by Julia Myhre
Sunday, May 19th
Having just arrived in Rwanda the night before, most of our group enjoyed getting to sleep in a little and go to the later Kinyarwandan church service. All 18 of us ride together in a big bus, chauffeured by Annette who has a remarkable level of control over the bus on steep hills and tight spots. We met several friends leaving the morning service. As big as Kigali is, it can feel like a small world once you know a few people.
Once in church, we sang along to the Kinyarwandan songs and stood to recited creeds just as we would in our Anglican service back in North Carolina. We happened to come on a week commemorating the Mother’s Union, so rows and rows of the church sported strong women in brilliant blue skirts and white tops with sashes. This six-month program teaches women how to be good Christian mothers and neighbors, and then the Union works to support the community, especially orphans and widows. The entire church service this week was run by women from the Mothers Union – a beautiful testimony of the power and leadership of women in Rwanda. There were even two Muslim women in the Mothers Union who had come to church (during Ramadan no less) to support the new inductees and represent the Muslim minority orphans and widows. Despite a pounding rain during the sermon, things continued and none of the women were phased by it, they just spoke a little louder to match the cacophony of rain on metallic mabati roofs.
For lunch, we ate at Meza Fresh, the “Rwandan Chipotle”, which definitely lived up to the hype. After changing back at our hotel, we met up with Matthew, his wife Candice, and their two kids to go see their farm on the edge of Kigali and to hear about Matthew’s work. Matthew was invited to move to Kigali from Florida by Pastor Brandon in order to start an integration of church and agriculture here.
After listening and watching for a year, he started Sowers of Hope. Their mission is built on the belief that “farming is a ministry to God, to our neighbors, and to the land itself”. They run an intensive six-month agri-faith commissioning school for farmers to teach good agricultural practices and experimentation, to inspire and encourage farmers, and to certify and connect them with a broader community. They are taught to farm with excellence for God and the land, with compassion for their neighbors in being generous and a good example, and with humility because it is co-creating with God.
Some of the conservation practices include soil coverage, crop rotation, minimum tillage, and agroforestry. This all works together to abolish the pervasive culture of shame and fatalism that has in the past kept youth from being interested in farming and also kept the elders from having the hope to improve their small scale farming without the use of massive machinery. Matthew also showed us his demonstration farm where he is experimenting with syntropic agroforestry and growing coffee alongside taro and a mulching vetiver grass.
People have begun to internalize the message and the program has been widely successful in the past two years, going from graduating 12 out of 25 in the first class to now having over 500 agri-faith members. To me, the stories Matthew told were deeply inspiring: stories of people who show radical generosity of giving extra food to their neighbors, churches that grew through the farming ministry even after the government took away their building, and even of local demonstration plots in each church to test different techniques. In a country whose population is rapidly expanding beyond what the degraded land can support, it is an invaluable and self-reproducing task to inspire hundreds of farmers to use conservation agriculture and to see how the work that they do is at its core, God’s work. The farming representatives elected by churches the diocese Matthew began in Kigali are also 80% female. As their theology and farmings skills grow, it gives them standing and honor in the community and becomes yet another example of the strength of Rwandan women. Sowers of Hope will likely soon become an international community of Christian farmers supporting each other.
Once it got dark we returned with Matthew’s family to their house and continued the night together with dinner and discussion. They were not only inspiring in what they do but also a caring and kind couple who it was an honor to meet. Our first full day in Rwanda was packed with cross-cultural hours of church and, especially for me as a farmer, encouraging time spent seeing what God is doing among the farmers of Rwanda.