Sharing Bread and Bibles in
|Elique Semaboye, Lawren
Morrison, Jessica Blood, Tom Shepherd, Kerri Tory, (front) Robert
Christensen, Jason Bohl and Christy Parfet visit a waterfall on a day of
Preaching 19 sermons in 16 days is an unforgettable experience in itself.
Add to that being swarmed by children, “stealing” food and water, and
encountering a seemingly supernatural illness. The outcome is exactly what
happened this summer when 11 Union College students and two faculty
traveled to Africa. Funded by Global Evangelism, the Quiet Hour and
personal donations, the group presented a series of evangelistic meetings
at 13 sites all over Rwanda.
For some the experience was
transforming. Kerri Tory, a nursing major who graduated just before she
left for Rwanda, said if she hadn’t already accepted a position in the
she might have stayed in Africa.
For others the trip took place just
as expected. When asked whether preaching in Rwanda changed his life,
Malcolm Gaskin, one of the two faculty sponsors, replied, “The change
happened before I went. That’s why I went.”
For three individuals, the trip meant
more than preaching, although that was a significant focus. Experiencing
Africa meant trying to fill any need they encountered and mingling with
people in their homes.
On the surface Jason Bohl, Robert
Christensen and Elique Semaboye have very little in common. Jason is a
sophomore social work major born in the United States. Robert is a
religion major originally from Honduras, and Elique, a theology major,
lived in Rwanda the first several years of his life. What became apparent
in Africa was their shared passion for interaction.
Because of their activities outside
the churches where they preached, Robert, Jason and Elique earned the
appellation the Three Musketeers. Dr. Tom Shepherd, religion professor and
faculty sponsor, gave them this title because, he said, “They had the
wanderlust. They were adventuresome. They would go out into the community
and talk to people wherever we went.”
A hungry woman
Before commencing the evangelistic series, the group spent a week sightseeing
in Ethiopia. There they witnessed the Blue Nile in Lalibela and visited 11
stone Orthodox churches in Bahir Dar. Ethiopia evoked more than aesthetic
appreciation from a few members of the group.
Jason and Robert ate at a buffet
restaurant and ended the meal with more than they could eat. They had both
noticed beggars lining the street outside, so rather than waste the extra
food, Jason suggested they sneak it out of the restaurant and distribute it.
He and Robert wrapped bread rolls in napkins
and headed quietly for the door. When a waiter confronted them, Robert
described their plan candidly. “The restaurant would have had to throw the
food out anyway,” he later explained. “We told the waiters what we were doing,
and they ended up helping. They gave us foil to wrap everything.”
One woman had been slumped and
despondent when the two had entered the restaurant. Now, as Robert put food in
her outstretched hand, her face lit up. He remembered the verse in Matthew 25,
which says, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” (NIV). Robert
said, “That verse kept ringing through my head throughout the trip.”
A boy and a Bible
During the brief stay
in Ethiopia, Elique and Jason were walking in the community when a group of
children realized the two had candy. Elique told them to line up so Jason
could give each of them one piece. One little boy, when his turn came, would
whisper in only Elique’s ear.
don’t want your candy,” the child said.
Elique, thinking the boy was holding
out for a dollar, reached into his pocket.
“I don’t want your money.”
“What do you want?”
The boy answered, “I want your
Stunned, Elique dug into his backpack
for his only Bible. “All the other kids want candy or money,” he said. “This
kid wanted a Bible. He wanted the Truth. Stuff like that can touch your
The language of home
excitement of his encounter with the little boy, Elique was disheartened by
the poverty he saw in Ethiopia. He hadn’t returned to Rwanda since he left
with his family after the genocide of 1994. “People in Ethiopia were nice,
friendly. But it was so hard for them to find food,” he said. “I was thinking,
is this what my country is going to be like too?”
When the group arrived in Kigali, the
capital of Rwanda, Elique’s fears were dispelled. “Where there used to be
huts, now there are houses,” he said. He reunited with family members he
hadn’t seen since the genocide. Old friends and family brought him the African
cuisine he had been craving for more than a decade. “Ogari,” he said.
“It’s fish. I ate the whole fish by myself. And banana juice. Jason and Robert
liked it, but nobody else did.”
Early in the summer, before he left
the United States for Rwanda, Elique had been nervous about preaching before
so many people. “People in Africa want to hear about God,” he said. “What if I
make a mistake?”
Elique had preached before, but only
in front of small audiences. In Rwanda, it was estimated that about 400 people
would attend. Over the course of the meetings more than 3,000 people gathered
to hear Elique’s sermons.
At the first meeting, he walked to
the microphone and saw the size of audience. “It was like there were a million
people,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say. I just started praying in
The other sites staffed an
interpreter to translate from English into Kinyarwanda. Many assumed Elique
would need one as well. They didn’t know he had lived nine years in Rwanda and
could speak to the people directly. “I think they took me seriously because I
could speak the language. They were thinking, he’s one of us.”
Elique feels the people of Rwanda
have moved past the genocide that drove his family out of the country. “Then
there was no love,” he said. “Now—it’s beautiful.”
Ninety-eight people have already been
baptized as a result of Elique’s meetings, and 52 more are enrolled in
baptismal classes. The goal at his site was to baptize 70.
Combining the attendance at all 13
sites, about 16,000 people came to hear the Union College evangelistic team
preach, and more than 1,200 have been or will be baptized as a result.
Blaise and Murakatete
During the days, when
they weren’t preparing for the evening meetings, Jason, Robert and Elique
often walked outside their hotel in the surrounding area, which Jason and his
friends dubbed “the village.” One day, a man named Blaise approached them to
ask what they were doing in Rwanda. When they explained, the three learned
through Elique’s translating that Blaise had been looking for “the true
church,” but hadn’t yet found time for God. He invited them to his home to
“If people offer you food, you always
eat it,” Elique said. “If you don’t, it’s disrespectful. It’s like you’re
suspicious that they poisoned the meal.” So Elique, Jason and Robert ate with
Blaise in his home, where they met Murakatete, Blaise’s wife, and Francine,
their daughter. After conversing a while, they prayed with the family and
invited them to attend the meetings at Jason’s site in Kabusunzu.
After Blaise had attended a few
meetings, Jason and Robert went to his home for their daily visit and found
Murakatete in suddenly poor health. Robert touched her forehead and felt she
had a high fever. Lying on a mattress in the candle-lit house, the 24-year-old
wife and mother was buried under a coat and blanket. Not knowing what else to
do, the young men put a cold cloth on her forehead, massaged her hands and
sang to her, then prayed with the family before they left.
Murakatete lay dangerously ill for
several days. There was no clean water to give her because purified water is
delivered by truck and very expensive. At midnight after days of sitting
helpless by Murakatete’s bed, Jason and Robert devised a plan. They left with
one of the family’s empty water jugs.
According to their hotel’s policy,
water was not to be taken off the premises, so Jason and Robert sneaked the
jug past the reception area and up to one of their rooms. They filled the
container in the shower, grabbed a few purification tablets and headed back
toward Blaise and Murakatete’s home.
This time the receptionist at the
desk caught them. Again, as in the Ethiopian restaurant, they simply explained
what they were doing and why. And again they were allowed to continue.
When Blaise came to the door, his
face lit up. “You got water! You got water!”
Despite their efforts, on Wednesday
night Jason and Robert found Murakatete getting worse. She seemed to have
malaria, chest pains and something lodged in her throat. She was completely
limp and had to be lifted up just to drink water. Robert believed Satan was
attacking her because Blaise had been coming to the evangelism meetings.
“She couldn’t eat,” Jason said. “She
was screaming, moaning and crying. I couldn’t take any more of seeing my
friend like this.” He gave Blaise money to take Murakatete to a doctor and at
least get a diagnosis. The doctor predicted she would only get worse and die
without medicine, which was expensive.
As Murakatete’s condition had
worsened, Jason and Robert had cried and prayed with the family. Because they
shared the pain of Murakatete’s illness, they were also able to share the joy
of her recovery.
When Jason and Robert returned to the
family’s home Thursday morning they were met with an amazing sight. After a
week lying feeble in bed, Murakatete was now sitting on the porch, smiling and
reading her Bible. She was able to speak and walk without help. That evening,
when Jason and Robert arrived to pick up the family on their way to the
meetings, she was still in excellent health and dressed beautifully for the
By the end of the evangelistic series, both Blaise and Murakatete planned to
be baptized in September. “We were there to preach to the multitudes, but
mingling one on one has an impact too,” Robert said. “It touched Blaise that
strangers wanted to help.”
Looking back on the trip, Jason sees
what happened with Murakatete as one of his fondest memories. Robert simply
misses the people and wants to go back. Elique now wants to use a theology
degree for global evangelism. And next time he travels, Elique says, “I’ll
bring more Bibles.”