The most memorable thing about our time in Butare was Bishop Nathan Gasatura’s energy, enthusiasm and vision. 6 years ago he took over a diocese in crisis. He inherited serious debts and many disheartened and disillusioned clergy. There is a very different feel to the diocese now. Nathan has done a great deal to build up confidence and commitment amongst his people. The churches are growing again. But it is his vision for how things could develop through to 2030 that sticks out. It is large; it needs refining and prioritising but somehow the entrepreunership, faith and strong commitment mean that I believe a great deal of it will come to fruition. A view shared by my travelling colleagues, including MPs who don’t share the faith but did come away convinced his clarity of leadership and direction means he will achieve much. He needs wisdom, and perhaps helpfully critical advisers around him but nothing is likely to distract Nathan from seeking to fulfil the vision he senses he has been given by God for the diocese, and shared by his fellow leaders.
Crossing international borders on foot is so very different from the clinical processes of airports, or seaports. So much life is seen around the crossings. Money changers have disappeared from the Rwandan side but still there are kiosks trying to sell out of date biscuits ( yes we bought some); there are the queues to deal with exit cards and stamps on passports; queuing here is not quite as neat and polite as in the UK. Lorries, buses, minibuses, cars abound. There is something deeply physically and mentally tangible about this whole process, especially passing through the barriers on foot. Crossing boundaries is something huge numbers of human beings never do in terms of international borders; but there are other boundaries that can either hold us in, and apart, or across which we can pass so that we meet new people.
There were plenty of ‘new’ people to meet on the other side. Quite a number had come to greet us from Christian Aid, the Province and the local Diocese of Buye; even a couple of well known English faces in Denise Dodd and Rosemary Cottingham. Introducing my companions to these new faces was a privilege and a joy. On the drive down to the 2 projects we visited it was great to catch up with Bishop Sixbert Macumi. Our first call was to an impressive new coffee washing project run by Food for the Hungry and with Christian Aid connections. So good to see local coffee growers being helped to gain more value for their work by enabling them to control the whole process from growing through to selling washed and dried product to the buyers. Just owning the process has raised their sense of dignity and worth; it has also helped economically.
Then on to Kyanza parish where we were enthusiastically greeted by the Mothers Union literacy and numeracy group singing and dancing away. They had dressed up in their finest, brightest colours. They sang so well. Hearing their story was very moving. Literacy, numeracy and micro-finance together has revolutionised their lives. The women in particular are liberated. We heard of the ending of domestic violence in some homes; improvement in health and well-being and general joy that life has changed for them all. Interestingly Lilian Greenwood MP noted the same smiles and laughter on the faces of these women that she had sen when she had worked with women’s training and education through Trade Union work. There is release and freedom to be found in literacy and running your own life. When this is combined with knowing God in Jesus Christ the transformation is deep and lasting. Do not get me wrong these people are still poor and face many problems but they have a conviction that they can face these now and move forward. It was a real joy and a great testimony to the work of Mothers Union, and Five Talents with whom they have worked on the micro finance side of the work.
Then the glorious drive through the mountains, past the forest, and finally winding down to Bujumbura. A tale for another day.