I was born in a refugee camp in Burundi to Rwandan parents who had fled their home due to the violent conflict there in the 1960s. They had lost all their material possessions, but kept their deep Christian faith.
My name is Emmanuel. It means ‘God is with us’. And God has been with me.
Here is my story.
My siblings and I were raised to share the very strong set of Christian values held by my parents. Along with that, my father also had a great respect for education and, at the age of ten, I was sent from Tanzania – where our family had moved by then – to school in Kenya.
Life was never easy for a stateless person like me and being a teenager far from home was painful and difficult. There were barriers everywhere, and even finding a way to get back to Tanzania to see my family was hard.
Despite having been a very bright student, I almost didn't make it through high school. I got involved with a group of other young people who were more interested in sports than studies and when I came face to face with the prospect of failing my A-levels, I turned to the only source of help that I knew. I cried out to Jesus, repented of my sins, accepted his forgiveness and, with renewed confidence and focus, I passed my exams.
Forging a way forward
I carried on with my studying – achieving a diploma from tourism college and a university degree in Economics, but, sadly, I seemed to lose my way with my faith. I was a keen rugby player and a hard worker and I put my job and sport ahead of my God. For about ten years, church became nothing much more than a weekly habit for me. I was successful. I was building a strong career – first in tourism and then moving into senior management of a large petroleum company. From the outside, my life looked good. Inside, I was hurting deeply. I tried to mask my pain with a happy-go-lucky lifestyle, but there was an emptiness. A longing to belong.
Then, in 1997 I moved to Rwanda, the home of my ancestors. For the first time in my life, I felt I had a country I could call my own. Things seemed to be getting better, but a year later, I was involved in a near-fatal car accident. It left me with a lot of physical injuries, a completely written-off car and heavy medical bills. On my hospital bed, I once again called on the name of the Lord and cried deeply for salvation. Three months later, I left the hospital completely healed and restored.
God had shown himself to be with me and true to his word, and I became active in the church again, even training for ordained ministry. I felt a very strong conviction to help people in need – so much so that I resigned from my coveted position as a senior manager in a large petroleum company and joined a Christian relief and development organisation as a junior officer.
At this point, there were people who knew me who began to question what I was doing. They couldn't understand why I believed God wanted me in a different (and far more junior) role, with helping people at the centre of it. But I was certain this was where God wanted me to be, and I was determined to follow him.
During my time at the petroleum company, I had met Alice, a woman with a solid and inspiring faith, and we married not long after this. Since then, we’ve been blessed with two wonderful daughters and, in the meantime, in my new organisation, I was promoted to the role of regional programmes director. I continued to work there for six years before taking a sabbatical in the Netherlands. It was whilst there that I was recruited by Tearfund as a country director for Rwanda and Burundi.
The future and the frail
Working for Tearfund has been a great blessing. I feel I am finally where God wants me and always have in mind Matthew 25:45 where Jesus said: ‘.“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”’ As Christ-followers, we are called to care for the ones society has forgotten. My mother was widowed at a young age, as were many of my aunts, and I've seen how older people in our communities can be left vulnerable and marginalised. This has given me a particular passion to encourage churches and communities to follow the Bible’s command to honour our elders.
Older people in Rwanda are particularly affected by the legacy of conflict and the genocide here which claimed an estimated one million lives. Many lost their immediate families in the violence. Diseases such as HIV and AIDS have also had an impact, leaving them without any of the social ‘safety nets’ that are vital in old age – the children and grandchildren who will provide for them and care for them as they grow more frail.
For many of these people, their only hope has become their other family: the church. It has been a great privilege to work with Tearfund on a pilot programme focusing on making sure that elderly people in Rwanda are included and not forgotten. Our aim is to get the church, government, businesses and wider society moving to make the necessary choices and provisions to look after the needs of elderly people. We are so excited that we have already started to see this make a real difference in the way older people are being valued and treated.
Life is so precious. The lives of these older people are precious to our God who made them and loves each of them. I thank God for my life too. He has sustained me; whatever I have done since coming back to faith, I have been led by his Spirit. I have depended on him and he has been faithful; leading me to where he wants me to serve, shining his light on those in greatest need.
Forgiveness and freedom
In serving as a part-time pastor and preacher, I love to spread the good news about Jesus Christ and his purpose for our lives – and that he said to us: ‘“I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full.’” (John 10:10)
For many Rwandans and in my own life, there has been much to forgive. But God is with me. He has taken away the bitterness of my youth; I no longer harbour ill feelings against those who caused the hard situations I have faced in my life, nor against those who killed my relatives. Christ forgave me and has taught me to forgive.
My faith and my being are anchored in his forgiveness. Great is his faithfulness!
God of love, God of restoration, God of forgiveness. We lift before you the people of Rwanda. We pray for those whose lives have been touched by genocide and conflict; for the older generation who lost family members and now find themselves alone; for those who fled in fear and were robbed of so much. We ask for your ongoing comfort and grace to forgive. We pray for all to feel valued and cared for and loved. May your church be a beacon of hope and light in Rwanda. In your name we pray, amen.