With over 367,000 baptized members, Adventists comprise the second largest church in Rwanda. Despite losing over 150 ordained pastors and countless members during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, church membership continues to skyrocket as people choose, despite disquieting times, to anchor their trust in God. While the church welcomes new members, it is scrambling to fill a void in church leadership. Many concerned individuals are currently fulfilling pastoral roles on a self-dedication basis, but few are professionally trained or ordained in the ministry.
That's where Andrews University student Jean Hakiza enters. Having lost his parents, his sisters, and countless other friends and relatives, Jean is all too familiar with the pain of recovering from the horrors of genocide. Devoted to steadying his beloved Rwandan church, Hakiza has already served as a teacher and translator in Rwanda. He is now studying for his Master's of Divinity degree at Andrews University and plans to return to Rwanda with his family upon graduation.
Growing up in West Africa, formerly the Gold Coast, Hakiza was the eldest of seven children. His father worked for an international organization, so Hakiza enjoyed extensive travel throughout Africa and Europe. After completing public high school in Ghana, Hakiza pursued a bachelor's degree in English Literature. Soon after graduation, he taught at the First Missionary Gitwe College for four years. It was then that he decided to pursue further education in the United States.
While Jean has found Andrews University academically challenging, his motivation to achieve his goals has never lagged. "I've never had so much to do in so little time," he admits, "but it's interesting. I like the material," he continues. He believes his work in Rwanda - church activities, evangelism, leadership training - have prepared him to meet the challenges of studying in the Seminary. Jean also appreciates the cultural diversity and spiritual atmosphere at Andrews. He's gotten to meet people from a plethora of countries and enjoys joining them in prayer before classes.
When Jean moved to the United States, he was initially shocked. Used to simple, home-grown foods like cassava and sweet potatoes, Jean admits he wasn't a fan of the highly-processed American diet. He also missed his favorite food: fried plantains.
But what he still doesn't miss is the political chaos and social unrest so characteristic of Rwanda. "Everything in America is so organized," he comments. Despite Rwandan police, Jean regretfully says that most of his people disregard their country's rules and regulations. Consequently, Jean appreciates the peace Americans often take for granted. Coming from a highly sociable African community, Jean has also been impressed by the hospitality the Christian community at Andrews University has extended him - from warm meals to even warmer welcomes.
Jean's goal is to give voice to the voiceless. Concerned by the apathy with which most people now approach the Rwandan situation, Jean emphasizes that the genocide is not just a historical event - its repercussions are the inescapable reality of daily life for Rwandans. Even though the war may be over, Jean relates that "people are still dying" - something no one is rushing to take responsibility for. Africa is still very unstable, both politically and spiritually. Jean continues, "We're not making leaders accountable yet." And while he knows he can't change the world, Jean is confident that with God's direction and blessing, he can make a difference in individual lives. "With God," he reiterates, "we can obtain the highest [aim] possible." It seems likely that the inimitable strength and spirit of his fellow Rwandans will sustain Jean's dedication to making a very scarred Earth a bit more heaven-like.