By Rev. Lynell Caudillo, Marcus Whitman Pres.
It was an intriguing invitation. It became a life-changing experience.
The invitation was to participate in Tumekutana 2011 in Kigali, Rwanda. Tumekutana (“we come together” in Kiswahili) is the vision of Caryl Weinberg, a former PC(USA) missionary and current Director of Missions on the staff of First Presbyterian Church in Evanston, Illinois.
Throughout Central Africa, Caryl, a Registered Nurse, served as an AIDS educator starting in the late 1990s. In her work she met women who were leading significant ministries in churches, often under challenging circumstances. It was her dream to bring these women together and introduce them to each other. The first Tumekutana conference held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 was such a success, that a planning committee was formed and began immediately to plan a second conference. Rwanda was chosen as the location, and the theme “Women as Agents of Peace, Healing, and Reconciliation” was selected, to take place October 16-20, 2011 in the capital city of Kigali.
I was pleased to accept Caryl’s invitation and began the necessary preparations: immunizations for typhoid, yellow fever, anti-malaria prescriptions, etc. I had already been praying for the conference, having been the US prayer coordinator for the first Tumekutana. However, I was unprepared for the impact this event would have on my life.
The US Team included Caryl, Sonia Bodi and Gwen Ruckers from First Presbyterian Church Evanston, Susan Skoglund , a representative from Presbyterian Women, a pastor from South Carolina, Helen Harrison-Coker, Rev. Debbie Braaksma from Louisville (coordinator of mission in Africa for the PC(USA)), and myself. Once in Kigali, we were joined by Dr. Amy McAuley from Zambia (chair of the Presbyterian Medical Benevolence Fund), Rev. Debbie Blane (from Seattle, currently serving in South Sudan), and Rev. Janet Guyer (serving in South Africa).
Arriving a few days in advance of the official beginning of the conference, the US team helped prepare registration materials, and shared responsibilities with the Rwandan Host committee. Invitation letters, visas, and travel arrangements were worked on until the last minute as communications and internet access vary greatly from country to country. Fifty-five women from 18 different African countries—professors, pastors, and leaders of Presbyterian and Reformed women—converged on Kigali!
On Sunday October 16th, we were divided into six groups. Each group was hosted by a different congregation in the Kigali area for worship and lunch. I was invited to preach at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Kigali, where there are 3 services, one in English, one in French and one in Kinyarwandan. The two hour (plus!) service was lively, with three different music groups leading the congregation in song and dance. Far from the “frozen chosen,” Rwandan worship is aerobic! I was thankful for the warm hospitality of Rev. Therese Makamakuza who translated my sermon into French, and welcomed me and the other Tumekutana delegates so graciously.
The conference began “officially” Sunday afternoon at the Ikigio Isano Conference Center as the delegates, wearing their brightly colored national dress, lined up to process into the Opening Ceremony which featured introductions of honored dignitaries and guests. Two choirs from local Presbyterian churches provided stirring vocal and dance performances. The opening address by the Rev. Dr. Nyambura Njoroge, broke open the conference theme: Women as Agents of Peace, Healing and Reconciliation from both Old and New Testament perspectives in the African context—a very auspicious beginning.
Through daily worship, plenary sessions, small group discussions, shared meals and personal conversations, the depth of faith and passion for peace that these women possess was clearly revealed. Lasting friendships formed as women studied and prayed together, discovering common cultural issues and discussing strategies for change. Topics addressed included: the education and economic empowerment of women, the impact of political conflict and violence on women, including the role of women in ensuring gender-justice in the church and community, among many others.
No doubt, the most profound experience was the day the group visited the Kigali Memorial Centre, which provides a dignified burial location for over 250,000 remains of those who died in the 1994 Genocide, as well as tasteful exhibits which document and educate about genocidal violence in Rwanda and elsewhere. This was a highly charged emotional afternoon, not only for our Rwandan hosts, but for many of the women who live with the daily reality of civil unrest and the threat of armed conflict in their own countries. That evening we heard from a pastor and a dozen members of his congregation—female survivors and male perpetrators of the Genocide—about the life-changing work of Christ that has brought about healing and true reconciliation among them.
This transformative love of Christ compels the women of Tumekutana to be agents of change in their homes, churches and communities. Here, peacemaking is not just a good idea—it is a personal reality. For these women, a personal relationship with Christ is the locus for all peacemaking efforts.
There is not time or space to tell the stories of Samuel, a young Ugandan man with whom I shared the 8 hour flight from Amsterdam to Kigali, or of Ariet from Ethiopia, Anisi from Rwanda, Milcah from South Sudan, and so many others whose journeys touched me deeply. Because of this experience I have gained a new perspective on my own church and culture, as well as God’s call to be peacemakers in Jesus’ name!
If you would like to hear more, I am available to share in greater detail with your study group, class or congregation. You can contact me at