Trina Kleist
Special to The Union

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July 10, 2013
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African pastor: Villagers in Rwanda use ‘faith to transform the world’

An African pastor asked for prayers, networking and financial support for community organizers in Rwanda, where Hutus and Tutsis are working together to create jobs and village infrastructure.

The goal of the Rev. John Rutsindintwarane is to train “a future generation that will be independent … that will be sustainable,” he told parishioners recently at Peace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley.

His work to organize villagers and train organizers is being done under the auspices of the Lutheran Church of Rwanda.

He and four other pastors reorganized the church in 1995, when they returned to their country to rebuild after the ethnic genocide of 1994.

He went with the encouragement of Peace member Tony Waters, and Peace has supported Rwandan church projects for 14 years.

Faith-based organizing “has transformed my life,” said “Pastor John,” as he is called by Peace members. Now, he relies on his “faith to transform the world,” he said.

Pastor John had a solid theological education, but he didn’t know how to apply his faith to conditions in Rwanda, he said.

He especially wanted to address the centuries-old conflict between Hutu and Tutsi people.

Civil unrest in the 1950s pushed his family to flee, and he was born in a refugee camp in Tanzania.

“How do you have reconciliation after war?” Rutsindintwarane said.

He found the way in faith-based community organizing, which puts a priority on people’s dignity.

Solidarity drives people to work together for the common good, he said.

The pastor is taking continued training and also is teaching with People Improving Communities through Organizing, a national faith-based program with a training center in Applegate.

The program’s model empowers people to envision a strategy for improving their communities; plan projects using appropriate technology; marshal resources; and work with public leaders to enlarge support, Rutsindintwarane said.

“Public officials are not our enemies,” Rutsindintwarane said.

Rather, they need organized and empowered people to accomplish their civic goals, he added.

This process in the village of Mumeya led to building a $400,000 medical clinic serving 5,000 people, aided with funds from the Ministry of Health and a $3,800 church sanctuary, the pastor said. Participants learned construction skills and how to make decisions democratically.

Hutus and Tutsis did it together – and reconciliation came alongside, Rutsindintwarane said.

The clinic’s success led the mayor of the Rwandan capital of Kigali to ask the pastor to create a program there.

Now, 120 former prostitutes have a cooperative to create legitimate work.

Other projects include a women’s cooperative to make roof tiles and a youth employment center, he added.

The pastor’s next project is to plan a training institute to educate 50 people in community organizing; 10 teams would be based in Lutheran parishes, he said.

Those interested in supporting the formation of faith-based organizations in Rwanda can contact John Baumann at jbaumann@piconetwork.org.

Grass Valley resident and freelance writer Trina Kleist may be reached at tkleistwrites@gmail.com or 530-575-6132.


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The Union Updated Jul 11, 2013 01:26AM Published Jul 10, 2013 07:54PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.