Planting potatoes, harvesting choirs in Rwanda




Rwandan Brethren sing in the field
Photo by Jeff Boshart

By Jeff Boshart

In 2012, the Global Food Initiative (GFI) began supporting a potato project of Evangelistic Training Outreach Ministries of Rwanda (ETOMR) among the Twa people in the village of Bunyove in northwest Rwanda.

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The Twa, sometimes known as pygmees, have traditionally been a hunter-gatherer people who would hunt game animals and sell the meat to others as a way of garnering some income. Numerous forces caused an end to the nomadic lifestyle of the Twa, including war and forest hunting land being turned into protected areas for wildlife. The Twa were forced to live as refugees in camps that became a collection of mud huts on the edge of farming communities. Conditions in these camps were bleak and the Twa turned to stealing and begging to survive.

The founder of ETOMR, Etienne Nsanzimana, is also the leader of the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda, previously serving another denomination as a pastor for many years. Nsanzimana tried for years to make inroads with the Twa in order to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, but without success. After two years of working with Twa leaders and teaching them how to grow potatoes and peas, he and the Brethren had their first breakthrough. Several people gave their lives to Christ and began attending a Brethren church.

Along with learning to grow their own food for the first time, the Twa, with the support of Brethren members, were taught the importance of savings and received assistance in opening savings accounts. They also received sewing classes and learned how to sew their own clothing. Another major advance for the Twa came when they were able to purchase health care in Rwanda’s national health care system. Conflict resolution skills were also taught.

In fact, the progress made by the members of the Twa community in Bunyove is so dramatic that Twa from other communities have begun saying that they are no longer recognizable as Twa as they have such nice clothing and their children are going to school, some even graduating from high school.

In 2018, in the nearby Mudunde Church of the Brethren, a Twa choir formed called the Makerubi Choir. Nsanzimana believes that this is the first Twa choir ever formed in Rwanda, but the good news doesn’t end there! Recently, members of the Makerubi Choir traveled to a neighboring village to evangelize Twa people living in that community. Several community members converted to Christ in Humure and now they too have formed a Twa choir.

Alexander Bashame is director of the Makerubi Choir and a man of vision. In a meeting with GFI manager Jeff Boshart and GFI volunteer Chris Elliott, he expressed a hunger to learn much more. His hope for his people is that they will learn to raise pigs and chickens so that they can earn enough money to buy cows. Once they buy cows, he believes they will be able to begin buying land and owning their own homes and farms.

This is a story of faithfulness: pastor Nsanzimana’s faithfulness in seeking new ways to present the gospel to a hurting people, the faithfulness of the Twa for sticking with the potato project for seven years, the faithfulness of GFI donors in supporting this effort, and ultimately God’s faithfulness to his people for their courage and dedication.

In parting, Boshart and Elliott offered words of encouragement to the Twa leadership from Matthew 25:23, “Well done faithful servants, for you were faithful with little things...things as small as potatoes.” The meeting concluded with plans already formulating for a livestock project to begin later this year.

-- Jeff Boshart is manager of the Global Food Initiative. For more information go to www.brethren.org/gfi .

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