When I invited them through their ministry website to our house for dinner with my family, my main intent was to expose my girls to a "real hero" (at least in God's eyes), someone who serves God tirelessly in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. What I had not counted on was that God had much more in mind than a simple spiritual lesson for Mika and Macy. The result of our visit was that I was transformed by this man's incredible faith, courage, joy and love--both for God and his fellow man.
Although I had heard bits and pieces of his story before, I was overwhelmed in hearing him fill in the details of his life. Before I tell you more about this man, let me tell you a little more about me.
Sacrifices I make as a Christian:
Riding to church services on Texas Summer Sunday afternoons in a car that is hot for five minutes until the air conditioning kicks in. (My husband insisted that I mention that I make him start the car and A/C before I will get in my seat--mascara running down my face is not a pretty sight). Then, I have to get out of my car and walk in the heat for 60 seconds until I can get into the sanctuary where A/C will keep me comfy during the service.
Giving money to my church, the poor, and missions: I already have all my needs and most of my wants met, but still, the money I donate could be used to make a payment on a luxury car, purchase more of my beloved Starbucks Java-chip Frappucinos, or stay at a five-star hotel on my vacation.
About once every six months, I have to listen to someone make a disparaging comment to me about Christianity. Or, I will hear Bill Maher or another comedian making fun of my beliefs on national TV.
Occasionally, the local Christian bookstore will not have the newest Christian book I want in stock, and so I have to order it from Amazon and wait five days for delivery.
I could go on, and on...
Allow me to introduce you to my dinner guests: Celestin and Bernadette Musekura. They were born and raised in Rwanda, and then were living and raising four children in Kenya, where Celestin had gone to seminary.
In 1994, the Rwandan genocide took place. More than 70% of the Rwandan pastors were killed or forced into exile, leading to an enormous vacuum in leadership of the church. Similar mass bloodshed and resulting lack of church leadership took place in Burundi and Eastern Congo. There was even more war and tribal conflict affecting the body of Christ in Uganda and southern Sudan.
Celestin realized that the African church would need strong leadership to foster training, teaching, forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation to leaders and individuals in communities. So he founded ALARM, which stands for African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (http://www.alarm-inc.org/). ALARM has played and continues to play a crucial role in developing both church and government leaders, reconciling relationships, and transforming broken and traumatized communities all over Africa.
Sacrifices Celestin has made for being a Christian:
When God called him to go from Kenya to Rwanda in December 1997, his name was put on several "kill lists" and he became a wanted man. Both the Hutu and Tutsi tribes hated the message of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. They did not want peace, but instead craved vengeance. Celestin, a Hutu, was seen as a traitor of his tribe and deserving of death. He had to tell his wife and four children that "God has called Daddy to minister in Rwanda, and I might not return." His youngest child, only five years old at the time, replied, "If you die, I know our Heavenly Father will take care of us."
Celestin eventually found out that 5 members of his family and 70 members of the church he had pastored for four years had been ruthlessly slaughtered. He chose to "forgive as Christ forgave us." He met with the relatives of the murderers, forgave those who had killed his family and friends, and then proceeded to share the love of Christ with everyone--Hutus and Tutsis alike.
While in Rwanda, Celestin was caught and tortured. He explains that the beatings were horrible, but that the worst torture was the psychological pain of hearing the screams of people being put to death in other rooms. He was kept in a literal house of horrors. Miraculously, Celestin was released.
He spends much time working in Sudan, where he often visits churches in remote areas. Usually there is no church building; 300 people from the tiniest newborn to the elderly gather under a tree in the sweltering 100 degree heat. Often there is no pastor and no Bible. Yet, these precious believers worship God with everything that is within them, including much singing, dancing, and praising God for his love and faithfulness to them--for THREE hours.
He has presided over untold numbers of funerals for children who have died from having nothing but dirty, contaminated water to drink.
He has faced ridicule, scorn, and threats from overtly evil people who would love to chase him down with a machete and leave his severed head to rot in the streets.
How does anyone survive such things with their sanity intact, not to mention their faith? Amazingly, Celestin and Bernadette are some of the most joyful and peaceful people I have ever met. They have a sense of purpose and an unquenchable desire to fulfill the mission God has given them. Their smiles radiate the depth of their love and devotion to Christ.
They love their Savior so much that they are willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of Christ, and to die if necessary. Celestin reminded me of the words of Paul, "to live is Christ, to die is gain." (Phil 1:21) He shared that when God called him to return to Rwanda after the genocide, to him and Bernadette it was a simple matter of whether they would chose to obey God. He knew that if he was killed, he would be in heaven with Christ, and that God would provide for his family.
I asked him where he gets the courage to walk boldly into an unstable, violent situation where the air reeks with the stench of death and hatred, and he humbly replies that "when God calls you, he gives you the courage to do whatever is necessary."
He insists he wouldn't trade what he has been through for anything, because all the trials and sufferings have been used by God to mold him into the man he is today. His experiences have enabled him to proclaim boldly his message of forgiveness and to give an awesome testimony of the Lord's faithfulness. He reminded me of what Joseph said in the Bible after being sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused, and thrown into prison. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." (Gen 50:20)
Finally, he reminded me that "a call to Christ is a call to suffering," a statement that is politically incorrect but theologically sound. Persecution and suffering are repeated themes in the teachings of Christ, the Apostle Paul, and the disciples, yet you will rarely hear it uttered in most churches today.
How does a story like Celestin's affect my faith? Good question, I'll probably be mulling that over for some time, and blogging about it, too. Some of my initial reactions:
I do not feel guilty that I have been spared the deprivation, persecution, and horror that Celestin and his African brothers and sisters have, but I do feel an immense sense of gratitude for the freedom I have to worship God however I choose, freedom from constant fear of slaughter and rape, and freedom from hunger, disease and poverty. I am reminded that I have been blessed to be a blessing to others, and that I need to be a good steward of all that God has entrusted to me.
I am inspired by Celestin and my other brothers and sisters in Christ; I feel a strong kinship with them. The stories of their suffering and trials bring me to tears, and I am motivated to deepen my faith. I want to support my persecuted family members financially, through encouragement, and with my prayers. I want their stories to be told in our churches so that they are not forgotten.
I also need to ask myself if I really believe that God is worthy of sacrificing everything for. Because if the answer is "Yes," nothing will be the same. Even if I am never called to the mission field in a dangerous and hostile country, being totally surrendered to Christ requires sacrifice, and it will not be easy. But the pure joy radiating from the faces of Celestin and Bernadette remind me that there is really no other way to live.
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." I Peter 4:12-14