembers, quoting Job 14:7: "There is hope for a tree: if it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail."
He continued: "I realised that if there is hope for that tree, why not for my life, and for my nation?
"The cross also came to me in a unique way. I realised that God understands pain and suffering, and that he cares. So much happened at the cross: forgiveness, repentance, salvation and reconciliation and those words became really powerful to me. The cross wasn't just about suffering, but it was also the beginning of hope.
"Those verses energised my life and I realised I was ready to go back to Rwanda. This was a message my people needed to hear, but God had to deal with me first.
"There is hope, for the future, for survivors, for victims and for the perpetrators," he declares.
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in April, Samaritan's Purse will roll out Raising Families across all 11 dioceses in Rwanda, which will bring hope to a further 10,000 families living in extreme poverty.
"We need to continue to help many more families receive these vital resources, so together we can transform our communities and end poverty among ourselves," Bishop Louis asserts, with a reminder that the Church is central to this vision.
"The Church needs to be vigilant, and remain prophetic," he says. "We have lots to learn, and we must be accountable to our calling and to our nation."