One of my great joys is to teach evangelism, as an adjunct professor, at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. And one of my most profound joys in teaching is to work alongside some of the finest practitioners of evangelism in the world. One such evangelist is my dear friend Dr. Lon Allison. Lon is the Director of the Billy Graham Center and a dedicated preacher and evangelist. He also promotes the unity of the Spirit in the whole church. I was asked by Lon, a few years ago, to serve on this advisory team. I gladly do this and support him in every way I can. Lon recently made a trip to Africa and shared the following account of his journey with his friends. I share it with you because of the insight it provides regarding the church in Rwanda and in the West.
Less than a week ago, I proclaimed the gospel of Christ in Mukamiri, Rwanda. Several congregations gathered in a large concrete structure that was grey and barren of art or color. They call this building their church. The service went 2 ½ hours before I spoke. Children’s, women’s, youth, men’s, and combined choirs sang and told the gospel story. Most of all, the choirs dance. Oh how they dance!
Earlier in the week I’d witnessed and experienced the same on a hillside outside the Anglican Cathedral in Musanze. Africans love preaching that has been, and we’d given them our best efforts, “prayed-up and through-through.” Preachers from the “West” like myself, and African Bishops and Archbishops, all took turns in declaring the Word. It was, I’m told, reminiscent of the East African revivals bursting upon these lands in the 1930s. We preached and we sang, but most of all, I remember that we danced. Bishop Nathan grabbed my hand (we’d just finished preaching together) and said, “Come Dr. Lon, we dance”.”And did we dance—hundreds of Africans, many who had just come forward to commit to Christ (children, youth, mothers with babies, bishops wearing purple)—we danced. The dance was a glad, exuberant kind of dance unstructured and full of complex and vibrant African rhythms. I’m not absolutely positive, but I believe I saw Jesus in the crowd.
The dances of Rwandan life are sometimes overwhelmingly sad as well. Our trip started with a sad dance. We’d come to Rwanda, from Vancouver and Chicago, as a team of 10. Part of our purpose was to experience and learn from Rwanda. The sad dance defies descriptive words. I sum it up with one: genocide. In the spring and summer of 1994, chaos and evil reigned. Neighbor betrayed neighbor, family betrayed family—ethnic cleansing spilled blood throughout Rwanda. More than one million people perished. Today memorials from the genocide are found in every region of the country. And at each memorial are buried bodies. At the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, 250,000 bodies are buried in vaults; most are nameless. We witnessed a bombed out church where grenades had punctured the walls, and 5,000 had perished mostly from machetes. Skulls of that destruction, and the clothes they wore, are on display. Dark brown blood marks many of the walls and the floor. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Rwandans get that.
Sixteen years later, the country and its ten million people still struggle to find ways to cope, understand, forgive, and when possible, to reconcile. The church of Jesus leads out in the reconciliation teaching and guiding the way to peace which only the gospel affords. And the government participates as well. In many places, reconciliation leads to restitution and restoration. Across the red dirt street from the “grenaded” church are new homes built for families who lost loved ones. The builders are remorse-filled perpetrators of the genocide. The genocide will not go away. Anyone you get to know beyond their first name, will answer softly and reverently when asked if they knew someone who died. The common answer is, “yes, many”. You ask no more questions.
In this climate, God’s people preach, counsel, guide and rebuild the souls and structures of their society. And brethren from the West, like our little team, join them. Shoulder-to-shoulder, text-to-text, prayer-to-prayer, we joined. We certainly realized that we were among people knowing pain most of us have never known. And because of that, we understood that the church also knows grace and mercy at levels beyond our understanding and experience. There were giants among us. And yet, they seemed so grateful we’d come. Bishop John told us why. Rwandans remember when they cried out and the world did not come—until too late. Somehow, in our coming now, they find comfort. They are effusive in their gratitude.
It was by faith I preached in these places. The Word of God and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins was my only theme. My brothers and sisters did the same. Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the Word of God. And the mystery of salvation, the breathtaking wonder of watching souls born anew, experiencing grace, forgiveness, and hope happened over and over again. Our best estimates suggest we preached to some 10,750 people in our meetings. And we watched as approximately 1,750 responded and by commitment stepped into, or back into, trust in Jesus Christ to save them in this life and the next.
Many of you prayed and some of you gave money to help us in this journey. Please receive my thanks.
What is next? We are now planning and raising funds to invite key Rwandan Christian leaders to come to America and preach Christ and reconciliation to us. Like the Macedonian we cry out, “Come to America and help us.” We were with some giants. Perhaps God will use them to save our people and our land.
I hope to return. Both Rwanda and Tanzania have asked for me to return next year and stand with them in other settings, to preach the gospel of Christ, and dance, dance, dance.
July 31, 2010