I first visited Rwanda in the summer of 1999, in response to an invitation I received from the reconciliation department of African Evangelistic Enterprise – Rwanda [AEE-Rwanda]. This worship seminar week was jointly led by myself, Dr Rhiannon Lloyd, and Joseph Nyamutera and Anastase Sabamungu, two AEE reconciliation department leaders who have since became good friends. It was attended by around 40 talented young Rwandan worship musicians and singers, from hutu and tutsi tribal backgrounds, and from various regions and churches across the country. It proved to be one of the most remarkable ministry weeks I have ever been part of.
Our intention was to provide some time and space for worship teaching and also ministry for healing within the lives of a group who themselves had been traumatised by the effects of the genocide. But we also wanted to propose the making of a unique new reconciliation CD/cassette, to be entitled ‘Mana, kiza u Rwanda!’ (Lord, heal Rwanda!). They would write the songs themselves, and also contribute all the singing; the production would be overseen both in Rwanda and the UK by myself. In addition, I committed myself to raising sufficient funds through donations to manufacture and air-freight 3,000 cassettes and a small number of CD’s out to Rwanda the following year, to be promoted and sold at an appropriate local price by the AEE in an attempt to reach out to the nation as a whole in a spirit of forgiveness and healing. Looking back, this agenda seems impossibly far-reaching given that the AEE leaders did not at the time know me personally and accepted my visit on trust based on Rhiannon Lloyd’s recommendation (the two of us had met and worked together previously). The fact of its subsequent success is entirely due to the extraordinary degree of God’s grace and favour we experienced together with all we were attempting to do.
This collaboration and the resulting CD has since proved to be a major milestone for the church in Rwanda. My own memories of this time are a kaleidoscope of new cultural experiences, times of great joy and celebration in the studio, and awe-inspiring moments where we together saw God touch the hearts of many with great grace and tenderness. Some of these times happened as a result of ministry and teaching, others happened spontaneously as we worked together on the practicalities of making the CD. Naturally, at times there were difficult decisions to make, and tension and uncertainty as we all tried to work out how to pioneer something together for which there appeared to be no precedent.
The final stage of this project was the national album launching concerts, which took place in Kigali, Rwanda during the week of July 10th -16th, in 2000. This week was given over to the training of a 40 strong vocal and dance group, as preparation for several concerts, at the Amahoro football Stadium in Kigali, on Sunday July 16th, and also at the Mille Collines hotel in front of an invited group of VIP’s. Jean (my wife) travelled out to Rwanda with me, along with friends Martin Neil (percussion) and Steve Bassett (bass guitar) who formed part of the backing band for the concerts. Steve also oversaw the making of a video for the Bible Society called ‘Deeper than the Wound’. This included ‘Lord, Heal Rwanda!’ concert and rehearsal footage and subsequently won an achievement award. More than 5,000 people attended the stadium concert, including bishops, church leaders, and government ministers. The stadium concert included the singing of all the songs from the CD, and the presentation of a banner with the words, ‘Imana izunga u Rwanda!’ (lit: Lord, knit together Rwanda!) written on it, which had been previously prayed over by many Christians from several churches in the UK. The government Minister for Reconciliation received this and gave a speech in reply; the event then concluded with the umushayayo, a traditional Rwandan dance of unity. Many from the audience came down from their seats and joined us on the athletics track as dusk fell.