Rwandan president visits Oklahoma Christian University
It was hard to envision Kagame, 48, as a military commander who served in a revolutionary army in Uganda and later led the Rwandan Patriotic Front to end the 1994 genocide in his home country.
But Oklahoma Christian President Mike O’Neal compared Kagame to liberators such as George Washington and pledged his school’s support of Rwanda’s education goals.
“This is a family of faith,” O’Neal told Kagame after a question-and-answer session with the school’s students, faculty and visitors from other states and the United Kingdom. “We want to be your friends and brothers, as we are all God’s children.”
This fall theOklahoma Christian will provide five full scholarships for Rwandan students, onthe condition that they return home after graduation to help their country. The university plans to add two scholarships each yearuntil the total reaches 11 students and will offer additional half-tuitionscholarships for Rwandans.
Kagame thanked theschool for its decision to “actively support our drive toward our vision.”
“Oklahoma Christianis an institution known for academic excellence, anchored in Christian faith… and service to its students,” he said.
Kagame, who won alandslide victory in 2003 to become Rwanda’sfirst democratically elected president since the genocide, visited the2,000-student school after attending an education conference in Montreal, Quebec.Kagame accompanied his wife, Jeannette, Rwandan ambassador to the U.S. Dr. ZacNsenga and a number of cabinet members from the African nation.
The president answered questions from students about how Rwanda ispromoting unity after the devastating, ethnically charged genocide that claimedan estimated 800,000 lives 12 years ago. Kagame’s government has attempted toredraw lines of political districts and downplay the distinction between ethnicHutus and Tutsis that sparked the conflict.
One student asked what steps the president has taken to avoid thecorruption that plagues other African nations. Kagame said that Rwandan law nowrequires everyone — including the president — to disclose their income and itssources.
“Corruption has been a very serious problem in countries onmy continent,” he said. “It has hindered economic development inother countries and we recognize that.”
After speaking at aluncheon and receiving an honorary degree from the school, Kagame addressed ajoint session of the Oklahoma Legislature and met with the state’s governor. GaryBishop, president of church-supported WorldBible TranslationCenter in Fort Worth, Texas,and his wife Donna presented Kagame and the First Lady with embossed Bibles.
Kagame said he chosethe school as a stop during his visit to North America at the invitation of O’Neal, who visited Rwanda in November 2004.
Richard Lawson, anOklahoma Christian graduate and founder of St. Paul, Minn.-based LawsonSoftware Inc., and his wife, Pat, made initial contact with the Rwandangovernment and invited O’Neal and his wife, Nancy. Dave Jenkins, then a visiting missionary at the school, joined thegroup.
Jenkins now serves asthe first full-time missionary from Churches of Christ to Rwanda. Fromhis home in the capital, Kigali,he read reports of the visit in Rwandan newspapers. “The Lord is doingsomething far beyond what any of us could anticipate,” he said in an e-mailmessage from the African country.
In the summer of2005, 12 students worked as a mission team to Rwanda. Six more students willtravel there this summer, accompanied by Oklahoma Christian faculty membersBryan and Holly Hixson. David Johnson, a faculty member at Faulkner University,Montgomery, Ala.,and his wife, Marlea, will teach in Kigalithis summer. Kyle and Luz Beard plan to move to Rwanda as missionaries later thisyear.
Sam Shewmaker,longtime missionary to Africa and facilitator for African church planting forMissions Resource Network in Bedford, Texas, offered Kagame “a belated — though deeply felt —apology that the government of the United Statesdid not come to the aid of the people of Rwanda in their darkest hour.”
“This fact is a stainon our national honor for which we are deeply sorry,” said Shewmaker, who hasvisited Rwandaand plans to assist church members in future mission work there.
“We look forward to aharmonious working relationship with Rwanda that expresses Christ’sspirit of compassion and service,” he said.
The Rwandan presidentsaid that he hopes the scholarship program will be the first step in ongoingcultural exchanges between the Christian school and his country.
“We in Rwanda valuethese continuing contributions,” he said. “We trust that this is only thebeginning of the road that we are to travel together.”
May 3, 2006