How Total Member Involvement made a difference in Rwanda
How Total Member Involvement made a difference in Rwanda
By Andrew McChesney
All Juvenal Nsengiyumva, a 47-year-old university teacher, determined to rise to the challenge when he learned in January that each of the 720,000 Seventh-day Adventists in Rwanda was being encouraged to actively share Jesus’ love with their neighbors.
But how could he participate in the Total Member Involvement program, which would culminate in a nationwide evangelistic series in late May?
While hundreds of preachers were needed at evangelistic meeting sites across the African country, Nsengiyumva couldn’t take the time off work to prepare and deliver the two weeks of sermons.
So Nsengiyumva took stock of what he had: a caring wife, Marianne, and four children; an aging but reliable car; some cash; and fluent English skills obtained during five years of studies in India.
“First and foremost, I am an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and you know an active member has to tell the truth that he or she knows to others,” said Nsengiyumva, an elder at the Gates of Hope Adventist Church in the resort city of Gisenyi.
Nsengiyumva’s three daughters and son—Hope, 12; Friend, 9; Meek, 7; and Merciful, 5—went through their clothes and chose some to give away to those who needed them. Their mother washed and ironed them to make them look like new.
“We have to teach them to be cheerful givers,” Nsengiyumva said. The family also donated US$70 toward the US$8,000 cost of a new house for a widow.
In addition, Nsengiyumva signed up to serve as an interpreter for a visiting preacher from the United States, and to drive the speaker to the meeting site, an hour-long roundtrip that followed his regular day of teaching.
It was all worth it, he said. A total of 168 people were baptized at the church where he interpreted, a figure that far exceeded the goal of 30 baptisms set by church leaders for each of the 2,227 meeting sites around the country.
“It is really wonderful,” Nsengiyumva said. “What can I say? Glory be to God!”
Every Member Involved
It is the active involvement of people like Nsengiyumva that paved the way for the largest baptism in the Adventist Church’s history, local church leaders said. An unprecedented 97,344 people were baptized during the May 13-28 evangelistic meetings (as of June 2), and additional baptisms connected with the event are expected to push the total past 100,000 in subsequent months.
“I can tell you that this success came about because each member in the Rwanda Union got involved in every detail of the operation,” said Blasious M. Ruguri, president of the Adventist Church’s East-Central Africa Division, whose territory of 11 countries includes Rwanda.
Church members studied the Bible with their neighbors and went door-to-door, inviting people to the evangelistic meetings. They donated nearly $350,000 to construct and repair housing and buy cows, food, clothing, and health insurance for the needy. Medical volunteers treated nearly 6,000 people for a week at free clinics at three locations.
“No member thought this was a burden; in fact, every member desired to be given a chance to participate,” said Ruguri, who preached at a meeting site in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
Rwanda, with a population of 11.8 million people, stands as an example for Adventist believers worldwide, church leaders said. All union presidents from the East-Central Africa Division preached in Rwanda in May, and they plan to replicate the Total Member Involvement program in the run-up to major evangelistic series in their home countries in June 2017. Even the president of the Adventist Church in Zambia, which is located in another church division, flew to Rwanda to view the proceedings firsthand.
“Total Member Involvement is not just for Africa,” Hesron R. Byilingiro, president of the Rwanda Union, told a group of preachers in Gisenyi. “It is for the entire world.”
The previous record for baptisms was 30,000, after a two-week evangelistic series in Zimbabwe in May 2015. Just two months later, world church leaders unveiled the Total Member Involvement initiative at the General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas. Total Member Involvement (TMI) encourages each of the church’s 19.1 million members worldwide to find ways to share Jesus with friends and communities.
Although named at the General Conference session, Total Member Involvement is not particularly bold or new, said Duane McKey, a key organizer of the Rwanda meetings and the Adventist world church leader responsible for the program.
“Jesus said more than 2,000 years ago in the Great Commission of Matthew 28 to go and preach, teach, and baptize,” McKey said in an interview in Rwanda. “The interesting and exciting thing is we’ve just finished more than 2,000 meetings that commemorate something Jesus said more than 2,000 years ago.”
Large GC Delegation
Most of the presenters are regular church members from Rwanda, McKey said. But 98 speakers came from the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist world church, and another 70 came from the church’s Nairobi, Kenya based East-Central Africa Division. Some two dozen came from France. Many funded their own way.
Speakers called the event unforgettable and spoke of related blessings in their own lives. A 22-year-old international student studying in the United States told how a Muslim woman and a public university funded her trip. A 12-year-old boy rejoiced over leading hundreds of people to Christ. A Canadian woman who lost relatives in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide was finally able to forgive (see sidebars).
Abner De los Santos, a general vice president of the Adventist world church, described his joy at unexpectedly joining two overwhelmed local pastors in a church baptismal tank to baptize 528 people at a church in Kigali on Sabbath, May 28.
“When I first held my newly born child in my hands, I could feel the child’s heart beating,” he said. “On Sabbath, I could feel the pounding hearts of the people whom I was baptizing. It reminded me of a newborn child.”
De los Santos and his wife, Leticia, a music teacher, preached at two churches in Kigali’s Rusororo district.
Another general vice president of the Adventist world church, Geoffrey Mbwana, also led evangelistic meetings.
Among the other representatives of the General Conference were Lael Caesar, an associate editor of Adventist World, who marveled that six visitors attended his meetings at the invitation of one mute boy. (The author of this article, news editor of Adventist World, led a series for the first time.)
The sight of the unusually large delegation from the General Conference sent ripples across Rwanda. Abidan Ruhongeka, president of the South Rwanda Field, said his church members told him in astonishment: “The General Conference people used to come to Rwanda Union just for church business meetings, but now they have come only for evangelism. Jesus must be coming soon!”
Adventist Church president Ted N. C. Wilson, who led evangelistic meetings in Gisenyi, thanked local church members for their participation on the last Sabbath. “You are an example for the entire world. We praise God for that,” Wilson told a crowd of 6,000 people.
Among those present were 1,971 people who had been baptized in nearby Lake Kivu in the morning, and Nsengiyumva, the university teacher who found several ways to participate in Total Member Involvement.
Nsengiyumva said he couldn’t be happier. “I praise God that He fulfilled my wishes to participate in the preaching of His message,” he said.
Andrew McChesney is news editor of Adventist World.