Most people are probably familiar with the war between the Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda in the early ’90s, in which more than 800,000 people lost their lives. “It is one of the greatest genocides in modern history anywhere in the world,” reminded Winston Baldwin, senior pastor of the Centerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dayton, Ohio, United States.
Baldwin shared this background information in reference to members who attend the African Refugee church plant in Dayton. “Many in the group have never lived in a setting like the one they are experiencing [in the US], because many of them have spent 20 years in refugee camps, living only in tents,” he said. “They had many challenges in their native countries and are just beginning to adjust to many of the different challenges living in a first-world country.”
Most of the refugees come from Rwanda, with some from Burundi and Congo. The majority do not yet know English but are making efforts to learn.
In October 2016, Adventist leaders consulted with Ohio Conference leaders to organize the African Refugee church plant. “Late last year, the Centerville church voted to officially become the ‘mother church’ to the African group,” said Baldwin. “After a series of Bible studies, 17 people were baptized…most of them being under the age of 25,” said Baldwin.
The church, which began with 40 members, has now doubled in size.
Lay leaders Fidele Nsengimana and Jan Jewett shepherd the growing congregation. The group meets at a church building on the Grandview Medical Center campus in Dayton, which is part of the Kettering Adventist HealthCare Network. “It is a beautiful church facility which they can use every Sabbath for the foreseeable future,” said Baldwin.
“God has truly prepared Nsengimana to minister to this group because one of his parents is a Hutu and the other a Tutsi,” said Baldwin. Nsengimana arrived several years ago without his family because he was the only one who could get out of Rwanda at the time. His wife and two children have since joined him.
“As you can imagine, the physical needs of these refugees are great,” said Baldwin. “They need everything from clothing and household goods to washers and dryers.” Many Centerville members have donated clothing, appliances and even provided plumbing repairs.
“It is our hope that in the not too distant future, the Dayton African group becomes a full-fledged church,” said Baldwin. “We expect it to happen, [thanks to] God’s continued blessings.”
An original version of this story was posted on the Columbia Union Visitor.