Oh, What a Savior!
I was born in a village in Rwanda in 1959, mere months before a revolt
began a period of political instability that led to the genocide of my
My parents were animists who worshiped the Supreme Being (called Imana) through the intermediary of ancestors and the spirits of the dead, whom they believed give life or death. My mum was barren for nine years in a world where people see barrenness as a curse from an unhappy ancestor who disliked his or her treatment after death. By offering sacrifices of meat, beer, and animal blood, she was told, she could appease the ancestors’ spirits who caused sickness, calamity, and death.
My people believed ancestors are mediators between Imana and the living. Any request had to be made to them, and they would carry it to God. In addition to misfortune, these ancestors could also bring happiness, prosperity, and good health. But such good happened only when the living offered sacrifices.
For the nine years of her infertility, my mother offered blood sacrifices and prayers to the ancestors. She could not go to the fountain to fetch water or sit with other women. Children sang about her inability to produce. After two years, when a woman could not bear children, usually her husband chased her away or married a second wife to bear children, just as we see in the Old Testament. My father had given my mother the final word that she had three months to leave when she discovered she was pregnant.
I was that child.
I was, in a sense, her deliverer. This is why she gave me the surname “Musekura,” which means “savior” or “someone who saves you from an embarrassing situation or who restores your life from impending judgment.” She believed the ancestors heard her prayers. And as a thanksgiving to them, she dedicated me to serve the ancestors as a family and village traditional priest. I was to grow up to perform priestly duties—offering sacrifices, drinks, animal blood and flesh to the ancestors.
When I was five, my mother started taking me to witchdoctors and mediums and the traditional high-priest lady, who would train me to perform my duties. At age six I started memorizing the names of my ancestors. By age eight I knew how to slaughter a chicken and a goat and learned to make sacrifices to the ancestors.
Yet when I was ten, I started asking questions. I had already witnessed the death of my two-week-old sister, despite my sacrifices. One day while watching an old medium perform her duties, I realized her husband was dead and her two sons died young. She had swollen feet and legs. And I wondered why she was unable to protect her own husband, children, and body. That day while leaving her temple/house, I told my mother that I refused to return. After that I lived under the daily threat of death. And I continued to offer libation and animal sacrifices weekly to deter the anger of the “living dead,” as they are called. I believed, as do many traditional Africans, that the dead are not gone but are still living among us.
But then someone brought me the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was fifteen when Gerald Ford became the president of the United States. That year, for the first time, I saw a white man, or Umuzungu as we called him in my mother tongue. Our parents had warned us that some strange-looking people would tell us about foreign gods who were against our gods. We should never listen to them or accept their gods, they said, because if we did, the ancestors would be unhappy and we would probably die. Or our parents would die.
Yet because of our curiosity to see this kind of “animal man” who was different, most of the children went to see him. The white man was Edward Kile, a missionary with World Venture (then Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society—CBFMS), who had crossed to Rwanda from Congo and started going into rural villages to tell people about Jesus Christ.
As we gathered around to touch him, smell him, and pinch him (to see if he was really human), he would tell us Bible stories. Every month Mr. Kile came to my village. There a small church was started, and whenever we went to see him, our parents beat us. But the stories were so good! I was very attracted to Jesus, the best ancestor, who does not ask blood of animals to give people peace. Instead He gave His own blood and made it possible for me to talk with and be a friend of the Supreme Being, God Himself. In fear of what might happen, though, I did not accept the God who was against the gods of my people.
The following year I joined the Baptist secondary school in Cyimbili. There I met the same missionary. That July he preached on John 3:16 about the love of God and the blood of Jesus Christ who died for us. That day I gave my life to Christ, the one who offered Himself as a sacrifice for me. And my life changed dramatically.
Rejection and persecution followed. For the next three years I did not see my home again. My family and village disowned me because I had given up my right to be a community priest. And because I worshiped another God, my family believed my visits to the village would bring calamity.
On many occasions I begged food or ate from the garbage. Many nights I slept under bridges, but I lived a happy life despite it all. Sometimes over holiday breaks I worked in the coffee plantation to earn money to pay the next semester. And many times my new spiritual father, Mr. Kile, would pay the balance. In His providence God raised up Mary, a poor widow in Cleveland, Ohio, who learned of me through Mr. Kile. For the next six years Mary picked up cans and cardboard beside the road and took them to a recycling company so that every month she could send me six or seven dollars. This is how I was able to afford schooling.
In 1979 while finishing my secondary school, I felt the call to be a priest—not of the ancestors but of the living God. I felt the Lord was calling me to return to my village, to the people who hated me. When I expressed my desire to the church leaders, I was sent to a Bible Institute in Congo (former Zaire), where I studied theology for four years.
Then I became the assistant pastor and later the senior pastor at the church in my village. This was no easy decision as my family still hated me. Though my mother loved me very much, she could not invite me to my home. My father tried to destroy me and the ministry, but the Lord gave me strength.
My life was already an enigma to the villagers. That I was still alive and well was a miracle, and they could not understand it. One day I told my mother I was not her savior, and I invited her to come to church so I could introduce her to the real Savior, Jesus Christ.
A year after I started pastoral ministry, my mother trusted Christ. Then my brother came to know the Lord. (Today he is a church minister in Rwanda.) Then my sister came to Christ. (She is married to a Baptist minister.) In fact many people in my village came to know the Lord. In October of 1986 I had the joy of praying with my father as he received Christ. Two months later I was transferred to the denominational main office in Kigali, where I was involved in community development and leadership training for two years. Then I moved to Kenya for further studies in theology to prepare myself to train more national leaders.
Since these events I have completed the PhD program at Dallas Seminary, and I began African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), through which we equip and train pastors and lay leaders in East and Central Africa, focusing on issues such as biblical repentance, forgiveness, conflict resolution, and tribal reconciliation. And the HIV/AIDS pandemic has caused a great need for pastoral care and counseling for the dying and their bereaved families. As I travel and serve from village to village and from country to country, I often think back over my life. I am always amazed and humbled that Jesus Christ has chosen to work through me, a boy named “Deliverer.” Through ALARM I pray that many will come to know the true Deliverer—Jesus Christ, who saves us from judgment and restores our lives through forgiveness and reconciliation. He is the only true “Musekura,” our Savior forever.
To contact ALARM call 972-671-8522 or visit www.alarm-inc.org.