What can God do through power of a single life? In April of 1994, in the small African country of Rwanda, more than a million of its eight million people were brutally murdered over the next 100 days. These murders happened not because of tribal conflict or civil war but in the name of genocide. The elimination of every Tutsi man, woman, and child was named by its leaders as “the final solution.”
What happened in Rwanda did not begin over night. Division and discrimination among Rwandans had been brewing since the Belgians ruled their country and implemented active colonization in 1926. In Rwanda, the three main ethnicities are: the Hutu, Tutsis, and the Twa. The Belgians claimed that the Tutsis were descendents of Noah’s son Ham of the Bible and had connections with the ancient Egyptians and therefore the Tutsis were named the noble race of Rwanda. Because this belief was continually communicated by the Belgians the Tutsis began to believe that they were a superior race, and the Hutu’s also began to believe that they were an inferior race. It was the Belgians that created division and hatred between the ethnicities of the Hutu’s and the Tutsis because they believed it made Rwanda easier to control. According to Rwandans, the Hutu and Tutsis are not different African tribes because they speak the same language, live in the same geographic area and share the same customs and culture. Yet, it was not just the Belgians that began to teach these myths. Favoritism was also being taught in the schools and the churches. After several decades of discrimination against the Hutus, the Hutus fought back and began to gain power in Rwanda in what was called the “Hutu Revolution.” Due to continued discrimination, growing violence, and pressure from the UN, Rwanda was granted its independence from Belgium in July of 1962.
John Rucyahana, a Tutsi, was raised in Rwanda near the Ugandan border. Growing up, John did very well in school and had high expectations of his life. John dreamed of a prosperous career as either a medical doctor or an engineer. Yet, due to growing discrimination and violence in Rwanda, John’s parents decided to move to the Congo and eventually to Uganda were they lived in Refugee camps. While living in a refugee camp, a lady named Mary Mukamurasa had great influence in John’s life and continually shared with John his need for a relationship with Jesus Christ. In 1966 John met Christ, began reading the Bible, and that God began to give him a vision of who he was to become. John knew he was to pursue a life of full-time ministry, but he struggled between knowing he could have great impact on Rwanda, and also knowing this choice meant missing great university opportunities.
Without any assistance from the international community, after 100 days General Paul Kagame, his Tutsis soldiers, and perhaps the aid of God, had stopped the Rwandan genocide Then in August of 1994, just weeks after the genocide had stopped; John decided to visit Rwanda with a group of eleven pastors. John told them “If God is going to use us; we need to go there and see this for ourselves. If we are going to preach God again there, we don’t need to be told by anyone what happened. We must see for ourselves.” After John’s first return visit in 1994 he never stopped working in Rwanda. John continually traveled from Uganda to Rwanda hosting conferences for local church leaders in Rwanda. It was in 1996 that John began feeling called to be a permanent part of the new Rwandan community. At first he thought he could do the best work from Uganda, because John had a large and growing ministry, a very good home, land, and his children in good schools. Uganda even granted John citizenship, which is extremely rare for an African refugee. In 1997, a group of people from Rwanda wrote multiple letters to John saying “John we know you…You are Rwandan. We need you. Rwanda needs you.” There was great risk for John and his family returning to Rwanda including his ministry, kid’s education, comfort and especially safety. John took the decision to the Lord in prayer. Even though he had doubts, every time John slowed down to pray he heard a voice. A clear voice from within that Rwanda needed to hear a new message of hope. John knew he had to go. On June 8th of 1997, John was consecrated to be the Bishop of Shyira diocese in Rwanda.
The New Rwanda
In the midst of suffering, Bishop John saw hope in the children of Rwanda. He envisioned the potential of a new generation of leaders trained in excellence, in service to others and founded on the teachings of Jesus. Since the genocide, God has blessed Rwanda in many ways including spiritually through healing and forgiveness, economically through fertile land and advancements in technology and through government blessings as local people are taking part in rebuilding the Rwandan infrastructure. Bishop John has built many churches in Rwanda, but he believes what is more important is how he has helped build up the people. Bishop John has built the church by building schools, repairing the hospital, and taking care of children and youth in remote areas of the country. Bishop John says when he gets done building the church, then he will build the church building. Today in the New Rwanda, the people of Rwanda do not describe themselves as Hutu or Tutsis, but simply as Rwandans.
Addressing Rwanda’s estimated 400,000 orphans and devastated education system; Bishop John founded the Sonrise School. The school’s mission is to set the standard for academic excellence and servant leadership, while at the same time, demonstrating that with love and education, the country’s neediest children are redeemable and can be developed into leaders. The majority of the Sonrise School’s students are genocide/AIDS orphans chosen because they were the neediest children in their villages. Sonrise School opened in 2001 with 200 students in primary grades 1-4 and has added an additional grade each year since. Today, the school has over 1000 students in eleven grades (primary 1-6 and secondary 1-5). The school will graduate its first high school class in 2010.
In 2008, Rwanda broke ground for a new kind of university to equip a new generation of entrepreneurs within their growing economy. Rwandan President Kagame expressed his gratitude for the continuing work of Bishop John, commending him “not only as a leader of faith, but as an outstanding citizen and a true visionary. Indeed, thousands of Rwandans are reaping the benefit of Bishop John’s leadership.” The mission of Muhabura University will be to prepare talented and dedicated students for extraordinary lives as principled entrepreneurs. Students will include an equal number of men and women. The professional disciplines taught will address Rwanda’s greatest needs by offering degrees in a wide range of business and engineering fields. Graduating students will have the hands-on professional skills to provide high quality services with excellence and integrity.
One of the many businesses Bishop John has helped build along with other leaders from around the world is a new micro-finance bank in Rwanda. Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda created in 2007 is Opportunity International’s new Rwandan commercial bank. Urwego Opportunity Bank is a for-profit commercial bank that provides savings, loans, insurance and other financial services to individuals living in poverty. Micro-finance banks administer small loans to small business entrepreneurs from $50 to $250 to create new businesses. Today, this bank has four full-service branch offices in Kigali and loan production offices in 27 of Rwanda’s 30 districts. It has more than 34,000 loan clients and over 12,000 savings clients.
Building a Legacy
Bishop John and Harriet have been married since 1969 and have five children: Grace, Patrick, Hope, Joy and Andrew. God is using the Bishop of Rwanda to transform a nation of people in great pain by creating opportunities for reconciliation to God one person and relationship at a time. Since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has become one of the safest countries in Africa, and desires to become the high tech center of all of Africa in the near future. Yet, the true miracle of God in Rwanda is not new schools, growing businesses, or the reconciliation of its people, but supernatural reconciliation of the people of Rwanda to God Himself.
Rucyahana, John, The Bishop of Rwanda, 2007.
Movie: Hotel Rwanda, United Artists, 2004.