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Rwandan bishop helps charity

14 March 2014

Memories: Bishop Muvunyi

Memories: Bishop Muvunyi

WHEN the 1994 genocide took place in Rwanda, Louis Muvunyi was across the border, studying at a Bible college in Tanzania. An estimated 800,000 people were killed during the course of 100 days, including his three brothers. He was left battling the urge to pack his bags and abandon his studies.

"Sometimes I was angry," he said on Tuesday. "How would I preach love, forgiveness, and reconciliation? I was very bitter."

Twenty years later, as Bishop of Kigali, he is able to feel pity for the killers he visits in prison: "They are also human beings. They tell of the dreams and horrors they go through...They want to ask for forgiveness so that they don't die with blood on their hands."

Bishop Muvunyi is in the UK for a week, to publicise his partnership with the charity Samaritan's Purse, which is helping churches and communities in Rwanda to tackle poverty. There are currently 1660 families in the Raising Families programme, which encourages people to form community-action groups and pool resources.

"It is revisiting the mission of the Church, which is to be a solution to spiritual and physical needs," he said. The Church had in the past failed to appreciate its part in addressing the latter: "There was the theology that the spirit is good, and the material is evil, looking heavenwards without looking into their surroundings...God is not just concerned with our spiritual needs, he is concerned with our material needs as well."

He described how pooling money had enabled women to buy mattresses, instead of having to sleep on the ground, and financed smallbusinesses. It was "very easy" to preach healing and reconciliation to such groups, because "already, they see that they need one another".

Reflecting on the 20th anniversary of the genocide, he acknowledged that the Church had been implicated in the massacres, both by failing to speak out, and, in some cases, participating in the killings.

"After the genocide, people had refused to come back to the Church, because even the churches became centres of killing." It had been important to hear church leaders issue a public apology, he said.

"In every corner of the country there is a church. Even if under a tree or in bushes or a small hut, people are praying. The Church is everywhere."

The Church was working with the government on healing and reconciliation, but it must be "vigilant, and remain prophetic. There is so much we can learn from previous leaders who did not behave well...The Church is ready to speak out; nobody wants the country to go back to what we experienced."  

Next month, "Kwibuka (Remember) 20" will take place: it is a worldwide series of events that mark the anniversary of the genocide. In Rwanda, a national torch of remembrance has been on tour since 7 January. On 7 April, the President, Paul Kagame, will use it to light the National Flame of Mourning.

Rwanda makes extradition request.  The Rwandan government has asked Britain to extradite a pastor at Fountain Church, Ashford, Kent, Dr Celestin Mutabaruka. He is accused of having been the leader of a Hutu militia that hacked Tutsi people to death during the genocide. On Tuesday of last week, Westminster Magistrates Court heard witness statements supporting the charges. Dr Mutabaruka denies any part in the genocide.

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