(The Rev. Noel G. L. Hutchinson Jr., mission director for the Progressive National Baptist Convention), will be in Rwanda from December 3-8 for a leadership conference with 200-plus pastors from throughout the African country. A keynote speaker, the Memphis-based organizer of Greater Works Fellowship will also be teaching and preaching and blogging along the way. This is the fourth installment.)
KIGALI, Rwanda — My host, Pastor Sam Birondwa, is the principal of Cornerstone Leadership Academy, located about an hour’s drive from Kigali on a hill overlooking lake Makuzi. I rode with him to attend graduation events, having a great level of anticipation.
This would make the third time I’ve attended a school event outside of the U.S.A., and each time was a great experience. This was actually the best one.
We turned off the main highway onto a dirt road that had some tarmac in its better days. After driving about 10 minutes, we pulled up to a significant campus of six buildings and were led into the main building, where the ceremony had already begun.
Proud parents had come from all over the region, some from as far as Burundi, a neighbor nation about a three-hour drive south. The graduation had similarities with what we see as graduations in the U.S., but it was decidedly African.
What do I mean? Everything had a sense of community.
During the ceremony, the father of one of the Burundian students was asked to speak impromptu. It was a show of respect to his status as an elder. He greeted us, and thanked the school for all they had done for his child.
The school also provided a graduation cake, which the graduates served to the audience before they had any. The cake was cut into medium chunks so everyone could get a piece, and due to the necessity to economize. Each person was given a napkin to take a piece off a serving tray.
The undergrads had a praise and worship team, and the graduates formed a choir. I really wish you could have heard them! While they sang, there was a screen that showed the lyrics in both Kinyarwanda and English.
They asked me to speak. I talked about the cloud of witnesses found in Hebrews 12, reminding them that those who have gone before are cheering them on, after laying a great foundation. I talked about what that looked like for me, sharing memories of my praying grandmother, whose prayers for me are still being answered today.
I also talked about how on my mother’s birth certificate the legal witness, who was my great aunt (there was no doctor), signed the birth certificate with an X because she couldn’t read, and that two generations after this aunt I have an earned doctorate.
I explained that I was just another runner on that journey ready to pass the baton. From the reactions, I think they appreciated what I said, because I wanted to also honor their culture and its communal reality.
The Pastoral Leadership Conference will be at this same location a few days later. If what I’ve experienced on this trip is any indication of what to expect, I can’t wait…
Until next time.