Beating the squeeze with expertise

In the context of government church closures and tightening legislation in Rwanda, local partner Elson Mageza is ahead of the game by training church leaders.

“I am pleased and feel humbled for the work that I was able to achieve as a local partner,” says Elson. “With the support of CMS-Africa and CMS, I was able to train 27 students who graduated last year and were sent out empowered and equipped for ministry.”

Training trustworthy people

Elson, in his role as Bible school director in Byumba diocese, has enabled hundreds of Bible school students to graduate.

“It is a great encouragement to know that what we are doing is a transforming work that God gave us so that we may save many lives and empower trustworthy people, who themselves can influence others for the glory of God.”

“I am fascinated to see how the students are performing in their work place. All of them are leading congregations and now meet the future requirements of the Rwandan government.”

Robed bishop in biretta hands certificates to graduating priests
Graduates from Elson's Bible school are commissioned by Bishop Emmanuel Ngendahayo

The proposed legislation, which requires pastors to have a theology degree before they open their own church, is soon expected to be passed in the Rwandan parliament.

Raising the bar too high?

By regulating religious groups, the government wants to weed out unscrupulous activities such as starting a church to fleece the members or to avoid dealing with disagreements in the church they fell out with.

Elson Mageza and three women walk up a dirt track on a rural  hillside
Elson regularly visits students in their workplace to monitor and evaluate their ministry work

However, the regulations also bar many church leaders with godly and sincere intentions, as many cannot pay for a theological degree.

Elson continues, “Besides this, we are also facing the challenge of meeting new government requirements for church buildings. This is forcing local congregations to close as they work on meeting the conditions. The churches being closed are led by those we are training here in our Bible school.”

Over 6,300 churches were closed down in February and March in the largely Christian nation following a countrywide crackdown on religious institutions whose buildings do not comply with health and safety standards. Many have been allowed to reopen after approval from inspectors.

Disciples under pressure

The bishop of Byumba diocese, the Rt Rev Emmanuel Ngendahayo, commented: “It is a catastrophic situation: 199 churches have been closed down. We now have a big number of Christians who do not go to church. We try to visit them at home as much as we can to encourage them.”

Church interior, under construction, with exposed steel joists
Jonas, one of Elson’s students, also had his church closed. After a month of construction work on the building, he hopes the church will soon be reopened

Amid this pressure, Elson is encouraged by what some of his students told him: “One said: ‘I am leaving this Bible school a true disciple of Jesus Christ. As I go out to make disciples, I am assured that Jesus is with me up to the end.’”

“Another student told me: ‘Some of our colleagues thought it unnecessary to go for further studies, but I am going to encourage them to get trained and equipped for this work.’”

Discipleship hub

Elson responds, “When I hear such words from my students I feel like the promises of God are being fulfilled in me and I know that I am not labouring in vain. I feel more than ever committed to preach the gospel up to the end of my life.”

“Pray that our Bible school can become a centre of discipleship where not only lay church workers are trained, but that we will be able to produce many more much-needed documents to support the members of the church in a Rwandan context.”

Elson Mageza is one of over 60 local partners with Church Mission Society.

Published 8 June 2018

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