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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Church in Rwanda

Peter Depew
Kigali, Rwanda

There is no apt and succinct way to describe Christ Church of Rwanda in Kigali. It is and is not a Rwandan church. It is and is not an expat church. It is an integrated church that is about half Rwandan and half foreign with 75% of the service in English and 25% in Kinyarwandan. It is a place where different people come together for harmonious purposes.

Historically, French was the second language of Rwanda as a result of the Belgian presence from 1916 to 1962. While still one of three official languages, French has been eclipsed in the government and schools by English since the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in the mid 1990s. Many older Rwandans however are more conversant in French. All Rwandans speak Kinyarwandan as their primary language. This linguistic unity is fairly rare in Africa, but Rwanda is unique as the most densely populated country on the continent.

This Sunday's service was a festival of music. While we may have our preferences for manner of musical worship in our home congregations, it is hard to imagine a soul who would not gladly join in the joyous praise of his co-laborers when visiting them halfway across the world.

First the church band, comprised of Rwandans, took the stage singing songs that seemed a mixture of local folk, gospel and soul. Drums, bass, guitars, and male and female singers reaching a rave-up crescendo of praise. Then a Christian rock band visiting from Oklahoma picked up their instruments and laid down praise music. The fuzzy guitar licks and hot distortion from the overloaded PA created a garage rock sound worthy of the Kingsmen. These two bands created a big boisterous atmosphere just shy of The Blues Brothers.

Then a hip hop dance team clad in paramilitary outfits took the stage. Army of God was visiting from Uganda and they proceeded to dance interpretively to Christian drum and bass / r&b music. Concluding an already epic worship service were five female orphans supported by the church who read a letter of thanks before sweetly singing a cappella a Rwandan song in amazing five part harmony.

This left the pastor only three minutes to preach his sermon on Father's Day. Despite having a fairly strict church policy on punctual services, the pastor asked for an extra ten minutes and was obliged. This tendency toward relative brevity is in contrast to many Rwandan services which often exceed three hours. After closing prayer, tea was served on the foyer.

Approximately 56% of Rwandans are Catholic, 37% are Protestant, 5% are Muslim and 2% claim no religious beliefs. Church of Christ and Seventh Day Adventist seem to be represented in greater proportion here than they are in the US. All religions appear to co-exist in peace. Greater value for tolerance seems to have naturally sprung from the aftermath of 1994, but it should also be noted there is strict de jour protection for all religious groups. Divisionism is prohibited by law and defamation is a criminal matter here.

With the right prevailing breeze, the mosque's calls to prayer can be heard from our office in the Supreme Court. Anecdotally, the recent increase in Islam in Rwanda is attributed to the compassionate treatment of imperiled Rwandans by Muslims in 1994.

Throughout the city of Kigali, from Friday to Sunday, the sound of singing rarely is not heard somewhere in the distance.