Friday, July 15, 2011


This past Fourth of July passed with little fanfare in our lives. It came on a Monday in which I was experiencing ministry exhaustion. Our family went to a pool with a few friends and simply rested.

As time passed memories came to my mind. Some were of Fourth of July’s past in America where we gathered with family and friends on the lake, ate well, played, and finished the day watching fireworks overhead to celebrate America’s Independence. Others were of gatherings at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali as we gathered with friends to remember when Rwanda’s genocide ended as Kigali was liberated by the RPF victory.

Then my mind drifted to other memories. Freedom requires suffering. It comes with a painful cost. During the season of suffering life can be completely disorientating. As the season of suffering ends with victory it is time to build institutions to make the past struggle simply history.

My grandmother, Minnie Sophia Eichorn Jenkins and I share a common birthday. We also shared a love for reading history and writing. I keep some of her diaries and correspondence. She charted our family history back to the days of the American Revolutionary War. At a certain point the past becomes a story in which it is difficult to feel empathy. On the chart are the names of men who served in many of the United State’s wars. Yet, in my grandmother’s diary is a painful memory. Today, I don’t have the emotional strength to read the story. My grandmother had an older brother named Sanford. From the correspondence between the two they were childhood best friends. Sanford joined the U.S. Army and served in the First World War. He was a casualty of that war. I don’t think my grandmother ever completely healed from the loss of her brother. As she told me the stories of her life, his name, photos, and stories always were entwined. I’ve been told that my grandmother’s dad late in life would still be brought to tears by the memory of the loss of his son, Sanford Eichorn.

Men like Sanford Eichorn gave generations the gift of freedom. Trench warfare in France changed life in rural Minnesota forever. Following his death, my grandmother taught in a one room school, met my grandfather, married, and raised five children (of which one was my dad.) My grandfather, Jay Jenkins was partially handicapped during a season of American history in which a man’s livelihood depended on physical strength. Three of my uncles served in the Second World War. As time has gone on those of us a bit younger have realized that some of them saw the darkest hours of the Second World War. We received a legacy of freedom paid by ordinary people who for a season of life were heroic. They endured poverty and violence for principle. At best those of us a bit younger were able to labor for the infra-structure that made life enduring in America. My dad built highways. I enjoy driving with my children on roads my dad labored upon. There is something intensely rewarding to show my children the fruit of my dad’s labor.

We were formed by a freedom struggle.

My grandmother was an intuitive person. She sensed that I would be different than her other grandchildren, and likely move far from rural Minnesota to do something new. It is ironic that Rwanda and the United States share the same day of freedom victory.

I was in Rwanda’s neighboring country of Uganda in 1993 and 1994. For some unique reason in the plans of God my first friendships were with those who shared in Rwanda’s journey. (For more detailed reading see

One of my college friends, Charles Guma was from Western Uganda near a place where Rwandan refugees lived. I remember visiting his home shortly after my arrival in Uganda and listening to his family discuss the loss of Guma’s nephew in the Rwanda struggle. I remember ordinary Rwandan women and children I knew in Kampala who listened to the news of negotiations in Arusha with hope of returning home. I also remember stunned horror as news began coming from Rwanda following the start of the genocide on 7 April, 1994. On 4 July, 1994 Kigali was liberated and the genocide ceased. Since then many have labored to build a new Rwanda.

We were formed by a freedom struggle.

My study of Scripture and history tells me that these freedom struggles are part of human history. Left to our own fallen nature mankind falls into the traps of tyranny and slavery. The forms may vary, but there is something addictive about surrendering freedom. Yet the image of God within each one of us yearns for freedom.

Three old names from the Bible quickly come to mind in formative freedom struggles – Moses, Jesus, and Paul.

Israel over 400 years transitions from a dysfunctional extended family into a nation while living exiled from their promised land. As their population increases their ethnic cousins wage war on Egypt. Pharaoh’s morally repugnant but politically seeming shrewd maneuver is a combination of genocide and slavery. A Hebrew pretending to be an Egyptian prince spends 40 years herding livestock in the desert until God calls. The call further teaches Moses humility. The instructions are clear. Israel must be free to worship. After painful plagues they are released. However, slavery had become addictive. At each moment in which the mystery of freedom is too intense Israel begs to return to Egypt. Only a generation who tasted freedom in desert conditions could truly become what God intended. In the process of national formation God speaks with 10 Commands. Freedom requires responsible action in community.
We were formed by a freedom struggle.

The commands were a tool of God to keep Israel free. Generations later their intent had been corrupted.

Jesus of Nazareth entered history as Judah was living under Roman occupation. He historically followed one Judah’s great religious reform movements, the Pharisees. However, like most reform movements as they passed the fervor of their revival experience to another generation the spirit was lost and what remained was rituals designed to create religious control. Jesus proclaimed freedom from the control of religion. He spoke old messages with new authority. He proclaimed the liberty and forgiveness of Jubilee. He proclaimed the last command that God was interested in our heart above all. He showed the nature of God was to suffer and die to bring us freedom from the addictive slavery of sin. Though he died in a remote and almost unknown province as a common thieve His message transformed the world.

We were formed by a freedom struggle.

The messengers of Jesus spread His message where ever they journeyed. They formed new communities of faith called churches. The seeming master missionary of this generation was Paul (former Saul) of Tarsus. He had grown up under the bondage of religious control. The mechanisms of control teach hate. As he met the light and love of Jesus, Paul was transformed. His transformation reached all that he met. As he left his baby churches others arrived seeking to bring freedom back to religious control. Paul was enraged when he wrote the letter to Galatians. The control freaks lost the battle for the heart of the church, but they have a habit of creeping into our lives at moments when mystery is overwhelming.

We were formed by a freedom struggle.

Throughout history the cycles repeat. Slavery while sounding awful is full of comfort. It makes life controlled and understandable. Freedom is about mystery, celebration, and a responsible transformed community. The Reformers rise to call us back to the freedom struggle.

My spiritual heritage is a child of the Second Great Awakening called the American Restoration Movement (or some label it the Stone / Campbell Movement, but these men were resistant to labeling their principles by their names.) It was a movement rooted in a hunger for the paradox of Revival and Unity. Like all of those who struggle for freedom the early years were not ones of religious popularity. However, they were transformational. I am forever grateful for the legacy of these freedom seekers.

We were formed by a freedom struggle.

As our family came to Rwanda we came as children of a freedom struggle. Our desire was simple – To plant non-denominational English based church with a good children’s program for returning Diaspora. We wrestled with the place of our heritage in this freedom journey. (For more reading see

In the early days of CCR’s birth the forces of slavery raged. Painfully, we stood with the freedom seekers. Those days were lonely and our own weaknesses were displayed. Yet, now that the victory has come our task remains. We must build a community that will endure. Our task is not finished until the Lord returns.

We were formed by a freedom struggle.

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