This article is part of The Compass Magazine’s series on regional conferences and race relations in the Adventist Church. Past articles include “What of Our Future? Contemporary Perspectives on the Role of Regional Conferences,” “…Not As I Do,” and “Skeletons from the Past.”
In the space of 100 days, more than a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu died during the bloody Rwandan genocide of 1994. In the aftermath of such horrors, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Rwanda faced the daunting task of helping church members forgive and reconcile with the killers, some of whom were church leaders. Was the church going to elect separate conferences based on tribes (race)? Or was the church going to focus on Christ and His power to heal broken and wounded hearts?
Under the leadership of the late Pastor Amon Rugelinyange, the church embarked on emphasizing the primacy of the gospel as the only antidote to the evils of this world. The power of the gospel needed to be lived and illustrated; otherwise the church would have ceased to be relevant.
Slowly but surely, the church emerged from the ashes of the genocide. With a 7.07% growth rate and more than 600,000 church members as of 2013, the church in Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing unions in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today.
Consider the Alternative
Given what had just happened in Rwanda, consider the outcome if the church had decided to have different conferences along tribal lines. What message would the church be preaching to other Rwandans today? Would such a message be in line with Christ’s call for unity in John 17? Would it be in harmony with the Three Angels’ Messages to preach to “every nation and tribe and tongue and people” (Rev. 14:6)? Clearly, the alternative would NOT have been anything close to the mission of the church.
Revisiting State and Regional Conferences in North America
As race issues continue to dominate the headlines in the U.S., it is a reminder of the darker legacy that slavery left on the consciousness of this nation. The North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church can choose to continue to reflect and perpetuate the dark history of the past, or it can courageously emulate the lesson of Rwanda. Yes, there will be the need to ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation as individuals and institutions.
A Rwandan widow of the late Pastor Sefuku is powerful example of what Christ can do for us. Here is how the Adventist Review put her story:
Sister Sefuku’s home was invaded one night by a group of young people baying for blood. Her husband, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, was murdered in front of her, and she and her daughter were left for dead after having been savagely assaulted with machetes. Fortunately, both she and her daughter survived the ordeal, although both their faces were deeply scarred. As life eventually took its course, Sister Sefuku felt increasingly compelled to minister to the thousands of people who now sit in prison convicted of murder. One day, after she made an appeal for repentance to a group of prisoners, a young man in the audience got up and said: “You don’t know me, but I am the one who murdered your husband on that fateful evening. I am now asking for your forgiveness.”
Our sister was deeply moved, and in the spirit of Christ she decided not only to forgive him, but to see to it that he got a new life. She went to the prison authorities to appeal to them to release the young man. She promised to help him be reintegrated into the community by taking him under her own roof and supporting him as best she could. Today, he is married man and a transformed individual.
To her neighbors and friends who questioned her sanity, Sister Sefuku answered: “I know what I am doing. Christ has forgiven me for my sins; how can I not do the same! This boy took the life of my husband; God now gave me the life of this boy to be as my own son.”
Ponder the power of this story. The incredible power of the gospel.
As the chorus of the beloved hymn goes,
It is no secret what God can do
What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you
With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you
It is no secret what God can do
Yes, it is no secret that He can forgive our past sins and our present prejudices for the glory of His kingdom.
What else can the church do to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation and end the race-based conferences in the North America Division? Please post your thoughts below.