A Letter from Rwanda

by Dee Cheney

In the late 1800’s Apolo Kivebulaya, a Ugandan missionary to the Belgian Congo, was the principal pioneer of the Anglican church in the Congo (now The Democratic Republic of the Congo). He shared the gospel, made disciples, and planted churches.

Each summer the Anglican Mission in America sponsors a Leadership Training Conference for priests and church leaders of the DRC. It is called The Apolo II Initiative after Apolo Kivebulaya. This year and last it took place in the Gisenyi, Rwanda, just over the border from the DRC. A similar conference takes place each summer at the same time in Kibondo, Tanzania, called The Musa Initiative.

I had the privilege of being on the Apolo II team this year from June 24 to July 6. On Monday our team left Kigali for Gisenyi on Lake Kivu to begin our week of ministry. We loaded books, Bibles, video projectors, luggage, and nine of us into a Toyota Land Cruiser and traveled four hours up into the mountains of northwest Rwanda (gorilla country) on a very narrow, winding two-lane road. We saw many beautiful bright green tea plantations (The Queen of England only drinks Rwandan tea!), terraced hillsides, and lush valleys of banana groves and tropical foliage. Dark red begonias were blooming everywhere. We even went over a fast running stream which is considered to be the headwaters of the River Nile. We were welcomed by Bishop William from Boga Diocese and shared a lunch of whole blackened tilapia fresh from the Lake Kivu, fufu (African bread), fried plantain bananas, and refreshing passion fruit juice.

Our conference, which was more like a pastors’ retreat, lasted from Tuesday through Saturday. Thirty-three men and two women, all leaders in their respective parishes, came to a retreat center in Gisenyi. They represented four dioceses in northeastern Congo. They see each other only once or twice a year because the distances are so great, even within their own dioceses. The archbishop and three bishops led the conference.

The Congolese speak French, Swahili, several tribal tongues, and a bit of English. Their church services are all in Swahili. Our singing was also in Swahili; this was my favorite part. I enjoyed brushing up on my Swahili and using my French while visiting with the pastors over “Chai” (tea time) each morning and afternoon.

There was a “theme” for each day: evangelism, outreach, leadership, storytelling, prayer, etc. Team members taught in English, and Bishop William translated into Swahili. I taught on communal and liturgical prayer in French, and it went well. After each talk we broke into small groups for discussion and prayer. It was thrilling to see these pastors reach out to each other, be transparent and vulnerable, and support one another in their struggles and challenges.

One evening we had Holy Communion together. It was my first time to have the Eucharist in an African Anglican setting. It was a very moving and memorable service.

One afternoon after studying different techniques of storytelling, we broke up into groups to do skits illustrating the freeing of Peter from prison by the Angel of the Lord (Acts 12). We are still laughing and remembering the portrayals of the Angel, King Herod, the Roman soldiers (complete with banana stalks for guns), and especially men acting as Mary and Rhoda. I was amazed at their creativity.

Just as the Lord went before the first Apolo in his missionary endeavors, He also went before Team Apolo II and blessed the conference in so many ways. For me this trip was truly a gift from God; I am already looking forward to next summer.