Simon and Odile’s Wedding

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Shirley and I were very blessed to be included in all the events surrounding the marriage of Nyamuberwa Simon and Nagahire Odile.  Odile is on the staff of Gitarama Presbytery as the Director of Development, and also as the Administrative Assistant to Celestin Nsengimana, the President of the presbytery.  We work very closely with Odile.  She has been extremely helpful to us right from the start of our time here.  Weddings here typically include three parts – the civil ceremony which takes place before a political official and is required of all couples, the presentation of the dowry which is a long standing tradition in this culture, and a worship service at the church.  The dowry presentation and church wedding are optional.  Simon and Odile’s civil ceremony took place on Thursday, August 28, 2014.  In all six couples were married in this civil ceremony, including Odile’s brother, Lambert and his bride, Gabriella.  Couples typically do not live together as husband and wife until after the church wedding.  Simon and Odile’s dowry presentation and church wedding took place on the same day – Saturday, September 6, 2014.  I share these photos with you and the commentary in the hopes of introducing you to the Rwandese culture surrounding the time honored and world wide tradition of marriage.
Civil Ceremony I
Nyamuberwa Simon and Nagahire Odile, in a photo taken just before their civil ceremony wedding.  Simon works as a nurse at a hospital in Butare, but hopefully will find employment here in the Gitarama area where they are planning to make their home.
Civil Ceremony II
Simon and Odile take their turn at standing before the gathered witnesses and agreeing to be married.  The traditional question was asked of the audience, “Does anyone know of any reason why these two should not be married?”  This was followed by awkward silence and some nervous laughter.  In all six couples followed the same procedure shown here, including Odile’s brother, Lambert, and his bride, Gabriella.
Civil Ceremony III
Simon takes the flag in his left hand and raises his right hand as he makes his marriage vows before the gathered witnesses. Odile looks on.  The script for the marriage vows was on the podium before him, but it seemed to us that all of the couples had carefully memorized these words.  If they stumbled at all, the audience pitched into help them with the right words.  One groom, not Simon, said something wrong, and had to repeat this process, much to his embarrassment.
Civil Ceremony IV
Now it was Odile’s turn to  takes he flag in her left hand and raise her right hand as she made her marriage vows before the gathered witnesses. SImon looks on.  After this, both Simon and Odile had to sign some type of register, along with their selected two witnesses who were called by name to come forward and sign.  Each couple in turn went through this process, which lasted about two hours.  The political official in charge also gave a speech to the couples that sounded to us like a sermon.  The room was absolutely packed full with the family and friends of both couples.  It was interesting to see the clothing each couple had chosen for their special day.
Civil Ceremony V
After the civil ceremony, there was a nice luncheon reception held at a local restaurant.  We appreciated being included also in this reception.  It was an honor to be asked to give the closing prayer!  This is a photo of some of those who were seated at the head table, from left to right, Lambert (Odile’s brother), Gabriella (Lambert’s bride), Simon, Odile, Emmanuel and Florence (Odile and Lambert’s parents).  Emmanuel is our Kinyarwanda tutor.
Dowry I
Saturday, September 6, was a full day for Simon and Odile and their guests.  It began in the morning with the dowry presentation.  Traditionally this traditional ceremony takes place at the bride’s home, or in this case, in the bride’s neighborhood.  A vacant lot near the bride’s home was pressed into service for this event.  This is the canopy under which the bride and groom and their wedding party were eventually seated.  On either side there were also extended canopies for their families, the bride’s family was seated to the right in this photo, and the groom’s family to the left.  Overflow seating had to be set up.  Please notice the many fresh flowers, which were everywhere you looked.  We learned that these flowers were likely grown here in Rwanda, and are a bit cheaper therefore than in the USA, about 15 cents per flower.
Dowry II
Although the dowry presentation is keeping alive an important historical, cultural practice here, it has become entertaining with heavy doses of humor thrown in.  A spokesman is chosen for each family to negotiate the dowry which the groom’s family presents to the bride’s family.  Celestin Nsingimana and his wife, Immaculee, served as our translators and made sure we didn’t miss any of the comedy involved in this process.  Here is a photo of the two spokesmen conferring with one another after the first gift was presented – a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne.  The bride’s spokesman teased out how small this gift was and suggested that it was fine for a starting gift but there better be a “boat load” of gifts to also be given.  The dickering went on in this fashion, creating a dramatic tension, until an agreement was finally reached.  The dowry here typically involves the presentation of cows, which are considered of greatest value among all possible gifts.
Dowry III
Repeatedly various gifts are “sent over” from the groom’s side to the bride’s side.  This photo gives you and idea of how this process works.  The gifts are carried by beautifully dressed young women and typically involve some sort of a theme.  This particular gift contained two heads for hoes, the traditional implement for tending fields.  In the comments beforehand we were reminded that this is planting season and asked us to consider what kind of seeds we were all planting with this ceremony.
Dowry IV
When an agreement was reached it was signaled by the groom and groomsmen stepping forward from the groom’s side.  Simon then shook hands with the spokesman for the bride’s family.  The excitement was building by now!  A wedding was going to take place!  The bride was about to enter!  Cultural drummers and dancers took their places in order to add another layer to the excitement that came with the bride’s entrance.
Dowry V
The bridesmaids started to enter the area.  You can see the cultural drummers in the background.  The drum beat added drama.
Dowry VI
The bridesmaids wore the traditional ceremonial gowns of Rwandese culture as did most of the female guests.  There are many businesses here that rent these gowns.  The skirts wrap around the waist, and the drape is tied at the shoulder, making them a “one size fits all” deal.
Dowry VII
Pow!  The colors were overwhelming!  What a colorful and beautiful event!  All of the senses were engaged.  The entrance of the bridesmaids in their bright, beautiful dresses really filled the space with color.  Our eyes danced around connecting all the various touches of color.
Dowry VIII
The bride was escorted into the open area by the cultural dancers with their fluid movements.  This was our first glimpse of Odile, the beautiful bride!
Dowry IX
Simon joined his bride and together they greeted their special guests and presented gifts to their parents.  We were honored to be included among the people they greeted!  This is a photo of Odile greeting the one who had acted as the spokesman for her and her family in negotiating her dowry.
Dowry X
Gifts were presented to both families by the bride and groom. In this photo, Emmanuel, Odile’s father, is wearing a new leather hat and sporting a beautiful carved wooden cane (a sign of authority). He is shaking his soon to be son-in-law’s hand. Simon’s grip with his left hand on his right forearm is a sign of extreme respect. If anyone ever shakes your hand in this fashion in Rwanda, you should feel honored.
Dowry XI
All eyes are on Simon and Odile, the groom and bride.  This was their day!  A miracle of sorts happened in that it didn’t rain.  The rainy season apparently had started early, and it had rained all week and even all day the day before.  As the dowry presentation happened outdoors we had been praying that it would not rain.  The sky looked threatening but not a drop of rain fell that day in Gitarama!
Dowry XII
The cultural dancers performed after the bride and groom and their attendants were seated in their places of honor.
Dowry XIII
The dancers called Odile out to join them. She was seated in a chair. They surrounded her and sang to her. “Why are you leaving your family to cleave only to your husband?,” they asked in song.
Dowry XIV
Odile was overcome with emotion at this point. The enormity of what she was doing sank in. There weren’t many dry eyes.
Dowry XV
A wonderful meal was served to all in attendance in the places where we sat.  Here Simon and Odile are preparing to exchange bites from each other’s plates.
Dowry XVI
After a quick change of clothes, Simon and Odile left in this vehicle for their marriage ceremony at the Gitarama EPR church.  Everyone else followed.
Wedding I
The wedding at the church was actually for two couples! In addition to Simon and Odile, Jack and Ivette were united in marriage. Because I was sharing in the leadership of the ceremony, and both Shirley and I were seated at the front of the sanctuary, I didn’t get many photos. It very much was a worship service. Celestin preached. I had the prayer of illumination beforehand. Two choirs sang. Each couple was called forward separately to make their vows, exchange rings, and be blessed by the pastors. In all seven pastors surrounded each couple and raised their hands in blessing. I was honored to be one of those pastors. It was a beautiful ceremony that glorified God.
Wedding II
Pastors Celestin, Aimable, Samuel, and Gad are shown in this photo. Pastors Alphonse, Esther, and I also participated in the leadership of the service, along with Evangelist Leonard Byenda.
Wedding III
Both couples, along with their honor attendants had to come forward and sign the marriage licenses as well as the church’s record book. Pastor Alphonse oversaw this part of the service.
Reception I
Simon and Odile’s reception took place in the auditorium at a Catholic seminary here in Gitarama. The couple and their attendants sat on the stage.  Here is a photo of everyone who attended, with Shirley and I in the front row.  The families of Simon and Odile were seated at tables on either side on the level floor at the foot of this seating area and before the raised stage.
Reception II
When Simon and Odile arrived they entered the auditorium from the back through an arch. They had to cut a ribbon before they could do so. Their colors are reflected in the ribbon – peach and turquoise.
Reception III
This was an interesting tradition and something we have never seen before. There were four different bottles of Fanta set up in front of the wedding cake, along with a small stemware glass for each. Simon had to taste each one in order to find the one that Odile would like best. He chose orange, the last one he tasted.  After Simon made his choice, he lifted the glass to Odile’s lips so she could taste the Fanta her beloved had chosen just for her.  I have always said that drinking Fanta together is a sacred rite here!.  You can see the attendants dresses and colors in the background. There was never a chance to get a photo of the bridal party altogether.
Reception IV
Simon and Odile lit small candles on their wedding cake, and then used those candles to light a roman candle on the top together. It reminded me of our custom of lighting a unity candle, and also of the candles on a our birthday cakes.
Reception V
Here is a photo of Simon and Odile cutting their cake. Yes, the cake was quite good! Yes, the bride and groom fed each other bites of cake.
Reception VI
The same troupe of cultural drummers and dancers who had performed at the dowry presentation also performed at the reception.
Reception VII
Congratulations to Nyamuberwa Simon and Nagahire Odile on their marriage!   One other tradition that I loved but didn’t get a photo of was that everyone came forward to present their gifts to the bride and groom personally. If you wanted you could have the microphone and make a speech while you were presenting your gift. The Rwandese culture is big on giving gifts and does it well.

Visit to Kinazi Parish – Aug. 31, 2014

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Shirley and I visited the Kinazi Parish in Gitarama Presbytery on Sunday, August 31, 2014. Celestin Nsengimana, the president of the presbytery, and his wife, Immaculee went with us. We left the hardtop road in Ruhango and drove for about an hour on dirt roads before reaching Kinazi. We were surprised to find a good sized town in such a rural area, with many signs of growth. There was a large hospital complex there and a cassava plant. Here are some photos to tell the story of this visit.
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Here is the view of the church building that greeted us upon our arrival. Kinazi had been part of the Ruyumba region prior to this. We found a vibrant congregation that provided a wonderful welcome to us!
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We met with Pastor Samuel and some of the church’s elders prior to the worship service in the office, which was the first door and room (from the sanctuary) in this adjacent building. Kinazi is also a Compassion International center, which took up the rest of this building. We could hear joyful worship music coming from the sanctuary.
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This is a photo of the church office where we gathered. There was a photo on the wall of an elderly white woman, with an artificial lei around it. I wondered what the story is behind that photo. Below the calendar was one of prayer quilt squares from the Calvary Presbyterian Church in Indiana, PA that Mark Phoebus had presented to Pastor Samuel during his recent visit here. The fabric on the desk looked to me like it came from some South American country, as it depicted people in Bowler hats. There were also many people in the photos on the bulletin board – all evidence of this church’s involvement in the wider world.
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There were seats for Pastor Samuel, Celestin, and me behind the Communion table. Immaculee and Shirley sat behind us with the president of the elders.
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There was a young woman from Japan who had recently arrived in Kinazi and would be staying for two years in order to teach veterinary science in a school here. The tall man in the grey suit to the right is the director of the local Compassion International center. These are the elders of the church. There were some elders at the front on the other side as well. Generally the elders (and sometimes the deacons) sit at the front of the sanctuary here.
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The Kinazi congregation. There were three of the seven chapels present (including the chapel that meets in this building) and they each stood and were welcomed. According to the statistics in the presbytery report, there are 127 adult members here, 218 youth (single adults between the ages of 18 and 35) and 278 children who are part of this parish. About ten people stood to be welcomed who were attending for the first time that day.
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Another view of the congregation. My thanks to Gilbert Muhire, our faithful and skilled driver, who took the majority of these photos.
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Another view of the congregation.
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One of the choirs that sang.
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Another choir.
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Another choir.
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Three other choirs sang. And then a combined choir (3 choirs together) sang. This is a photo of that combined choir.
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I was given the honor of preaching. Celestin translated for me. Luke 7:11-17 was my text – the resurrection of the widow of Nain’s only son. My sermon focused on the help Jesus provides whenever life is not fair to us. It is always a challenge to preach through a translator. I long for the day when I will preach in Kinyarwanda!
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The offering. People come forward to make their offerings. The various boxes represent the various chapels. One box is for the care of vulnerable people through the deacons. One box is for your tithe. One box is for your offering to praise God. People shield their hands as they make their offering so that no one else will see what they have given.
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After the worship service, there was a time allotted for making speeches, the presentation of gifts, and a presentation to us about the accomplishments and challenges of the parish. Celestin and Immaculee were given a Bible. Celestin was thrilled as he needed a new Bible after giving the Bible he had been using to his daughter as she returned to secondary school recently. We were all amazed at the timely nature of this gift! “How did they know that Celestin needed a Bible?!”
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Shirley and I were given to beautiful plaques to hang on our wall. One depicted a traditional Rwandese home, so that we would know we always have a home in Rwanda. The other depicted a boat, so that we would always have the means to return to Rwanda. A note card given with these gifts read: “Dear Friends from USA – We, Kinazi Parish, are full of joy to meet you. We thank you a lot for your thought of us and coming to visit us. And the gospel you brought to us will heal our hearts we hope. We will always pray for you that God keep you peacefully. And we ask you to pray for us, asking God to satisfy our desire. Philemon 1:3-5”
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As always I brought them greetings from their sisters and brothers in the PCUSA and specifically Kiskiminetas Presbytery. I assured them we are their partners in Christ, and reminded them the support and encouragement needs to flow both ways in this partnership.
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We greeted the congregation afterwards outside the sanctuary. These greetings are mostly non-verbal, but convey such great love. I wish you could see the expressions on the faces of these dear saints as they greet us! What a blessing!
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Can you find Shirley and Boyd? Many of the people went back into the sanctuary to continue their worship after greeting one another. All through our lunch in the pastor’s home, we could hear beautiful music coming from the sanctuary. I am always deeply moved by how eager our Rwandan brothers and sisters are to worship the Lord. They never seem to grow tired of worship!
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Another, clearer photo of the young woman who had just arrived from Japan to spend two years teaching veterinary science in Kinazi. I hope we will get to see her again. She will be teaching in English, and we were able to communicate very well with one another. I told her she is always welcome in our home here. I love how Shirley and I have met people from all over the world here in Rwanda!
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I think this photo will give you some idea of the expression of love we witness on people’s faces as we greet them afterwards!
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Next we toured the Compassion International office. The tall man in the grey suit is the director of this center. The files behind him are meticulously kept records of the children who are helped. We also met the male nurse who works full time in this center, and witnessed him giving aid to a small boy in a school uniform who was found sleeping in the school yard. Compassion provides education (along with all the required supplies and uniforms) and health care to impoverished children. They employ local people to run their programs. 260 children are being helped through this center.
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The man on the left is the president of the board of elders. He was recognized during the service for having given land to one of the chapels on which to build. The man on the right is the director of the local Compassion International center.
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A bulletin board of photos in the Compassion International office – a testimony to much help and the joy that help has brought to others.
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This is the private primary school that is owned and operated by the Kinazi Parish.
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The large medical center complex that is located right next door to the church property.
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The parish is in the process of building some small apartments that they plan to rent to staff members of the medical center next door. This will generate much needed income for the parish and provide some employment to the members.
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This is the home of Pastor Samuel and his wife, Adiya, and their six children. We learned they are also caring for two orphans. There is electricity in Kinazi, but the water system appeared to a series of rain water collection tanks. Pastor Samuel is in the photo, standing in front of his home that the parish provides for him.
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We were provided with a wonderful lunch in the pastor’s home. Here are some of the people who were included in that lunch. From left to right: the nurse who works for Compassion International, the young woman from Japan, the president of the elders, Pastor Samuel, Adiya (Pastor Samuel’s wife), Celestin Nsengimana, Immaculee (Celestin’s wife), Shirley, the man who seemed to be serving as the host for the young woman from Japan, and me. We learned this parish started after the genocide. It began in a rural area, and voluntarily agreed to re-locate to Kinazi. They had borrowed money from the bank to build the sanctuary, and are hoping to repay that loan. The roof blew off the building as it was being finished.
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 This is the Nyagahama Chapel of the Kinazi Parish. We stopped here on our way back to Ruhango. This is where the Kinazi Pairish began its life. This is the land that president of the elders donated in order to start this parish.

Visit to Mukingi Parish – Aug. 26, 2014

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Shirley and I visited the Mukingi Parish in Gitarama Presbytery on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Celestin Nsengimana, the president of the presbytery, and Alphonse Ndererehe, the vice president of the presbytery, went with us. This parish had been part of the Ramba region previously. The approximately two hour trip there was quite perilous, as we left the hard top road after one hour and then spent an hour on mountainous roads. The trip back was even more perilous as it had started to rain, turning the roads to mud and making them very slick in places. Our visit to Mukingi was brief, as we realized the danger of travelling mountainous roads in the rain, still it was a visit where we were wonderfully welcomed. This certainly could be described as a mountain top experience, as that is where Mukingi is located! Here are some photos that tell the story of this visit.
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This will give you an idea of the roads we travelled to reach Mukingi. They were roads cut into the sides of mountains, with sheer drop offs to one side and no guard rails. They were steep and winding roads, marked by breathtaking scenery. We crossed the ridges of several mountains, and drove through numerous little mountain villages. We had to ask for directions several times and took a few wrong turns. And if you think the trip up was an adventure, just imagine coming down these same roads when they were slicked with rain and muddy! Fortunately we didn’t encounter another vehicle on these roads coming or going, although our driver kept honking his horn at every sharp curve like this where visibility was limited.
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Here was our first view of the Mukingi church. Yes, it sets at the very top of a mountain! We could tell we were at a high elevation as it was downright COLD, and we were above the clouds! You can see the members of the church and community that turned out to welcome us. Evangelist (lay pastor) Nzirorera Fulgence (with the blue folder) is standing in the foreground. Celestin Nsengimana, the president of the presbytery, is taking a photo on his cell phone behind Fulgence.
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The children of Mukingi peering at us through the cloud cover on the mountain top as we arrived. This is the pastor’s house behind them.
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View of Mukingi from the mountain top perch of the church. You can see the road stretching along the spine of the mountain, and the traditional mud block homes with tile roofs. In fact, you can see where someone is making mud blocks in the foreground.
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View of the distant mountains. We knew we could not stay long, as it was threatening to rain. Mountain roads can become impassable in the rain. Celestin kept cautioning that we may need to spend the night in Mukingi and return to Gitarama in the morning.
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View of the Mukingi congregation from our seats at the front. This building did not have any glass windows, only wooden shutters that opened to the inside. At some point a fierce wind started to blow and the rain started to fall, and the shutters along one side were closed.

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 The view of our seats of honor at the front. Many of the church’s elders were also seated at the front. The pastor had both the elders and the deacons stand. We learned there are 25 elders and 25 deacons in this parish. Notice the car battery that was used to power the PA system and the keyboard. There is no electricity at Mukingi.
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View from the back as one of the choirs was singing. The woman with the stick kept the children in line, and occasionally chased away the local children who were peering in the windows and doors.
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Another view of the front of the sanctuary. The pastor presented a very thorough, well organized, printed report in both English and Kinyarwanda. There are 903 members in this parish, spread among 4 chapels. We also learned that NO ONE in the entire congregation makes a monthly salary. From the report: “They live in bad situation, in general they are poor.” Celestin committed us to buying a sheep for the congregation (us along with him). Later Shirley chided him saying, “I don’t remember agreeing to help buy a sheep in advance.” Celestin responded, “The Holy Spirit was pushing you through me.”
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After the worship service, we were invited to the pastor’s house (pictured here – notice the puddles of water). Here we were served Fanta, and we could not begin to imagine how far that Fanta had been hauled or what hardship hauling it had placed on someone. They wanted to serve us lunch, but we respectfully declined, again fearing that we needed to get DOWN the mountain sooner rather than later.
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At the pastor’s house, we were presented with gifts. Here is Fulgence presenting honey to Celestin.
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Here is a lovely photo of me, accepting a basket of passion fruit from Fulgence. The basket has the name of the parish woven into it.
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I knew we were in trouble when it looked like this as we started down the mountain. To our driver’s credit, there was only one time we became stuck in the mud and had to get out and push. There were numerous times however when our vehicle slid toward those sheer drop offs. Both Shirley and I later confessed to each other that we were praying hard the whole way down!
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 One of the breathtaking views we experienced going up to Mukingi.

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Another breathtaking view we experienced going up to Mukingi.

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Beautiful scenery the whole way!
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The Nyabarongo River can be seen in the distance, also known as “the source of the Nile River”.

Visit To The Kicukiro Parish in Kigali – Aug. 24, 2014

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During my first two visits to Rwanda, I was a guest in the home of Eugene Rubanda, who was then the president of the Gitarama region with which Kiskiminetas Presbytery was in partnership. I became part of Eugene’s family – his wife – Editha, his children – Eva, Evans, Everiste, Evelyn, Daniel, and Daborah (son, David, was born later). Now Eugene is the pastor of the Kicukiro parish in Kigali. On Sunday, Aug. 24, Shirley’s and my 29th wedding anniversary, I had the privilege of preaching at Eugene’s new church. Shirley, Odile, Gilbert, and I had a wonderful reunion with Eugene, Editha, and their family! I met David for the first time, now a young man of 5 years of age. Shirley met Editha and Eugene’s family for the first time. (Eugene has twice stayed with us in PA.) What a wonderful day! I know many of us in Kiskiminetas Presbytery know Eugene and will be glad for this news.
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The Kicukiro EPR church in Kigali, where Eugene Rubanda now serves as pastor. We learned this building used to be a restaurant the church rented out on Sundays for their services. When the restaurant closed and the building was for sale, the church bought it, and has since expanded it. There are close to 700 members here.
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We met with Eugene in the church office prior to the worship service. Here Editha and David soon joined us. (Oh, what a happy reunion with Editha!) The elders also gathered here to pray with us before the service began.
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Shirley took a photo of the worship band getting set up and warming up. What a great band! The music for this service was top notch!
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The empty sanctuary. This should make all my friends in the USA appreciate your comfortable pews! You can see where this sanctuary was expanded. (The pillars mark where the back wall once stood.)
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The chancel area of the sanctuary. Thanks to our driver, Gilbert Muhire for taking most of these photos!
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Eugene and I. It was very appropriate that I saw Eugene on this day. Not only was it our 29th wedding anniversary, but it was also eight years ago that our daughter Katie died as a result of injuries she sustained in an automobile accident. When I first came to Rwanda, I came with a broken heart, full of grief. God used Eugene and Editha to minister greatly to me. I am convinced I would not still be a pastor today if it weren’t for that ministry.
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The Sunday School Choir. One of three choirs that sang this day. Another three choirs had commitments in other places. Eugene and Editha’s daughter, Deborah, is in this choir (with the blue shoes, nearly in front of the pulpit). The last time I saw her she was just a toddler! She said she remembers me from those days.
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Another choir that sang. Wonderful music!
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And yet another choir that sang.
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And oh, the dancing! To borrow a phrase from a joke in the USA about hockey games – “During the dancing, a worship service broke out!” It is no wonder why children here LOVE worship so much!
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The joy of the Lord was in this place!
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A lovely woman named Andrea acted as my translator. Odile later revealed that she is a celebrity in Kigali – a radio personality. Eugene added that she is the daughter of a former pastor of the church. I used Psalm 46 as my text and spoke about how the Lord is with us and helps us in times of tragedy.
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 Rwandans are some of the most gracious people I have ever met! Shirley and I have yet to visit a church here without being presented with a gift. This gift contained a private joke from Eugene – a jar of Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee. I was the only coffee drinker in his family! Tea is the hot drink of choice here, mixed half and half with warm milk and LOTS of sugar.
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We greeted people after the service at the door with Eugene. Notice how many more cars there are at this city church! Editha (in the purple dress) and son, David, are in this photo. David wasn’t even born yet when I stayed with Eugene and Editha, and now he is 5 years old.
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I loved the older woman in this photo. She wasn’t going to let old age slow her down. She danced her way out of the sanctuary! Her eyes and smile were glowing with joy!

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Afterwards we were treated to lunch at a restaurant right next door to the church. Here we were escorted to private upper room where we enjoyed our meal while reclining on sofas. I had wonderful barbequed beef on a skewer!
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We spent the afternoon at Eugene and Editha’s new home in Kigali, which they are renting. It is not very close to the church, but the rent is affordable. It is a beautiful and spacious home as you can see.
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This is Eugene and Editha’s youngest daughter, Deborah. She was just a toddler when I saw her last. Evans, Everiste, Evelyn, and Daniel are all away at boarding schools. We learned that Daniel goes to the Mutunda Secondary School, which we had just visited that week! Eva, their oldest daughter, is at home, doing a year of community service before starting university. She was at a wedding on this day.
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Editha and David.

Visit To Butare Parish – Aug. 21, 2014

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After visiting the Mbazi Parish in the morning, Shirley and I also visited the Butare Parish in the afternoon on Thursday, Aug. 21. Butare is a university town located south of Gitarama. Our first stop was the Save Chapel, one of 7 chapels in this parish and typical of those chapels. Then we visited with Pastor Thadeus at the main parish church building. Here are some photos that tell the story of our visit to the Butare Parish.
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This is the Save (pronounced “Sah Vey”) Chapel. We drove and drove through a maze of dirt roads through one of the poorer neighborhoods outside of Butare before reaching this chapel. Butare itself looks like an affluent town, as there are three universities and two hospitals located there. We therefore were surprised by the poverty we saw in this neighborhood. We learned that the people of this chapel must walk for two hours on foot to reach the main church building.
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I think someone lent the use of their living room chairs so that we could have comfortable seats for our visit. Valens, who is seated next to me, speaks excellent English. He is a pharmacist who works at one of the hospitals in Butare and also is a lecturer at the national university. He is also an elder in the Butare Parish. Celestin Nsengimana, the president of Gitarama Presbytery is seated next to Shirley.
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Pastor Thadeus welcomed us and led us in a brief worship service. Odile Nagahire, the director of development for Gitarama Presbytery, is seated next to him.
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The people of the Save Chapel.
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More of the people of the Save Chapel.
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An elder of the Save Chapel, who also welcomed us and told of the work of this chapel. They would like to build a nicer/larger building for their worship and work.
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The children of the Save Chapel, seated behind a bench that had been set up for our visit.
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We worshipped the Lord together, and the joy of the Lord was certainly present.
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Even in this small space, the people danced in their worship of God.
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Next we travelled to the main church building of the Butare Parish. I had visited this church back in 2006, when Pastor Rosemary was here. We discovered that Celestin was also here on that day back in 2006, as he was the president of the Butare Region then! We learned this building was built at the same time as the Gitarama and Nyanza churches and utilized the same design. There are 7 chapels in this parish and a total of 430 members. The Save Chapel that we visited first was chosen because it is very typical of the chapels.
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Another view of the Butare church building. There are three acres of land here, in a prime location on the highway just outside of Butare.
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The Butare Parish has also partnered with Compassion International to serve as a project site. The Compassion buildings are located behind the main church building. We visited this Compassion site office and met the staff members.
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This is one of the classrooms the Compassion program uses.
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The Butare Parish is raising chickens as an income producing project.
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There is a new bus station being built in Butare, on land that borders the church property. This bus station will also feature many shops. The church needs to build a fence around their property and find ways to utilize the property or they risk having their property seized for this development. (Unused land in Rwanda can be seized if there is need of it for a better use.) The parish would like to put a technical school on their property, a guest house, and shops someday. The new bus station had already seized 3 meters of their property.
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The sanctuary of the Butare Parish.
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The Communion table of the Butare Parish (with lectern).
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Celestin and Thadeus. We met with Pastor Thadeus in his office as he told us much information about the parish.
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Pastor Thadeus presented us with a beautiful gift in order to remember our visit to his parish – a wooden hand carved traditional Rwandese basket. Celestin joked that we are going to need to hire a truck in order to transport all of our gifts to the airport when we leave in December!
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Next Valens offered to give us a tour of the National University of Rwanda campus. This campus is gorgeous! Valens is a lecturer here. He is very interested in visiting the USA with a group from Gitarama Presbytery.
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The campus of the National University of Rwanda at Butare.
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The campus of the National University of Rwanda at Butare.
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The campus of the National University of Rwanda at Butare.
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The campus of the National University of Rwanda at Butare.
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The dormitories on the campus of the National University of Rwanda at Butare.
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The dormitories on the campus of the National University of Rwanda at Butare.
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We had been told there were many, many monkeys in Butare. As we were pulling out of the National University of Rwanda campus we saw some of them. What a thrill!
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More monkeys.
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Monkeys in Butare.

Visit to Mbazi Parish – Aug. 21, 2014

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Shirley and I visited the Mbazi Parish on Thursday, Aug. 21. Located along the hardtop road from Gitarama to Butare, this parish consists of 195 Christians spread among 3 chapels. Their building was constructed in 2005, although the parish began in 1997. They own and operate two schools – the Karama Primary School, located next to the church building, and the Mutunda Secondary School, just a short drive away. Here are some photos that tell the story of our visit to Mbazi parish.
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Mbazi Parish began in 1997, with just a few members worshipping together in the home of a member. In 1999, they began worshipping in a tent on this site. In 2000, they built the primary school, and worshipped in one of the classrooms. In 2002, they built the secondary school. In 2005, they built their current building. They are partnered with Compassion International, as a project site.
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Arriving at 11 AM on Thursday, we learned that this day had been designated a day of prayer at the Mbazi Parish, and those who were gathered in the sanctuary had committed themselves to spending the day in prayer. We were warmly welcomed by Pasor Rafiki, and joined in a brief worship service. The two headmasters of the schools were also present with us – Benjamin and Aaron. Here is a view of the Mbazi sanctuary.
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There is both water and electricity at Mbazi. Here are the water collection tanks and the public tap. The tank that is disconnected is for rain water collection from the church roof.
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This end of the building is dedicated to the Compassion International Project Site and also the church office. We met the Compassion staff, who were obviously conducting some sort of a medical clinic. Children were lined up outside, waiting their turn. Compassion likes to partner with churches, and is always looking for new partner congregations. The staff here shared with us a copy of their extensive plan for operations this year at Mbazi. We were very impressed with the thorough and detailed nature of this plan!
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Some members of the Mbazi congregation who worshipped with us briefly. They were at the church already because they were engaged in a day long prayer vigil.
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Rafiki, the pastor of the Mbazi Parish since 2010. His name means, “friend”, in Swahili. He can communicate in English. The photo was taken in the church office.
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Benjamin, on the left, is the headmaster of the Karama Primary School. Aaron, on the right, is the headmaster of the Mutunda Secondary School.
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The Karama Primary School, with 365 students, consists of two buildings. The upper building contains one classroom each for grades 1-3. The lower building contains one classroom each for grades 4-6. This path leads from the church building to the school in the distance.
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The first, second, and third grade classrooms at the Karama Primary School.
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The classrooms for the upper grades at the Karama Primary School.
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The third grade class at the Karama Primary School. The students greeted us in English. “Good Morning, Our Guests! How are you?”
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The Mbazi Parish also has an income producing project – a mushroom farm. Here is a view from a distance at this operation.
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Here is what we found inside the buildings of the mushroom farm – mushrooms growing under plastic tents in raised beds.
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A short drive away, we visited the Mutunda Secondary School. This building contains the head offices and teachers’ lounge. Like most secondary schools in Rwanda, this is a bounding school, with dormitories for both the boys and the girls. There are 317 students here.
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Aaron, the headmaster of the Mutunda Secondary School, and me, in his office. This school has won numerous awards through the years, as you can see on top of the shelf behind Aaron.
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The campus of the Mutunda Secondary School. The darker brick buildings (with red roofs) in the foreground are the boys’ dormitories.
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We greeted the teachers who were gathered in the faculty lounge. Here is Rwanda teachers were smocks to designated them from the students. Shirley shared that she too works at a school and thanked them for being teachers. They all applauded her recognition of their hard work.
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Inside one of the boys’ dormitories. Notice the clothing hung over the rafters.
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Some of the boys were using their lunch break to do their laundry. This is another rain water collection tank.
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Next we toured the school’s cow pens. Shirley, who grew up on a dairy farm, loved this part of the tour! I think our hosts were surprised to see a “muzungo” (white person) respond so enthusiastically to the cows!
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Shirley insisted that we have a photo of this little guy, her favorite – a Guernsey calf!
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This calf seemed to show Shirley exactly where to scratch.
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22 students and 5 computers! A computer lab.
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The cafeteria. We arrived right at lunch time, and got to witness the behind the scenes work of feeding 317 teenagers. On the menu for that day – mashed cassava and a sauce.
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A peak into the kitchen and the industrial size cooking utensils/stoves.
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Today’s lunch at the Mutunda Secondary School.
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A close up of the cassava, for those who are not familiar with this common dish in Rwanda.
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The soccer stadium at the Mutunda Secondary School. They were proud of their girls’ soccer team who had just competed in some national completion and won 300,000 RWF for the school.

Visit To Gasagara Parish – Aug. 19, 2014

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Shirley and I visited the Gasagara Parish on Tuesday, Aug. 19. This involved a two hour trip on dirt roads. In fact we left the hardtop road before we even left Gitarama. This parish is very isolated, and is located near the Nyungwe National Forest. There is only one taxi that operates here, and it is very expensive. It is a 6 to 7 hour walk on foot to Gitarama. This parish used to be part of the Remera region, but was put into the Gitarama Presbytery with the restructuring. This was Celestin Nsengimana’s first visit to Gasagara (the president of the presbytery who accompanied us, along with Odile Nagahire). Here are some photos that tell the story of our visit.
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After two hours of travel on dirt roads, we arrived at Gasagara. We were all awed by the SIZE of this church building! The roads we travelled on were in good repair, and obviously receive a great deal of vehicle traffic. However we encountered very little motorized traffic both coming and going. We were greeted at the car by Pastor Richard, and could tell that the worship service had already begun inside the building. I gave my camera to Gilbert, our driver, who took most of these photos.
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As we entered the church building this is the scene we saw. The gathered congregation barely began to fill the cavernous space, and was comprised mostly of school students. We learned there are 3,850 parishioners here, representing 10 chapels, which makes it the largest parish we have visited yet in the presbytery. The building is unfinished, with a dirt floor, few windows installed, and only two interior walls stuccoed The congregation began building it in 2003 and has been doing all the labor themselves. They build what they can afford and then wait to gather more money. They made all of the bricks themselves. According to Pastor Richard, this huge space is filled for Sunday services. Celestin promised we would return on a Sunday.
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Here is the congregation that was waiting to greet us. The church runs a primary school that is next door to this building, forming an “L” shape around a central courtyard. The students and teachers made up most of this congregation. The pastor said there is a real problem here with “drop outs” due to poverty. I tried to encourage the students to stay in school, pointing out all the doors my education has opened for me, including coming to Rwanda. Not all of the ten chapels come here for worship, as some are a 3 hour walk by foot away. The pastor said he walks to those chapels, going there for baptism and Communion. The pastor said most of the congregation had to work, as he apologized to us that there were not more people present to welcome us.
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Pastor Richard conducted the worship service and welcomed us. As usual, we were provided with seats of honor at the front. The drum was the only instrument used, which is the way we like it. There is no electricity in Gasagara, but there is a public cistern for water. Some of the chapels are in the process of building as well. Some of the chapels are so small, that when one choir has sung, they have to step out of the building in order to make room for the next choir. Of course completing this building as well as helping all the chapels to have adequate buildings were among the goals identified to us.
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I was invited to speak to the congregation. I brought them greetings from their brothers and sisters in the PCUSA and particularly Kiskiminetas Presbytery. It is always awkward to know what to say about our partnership in this sort of situation, as Gasagara was not part of the Gitarama region previously and knows nothing of the history of our partnership. Celestin helped me to explain that we are exploring the possibilities for expanding our partnership to include these new parishes. Congregations are always eager to hear what we think of Rwanda in general and their area in particular. Gasagara is marked by breathtaking scenery all around!
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Shirley was invited to speak also, and to comment in particular on our son’s visit. She was very moved that the pastor and congregation were aware of Matthew’s visit.
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We toured the rest of the church building after the service, with the pastor and elders. Here we are standing in what will be the church office. It is going to be a beautiful building when it is all completed!
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Next we toured the elementary school that is owned and operated by the church. Here is an exterior view of the school building. The students enjoyed a recess in the courtyard while we looked through their classrooms, although often crowded around the open windows and doors to watch us. I always extend my hand to the children in rural villages. It is interesting to see their reaction to my white skin. Some are terrified to shake my hand. Others will caress my hand in curiosity. I hope they realize eventually that white skin is not all that different than their skin.
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This is how you charge your cell phone when there is no electricity in your area. This is the teachers’ room. We have a solar panel like these two at our home, that we can use to power our computer or charge our phone should the power go out for an extended time. The pastor told us that they have explored installing solar panels, but are worried they would be stolen. Notice the small ladder used to retrieve these two portable panels at the end of the day.
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A 4th grade classroom. The teacher explained to us that she is experimenting with a new way of learning by having the desks in a circle. There are feed sacks tacked to the walls and used for additional chalk board space. Everything written on these sacks and the chalk board was in English. I hope parents who are viewing these photos back in the USA will share them with their children. We should appreciate our educational facilities and materials in the USA!
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The 4th grade teacher explaining a chart to us that identifies the district, sector, and province of Gasagara.
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This gives you some idea what the students are learning in 4th grade here. We liked the idea of putting lessons on feed sacks and may use it for our English classes!
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This will give you some idea of the careers awaiting these students here in Rwanda.
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What was on the chalk board.
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A lesson on angles.
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The teachers’ lounge and supply room.
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The cistern at the school, which also supplies the pastor’s home with water.
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The faces of the students at Gasagara.

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The students of Gasagara Parish’s elementary school.
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Pastor Richard and his wife. (We didn’t catch her name.) We were next welcomed into the pastor’s spacious home for lunch along with various leaders in the parish, including the son of the evangelist who used to serve Gasagara previously to Richard. Richard has been the pastor here for 3 years now. Lunch was followed by more speech making and the presentation of gifts to us.
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Odile Nagahire, the director of development for Gitarama Presbytery, and Praise, the pastor’s son.
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Shirley and I were each presented with a carved wooden milk container in order to remember Gasagara. It was explained that milk is basic to good nutrition here, and that by giving us a milk container, it was a wish that we would always be supplied with what we need in life. The president of the elders made this presentation.
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Shirley’s gift. You can see the milk container more clearly here. When we got home Christine demonstrated how to drink milk from it.
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The beautiful views from Gasagara, which is on a mountain top. As they are located near a national forest, I tried to explain that I too live near a national forest in the USA.
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Beautiful scenery everywhere you looked! The two hour trip (one way) was filled with such views, both coming and going.
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I never grow tired of the scenery here. This was a forested area, which made me feel at home. Both Shirley and I remarked that we could easily live in Gasagara, if only it wasn’t so darn far from everything. (Hm… sounds familiar!)
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Notice the beehive in the tree branches in this photo (log shaped vessel). You see these in the tree branches here quite frequently. Honey is cultivated and enjoyed here in great volumes. Someone must climb up and down the tree to retrieve this hive!