“Today we traveled 1.5 hours into the mountains from Kigali. The mountain villages and cities are remarkable. Rwanda countryside is beautiful.
We were with Pastor Jean Marie, who I met last year in Kigali. He was in the first class that graduated from the Common Ground Academy led by Pastor Mezack. After the Academy, Jean Marie went on to get his undergraduate in Social Work and just completed his Masters in Community Development. Here are the marvelous ways he is using these skills to be the Church in Rwanda.
In the mountains of Rwanda there is a city of 600,000 people called Muhanga. This was where Jean Marie was raised. After he succeeded in Kigali with his outreach to women and men at risk, he decided to start working in other cities in Rwanda with high concentrations of these high-risk groups. He decided a good place to start would be his hometown.
What we saw today was an independently functioning community outreach that is based on the gospel but funded by the government. Jean Marie began working with a few women in prostitution in the community in 2006.
Initially, Jean Marie focused on sharing the Gospel, but most of the women continued to prostitute themselves even after they accepted Christ. "We don't have any other way to make a living," they would tell Jean Marie. So he offered basic health training and an opportunity to form an association that could provide them basic healthcare and new occupational training as well as small business loans. Many accepted the offer and willingly changed their lives for a new beginning. Now there are over 161 women in the association in Muhanga.
From 2012-2015 they had a contract with the city government to clean the streets of the city for payment. (Rwanda is one of the cleanest countries I have ever seen). The Catholic Church in the community is letting them farm a large section of land that is providing income. Next to the crops, they have seven fishponds that are used to raise and sell tilapia in the market. They also process their own fish food from local maize and rice crops and sell the excess to other farmers. They raise rabbits over the fishpond (cooler temperatures), too, and feed them the same feed as the fish.
Collette provides other training for the women including sewing and salon care. Of the 161 women in the association, over 120 are HIV positive. Some of the older and sicker women are unable to work the fields, so these alternative means of income provide less demanding work opportunities for them to provide for themselves and their families.
You don't have to ask them about the spiritual aspect of the program.
They eagerly tell you and show you. Salome got on her knees and prayed with thanksgiving for us coming before she told us about the fish food processing. Collette shared how the person training them to sew teaches a Bible study before every training. Every time they bring additional health or career training, Jean Marie comes and begins each session with the gospel. "If you improve your life but you miss eternal life, you have missed everything." Jean Marie
How does this happen? The blessing of God. And the vision he gave one man, Jean Marie, and the skills he learned to raise up leaders. Collette is the Director of the association in Muhanga. She is providing independent leadership. Jean Marie and the NGO that he founded in 1999 for this work provides advisement and seed capital. He is a leader of leaders. A great example of Common Ground initiatives. “