It was Friday, the 13th of June, 2003. This was my second trip to Rwanda. I had been there just three months before the genocide rampage broke out in 1994. Driving in from the airport, we had seen the barricades blocking off parts of the city as the U. N. peacekeepers escorted the rebel leaders into the capital city in an attempt to form a government of national unity.
Now, nine years later...
we were back with a group of 22 missionaries, Rwandans and mission interns on a survey trip of Rwanda, a small nation in the ‘great lakes’ region of central Africa. That first night, my roommate, Bryan Harrison, and I invited two Rwandan brethren who were with our group to join us in our room for prayer. Hearing their prayers and cries to the Lord for their countrymen really touched me deeply. They poured out their hearts in grief for loved ones lost in the genocide. One brother said, “O Lord, you know how much I love anyone who loves my country and my people.” He went on to pray that God would send evangelists with the good news for his people.
The next morning, before we had really seen any of the horror of Rwanda, I awoke very early with tears and weeping for the nation. Specifically on my heart were the different young interns who were with us. Who among them would God call to this place in the dark heart of Africa? I prayed for all of them individually.
We began that day with a trip to one of the genocide memorial sites. It is a small country church where it is said that 5000 people were slaughtered. Much of the carnage and personal belongings are still lying on the floor between the low concrete pews as it has lain for nine years. It is a silent, stunning, horrific experience to observe a comb here, a shoe there, a pillow here, among the piles of bones. A man and a woman are there as caretakers of the memorial and to tell their stories. One had lost 12 family members and the other 18 family members in the holocaust of 1994. They told their stories and answered our questions. Tears … groans … sobs … prayers … each of us alone in silent contemplation.
That afternoon, Justin took us to the home of his wife’s relatives in Kigali. They had recently returned from exile abroad. They served us tea and engaged us in conversation about the tentative hope for the future of Rwanda.
Several of us then went up on to a mountain overlooking the city of Kigali. There we prayed for the city, that God would raise up a team of his choosing to come and do kingdom ministry in this city. I had met Justin Rudaswinga at an Africans Claiming Africa conference in Zimbabwe in 1997. One of the goals that had come out of that conference was the targeting and planting of churches in six major capital cities of Africa. Kigali was one of those cities. In the intervening time Justin had corresponded with me and urged me to help raise up a team of missionaries for that nation. On this afternoon, we were here with this man who had been interceding for his people for these six years. In our prayer time on that mountain, we laid hands on Justin, we anointed him with oil and commissioned him as ‘Chief Intercessor’ for the city of Kigali (pronounced Chigali) until God should raise up a mission team from among our people to join the spiritual battle for Kigali and the nation.
The following morning, I awoke weeping again. It seemed the Spirit was downloading a long list of ministries needed in this land. My mind and heart reeled with thoughts and feelings, connecting the needs I had seen with people, spiritual gifts and ministries I knew or knew of, that could be brought to bear in mission on the people of Rwanda. Among these was a national team of church planters who believe in and build a holistic approach to mission that would include counseling healing, educational and other forms of benevolent ministry that take seriously the whole person and whole communities. The vision that developed in my mind as I lay there in my bed was of a Great Tower of Light shining like a great beacon or lighthouse, reaching way beyond that dark land to the other nations of the 'Great lakes’ region of Africa.
That day was Sunday and we met with the mother church of an indigenous church movement begun since the genocide, known as the Evangelical Restoration Church. The movement consists of about 12,000 members in 35 congregations throughout Rwanda. The pastors of this church of several thousand members graciously granted us an interview. To me the clearest point and spirit of the hour we spent with them was the importance of Christian unity. They said, “If God calls you to this country, we will work with you.”
After that interview, we were hosted in the home of a relative of one of the Rwandan brethren in our group. This young man and his family prepared a meal for a group of about 14 of us who sat around his front yard sharing his hospitality. The young man spoke English, but had written out a prepared statement of welcome apparently because he couldn’t trust himself to speak the words without breaking down in front of us. In his statement, read by his cousin, he said, “… we used to meet like this and have fellowship among our friends and family, but we have not done it since [the genocide] because we do not know who we can trust.” My heart cried, “I know Someone you can trust!!”
That day God was working me over. That night I could no longer keep it in. I had to share with our group what was going on inside me. It was hard because the other half of me wasnÂ’t there to share what I was experiencing. Everything I felt and said had to be tempered with that fact. As I recall, I said to the group, “I cannot make a categorical commitment because Nancy is not here, but for myself, if God is calling me to this land to serve him here, I am willing to come.”
Early on Monday morning I awoke again in prayer and tears. Now God was presenting me with a personal challenge. In mind was a two-column blank sheet, the left side was headed, the ‘Pros’ of Sam Shewmaker serving in Rwanda; the right side was headed the ‘Cons.’ The ‘cons’ was a short list. One of the cons was ‘age.’ Could a person my age do this? Would it work for an older couple to team up with a young mission team? I had never seen a mission team diverse in age that worked well!!
But the Pros were many. Learn French? I had had French in high school and college. I could learn to speak it. Learn Kinyarwanda? Reputed to be one of the toughest Bantu languages for English speakers. I had learned one Bantu language; I believed I could learn another. Unrealistic or not, the spirit of Caleb was kicking in! (Josh. 14:10, 11). A committed, willing wife, check. Passion, check. A willing heart, check. Experience, well I had been there, I had seen it, I had smelled it. Who else would commit if those who had experienced it would not? But all of this was not really the point. It is God’s mission. If He was calling me to join Him in His mission in Rwanda, that was the point. Would I obey or not?
On Monday morning, eight of us walked in groups all over the uptown section of Kigali on a prayer-walk. We prayed for the streets and buildings that represented people for whom Christ died. We prayed for the marketplaces and the children. We could hear echoes of God’s concern for another ‘great city’ and of Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem. What happened on our Rwanda trip after Kigali was, for me, anticlimactic.