Reflections on Christian Community Development in Rwanda

A pastor observes the role churches play in their Rwandan communities

a group of participants in a vocational training session surround an engine

I was fortunate to participate with 14 others in a recent Mennonite Central Committee Alberta Learning tour to Rwanda. The purpose of the learning tour is to observe and interact with the work of MCC and their partners in relief and development.

Principles of Christian Community Development include working through local churches, reconciliation, leadership development and empowering locals, and a wholistic perspective on personal and community well-being. These principles were embodied in the work MCC is helping to facilitate among their partners across Rwanda in a variety of regions and focuses. MCC has been instrumental in networking smaller organizations and projects. Working together, supporting and equipping local and existing groups, is having a greater impact than MCC working alone.

Most notably, for me, was their partnership with Evangelical Friends Church, which is part of a Quaker denomination. MCC started partnering with Friends Church in Burundi in 1995 and in Rwanda in 1996, following ethnic tensions in Burundi and the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. MCC’s emphasis on peace and reconciliation through relief and development was an essential complement to Friends Church gospel presence in the midst of conflict. Alongside their partnership with MCC, Friends Church’s goals in Rwanda developed as (1)Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ; (2) Promoting education in Rwanda; (3) Advancing community socio-economic development in our country; (4) Building durable peace. These are values that align with Christian Community Development. I was privileged to preach on Sunday morning at their main campus, which is one of 76 local congregations across Rwanda.

In 2000, Friends Church established Friends Peace House Rwanda, known as Urugo rw’Amahoro in Kinyarwanda (The Home of Peace). Friends Peace House is the community development extension of the Church. It is a faith-based organization committed to programs in Peace Building, Education, Community Development and Good Governance.

We visited one of two vocational training centres called Mwana Nshuti, which means Friend of Child. The schools started to provide relief and food for street children, and have developed to provide vocational training for young people in Hairdressing, Culinary Arts and Automotive Mechanics, Sewing and Construction. Priority is given to young people that come for the poorest categories in Rwandan society. Students develop the skills that will help them to be employed. The program boasts a high success rate, and they are working hard to expand their programming.

The school is just one of the programs of Friends Peace House that seeks to wholistically contribute the development of Rwanda. FPH works in schools, prisons, with refugees and other groups to develop peace building skills and work toward reconciliation. They also provide supervision and education during government elections to ensure good and ethical governance. Their community development work includes conservation agriculture projects and support for savings and loans programs.

For me this is a perfect example of the role of the church in community development. MCC has had an important role in building and supporting this work.

Bill is Lead Pastor at Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary. Bill holds a doctorate in Christian Community Development from Northern Seminary. This story was previously published in the MCA Communique.