Oh, What a Savior!
I was born in a village in Rwanda in 1959, mere months before a revolt
began a period of political instability that led to the genocide of my
My parents were animists who worshiped the Supreme Being (called Imana) through the
intermediary of ancestors and the spirits of the dead, whom they
believed give life or death. My mum was barren for nine years in a
world where people see barrenness as a curse from an unhappy ancestor
who disliked his or her treatment after death. By offering sacrifices
of meat, beer, and animal blood, she was told, she could appease the
ancestors’ spirits who caused sickness, calamity, and death.
My people believed ancestors are mediators between Imana and the
living. Any request had to be made to them, and they would carry it to
God. In addition to misfortune, these ancestors could also bring
happiness, prosperity, and good health. But such good happened only
when the living offered sacrifices.
For the nine years of her infertility, my mother offered blood
sacrifices and prayers to the ancestors. She could not go to the
fountain to fetch water or sit with other women. Children sang about
her inability to produce. After two years, when a woman could not bear
children, usually her husband chased her away or married a second wife
to bear children, just as we see in the Old Testament. My father had
given my mother the final word that she had three months to leave when
she discovered she was pregnant.
I was that child.
I was, in a sense, her deliverer. This is why she gave me the surname
“Musekura,” which means
“savior” or “someone who saves you from
an embarrassing situation or who restores your life from impending
judgment.” She believed the ancestors heard her prayers. And
as a thanksgiving to them, she dedicated me to serve the ancestors as a
family and village traditional priest. I was to grow up to perform
priestly duties—offering sacrifices, drinks, animal blood and
flesh to the ancestors.
When I was five, my mother started taking me to witchdoctors and
mediums and the traditional high-priest lady, who would train me to
perform my duties. At age six I started memorizing the names of my
ancestors. By age eight I knew how to slaughter a chicken and a goat
and learned to make sacrifices to the ancestors.
Yet when I was ten, I started asking questions. I had already witnessed
the death of my two-week-old sister, despite my sacrifices. One day
while watching an old medium perform her duties, I realized her husband
was dead and her two sons died young. She had swollen feet and legs.
And I wondered why she was unable to protect her own husband, children,
and body. That day while leaving her temple/house, I told my mother
that I refused to return. After that I lived under the daily threat of
death. And I continued to offer libation and animal sacrifices weekly
to deter the anger of the “living dead,” as they
are called. I believed, as do many traditional Africans, that the dead
are not gone but are still living among us.
But then someone brought me the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was fifteen when Gerald Ford became the president of the United
States. That year, for the first time, I saw a white man, or Umuzungu
as we called him in my mother tongue. Our parents had warned us that
some strange-looking people would tell us about foreign gods who were
against our gods. We should never listen to them or accept their gods,
they said, because if we did, the ancestors would be unhappy and we
would probably die. Or our parents would die.
Yet because of our curiosity to see this kind of “animal
man” who was different, most of the children went to see him.
The white man was Edward Kile, a missionary with World Venture (then
Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society—CBFMS), who had
crossed to Rwanda from Congo and started going into rural villages to
tell people about Jesus Christ.
As we gathered around to touch him, smell him, and pinch him (to see if
he was really human), he would tell us Bible stories. Every month Mr.
Kile came to my village. There a small church was started, and whenever
we went to see him, our parents beat us. But the stories were so good!
I was very attracted to Jesus, the best ancestor, who does not ask
blood of animals to give people peace. Instead He gave His own blood
and made it possible for me to talk with and be a friend of the Supreme
Being, God Himself. In fear of what might happen, though, I did not
accept the God who was against the gods of my people.
The following year I joined the Baptist secondary school in Cyimbili.
There I met the same missionary. That July he preached on John 3:16
about the love of God and the blood of Jesus Christ who died for us.
That day I gave my life to Christ, the one who offered Himself as a
sacrifice for me. And my life changed dramatically.
Rejection and persecution followed. For the next three years I did not
see my home again. My family and village disowned me because I had
given up my right to be a community priest. And because I worshiped
another God, my family believed my visits to the village would bring
On many occasions I begged food or ate from the garbage. Many nights I
slept under bridges, but I lived a happy life despite it all. Sometimes
over holiday breaks I worked in the coffee plantation to earn money to
pay the next semester. And many times my new spiritual father, Mr.
Kile, would pay the balance. In His providence God raised up Mary, a
poor widow in Cleveland, Ohio, who learned of me through Mr. Kile. For
the next six years Mary picked up cans and cardboard beside the road
and took them to a recycling company so that every month she could send
me six or seven dollars. This is how I was able to afford schooling.
In 1979 while finishing my secondary school, I felt the call to be a
priest—not of the ancestors but of the living God. I felt the
Lord was calling me to return to my village, to the people who hated
me. When I expressed my desire to the church leaders, I was sent to a
Bible Institute in Congo (former Zaire), where I studied theology for
Then I became the assistant pastor and later the senior pastor at the
church in my village. This was no easy decision as my family still
hated me. Though my mother loved me very much, she could not invite me
to my home. My father tried to destroy me and the ministry, but the
Lord gave me strength.
My life was already an enigma to the villagers. That I was still alive
and well was a miracle, and they could not understand it. One day I
told my mother I was not her savior, and I invited her to come to
church so I could introduce her to the real Savior, Jesus Christ.
A year after I started pastoral ministry, my mother trusted Christ.
Then my brother came to know the Lord. (Today he is a church minister
in Rwanda.) Then my sister came to Christ. (She is married to a Baptist
minister.) In fact many people in my village came to know the Lord. In
October of 1986 I had the joy of praying with my father as he received
Christ. Two months later I was transferred to the denominational main
office in Kigali, where I was involved in community development and
leadership training for two years. Then I moved to Kenya for further
studies in theology to prepare myself to train more national
Since these events I have completed the PhD program at Dallas Seminary,
and I began African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM),
through which we equip and train pastors and lay leaders in East and
Central Africa, focusing on issues such as biblical repentance,
forgiveness, conflict resolution, and tribal reconciliation. And the
HIV/AIDS pandemic has caused a great need for pastoral care and
counseling for the dying and their bereaved families. As I travel and
serve from village to village and from country to country, I often
think back over my life. I am always amazed and humbled that Jesus
Christ has chosen to work through me, a boy named
“Deliverer.” Through ALARM I pray that many will
come to know the true Deliverer—Jesus Christ, who saves us
from judgment and restores our lives through forgiveness and
reconciliation. He is the only true “Musekura,” our
To contact ALARM call 972-671-8522 or visit www.alarm-inc.org.
About the Contributors
Célestin Musekura, serves as president and CEO of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) a ministry he founded in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. ALARM equips church leaders, pastors, and Christian professionals to address the issues of nominal Christianity, ethnic violence and tribalism in East and Central Africa, and helps train them in biblical servant leadership, peacebuilding, conflict resolution, mediation, forgiveness, and reconciliation.