Making a Difference in Rwanda
After witnessing the atrocities of the 1994 genocide, Pastor Deo Gashagaza prayed that God would give him the strength to overcome his anger. After much prayer, Pastor Deo heard God’s answer; God was calling him to go into the prisons to transform the prisoners.
Reaching out to those who massacred so many innocent Rwandans, including his sister and her 5 children, was not an easy path to choose. “In the beginning it was very difficult for me, but I respected the calling from God,” reflected Pastor Deo. He began visiting prisons on the weekends and providing Bibles to prisoners. After speaking with and preaching to prisoners, they began to ask for God’s forgiveness. But, with over 110,000 genocide offenders in prison, his desire to reach out to them all was a bit daunting.
Pastor Deo eventually left his job and partnered with Bishop John Rucyahana. Together they committed to bringing a message of reconciliation to the prisoners and the victims of these unimagineable crimes. This was the beginning of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, which was chartered in 1997.
In 2000 PF Rwanda hosted a national restorative justice conference focusing on reconciliation. Then PF Rwanda adapted a version of the PFI Sycamore Tree Project®, a victim awareness programme that brings together victims and prisoners. Pastor Deo then took the project into the 19 prisons as well as into the community.
As Pastor Deo reflects on his past 15 years of prison ministry, he finds it “a miracle that perpetrators and victims are now living in the same villages, sharing their meals, and their hopes.” The long process of true reconciliation has been reinforced by income generating activities, both agricultural and animal husbandry activities.
But the work of PF Rwanda is not restricted to reconciliation. With approximately 100,000 children living on the streets of Rwanda without a parent or guardian, Angel Tree has become another core programme for PF Rwanda. What started as a Christmas programme for prisoners’ children has become year round. Staff and volunteers feed 85 children 3 times a week and provide materials such as shoes and clothing, as well as counseling, group activities, and Bible teaching. Presently, 10 of the children are able to attend school thanks to PF Rwanda.
Pastor Deo is praying that funds will be secured in the near future to allow PF to build a home or centre to provide shelter and stability for these homeless children. His vision is to provide them vocational training and education and to have them become true, integral members of the community.
How does a ministry with little money start an effective children's program? Pastor Deo encourages other ministries to simply love and pray for the children. Pastor Deo concludes, “You don’t need money to demonstrate love to the children, to care and love and respect them and invite them to be close to you.”
PF Rwanda continues to grow in size and variety of programmes. According to Pastor Deo, his ministry’s growth and success results in part from having a firm and diverse foundation. “One of the keys to our success has been that we try to involve many churches in our programme - Anglican, Evangelical, Catholic, etc. - we all come together to participate in the ministry."