By Allen Allnoch
“I want to go to America.” Those were the words of a young Rwandan man I met during my recent mission trip to “the land of a thousand hills" with a CCC team. We were seated in a small classroom, eight of us in all, me the lone American, just chatting about life.
It wasn’t the first time I had heard such a sentiment. I wanted to know more.
“What do you think is the impression most Rwandans have of the United States?” I asked.
Without hesitation, my new friend said, “I think most people here view it as heaven.”
Wow. If only he knew.
For me, a week in Africa – far from America’s toxic news and social media climate – was a breath of fresh air.
(Not literally, though – Rwanda in dry season is surely the dustiest place I’ve ever visited.)
I suppose it all depends on one’s perspective. Many Rwandans today carry the burden of the 1994 genocide that left an estimated 800,000 dead.
As one of our hosts, Pastor Jean Baptiste, told us, “Everyone knows someone who was killed – family members, friends, neighbors. It’s still hard to talk about, but it’s important that we remember.”
Then there’s the aforementioned dust – and the difficult access to clean water in this still-developing country, and the various other hardships that make our “first-world problems” seem all the more absurd when viewed in context.
Yet so many of the people we met are full of joy. Smiles, especially among children, come easily. Beautiful voices fill the air with song.
In Jean Baptiste’s village, Muyumbu, people are coming to Jesus and experiencing dramatic life change.
One woman, Maria Rose, was a prostitute with no hope until she wandered into Jean’s church one Sunday morning. She heard the Gospel message, came to know Christ, and today earns a living making jewelry and other hand-crafted products.
In Gahara, another rural village where Jean has built relationships, a church body is working hard to make disciples of all ages.
Our trip came about through CCC’s relationship with Jessica and Jonathan Taylor, pastor at our Phenix City campus. Jessica leads two ministries, Come Away Missions and COPOmarket, and has been taking teams to Rwanda since 2009.
Come Away Missions works with Jean Baptiste to create ministry opportunities through short-term mission trips, with the goal of helping fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission – “make disciples of all nations” – and building lasting relationships between visitors and the Rwandan people.
COPO (Creating Ownership, Providing Opportunity) trains Rwandan artisans such as Maria, markets their products, and equips them to build businesses and better lives.
Jessica sells COPO products at the Saturday morning market in Uptown Columbus, is working to get them in stores, and makes them available online as well.
Back in Rwanda, Jean Baptiste stays busy discipling and training pastors, employing locals and teaching them to farm, and in his latest venture, raising support for a medical clinic in Muyumbu. Writer and speaker Jennie Allen has organized a fundraiser to help – click here to learn more and contribute.
As I see people like Jessica and Jennie linking arms across the ocean with Jean Baptiste and his family and friends, I see the body of Christ in action.
America certainly isn’t heaven. But when Americans and Africans work together like this, we're undoubtedly seeing a glimpse of paradise.
The CCC Blog is a collection of writings and images from staff members and guest contributors, all pointing to the extraordinary life made possible by a relationship with Jesus.