I am not intimidated easily, but Eugene intimidated the hell out of me. And that was before I knew that he was a soldier who liberated Rwanda after the genocide. As we sat down for our first interview at ACT, I would ask an inane questions like “What is your degree called?” and he would answer, deadpan, “A diploma.” Yikes. I better arranged my line of questioning and we ended up having a conversation in our second interview about marriage and love and respect that took me totally by surprise. You can never tell how things will work out, but I guess you can always prepare with intelligent questions. Photo by Esther Havens.
In the Africa College of Theology study room, Eugene looks like a professor bent over a book. Between his quiet demeanor and reading glasses, you wouldn’t guess that in his 51 years he has been a soldier, a farmer and a pastor. Born a Rwandan refugee in Uganda, he joined the Ugandan army in 1987 and went to Rwanda as a freedom fighter in 1990. He fought for four years, through the horror of the genocide, until the war ended in the summer of 1994. Of his life in the military, he says only, “I had to do so. I had to liberate my country.” It was a painful time; he lost friends, brothers. After Rwanda was freed, he had to adapt to civilian life and put himself and his community back together. He met his wife when he noticed her in a refugee camp, immediately knowing she was the one for him. They married and had three children. Things rebuilt slowly, and he is proud of his participation in taking back his country, making it safe for his family and others like him.
He became a Christian nine years ago when he was invited to a church overnight. There, he felt a conviction in his heart to follow God. Since becoming a Christian, he has let go of pride and temper that marked his life without Christ. His military friends tell him that he is becoming a failure – a pastor and a family man. He tells them that it would be better if they would become failures like him.
Already a lieutenant in the army, a businessman and a father, Eugene was 45 when he heard the call to be a pastor. Already a member of Africa New Life Church, he talked to Pastor Charles about his desire. He began his ministry with an evangelism course in Uganda. Using mainly movies like The Jesus Film and Passion of the Christ, he traveled to Congo, Uganda and Kenya and preached the gospel. He got a scholarship to study theology in South Africa, but the opportunity fell through. He wanted to increase his understanding of theology and be equipped, but opportunity was scarce. His prayers were answered when ACT opened a year ago. Pastor Charles encouraged him to enroll, and he was offered a scholarship through the church that made it possible for him to attend.
During the day, he tends his banana trees, maize, cassava plants and cows on his farm in Kigali. At night, he takes classes on missions, planning a church and counseling. He learned the most from the marriage class. Even though he has been married 19 years, he took his marriage for granted, not realizing that marriage takes work. “For us Africans, it’s not easy for men to tell wives I love you,” he says. “I try to train my tongue to speak that word. It’s no longer a struggle. I tell my kids I love you every day. My two year-old daughter can grow with that word.” He even counsels other married couples now.
When he graduates with a Diploma of Theology in December 2014, he hopes to reach people who haven’t heard the Good News. Whether that is traveling to nearby countries again or setting up a church here in Rwanda, he would like to help train and teach young people to share the gospel. In his roles as father, army lieutenant and marriage counselor, Eugene is a servant leader. It is evident that the Lord has continually softened his heart until he believes that he finds strength not in military power but in Jesus. Until he daily tells his two year-old daughter that he loves her. Eugene is a man transformed by the word of God. He has served his country and his family, but now he lives in service to God.