Joy in the midst of grief

By Jean McAllister

Alexis Ruhumuriza, the dynamic young pastor of Belpres’  “new worshiping community” called New Hope Revival Church, lost his mother last week. After suffering a stroke, she was being transported in a litter carried on the shoulders of four men for an anticipated two-day journey to an airplane. She was to be flown out of the Congo to Rwanda for medical help. But she never reached the plane; her suffering was mercifully brief.

It is the cultural norm in Africa that when a death occurs, all family members, friends, and the entire community, come to the home of the bereaved person to bring comfort and practical help. When I arrived at Alexis’ home, several people were there, and many more came during my brief stay. Alexis himself greeted me with his customary cheerfulness, though a bit quieter than usual. But it was evident he was not overwhelmed by his grief. I asked him to help me understand how the culture of visiting contributed to his wellbeing and peace.

Alexis told me that from the moment his mom (called Sifa) died, the steady flow of visitors had not ceased, day and night. People came that first night simply to be by his side in vigil, to pray and be present with him. Visitors came with food and drink, as well as with the practical help of childcare and household chores, such as cooking meals for the family.  As the constant stream of friends continues, Alexis is helped by being able to share details about his mom—how she died, what he most remembered and loved about her—and in turn, they share their own stories of loss and grief. In doing so, they find their own pain easing. Sharing in this way is a mutual comfort, which builds up the community in faith and hope.

Following his mom’s passing, Alexis did not plan to preach on this Sunday—I was scheduled to do that—but he decided the Holy Spirit was telling him he had a powerful message to bring, springing from this true and joyful awareness of God’s presence and power in the midst of his grief. He told me he must be a role model for the congregation. They know him and what he is suffering, so they can be helped substantially in their own ongoing pain and grief still unresolved from their losses during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as they witness this servant of God proclaiming the power of faith in every trial.

I hope we can all be encouraged by this testimony of faith and hope from our new Belpres member.

If you would like to hear Alexis preach, you are welcome to worship with the New Hope Revival Church during their Sunday Service at 11am, UC-106.

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