HERITAGE: OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH RWANDA
BY LISA PUCKETT
MARCH 31ST, 2017
This article is the third in a series on the values defining the Diocese of Christ Our Hope. Here we will explore our heritage “shaped by the surprising story of God’s work in and through the Anglican Church of Rwanda.”
Our diocese was birthed by the Anglican Church of Rwanda, having served in different forms under her leadership from 2000 until 2016. During those 16 years, our churches served as a missionary branch of the Anglican Church of Rwanda which provided canonical residence and oversight through leadership, partnership in mission, fellowship, and prayer. Our congregations and leaders were deeply transformed by that relationship. We long to keep those lessons at the forefront of our identity. Each of us has our own stories of how that influence was felt. Here are a few of mine.
First, the Anglican Church of Rwanda restored my spiritual home and my calling. I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church, though most of my early spiritual growth and faith training occurred elsewhere. While in my 20’s, I felt called to return, not only to worship in the Anglican Church, but also to serve there. However, in the next 10 years, it became clear that not only would I be barred from serving in the Episcopal church vocationally, but I could no longer worship in my local parish. The door to my calling was closed. Decades later, in finding an Anglican Church under the Archbishop of Rwanda, I was reunited with my spiritual home, my church family, and again restored in my vision and calling to serve the Church in an Anglican tradition. The way is open to me once again.
In contrast to my story, many others within our congregations are new to the Anglican church. With the Anglican Church in Rwanda’s commitment to church planting, nearly 100 new churches were born during this time. Many of us can say, “my church would not exist except for the Anglican Church of Rwanda.” Our Rwandan friends returned to us the Church in which we are called to worship and serve. This is our heritage.
Our brothers and sisters of the Anglican Church in Rwanda give us a bold example of radical obedience to the Lord, even in the face of great sacrifice. As we have shared our lives with one another, we have learned from their example and their stories. We hear how our Rwandan leaders returned to villages torn apart by the genocide, even before the fighting ended, at great risk to their safety and against the urging of their loved ones. We learn how they followed the call to attend seminary, even though it meant leaving family and country for years, depending on the Lord for basic necessities, and taking any job that was offered to make ends meet. When the Rwandan house of bishops voted to provide oversight for our American churches, they again chose obedience at great sacrifice. They were cut off from foreign funding when it was needed to rebuild their war-torn nation. They were ostracized and vilified among their peers. Even recently, when they urged us to join the Anglican Church of America, they again chose what is best for the Church in the US, for our health, for the strength of ACNA; at great sacrifice, knowing they will lose the funding from US churches which covers 80% of the provincial budget. Our Rwandan brothers and sisters model for us a radical obedience, even in the face of great sacrifice. This is our heritage.
Additionally, the church in Rwanda gives us living examples of reconciliation only possible in the power of the Risen Lord. This is an incredible witness to our hearts and to our communities. Under no other power is it possible for victims of the genocide, witnesses to the brutal mass murder of their loves ones, to forgive the very same people whose faces torment their dreams and memories. How many of us have great difficulty working out forgiveness in our own communities and families? Do we invite the power of the risen Christ to bring resurrection power to these relationships? In Rwanda we see the power of the present Spirit of God transforming lives, families and communities. This is our heritage.
Our powerful sister church relationships are transforming our congregations on both sides of the globe. Partnerships built through years of prayers, friendships, and exchanges create in Americans a paradigm shift away from our materialism and comfort, shifting our understanding of ‘normal’ and ‘needs.’ The Lord works this way, transforming our decisions. For example, in my life the choice between one home and the next changed from “can I afford an extra $30 each month” to “how can that extra $10,800 over the next 30 years transform my friends’ lives?” I started to ask, “how many goats can that buy for our family in Rwanda” and “how many homes can have a roof that protects those precious children from the driving rains?” Suddenly those people had names and faces. I could hear their singing and feel their strong embrace. Through these friendships, I’ve learned that the $3,000 I could use to replace my lilting tool shed, could instead be used to provide a home in Rwanda for friends whom I’ve hugged, laughed with, and worshiped with. The shed continues to lean and God has changed me, us, in light of our relationships in Rwanda. This is our heritage.
I’ve experienced a second paradigm shift. I used to wonder how my sadness and broken heart is possible, when I have so much? As I felt broken, weary, and home-sick, and washed my hands in the warm water flowing from our stainless-steel tap, standing on tiled floors, surrounded by full cabinets; I would remember the joy of my Rwandan friends, even as they walk miles to fetch water, as they grow their own food, as they eat one simple meal per day – and feel guilty. I would shame myself asking, “how can I despair when I have so much?” Indeed, these friendships provide perspective on our struggles, identifying ‘first-world problems.’ However, in these moments, God finally awakened me to the false gospel deeply-rooted that comfort brings joy and that comfort brings healing. Of course, I knew this was a false gospel in my mind, but not in my soul. I finally digested the truth that broken hearts on both sides of the globe are healed, not by comforts, but by the presence of God in our lives and in our relationships. In fact, I learned that leaning on our comforts can shield us from true healing that God provides, in the same way that a pillow separates us from the arm of a couch. Hearts on both sides of the globe bleed red and are healed by the love and sacrifice of God himself and nothing less. Through the stark contrast of cultures brought to light through our relationships, we see clearly the idols in our culture, so deeply engrained, and stop our striving for material comfort, finally seeking true comfort in the one who calls us His masterpiece. This is our heritage.
Our diocesan values say, “these gifts bring us into an ongoing story filled with miracle, mystery, connection, and blessing.”
In our Rwandan heritage, we see the miracle that God has so moved our brothers and sisters in across the globe to stand with us, even at great personal cost. We see the mystery that God moves in and among our friendships, developing a deep fellowship that spans geographic, economic, cultural, and language barriers. We see connection as deep as brother and sister, sharing in one mission, one bread, and one wine - unified in one body. We see blessings abundant in love, in healing, in freedom from false gospels, and in transformation into greater Christ-likeness.
We are grateful for this rich heritage. If you would like to learn more about the story of Rwandan leadership, Bishop Thad Barnum’s book “Never Silent” is a great resource. If you would like to share the story of radical reconciliation, the movie “As We Forgive” is a great place to start. Additionally, Rwanda Ministry Partners and Walk with Rwanda are ministries of ACNA established to encourage continued journeys along this fruitful path. The best stories are found in your own congregation; ask one another, “How are you influenced by our Rwandan heritage?” “Where do you see an ongoing story filled with miracle, mystery, connection, and blessing?”