Rwanda—Where Jehovah’s Patience Has Not Been in Vain
YELLOW-CRESTED cranes are having their morning meal among papyrus reeds along the meandering Niabarongo headwaters of the mighty Nile. Nearby, banana groves shelter a few small shops that line a stony road. Cassava, maize, coffee, beans and other crops decorate the steep slopes, interrupted by small scattered homesteads. Built of hardened clay bricks and covered with red roof tiles, the houses are quite attractive with their walls plastered white or yellow.
On the green hillsides, women dressed in red diligently work the fields, while a few goats and long-horned cattle can be seen on small pastures. At an altitude of about 1,600 meters (5,250 ft.) above sea level, the fresh air is invigorating. In the distance, partly enwrapped by white clouds, the 4,000-meter (13,000-foot) peaks of the volcanic Virunga chain crown the peaceful setting.
This is Rwanda, where Jehovah’s patience has not been exercised in vain. On one of the many small footpaths, still a bit slippery after the night’s rains, over a half-dozen adults and youngsters are walking along. It is Saturday morning, and they are on a 25-kilometer (16-mile) journey to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. There they plan to attend weekly Christian meetings and to benefit from personal Bible studies. Their interest in Scriptural truth had been aroused by a young woman from their area, after she had been contacted with the Kingdom message in Kigali. They are among individuals in Rwanda appreciating Jehovah’s patience in these “last days.”—2 Pet. 3:9; 2 Tim. 3:1.
A LATE START
True Christianity came to Rwanda at a very late date. A small country, covering only 26,338 square kilometers (10,169 square miles), Rwanda is landlocked in the heart of Africa. Its populace of over 4.5 million make use of nearly every available piece of land on its thousands of green hills. Until recently, under heavy domination by a few of Christendom’s religious organizations, the people came to know spiritual famine. (Amos 8:11) In 1971, however, three foreign Kingdom proclaimers began their work here, concentrating their efforts mainly on the limited Swahili-speaking population. By 1974 their number had grown to 14, but very few Rwandese were among them. Since about that time, greater religious freedom has prevailed in Rwanda, and several witnesses of Jehovah speaking Rwanda’s popular language, Kinyarwanda, have joined their ranks.
Among them was one family man who, like many Rwandese, was working for the copper mines in Shaba (formerly Katanga) in southern Zaïre. This man had searched for the truth and finally found it at the end of the 1960’s. As others moved away, he had opportunities to share in congregational responsibilities and thus rapidly acquired the experience needed to be a helpful spiritual shepherd. Yet, his thoughts and prayers often turned toward Rwanda, his distant homeland where hardly anyone was hearing the “good news.” Soon afterward, the instructor of a special course provided for Christian overseers encouraged him to enter the full-time preaching work in his home country. This possibility made his heart rejoice, so that neither a recent job promotion nor discouragement from relatives could hold him back. Jehovah’s hand was evident to him and his wife, as the necessary paperwork was completed in an amazingly short time and the company he worked for provided airplane tickets to Rwanda. His experience in the disciple-making work has proved to be a real stimulus to the activity here, along with the hard work of other zealous Witnesses.—Matt. 28:19, 20.
JEHOVAH’S PATIENCE APPRECIATED
Many of Rwanda’s new Kingdom proclaimers once were devout members of other religions. Now they show great appreciation for Jehovah’s patience, rapidly progressing and diligently proclaiming the “good news,” often as full-time evangelizers. A few examples will illustrate this.
A Pentecostal evangelist felt pity for the young special pioneer publisher in his town and decided to “straighten him out.” But the discussion that followed had quite the opposite effect. The evangelist confronted his priest with 18 doctrinal questions, but that clergyman could not answer them properly. When the evangelist began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, there were threats to kill him, as well as other forms of opposition. His wife wanted a divorce and cooperated with his enemies, but her position changed one day. As she was listening from the “prayer room” in the house while the Bible study was being conducted, she heard the Witnesses counsel her husband against beating her. Imagine the husband’s surprise one day when he found her witnessing to the priest! Not only were husband and wife united as true worshipers, but also five other family members took advantage of Jehovah’s patience.
One of these relatives was a capable young man sent by the church to “save” his uncle. After a five-hour discussion with the Witness who conducted the Bible study with the former evangelist, however, this nephew secretly arranged for a personal Bible study to be held every day, under the condition that his uncle would not be informed of this. But this secrecy ended when his uncle dropped in during a study. How delighted he was that his nephew was studying! After their Christian baptism, both this man and his nephew promptly became auxiliary pioneers and soon thereafter, regular pioneers (full-time Kingdom publishers). Since then they have moved to a rather isolated area, where some of their relatives and others have proved to be very receptive to the “good news.” What a joy for them to see a new congregation formed there, with over 30 persons regularly attending meetings!
In another case, a primary-school teacher heard that a certain man in town was denying the Trinity doctrine. His curiosity aroused, the teacher endeavored to meet the man, and a discussion with him led to a Bible study. Four months later, the schoolteacher had discerned that he had been part of a world system of false religion, from which he promptly broke away, followed by two other members of his family.—Rev. 18:4.
When this man was baptized as a witness of Jehovah, his former church sent letters all over the country warning its “flocks” against him. But appreciation for his relationship with God moved him to become an auxiliary pioneer right after his baptism, followed by regular pioneer service soon afterward. This entailed another drastic change in his life. He had to give up his well-respected teaching position and return to a much simpler life as a farmer. Since Rwanda is very densely populated and about 97 percent of its inhabitants engage in farming, secular employment is scarce and very much treasured. But this young man found greater happiness than ever before, including the joy of seeing several of his Bible students baptized.
Another teacher, living half a day’s journey from the nearest town, heard the message of truth when visiting Rwanda’s university town. Because of his isolation and the high transportation expense, a Bible study had to be conducted by mail, enriched by only two personal visits over the months. But this was sufficient to move him to tell the “good news” to neighbors, friends and some of his students. In time, his wife accepted this hope as well.
Soon this man was faced with an ultimatum: Stop preaching or lose your job. His decision was clear; he would continue telling others about God’s kingdom. Some warned him that he would be short of bread. However, not only have his family life and physical health improved, but he is also faring better spiritually. Others among his relatives have become subjects of God’s kingdom, along with several of his former students. And with the help of a special pioneer, a new congregation has recently come into existence in that area. Looking back, one can see the great value of Bible study by correspondence where personal visits may not be possible.
Religious entanglements, general opposition, employment difficulties and isolation have been overcome by many who have embraced true Christianity in Rwanda. Other problems surmounted have included immorality, strongly entrenched tobacco habits and heavy drinking. Tribalism is still another obstacle that Christians have had to conquer.
Then, too, there are ancestor worship and related rituals. A traditional rugo (an oval-shaped homestead surrounded by a hedge) contains a small hut specifically built for dead ancestors. Many persons are still offering sacrifices in which blood and beer play a role. More pronounced manifestations of spirit worship are evident in cases of death, sickness and material problems. Naturally, such practices are abandoned by those taking up the pure worship of Jehovah.
For example, a young family man broke free from witchcraft. An ardent student of witchcraft, he had almost reached the state of being a sorcerer himself. About half of his monthly earnings would go for leopard skins, lions’ teeth, elephant hair, potions and many other items associated with witchcraft. Even on his wedding day he devotedly invoked the spirits. Yet sicknesses pursued him and later also his wife.
After a brief initial contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, this man’s wife was impressed by seeing the name “Jehovah” at Jeremiah 16:21 in her Kinyarwanda Bible and so invited the Witnesses to their home. Interest was aroused, and one day this couple attended a Christian meeting at which a talk was given regarding spiritism and the condition of the dead. This information touched the man profoundly. He went home, gathered all his items connected with spirit worship—paraphernalia worth over $250 (U.S.)—and burned these articles, a job that took him three and a half hours. (Compare Acts 19:18, 19.) How surprised this couple was to see that their health thereafter improved rapidly! On another day, a woman visited them and, after hearing the “good news,” felt freed from years of spirit domination. In turn, she began studying the Bible and attending Christian meetings together with her husband. Meanwhile, our young family man has made other necessary changes in his life and has symbolized his dedication to Jehovah, who has shown him such patience and mercy.
A SELF-SACRIFICING SPIRIT
It is heartwarming to note the spirit of diligence, appreciation and willingness to make sacrifices that is evident among these who only recently began to taste of Jehovah’s loving-kindness. One man had only enough money to pay half a one-way fare to a circuit assembly. So he started walking. After about 65 kilometers (40 miles) on foot, he reached the halfway mark and obtained transportation to the assembly. How happy he was to be there!
Even when means of transport are available, often the vehicles do not provide much comfort. A person may have to ride in the back of a truck or on top of such cargo as charcoal, firewood, sugar or bottled drinks. Drivers generally make sure that all space is utilized, crowding up to 50 persons on the back of a small open truck—for a price, of course! Add to this the constant bouncing on stony roads, as well as occasional rains, and you can visualize what traveling, in many cases, is like. But Christians have made such journeys uncomplainingly in order to find much joy and refreshment at their circuit assemblies.
Traveling from Rwanda to the 1979 international convention in Nairobi, Kenya, was extremely difficult. The 29 assembly delegates—adults and children alike—were detained for the greater part of a day by soldiers in Uganda, then ruled by Idi Amin. Eventually reaching Nairobi, however, these conventioners greatly appreciated attending a spiritually rewarding assembly with fellow believers from 28 countries.
Appreciation for the light of truth and Jehovah’s undeserved kindness also is evident in the “pioneer” spirit of many Kingdom publishers in Rwanda. On the average, each publisher who is not in the full-time preaching work is spending between 20 and 25 hours monthly telling others the “good news” and conducting over one weekly Bible study with interested persons. And repeatedly it has happened that a new publisher has reported over 50 hours of evangelizing activity and three, four or even five Bible studies with others during a month!
But much Kingdom-preaching work remains to be done in this small, beautiful African land. Flying over Rwanda, a person sees numerous scattered homesteads. Apart from the well-watered plains of the Akagera National Park in the east, many people live along this country’s marshy riverbanks, on the rounded hilltops, near the green tea plantations, at the edges of the mountainous rain forest, on the many peninsulas of the scenic lakes and on the steep hillsides, even reaching up to the domain of the mountain gorilla on the forested slopes of the Virunga volcanoes. Efforts are being made to reach as many of these people as possible, both through visits in the more accessible homes and by meeting with them on market days.
Jehovah’s Witnesses here are grateful for God’s patience and for their opportunities to aid still others to take advantage of it. Divine patience can indeed be ‘considered as salvation’ for many, as is evident by a happy throng of worshipers of Jehovah in Rwanda.—2 Pet. 3:15.