One of the great pleasures of Mission Work is the new people I get to meet, especially the black African people, because there is always a story behind their furrowed brows, their weathered faces or those deep soulful eyes.
I first met Pierre Habumuremyi in June 2012 during my first trip to South Africa. He was a very prim and proper black South African brother who always dressed rather sharply whenever I would see him. But it was during a weekly Wednesday evening Bible Education Class (BEC) that I learnt about the inner soul of this man.
A group of about 10-12 of us had been asked to express what we were thankful to God for in our lives. One by one we went around the small group gathered in the rear corner of the Durban Hall. I won’t shame myself by describing my (by now, quite feeble materialistic response), but one by one I reeled back further and further in my chair as I listened to these men and women describe what they were thankful to God for. By the time we came to Pierre, I felt numb with despair and shock and felt sure that nothing more could surprise me. I was sadly mistaken.
Pierre proceeded to explain to us that he had been born and raised in Rwanda in dangerous times. He was born on 4 September 1963 and married in 1995. He spoke of his two young daughters born to him, but of the fear that was growing every day in Rwanda. He spoke slowly and softly of the day just before Christmas in 2003, as he slept in his humble timber home in a farming village in Rwanda, that he was awoken to the smell of smoke and fire. His small home was black and filled with smoke and only the heat of the flames created a silhouette of light to make his escape. Unable to find or save his family, he escaped outside his burning house to see that his neighbours on both sides of his farming home had set his house on fire with himself, his wife his two young children and his mother inside.
The Civil War which had began in 1990, was followed by genocide that had began in April 1994 with the mass murders of more than 1 million Rwandan citizens over the following 100 days, and a further 1-2 million over the following years that was still having it effects in 2003, even though technically to the world’s eyes, it had ceased in late 1994.
Rwanda is made of principally of two Tribal groups: the Hutu tribe, which made up 80% of the population and the Tutsi Tribe, which makes up most of the remaining people. Prior to the 1990’s, the minority Tutsi people had held power over the Hutu through European Dutch backing. But in the 1990’s, the violence exploded and overflowed even to the common people and everything changed. The Hutu tribe, with their overwhelming numbers, decided in 1994 to apply genocide tactics to exterminate the Tutsi people. Newly self-appointed government officials encouraged all Hutu peoples and villagers to rise up against their Tutsi neighbours to kill and exterminate them. National Radio broadcast (under the control of Hutu) announced where Tutsi people were hiding and mobs would descend on them to burn, kill and destroy. Pierre is a Tutsi !!!
With his whole family gone, his home and possessions burnt and the neighbours in pursuit of him, Pierre fled for over a week on foot to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. There he soon learnt that the neighbours and others had followed and were searching for him.
Pierre speaks in his deep Rwandan accent which at times is difficult to understand, but his message and his experiences come through loud and clear. At times he stops, and pauses in thought as if he is caught in time.
It has now been twelve years since that fateful day in Rwanda, but he can still see the flames and feel the heat from the house that was burning with his wife and family trapped inside. He was defenseless to do anything but to save his own life from the marauding neighbouring, and so he fled with the clothes on his back.
In desperation, he made his way by foot to the border and escaped into Uganda as a refugee where he stayed for the next two years. But this was not a safe place either; war was breaking out with many of Rwanda’s neighbouring countries including Uganda and the Congo. In fear for his life, Pierre walked and caught busses from Uganda to Tanzania and from there began the long treck through Mozambique and into South Africa. This was a five-month trek with no possessions, no money and no support. As a Fashion Designer, he found (by doing some menial sowing jobs along the way) he could scrounge and earn a few dollars here and there to buy some basic food items and occasionally get a bus for the next long stretch before finally arriving in Durban in South Afroca.
There were a number of God moments for Pierre along the way. Twice, strangers gave him money for bus tickets to his next stop. Another paid for a week’s accommodation and food for him in Tanzania. Another stranger helped him to obtain some official papers to come into South Africa.
Having been brought up in a Roman Catholic family, it was a faith that Pierre never really felt touched or inspired him. But Pierre was now seeking some further spiritual enlightenment. Once in Durban, a house mate told him of a Bible School that might be able to help him. This Bible School turned out to be the Durban Bible Education Centre (BEC). He could not believe it was providing a “FREE” Bible Correspondence Course.
He was so enthusiastic that he completed the basic course information each night and raced back to the BEC for the following course each new day for the first few weeks. It would be two more years of careful and contemplative study and thoughtfulness of the Bible before Pierre asked to be baptized. But ever since that first day at the BEC, Pierre has been Mr Consistency in his attendance and support of all the BEC classes and church activities. Some may come and some may miss this class or that church day, but Pierre is the one consistent person that is always there every time. And he never stops learning … and never stops asking questions. He has an insatiable appetite for learning about God and the Bible that is never quenched. Barry and my phones and Facebook pages are full of questions and responses from Pierre.
But for all of Mr Consistent’s consistency, we had noticed a difference in Pierre over the past month or so. It wasn’t something we could quite put our finger on, but there was something. He was still at everything, still Mt Consistent, but suddenly he was speaking a little differently, his prayers at the BEC Classes were slightly different and he was sitting at different parts of the class from where he usually did.
Then, out of the blue, one of our interested BEC Class friends called Nonhlanhla, asked to be baptised. She told us that she and Pierre had feelings for each other and she wanted to become a part of Pierre’s faith and church. We told her we were thrilled with both pieces of news, but asked why we had never even seen them sitting together in BEC classes or at church. As her eyes dropped to the floor she quietly said “We are still both a bit shy about it all”.
This shyness is not seen when she sings. On two occasions now, Nonlethal has sung at some of our church functions: she has the most amazing voice. Most Zulu women have great singing voices, but Nonhlanhla takes it to another level. She is quite incredible and she will certainly be greatly appreciated by the church members at Durban.
Last Sunday morning, Nonhlanhla was baptised into Christ. She gave a simple, but beautiful confession of her faith. And on Sunday, as he was received into fellowship, she sat in the front row, the same row as Pierre, with only sister Mary between them.
As the flames and terrors of a past life in another country fade over time, a new flame has ignited in Pierre’s life. Where this flame will take him, we can not tell at this time. But one thing we do know … wherever this flame takes him, he will always be consistent …… because he is Mr Consistent !!!