My interpreter pointed to a tall man in a suit who sat in the first row of my evangelistic meetings in Rwanda.
“See that man there?” he said. “He’s been coming every night since the meetings began. He has not been back to church since the genocide.”
I learned that the man was Uziel Bayingana, the son of a district pastor for the Rwanda Union Mission. Uziel’s father, Amon Iyamuremye, was killed in 1994 along with his mother and sister in a house right across the street from the Kabusunzu Seventh-day Adventist Church where I was leading meetings in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. The killers, the sons of another Adventist pastor, had stormed the house and killed the trio.
When the pastor had heard the killers coming, he had knelt with his wife and daughter to pray. They had been killed as they prayed, and their house had been set on fire.
Uziel — this man who had been attending my meetings every night for a week when the interpreter pointed him out — saw the commotion from atop a nearby hill. But by the time he arrived, his family had been slain and the house was ablaze.
Uziel was so distraught that he refused to go to church. He accused his own church family of betraying him. While many church members condemned the attack, Uziel refused to set foot inside an Adventist church. He also threatened any church member who ventured near his house with physical harm.
Uziel’s surprise decision to attend the May 13-28 meetings marked his first visit to an Adventist church in years.
On the last Sabbath, he sat in the front row as the church’s sole pastor baptized 220 precious people. A joyous atmosphere of celebration made the event feel like a real spiritual feast. Eighty-seven other people had been baptized the previous Sabbath.
Then I stood up to give my last sermon and saw Uziel. I felt compelled to say something about forgiveness. But fear filled me. I struggled for words. We had been told not to mention the genocide. My interpreter had told me to be careful not to say anything that suggested I was taking sides.
Still I couldn’t let the matter go.
Even though I was shaking in my shoes, I announced that I wanted to say a few words about forgiveness to clear away any misconceptions.
“When God forgives us,” I said, “it’s a gift that He gives us. He cleanses us and gives us eternal life. But when we forgive others, it’s a gift that we give to ourselves. It is not dependent on the merits or worthiness of the offender, but forgiveness is for the victim because we deserve to be free from the burden we’re carrying.”
I shared a few more thoughts and read Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (NKJV).
Then I moved right into the previously prepared sermon about heaven.
At the end of the sermon, I wondered whether I should make one last call. Every night we had been making calls for Jesus and for baptism, but perhaps nobody was left to come forward now.
I decided to make the call, asked for anyone who had not made a decision yet to consider coming forward. Three men approached the platform, and we shook hands.
Then I said that I didn’t want to stretch out the call because it was already 2:30 p.m. (The morning baptisms had delayed the sermon.) “But if there is anyone else, please come forward,” I said.
Uziel jumped out of his seat and came to the front. I wanted to shake his hand, but he grabbed me. He gave me a huge embrace and then started shaking my hand with both of his and wouldn't let go. Joy and enthusiasm shone on his face. He spoke nonstop to me in the local Ikinyarwanda language. I couldn't understand anything. My interpreter tried to keep up, but Uziel wouldn't let him.
The congregation started smiling and waving their hands and shouting, “Amen!”
Uziel asked for the microphone and said he wanted to give his testimony.
“I am back,” he said. “I want to tell all of you that I am coming back to the church. Many of you know my story, but today I’m coming back to Jesus and to you.”
Everyone cheered. It was just so glorious. The spirit that flowed through the congregation was so incredible that I can’t describe it. There was a feeling of real celebration.
This is the story of what God did for this dear man during my two-week visit to Rwanda. This is what God did for me — because I am the most blessed of all.
Nancy Costa is administrative assistant to Duane McKey, assistant to the president for Total Member Involvement, and director of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries at the General Conference.
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