I have a love / hate relationship with Rwandan churches and families. My life is intimately entwined with the life cycles of families who cluster at church. I believe in the ideals of church as a gathering of humanity called out of the failings of the world. I believe in the ideals of family that bind individual men and women in lifelong covenants full of beauty, passion, and continuity. I love churches and families with all of both their heroic and failed moments.
Rwanda’s history shaped our entire region during the East African Revival of the 1930’s and 40’s. No church that considers itself evangelical in sub-Saharan Africa can truthfully tell her story and not eventually return to Gahini, Rwanda. Yet, the failings of Rwanda’s churches will forever stand in history as complicit players in Rwanda’s Genocide. In less dramatic seasons churches and Christian N.G.O’s have created manipulative schemes to con western donors out of funds that portray Africa as a basket case. The practical result is Kilokole marketing kills honest business investment. Thus I feel towards Kilokole much like how my Ugandan brothers who lived under Amin and Obote II feel about Kiswahili. Kilokole is the language of pseudo-Christian soldiers and thieves.
Yet, history tells us that at the most crucial moments of humanity when truth must be spoken and lived the institutions of church and family provided the only lasting solution. I believe we now live in that day. Rwanda’s churches and families are the answer for Rwanda’s vulnerable children. It is time we say, “This is our responsibility. These children are ours. You will not take our children away.”
We can do a google search and quickly find statistics and stories about vulnerable children in Rwanda. A friend once told me, “Statistics lie and liars use statistics.” I hope the images of some are exaggerated. If the statistics are remotely true Rwanda has a ticking economic time bomb. We are unlikely to reach the 2020 Vision with so many vulnerable children without care. We all see situations we cannot ignore. Children lead households. Several thousand children are in orphanages instead of families. MIGEPROF has begun a noble policy of de-institutionalization. Yet, each week in New Times we read of new born children abandoned by their mothers. Even the Bible tells us that in desperate times mothers abandon their children (Exodus 2; Ezekiel 16).
The easiest way to deal with vulnerable children is to create an institution, project, or program. I know. I’ve done it before. The NGO world and their marketers thrive in this genre. Yet, children will not thrive as a project of an NGO. Children thrive in families. Families thrive in churches. I propose the season has now come for churches in Rwanda to use their social network (that is more effective than either twitter or facebook) to develop a network of families who will immediately foster children in vulnerable situations. From this fostering either the child will be reunited with healthy members of his extended family, or if no healthy extended family members can be identified the child will be adopted by a family who will raise this child with full legal rights of an heir.
I will preach, pray, and live this model. Allow me to tell a story. On March 12, 2011 a woman in rural Rwanda gave birth to a baby boy 10 weeks premature that weighed only 1.3 kilos. The next day she went to a health clinic with the child and was transported to Rwamagana Hospital. The following morning she disappeared. The little boy stayed in the Rwamagana hospital for 8 more weeks. While there friends of friends made phone calls. On 13 May, he came to live in my home and weighed only 1.5 kilos. Our community gave him the name, Gabriel Mugisha in confidence that this young man would live the blessing of a strong communicator. He rapidly gained weighed, struggled at times, and now weighs 3.1 kilos. I do not know Gabriel’s future. I do know he is a child of my family, church, and community. As long as I am alive he will not go to an institution. He also will not go to a pattern of abuse. He will grow in the nurture of a family, church, and community.
I am praying for his forever family. I see three possibilities. First, I may get a surprise phone call that sounds like this, “Pastor Dave, thank you for taking care of Gabriel. I apologize. My niece is a disaster. I had no idea she was pregnant. Our family has just found out what has happened. We would like to come meet your family and then bring Gabriel home.” I would check out the uncle’s story and references, but be thrilled if this was true. I’d ask that they always consider me one of Gabriel’s uncles, come to our yearly Christmas party, let me help top up Gabriel’s school fees, and contribute a cow when he marries. Gabriel’s future will be found in a family and church.
The second possibility is that the police after an exhaustive search will find that Gabriel has no identifiable extended family. I am 44 years old with a missionary salary and five children. Another family may arise with more strength, wisdom, and resources. They may adopt Gabriel. Gabriel’s future will be found in a family and church.
The third possibility is that time may pass. For Gabriel to transition to another family will just be too painful for both Gabriel and my family. My best research says this will happen sometime between eight months and two years in Gabriel’s age. We may adopt Gabriel. Gabriel’s future will be found in a family and church.
Yet, there are many Gabriel Mugisha’s in Rwanda. My family cannot be the only answer. However, there are also many families and churches in Rwanda. These families and churches can be the answer. Rwanda’s churches and families are the answers to Rwanda’s vulnerable children. Now is the time for Rwanda’s churches and families to reclaim their former honor as leaders of our region in faith, hope, and love.