Rwanda and ‘the 28′


Rwanda is a relatively small country in Central Africa. It dominated the news headlines in 1994 because of the terrible genocide in which at least 800.000 people were brutally killed during the bloody tribal conflict between the Hutu’s and the Tutsi’s.

Rwanda is a little smaller than the Netherlands (respectively about 26.000 and 42.000 square kilometers). The current population of this fertile country, with a pleasant climate, stands at almost 12 million. The Rwandese people are very religious. A little more than half of them are Roman Catholics. About 36 percent of the population is Protestant. Seventh-day Adventists represent with 11 percent of the people (or ca. 1,3 million persons) a rather prominent section of Protestantism. The data are provided by the Rwandese government and include also non-baptized family members. According to the statistics of the Adventist Church it has a little over half a million names on its membership rolls.

A significant part of the population has had some education and is literate. The literacy percentage for adult women is between 50 and 60 percent and for adult men a bit higher.

Why did I look for these data? The reason is that the Adventist Church in Rwanda features at this moment rather prominently in the Adventist press. A big-scale, nation-wide evangelistic campaign is under way, in which even the president of the General Conference will actively participate. Everywhere in the country series of meetings are being held and in the near future a massive ‘harvest’ is expected. Until recently a baptism of some 60.000 people was projected. The Adventist Review reported a few days ago that the Rwandese church leaders now believe that in May as many as 100.000 people will be baptized.

These are incomprehensible numbers, especially for church members in the Netherlands where a baptism of five persons is considered a major ‘success’. Surely, in a country like Rwanda it is easier to persuade people to become Adventists than it is in Western Europe. But one should not have the idea that in Rwanda new members grow like ripe oranges on a tree along the waterside, and that these will automatically fall into the water as soon as someone shakes the tree just a little. I am sure an enormous amount of hard work is being done, with many pastors and others working in over-drive. And I must assume that there is an colossal amount of organization behind all of this.

It is great to see how the church grows exponentially in many parts of the world. But I do wonder to what extent it is possible the teach all these 100.000 new members—in a relatively short period of some months—all 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This question is even more pressing when we assume (as seems reasonable to do) that a major percentage of these new members are people who have decided to leave the Catholic Church and are men and women who cannot read or write. Roman Catholic Christians are not particularly known for their extensive knowledge of the Bible and Adventists are expected to read their Bible and study their sabbatschool lesson faithfully!

How much will these new members, at the moment of their baptism, know of the Adventist teachings? I assume they will have heard of the Second Coming of Christ and of the Sabbath and that they have understood that baptism by immersion is the only valid form of baptism. But how many of them will know about a heavenly sanctuary? And will they be able to explain the essence of the ‘three angels’ messages’? Will they have a clue about the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation? Have they even heard the name of Ellen White? To be honest, it does not bother me too much. If these people want to be baptized, they are—as far as I am concerned—very welcome and I believe that in the years to come they will gradually learn more about what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist.

However, I would like to ask some church leaders why they keep emphasizing that one cannot be a good Adventists if one does not fully accept all the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. Why is there such a high threshold for people in the secularized West who have discovered the Adventist Church and not for the people in Rwanda? Maybe some day these leaders will explain it to me. But in the meantime I say to my new fellow-brothers and –sisters in Rwanda: Welcome! Or in their own Kinyarwanda languages: Karibu Sana!


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