Bishop of Ely’s visit to Rwanda inspires a vision for the future of diocese

Bishop of Ely in Rwanda

Bishop of Ely in Rwanda - Credit: Archant

One African country’s determination to rebuild and reunite after the horrors of genocide are driving strategies to make Ely “a people of peace”.

Bishop of Ely visit to Rwanda

Bishop of Ely visit to Rwanda - Credit: Archant

The Rt Rev Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely, was so inspired by the forgiveness of the Tutsi people of Rwanda for the perpetrators of mass genocide against them he is hoping to bring some of the lessons learnt back to Ely.

In 1994 up to one million Tutsis were killed in just 100 days of violence carried out by the majority Hutus.

Bishop Stephen said: “Twenty one years on and there is extraordinary evidence the country is being rebuilt and largely rebuilt through a deep Christian understanding about forgiveness.

“We want to learn how to be people of peace in Ely, from people who have been living it very vividly.”

Bishop of Ely visit to Rwanda

Bishop of Ely visit to Rwanda - Credit: Archant

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He said: “The conviction of the Rwandan people throughout society, particularly the Christian people that I met, the deep conviction that this horror needs to be remembered - there’s a national memorial and memorials around the country - this mustn’t be forgotten, but the horror mustn’t be the defining thing about the community.

“The defining thing is people learning to be forgiven and learning to forgive making one community; they’re not Tutsis and Hutus any more they’re Rwandans living as one people again.”

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During the visit to the Diocese of Kigali Bishop Stephen met one man whose family were wiped out in the killing.

He met Archdeacon Stephen Gahigi and his friend, Matthias. The whole team were moved as Matthias confessed he killed Pastor Stephen’s family during the genocide.

Bishop of Ely visit to Rwanda

Bishop of Ely visit to Rwanda - Credit: Archant

Bishop Stephen said: “His life was devastated by the genocide. He went to the prison to find the person who killed his family and forgave Matthias and drew him into his own family. We met Stephen and Matthias who are now friends. I am still processing the profound experience we had in Kigali and this is what we thought about all the time we were there; this astonishing courage and act of will and faith in God to forgive.”

Bishop Stephen added: “It is not just a matter of writing off what somebody has done but actively seeking to forgive this person and that means making him my friend and that’s exactly the kind of thing Jesus was talking about and lived and died for.

“I was so deeply inspired by what I heard and saw and I hope that would be the response any Christian could make.”

Reflecting on the Ely Diocese website Bishop Stephen said: “Rwanda is defined by hope, reconciliation and forgiveness. This is exactly what we experienced as we visited inspiring church-based projects, met with local church leaders and lay people, joined in vibrant worship, and shared hopes and ideas about mission and ministry.

Bishop of Ely visit to Rwanda

Bishop of Ely visit to Rwanda - Credit: Archant

“In my sermons at Kigali Cathedral I emphasised that our vision for Ely includes a desire to become people of peace. We were in Rwanda to learn how to live that vision. We were deeply moved as we listened to the many testimonies of divinely inspired forgiveness against all the odds.”

“Despite, or perhaps, because of the evils that Rwandans endured, we were overwhelmed by generous hospitality wherever we travelled, even in the smallest, poorest of parishes.

“It is not my usual style to dance in church, but the joyful praise and dancing before the Lord was very infectious and inclusive.”

The nine-day visit last month also gave the diocesan team a chance to see how the bike scheme launched by the Bishop in Ely to provide cycles to church leaders in Kigali is working.

They met catechist Etienne who is one of 10 beneficiaries of the Ely “Bike for a Pastor” fund.

It has enabled him to travel around providing pastoral visits to those still profoundly affected by the trauma they suffered during the genocide.

Bishop Stephen said: “It is great to see the bicycles are making a direct difference already.”

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