The Vineyard in Rwanda & Burundi

Todd Rutkowski, Mar 1, 2022, 8:18 PM
Todd Rutkowski National Catalyst of Vineyard Emerge

If you have ever questioned whether a prayer walk was practical you have never heard this story! In 2005 Larry Levy, pastor of the Halifax Metro Vineyard, and Patrick & Val Finnerty took a pioneering trip to Africa, to the country of Rwanda. They hoped the Finnertys would be "sent" from the Halifax Metro Vineyard to begin a church planting work in Kigali Rwanda.

In 2006 the Finnertys packed their life into boxes, pulled their two boys out of school and relocated from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Kigali, Rwanda. Shortly after their arrival a wide-eyed, faith-filled and spunky redhead arrived from Canada. Michelle Levy, just 18 years old, left her parents and twin sister Andrea at home and joined the Finnertys in Rwanda for a six month stint of who-knows-what-just-might-happen when God is on the move.

They spent much of their time on prayer walks in the city, asking God what His strategy was for the Vineyard in Rwanda. One day, while Michelle was out for a prayer walk, she was approached by a African man who had noticed this white, red-headed young woman walking in his neighborhood for several months. Antoine was renting a room in the area as he was finishing up his law school degree. After a few minutes of discussion Antoine realized Michelle was a follower of Jesus and was out on a "what-are-you-up-to-God" prayer walk.  A Christian himself and curious, the two started to discuss faith, church and the Vineyard. Antoine was intrigued with what he was hearing and Michelle could sense that. She took him to meet the Finnertys and today Antoine is the leader of the Vineyard in Rwanda! Crazy story, right? You might wonder what happened from that point to now...

Michelle moved back to Canada after her six months of serving  and Antoine continued to be mentored by Patrick and Val. They would spend hours connecting, reaching out together, worshipping and praying. As they went out into the village of Muyange, (on the outskirts of Kigali), to pray and to connect with people four home groups were established in a four month period and eventually a small meeting place was rented. By the end of 2008 over 80 people had been baptized in the Muyange area. Because of the poverty in the area 90% of the people in the Vineyard did not have jobs. The team had to begin to look at breaking the cycle of poverty, which included creating employment and business opportunities.

The Finnertys and Antoine were supported by teams from the Halifax Vineyard as they invested time, energy, and resources into the development of what was occurring in Rwanda. By the end of 2008 Antoine stepped up to lead the team of the Vineyard Church. In 2009 he married Florence, and today they have three lovely children. In 2008 the Hope Vineyard in St. Louis joined the partnership and began regular visits, connection, and support.

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To help break the poverty cycle in 2015 a school for children in the area was started alongside the Vineyard community. Today the school has over 100 sponsored children ages 3 – 7.  Each year, as the original group of 7 kids get older they add another school year and teacher for that grade. During this time a few businesses have been launched through the Vineyard including basket weaving, sewing, farming and a local store near the church that Florence manages as an employment opportunity for others in the neighborhood.

Today the church has a school and a meeting place on land they purchased with close to 250 members. They have since planted out a few other communities in Rwanda. Antoine has three jobs today – he pastors the Vineyard, has a few law contracts, and is the head of expansion for the largest water company in Rwanda. Antoine has been able to employ people both in the local Vineyard in Kigali, and in the country. He has employed some who he is in relationship with as a way to fund planting churches in other areas of the country.

Many of us know Rwanda suffered an incredible wave of evil in 1994. The count today is over 1.1 million Tutsi's murdered in the 100 day genocide. Referred to as the "100 days of darkness" this genocide, which began on April 6, 1994 was thirty years in the making. It was the methodical systematic socialization of inferiority in the Tutsis and superiority in the Hutu people. After centuries of Tutsi rule, until the Rwandan Revolution in 1959, the Hutus now wanted revenge.  Killing at a rate of 10,000 a day, mostly by machete, the aggressors were 30 days from wiping out the entire Tutsi people within Rwanda. Between the Catholic churches that held Tutsis in sanctuary and moderate Hutus who hid them in their homes, those that remained were spared a brutal death.

The pastor of the Burundi Vineyard is a man named Ananie, (who is Tutsi but lived in Burundi during the genocide). He lost 96 family members and every one of his school mates in the genocide. He remembers as a young child being asked to regularly stand up by his desk in school, as he was told by his teacher that as a Tutsi he as inferior to the Hutu children in his class. The Hutu children were told the opposite.  All teachers were Hutus. This socialization grew to the point where in the early 1990s the "The 10 commandments of the Hutu" were published and circulated in newspapers. Two of the commandments, so you can better grasp the blatancy of this racism were,  (1) "All Hutus must know that a Tutsi woman, wherever she may be, is serving the Tutsi ethnic group. In consequence, any Hutu who does the following is a traitor: acquires a Tutsi wife, acquires a Tutsi mistress, acquires a Tutsi secretary or dependent." (2) "All Hutus must know that the Tutsi is dishonest in business. His only goal is ethnic superiority."

The Tutsi Rwandans between ages 30 and 40 today were the children of the genocide. They were between ages 5 – 15 during those 100 days of hell. Most of them do not have aunts, uncles, parents or grandparents. They are the abandoned generation of Rwanda carving out a future on the burnt remains of the genocide. Today it is illegal in Rwanda to identify as a either Tutsi or Hutu. Paul Kagame, a Tutsi and President of Rwanda, was the head of the RPF which ultimately  stopped the genocide on July 15, 1994. Kagame served as Vice President until 2000, when he became President of Rwanda. Florence, who pastors the Rwandan Vineyard alongside her husband Antoine, was a 10 year old girl during the genocide. She and her family took refuge in the sanctuary of a Catholic church where they never slept for 100 days fearfully waiting their demise each night and day.  While we were with the Vineyard community in Kigali in May 2019 a 78 year old woman came to us to ask for prayer and to grieve. As she approached us she fell into our arms clutching photos of her 7 adult children, 6 who were murdered in the genocide. She wept in our arms still grieving 25 years later.

Rwanda is healing, slowly as a nation. But our Vineyard family there are not only victims of evil they are emerging as healers. They have reached for hope and are part of the journey to bring healing and salvation to the land.  Please pray for them!

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