Last week Eileen and I visited Rwanda for the second time. We were there to share in final acts of commemoration of the genocide 20 years ago, to lead the House of Bishops Retreat and to see some Tearfund projects.
What a different visit. Nineteen years ago we were among the first visitors after the genocide. The country was traumatised from the shocking tribal conflict that left 20 per cent of the nation dead and tens of thousands of orphans and widows. Our Church was not exempt from the wounds either. Few bishops had remained at their post and those who had, with their remaining clergy and people, were broken and ashamed.
I still recall the words of a Roman Catholic bishop who said: “Archbishop, the blood of tribalism is thicker that the waters of baptism.” So it seemed from that visit.
Neither Eileen nor I can forget one of the meetings in the Cathedral where hundreds of Anglicans had gathered to welcome us, when it just collapsed into accusations, condemnation and as close to violence as a meeting could get.
In that Cathedral Church, the Dean of the Cathedral, Alphonse Kahurije, a former MA student of mine at Trinity College, Bristol, had been murdered and his body never recovered.
Another unforgettable part of that visit was a service in the parish of Ruhanga, some miles from Kigali, where 32,000 – yes, that is not a slip of the pen - had been slaughtered. I laid the foundation stone of the new church and it was good to pay it a second visit and see the church prospering.
In that space of 19 years how things have changed! The country is doing very well and in a private meeting with the President I was left in no doubt of the progress made - in education, social integration and health care. It is a different country and so is the Church.
In early 1995 Bishop Onesephore Rawje, dean of the House of Bishops - a godly and outstanding bishop – seemed to be the only stable influence. Now Archbishop, Onesephore continues his remarkable ministry as a caring, relaxed leader with mission at the heart of all he does.
The Commemoration services were long yet inspiring. At Ruhanga Church we met a young man called Eric who was 13 when the killings commenced in and around the church. People had fled to the church believing that they were safe there. The Army arrived and started shooting. Eric’s mother was killed and he was hidden by her body.
Hours passed and then the killers returned to finish off those who could be heard groaning. They pretended to be rescuers and promised help. The survivors stood up only to find that they were in the hands of the murderers again. They were lined up in two groups. Those who had money could pay and at least get a quick death by shooting. The fate of those without money was to have their throat cut by machete.
Eric, who had no money, stood behind a lady who gave the killers 1,000 Rwandan francs - about 90p. She was shot and, again, he was protected by the lady’s body. Eric and his small sister, who was just 5, were the only survivors of a family of seven.
And there was Dorothy Mukamurenzi who was at that service in 1995 as a survivor of the genocide. She was just 11. She said that something I had said in my sermon was the start of her journey towards Christian service. Now ordained, we visited her parish at Ntunga where, among the many visible signs of a growing church, she is leading a course on ‘sexual violence’, which is sponsored and assisted by Tearfund.
We were delighted to see the extent of the links between Tearfund and the Anglican Church of the Province. We saw some inspiring examples of the faith in action. A mushroom factory, micro-financing projects led and shaped by ordinary members of congregation and other development projects that have given people hope and brought them out of poverty.
Central to Tearfund’s vision in Rwanda is the priority given to transforming the lives of people and this was echoed in every visit we made.
When I teasingly asked what was the link between a mushroom and the gospel, I was told in no uncertain manner by one of the lay leaders that it was the gospel that led the people to consider investing in mushrooms. In the few years the factory was built - by the people themselves – it had blessed the lives of 1,300 people already and expansion was planned.
I led a two-day House of Bishops Retreat and found these church leaders in good heart with a huge desire to be effective, missionary leaders.
Yes, the Anglican Province of Rwanda is a poor church if one measures it in financial terms. But it is immensely rich in human resources, courage and faith. It can never forget the genocide and never should, but it has learned many lessons from those harrowing and horrifying events. This is a church that can teach the West many things as long as we have the humility to learn them.
As we drove towards the airport to fly home I noticed one of the banners that is everywhere in Rwanda. It read ‘Kwibuka: Remember: Unite: Renew’. George Carey and Eileen Carey are vice-presidents of