Africa Mission: Cathedral Curate Katie Lawrence

April 19, 2018

Categorised in:

Our much-loved Cathedral Curate, Katie Lawerence travels to Africa today to embark on a mission trip, visiting Rwanda and Tanzania. Here, we will keep you up to date with her journey over the next month.

Day 0: 18/04/2018  – Why am I going?

I am feeling excited on the eve of my short-term mission trip to Rwanda and Tanzania. I’m so grateful for all the practical support and prayers of the Cathedral community in preparation for my time away.

Some reasons for going:

  • To explore cross-cultural mission
  • To serve as part of an international team on the first conference for clergy and leaders in a new diocese.
  • To respond to Jesus’ invitation to love our neighbours as ourselves.
  • To give and receive, learn and grow.

I’m expecting to be challenged and encouraged in my faith, and look forward to sharing the journey with you all.

I am leaving at 3.15am, so time for some shut eye…

– Katie

Day 1: 19/04/2018 – ‘Arrived Safely in Kigali’

I have arrived safely in Kigali 18 hours after leaving Hampshire this morning. Have just spent a wonderful hour praying, singing and eating with Benon and Samuel who have joined the team from Uganda.

There’s the burst of crickets in the night air and a great sense of expectation for all that God will do in the weeks ahead. We have been praying that the Holy Spirit will bind us together in unity with all those we have left behind as well as those we will meet. It is such a privilege to be part of the Anglican Communion.

Now to get to grips with my mosquito net…

– Katie

Day 2: 20/04/2018 – Electrical Thunderstorms approaching

I woke up to a wonderful breakfast – Porridge, fruit and chai before team devotions and prayer. More inspiring singing led by Samuel and Benon, which is giving me new material to share with Children’s Church.

The diocesan compound I’m staying in has a beautiful large church with a tin roof, which makes for an exciting experience during electrical thunderstorms!

The rest of the team headed off to Goma late this morning to share in a clergy conference there. My afternoon has been spent chatting to young children from the Solid Foundation School and sitting in on some teaching about the character of a Christian. Discuss!

A sense of peace as the evening draws to a close…

– Katie

Day 3: 21/04/2018 – Byumba

Time to play catch up on my adventures having been without mobile reception or Wifi for two days. After a 2 hour drive through rice paddies and up winding mountain tracks, I arrived at the beautiful diocesan guesthouse in Byumba on Saturday afternoon. Mike the driver found the experience particularly harrowing. Let’s just say it was a white-knuckle ride, complete with a stop and search by armed guards.

The region is rural and mountainous, with many challenges and opportunities for mission and ministry. Bishop Emmanuel welcomed me before I spent the afternoon with Rev’s Eliab, sub-dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Byumba, the Archdeacon and Rev’d Etienne, Director of the Bible School.

We walked through the local area for three hours, visiting social projects, offices and people. This included a compassion children’s project, work with windows, youth enterprise, a nursery school, the development site for the new Cathedral, the local market and Hannah ministry for orphans.

– Katie



Day 4: 22/04/2018 – Tumba Celebration

We left at 8.00 am in the bishops 4×4, complete with 9 other people and 5 large drums. We wound our way around the mountains for over an hour before reaching the home of a pastor in a rural parish. We received such wonderful hospitality there and were joined by 20 other clergy who arrived on motorbikes for a time of prayer and fellowship over food. The parish has grown from just the pastor and his wife to a congregation of 373 in the last 7 years.

We then drove to Tumba College of Technology where our service lasted 4 and a half hours! It was a fantastic celebration of music, dance, 3 sermons, a marching band and the commissioning of many Anglican students. We had a late lunch in the boardroom before returning to Byumba.

There is a large refugee camp of 20,000 Congolese refugees which lies just beyond the guesthouse within the diocese. I met Verene, who is the field coordinator of Hope International in Byumba.

– please pray for their invaluable work in matters spiritual, welfare and economic in the region.

In the evening I spent time in the Kitchen with Izabet who cooked me delicious fish soup and rice.

– Katie

Day 5: 23/04/2018 – Special Encounters

The day started with fruit and a vegetable omelette before heading off to a youth conference with Bishop Emmanuel in Rev’s Dismas’ parish. Over 100 people from around the diocese joined to worship, pray, receive teaching and discuss ways in which they can impact their communities. I loved singing along to the wonderful music, with help of a local songbook! The Bishop’s Chaplain, Juvenal, also provided an excellent translation.

Next, I visited King Solomon Primary School and met with staff to discuss their needs. The local SOS Children’s Village which was set up in 1997 after the war to help care for orphans is due to be closed by the government.

– Please pray for the availability and quality of education in this region where over 65% of the population are completely illiterate.

I returned to Kigali late afternoon through clouds of red dust. Today there have been many special encounters to reflect on, and intense desire to pray Thy Kingdom Come here in this place…

-Katie


Day 6: 24/04/2018 –

Another deeply humbling day here in Rwanda. Breakfast was spent with Rev’d Cedric who shared his remarkable testimony which is detailed in his book ‘Dying in Islam, Rising in Christ: Encountering Jesus Beyond the Grave’ (available on Amazon!) Theological discussion about the nature of the church, it’s role within culture and the struggle to escape traditional religion. I could have done with Canon Roly and Bishop Tim!

I then met with Dorcas who heads up the Mothers’ Union in Rwanda to learn more about their work and discuss how Winchester MU might develop.

– Please pray for conference Dorcas is organising to bring together girls from different African countries to nurture them in their faith.

I then spent the afternoon with Rev’d Annette, the Head Teacher and staff of Solid Foundation School, which was a fantastic time of song and dance in a primary classroom. It inspired preaching and a time of prayer and testimony among staff members. I certainly got my exercise in for the day!

The evening service in the Cathedral followed by a meeting with Rev’d Raymond. he shared personal stories from his parish, highlighting challenges and points for prayer. It’s deeply moving to be able to pray with new-found friends and feel the bond of God’s Spirit at work.

– Katie


Praying into Joel 2 today – I will repay you for the years that the swarming locusts has eaten… you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God… then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh… then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Day 7: 25/04/2018 – Kwibuka – Remembrance

My visit coincides with 100 days of National Remembrance to commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsi 24 years ago. A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial provided an overwhelming insight into the events and experiences of victims and survivors of the atrocities which took place here. Particularly moving was the Children’s memorial, which included intimate details about their favourite activities, future dreams, their last words and the manner in which they were killed. Words fail.

I spend the evening reflecting on Exodus 34.6-7 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Please consider lighting a candle in the Cathedral or at home, and holding silence to remember and pray for those still facing the aftermath of genocide. May the ongoing process of peace and reconciliation bring healing and transformation.

– Katie

Day 8: 26/04/2018 – A perfect morning… and then the rain came

Today was a day of two halves, which began in glorious sunshine with birdsong piercing through the call to prayer from the local mosque. Morning appointments with Bishop Louis and Rev’d Innocent (pictured below) led to some great discussions about the nature of Christian leadership and how we can become better equipped to serve those we are called to.

– Please pray for the challenged faced by the church in the training of clergy and the provision of resources.

The afternoon saw the arrival of a monumental storm which lasted several hours, affording me the opportunity to read in my room. My quote for the day: The Church in a multicultural world is called to bless the nations by valuing persons and cultures in their particularity. God calls us to remind the world of the high value and worth God has placed not only on each person by on each family, ethnicity, tribe, tongue and nation. We not only pray for the well-being of persons, but we also seek to be in a relationship with them. Therefore the ministry of blessing can never be an ethnocentric affair; it must be a family affair, as in “all the families of earth”.- Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood.

Early evening saw the arrival of Bishop Tim and his colleague Alec, who has flown from Kenya. I can’t tell you how great it has been to sit down and share stories of my experiences here so far. You know your Bishop has arrived when you get a fish and chip supper provided for you! Feeling blessed, and looking forward to the arrival of my friends from Goma tomorrow afternoon.

– Katie


Day 8: 26/04/2018 – Conservation, Education and God

Left this morning with Boniface, the Archbishop’s driver, who took Bishop Tim, Alec and me north west up through the mountains to Shyira Diocese. Absolutely stunning scenery, just couldn’t capture the beauty of this country from our car window, especially whilst travelling at considerable speed around almost continuous bends! Passed two monkeys playing in the sun by the roadside and rose above valleys with milk chocolate brown rivers snaking through the landscape.

On arrival in Ruhengeri we met Bishop Laurent (current Bishop of Shyira diocese and incoming Archbishop of Rwanda), Bishop Augustine of Kivu diocese, and Bishop Samuel (incoming Bishop of Shyira diocese). Enjoyed pizza together cooked in a Eucalyptus-fired oven against beautiful volcanic backdrop, home to mountain gorillas. Conversation focused on importance of education for Christian witness, the role of Chaplaincy, possibilities for partnership, and plans for developing church sponsored FE and HE.

Afternoon visit to Muhabura college, a polytechnic college run by the diocese. It specialises in technical education, including finance, civil engineering and computing. The college has grown to over 1500 students and Bishop Laurent hopes that it will be registered as a University in the near future. The college has its own brick-making machine, a saw mill, carpentry workshop, large vegetable plot and dairy cattle.

Returning to Kigali I was happily re-united with the SOMA team, having safely arrived from Goma. It’s a real joy to hear their testimonies of the amazing ways in which God has been at work during their time there. In the evening, Bishop Tim, Alec and I were hosted for dinner by Archbishop Rwaje, the outgoing Primate of the Church of Rwanda. He is also the President of Church Army Africa. It was very special to be welcomed so warmly by his family.

-Please pray for all those working hard across Rwanda to raise the provision of Education.

Day 9: 27/04/2018 – Journeying

Our early morning departure time was delayed in order to avoid getting caught up in the Compulsory street cleaning that all citizens participate in between 8-11am each Saturday. Rwanda also operates a ban on plastic bags. As a result, the urban and rural neighbourhoods are immaculate. Can you imagine the impact on our communities and environment if the Church were to make a regular commitment to care for our neighbourhoods in this way?!

After a team meeting Bishop Tim gave us a special blessing for our journey and the week ahead before we set off in a bright green landrover with our luggage strapped to the roof. The journey was punctuated by periods of waiting as many parts of the road were being surfaced. The scenery was simply stunning; it seems as if every available piece of land is cultivated with crops such as maize, sugar cane, rice, banana plantations and vegetables. The hills began to open out as we approached the border with Tanzania, and we welcomed the opportunity to walk the final kilometre which took us over the Kagera river.

To our delight we were greeted by baboons on the roadside, entertaining us with their antics and hoping to be thrown a snack to eat. We were met on the other side by Rev’d Eliazar, who brought samosas and biscuits to refresh us while we waited for our visas to be processed. The second leg of our journey was entirely on unmade track of deteriorating condition, through sparsely populated rural villages, where small boys herded beautiful long horned cattle. The final two hours were in darkness which made fording a couple of small rivers particularly exciting. We were shocked on arriving at our accommodation (the Swidish Moden Hotel, no less!) to discover enormous beds and running water in ensuite bathrooms – a real luxury!

Bishop Sospeter welcomed us to his home for an evening meal – a time of great joy and laughter. Thank you to all those who have been praying for safe travel. Please continue to do so for our final team member, Bishop Elisha, who is making his way through Burundi to join us in Kibondo.

Day 10: 28/04/2018 – Pioneering new territory

Thank goodness my mobile had automatically changed to adjust to our new time zone! Slight confusion this morning as I was up and dressed just gone 6am and my watch still said 5. Rev’d Matthew and I were collected by the Bishop just after 7 to spend the morning at the Cathedral. It was utter joy! The 7:30am service was standing room only, with an additional 180 children in Children’s Church next door. The second service was primarily for 100 Secondary School students and around 60 adults. Matthew and I preached at both services, which were full of celebration, dance and praise as well as thanksgiving for two newborn babies in the community.

One surprise for me was the auctioning of agricultural produce which church members had brought as their offering, including live chickens, sacks of pineapples and 9 foot lengths of sugar cane. We breakfasted between services on chicken broth, bananas and chapatis in the vestry. A particular highlight was serving alongside a young woman recently ordained as the first female deacon in the Diocese. She is pioneering new territory here. Thanks to the generosity of the Winchester Cathedral community I was able to give her an English study Bible with concordance to support her ongoing Theology and English studies. Other team members had similarly inspiring mornings worshipping and preaching in three other parishes.

This remote region has a sense of peace and hospitality, and we’ve not encountered any guns. Team planning this evening for the seminars before our first fresh fish, Tilapia from Lake Victoria. More heavy rain.

– Please pray for the region’s farmers who are growing increasingly concerned about the continuing rain. Crops are being ruined and roads are deteriorating. There is little provision here to repair the damage.

Day 11: 29/04/2018 – Possitive impacts

An action-packed day which began with a beautiful sunrise. Team meeting with Bishop Elisha who arrived after 3 days’ travelling by road. Bishop Sospeter gave us an extensive tour of some important projects and communities within the parish. This included the bible school which is training catechists who will be attending the seminars we are facilitating during the week. The school is perched on top of a hill with far reaching views towards Burundi.

It was inspiring to hear about the relief efforts for a large neighbouring refugee camp from staff at the UN Refugee Agency, which is supported by the parish. We visited the church secondary school and several entrepreneurial initiatives which are still under construction, including shops which are being developed as a commercial enterprise and a new health centre. This still requires £55,000 to be completed, and will provide a much-needed cottage hospital for the local community.

After 5 hours of visiting we ate together at Rev’d Eliazar’s home. Mama Anna cooked a delicious meal and we sang, prayed and laughed long and hard over tales recounted from former mission trips. It has been overwhelming to see how much of a positive impact the church is making in the local community here.

-Please pray for the many projects underway to secure the resources required to meet completion – they will bring such transformation to the lives of so many.

Day 11: 01/05/2018 – Sacrifice

A wonderful opening communion service for the seminar. Really humbling to be gathered around the altar with new-found friends and to feel totally at home. Freshly roasted groundnuts, cassava and African doughnut for breakfast, followed by introductions, worship and teaching. Rev’d Matthew led a motivational study on Psalm 23 and Bishop Elisha gave a very moving and powerful testimony of his life as a Missionary Bishop. His personal vulnerability has prompted some really important discussions about the cost of serving in the church.

The chapel is brick built with a rough concrete/mud floor and is where we spend the majority of our time. No banners here, but colourful swags of fabric. Goat for lunch, and some delicious African ginger and lime tea. I’m struck by how well balanced our team is, with a Bishop, several clergy and lay members from Tanzania, Uganda, Canada and the UK serving together. Our planning time in consultation with the Diocesan Bishop and staff affords real insight into collaborative ministry and how material can be shaped to this specific context.

– Prayers for all those who make huge personal sacrifices in order to build churches in areas that others find too risky to invest in would be hugely appreciated.

Day 12: 02/05/2018 – A Clean Heart

The glory of this morning’s sunrise faded to reveal three very small children picking their way through rubbish which had been dumped on the roadside opposite our hotel. The reality of life for the majority of those who live in this remote rural village is very tough. The clergy we are serving and learning alongside carry stories which demonstrate immense personal commitment to make a difference in their communities. Many have taken in orphaned children to raise alongside their own, and are developing employment opportunities to create a sustainable future.

Canon Benon led our morning reflection on Psalm 51 – what it means to have a clean heart. Two significant teaching sessions – Reconciliation and peace making followed by Christian marriage ensured that conversation over lunch was rather animated. Afternoon workshops on leadership, prayer and pastoring provided opportunity for discussion and group work, which was a shift in learning style for many. We laid aside the closing session we had planned in order to open up some ground-breaking converations around aspects of married life… to be continued tomorrow!

A huge thank you to all those who gave items such as glasses and stationary which were distributed this afternoon. Some items have gone directly to a local school in great need, and others to clergy who will distribute to those in greatest need in their parishes. Financial gifts have helped towards emergency medical treatment for a Vicar’s daughter at the seminar who was rushed to hospital just before lunch today. Fantastic conversation with Bishop Elisha over dinner which has given greater insight into local practices and married life – exactly the sort of topics church leaders should be able to have openly!

Missing the Winchester Cathedral community but so grateful to be a part of God’s wider church in this place. Please know you are appreciated, loved and prayed for by these resilient women and men in Kibondo Diocese, and me too.

Day 13:03/05/2018- The Holy Spirit at work

You’ll have noticed an emerging pattern to these posts by now. Every day I’m blessed with spectacular scenery, delicious food and beautiful people to spend time with. Being here is like living life in high definition colour. All the senses are hightened and the air is charged with, well, I’d probably have to call it the Holy Spirit. Difficult to try to describe on a laptop, so come and find me if you’d like to ask more about it when I get back to Winchester, and I’ll take you out for a coffee!

Last night was difficult for several team members, and poor Rev’d Ken ended up spending the whole of today in bed. His fever broke at 4:30pm, which was the same time that we were praying for him back at the seminar. Our morning devotional psalm was 139 – a real joy for me to lead. Rev’d Matthew coped magnificently with two teaching sessions requested by the Bishop on the Power of the Holy Spirit and Evangelism and traditional religion. He was able to return to bed for the afternoon to recover from his sickness.

Bishop Elisha began his long journey back to Dar es Salaam. He has been such an invaluable asset to the team. Our prayers go with him. The delegates settled into the rhythm of afternoon workshops with apparent ease, and worked well in small group exercises. The majority have received primary education only, and are responding to the range of approaches to teaching and learning with great enthusiasm and positivity. The most poignant moment of the day for me was seeing the grace and humility with which Bishop Sospeter modeled repentance and confession in our closing session. He enabled the rest of us to move into a place where healing and renewal can take place.

As I type, the crickets are chirping in the darkness and several dogs are howling. Prayers for strength for delegates and team members would be appreciated as we look to “finish well” together in Kibondo over the weekend.

Day 14:04/05/2018 – The inquisitive Cockroach

Another glorious sunrise as we embarked on our final seminar day. Unfortunately Ken has not made a good enough recovery to join us so is resting again today. The Bishop had kindly arranged for an “African dress” to be made for me, which delighted the delegates, though I wasn’t sure if they were laughing with me or at me when I arrived this morning kitted out! The wax finish on the fabric gives a certain tent-like quality to the skirt, which helps keep one cool but is somewhat disarming when trying to manoeuver into small spaces.

Another opportunity to lead our morning devotions based on Psalm 96 for today – Singing a new song. The quality of singing here is remarkable, leading to times of worship together that express joy, unity and freedom. After lunch our closing Communion service included a guest appearance by an inquisitive cockroach which made its way across the altar and marched over the Bible, before disappearing into a fold of fabric. The service concluded with the commissioning of those present to embrace their ministry and mission afresh, which was particularly moving. There has been a gathering sense of momentum among the delegates this week, and it is wonderful to have been able to share the experience of learning and growing in faith together.

Low point of the afternoon was Alice, the Diocesan accountant, being taken to hospital. Prayers for a breakthrough in her ongoing treatment would be appreciated. Arriving back at our accommodation earlier than usual meant we had time to pop down to the local market with Naftali and Rev’d Eliazar. We bought fresh avocados for tea and had fun exploring some unusual stalls. When the local witchdoctor (local terminology) and his crew arrived, complete with 8 foot python and masked man on stilts, we felt it was time to make a move. I was struck by the fear in the faces of the children who were trying to run away as the snake was being paraded. Led to interesting discussion over dinner with Bishop. Off to rest ahead of parish visits tomorrow.

Day 15:05/05/2018- Bringing Joy

We’ve had a remarkable day out visiting three rural parishes with the Bishop. At each church, we’ve received such an extravagant welcome, with members of the community gathered to sing, dance and share a meal with us. I have now consumed more rice and chicken than I ever thought humanly possible – will need to let my cassock out on my return!

Each church is home to a growing community, with varying amounts of work required for the completion of their buildings. It is extraordinary to see the dedication with which these people approach their building projects. In these remote areas, the church forms the largest communal meeting place for the local community. There is enough surrounding land to plant crops such as cassava, beans, banana and maize, which enables the community to eat and survive on proceeds of produce sold at the local market.

The first church we visited had its own cow for milk, along with chickens and goats. The second church was set at the base of a beautiful hill, which afforded spectacular 360 degree views from the top. A wonderful place to gather and pray God’s blessing over the surrounding communities. The third church housed a wonderful concrete font set on handmade bricks, and even had plastered walls inside. It is very difficult to know how best to convey thanks to these communities who spoke so compellingly of their deep gratitude and thanks for our visit. They were simply thrilled to have us sit alongside them in their environment and share together. I was able to speak of our love and honour for them and explain the significance of offering a public reverence from a dancer’s perspective. This simple act made a connection which seemed to cross our cultures, bringing joy. Our day has enabled us to gain a much fuller sense of the depth of faith in this area of Kibondo diocese and drawn us closer into the beauty of the wider church.

Day 16: 06/06/2018- Blessings

Day of departure from Kibondo – so much to give thanks for. Alice is out of hospital, but still needs our prayers for her ongoing condition. She is such an asset to the Diocese, and a precious member of the Bishop’s extended household. Maria the chef ran out to ask for a photo with “Auntie Katie” before we left for the 7:30am Cathedral service. She has cooked us some delicious meals and enjoyed practicing her English with me.

Our final service brought a lump to the throat – joy for all we have shared and sadness at having to leave such faithful new-found friends. I was able to give Jocelyn my stole and will pray that one day she will be ordained as a Priest. (Although the House of Clergy have passed the vote on the ordination of women priests, the House of Laity has not.) Bishop Sospeter sent us off with a blessing, and his congregation send their love and greetings to all those whom we represent back in the UK.

Our drive back to Kigali in Rwanda was bumpy and beautiful. Too many outstanding views to capture, but I hope the photos give something of the nature and flavour of parts of the journey. Rev’d Eliazar accompanied us to the border where we swapped vehicles and prayed together before going through immigration control. A leaky radiator in the jeep meant we stopped three times during the second leg of the journey, but we had fun speaking with the children who gathered to watch as our driver collected water.

We arrived back in Kigali 9.5 hours after leaving the Cathedral this morning. A welcome meal and team debrief gave opportunity to reflect on all that there is to celebrate. With sadness, we prayed and said our goodbyes to Benon and Samuel who leave at dawn tomorrow to return to Uganda. They have shared so much and afforded us such depth of insight into their culture.

As I write there is a huge electrical thunderstorm underway, and I have an ominous drip from the ceiling which is making quite a puddle on the floor of my room. Have a growing sense of excitement about tomorrow’s night flight home… really can’t wait to be reunited with my family. Giving thanks for all of God’s blessings, both here and back with you all in Winchester.

Stay tuned for more posts and photos coming soon…