It is Sunday, time to travel to one of the new church plants in a rural area.
For those of you that are newer to Hope Chapel or Good Rain, I provide some context for today’s experience. I promise if you wade through the background, that it will make the experience become more alive.
Aimee, a lovely educated pastor (picture), now has seven children, her husband is a counselor, she is one of our best students at the training, we have enjoyed visiting her church from the beginning of Good Rain. She had a successful church until the Government decided, two years ago, that the church building that she rented was to be torn down to make room for a new road. The local authorities held back the eviction as long as possible, because when Aimee came to town, crime left. Without a church herself, she has started three new churches, in even more rural areas – leveraging associates from our training and the Harvest Christian Church network.
One day while attending our training, it was clear that Aimee was pregnant, and Neal told her in jest: “you need to name the baby “Neal”. I will let you judge if Neal was “joking”. And the baby was named Neal. So, we have had a very special place in our hearts for this family while little Neal grows up, these past 5 years (picture).
Today, we traveled to Emme’s two-month-old church plant in Gahembe. When we got into the car, Christina turns to Bishop Theo (our host) and asks him to translate the chorus of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” into Kinyarwanda (picture). She was to sing today and decided that she will do the chorus in their language. During the trip, pronunciations went back and forth. I am really in awe of this girl! Just learning the pronunciation, then applying music to these words – seems crazy to me, as a non-musician – you have to be pretty accomplished to pull this off as we head to worship to offer this beautiful praise to God!
On the way, there was a bike race that diverted us from our path. But unlike the US, there is no detour alternate route defined, you are expected to wait, perhaps hours. Alexi, our driver, has avoided high-speed crashes and found alternate best routes to speed us to destinations for years, always impressive. Today, he continued to impress, finding dirt backroad after dirt backroad to get us to church – passing the “Come Back Bar” and “Plan B Hotel”, the river banks are still overflowing, and in general we get to enjoy a lot of beautiful scenery. We arrived within the acceptable time window for Africa (modestly late). The church service was already underway – and from the time we entered the 60’ x 25’ building, something felt different.
When we came into the building, our team was introduced, Peggy was a hit (as ususal) speaking to them in their language. Me, I am happy that I get credit for making a good spouse choice. Pastor Neal and Christina gave warm greetings from Hope Chapel.
The choir was warm and engaging, different from the USA, Rwandans REALLY express themselves – you don’t just sing, you dance, and the hymn lyrics are often enacted. And when they dance all of them is in motion, the motions are so vibrant that you need to see a video – ask us sometime. I think secretly, Christina would like to see Hope Chapel move like this, at least once. When they are singing and dancing – everyone on our team starts tapping, and then spontaneously burst out in dance (picture). This high level of connection in the service is not typical, we were finding ourselves drawn into this service in a special way.
Christina delivered the song, and at the conclusion of the Kinyarwanda chorus section, as they say, “the “crowd went wild”. She sealed the connection with this church and these people.
Twenty new members joined the church – there was a testimony of a woman for how this church has changed her, from an alcoholic unable to care for her children, to a new woman, leaving the past behind her and no longer unable to care for family. The family is healing and unified once more, as the husband had actually left her, but has now returned.
When Pastor Neal teaches in Rwanda, he listens to the questions; he has over time learned where there is real hunger in their lives of the Rwandans. Today, he understood and conveyed the perfectly constructed message for these people. It was clear that the Holy Spirit was at work. Pastor Neal relayed a message from Hebrews 2: God always wants us to focus on how He has moved us from darkness to light; if we lose this focus on Him we will drift away, and as long as we live as the world lives, we will drift away from Him(picture). (I am sorry but I am unable to do justice to the actual message – because I was caught up in the emotional solidarity of the room).
Now in Sterling, we know Pastor Neal does not like a pulpit, because he likes to move a bit while he preaches. And in Rwanda, Neal speaks and then Bishop Theo translates into Kinyarwanda. It is almost a dance where one speaks and then the other, back and forth. Both Neal and Theo can be VERY expressive people, and when they are together their energy is shared and can build into a crescendo as we near the end of the sermon. That is what happened today – as Neal moved into the crowd to emphasize his point, then Theo followed with more energy. The “Amen”s crescendos increased, the energy in the room increased. The emotional connection with everyone in the room was palpable.
Neal concluded the sermon with an altar call for those that have not yet accepted Jesus. Ten people came up kneeling before the Lord, and the rest of the team laid hands on those brought to the cross, and Neal and Aimee prayed over them and welcomed them. We do not see responses like this in the US. It was very humbling.
After the service, all of the people greeted each one of us, perhaps 70+ people. Everyone wanted to talk to Peggy – I mean a conversation, not just “hello”. Both Peggy and the people were gracious, sometimes not quite understanding each other – but there were many smiles (picture).
Then many of those that started this new church with Aimee sat with us, we shared a meal and thoughts about the future. Bishop Theo offered that if they build the church, the Harvest Christian Church would work to help provide the roof.
From my perspective, today I saw the culmination of all of Neal’s experience in ministry and Good Rain come together to deliver an incredibly impactful sermon, to these specific people, thirsting for this very message. God was there, in this message and in the delivery of the message.
I truly wish you could have been present; it was the most impactful service that I have attended in Rwanda these past 10 years. It was a good day.
Big Neal and Little Neal
Christina starting her translation
The choir really celebrates praising God
Christina and Bishop Theo translating the verse of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” before she sings
Pastor Neal and Bishop Theo starting the Hebrews 2 sermon
Peggy with our Rwandan family