There are people who opt to leave their well paying jobs to work for the good of others, who never cease to open their homes to the needy. Pastor Leo Rucibigango is one of those people.
Behind this visibly inspiring and God-fearing man is an equally strong woman, his wife and backbone of 50 years, Daphroza Muzaire Rucibigango.
He was born in 1939 in the Eastern Province, where his uncle raised him when his father died during his childhood.
He then moved to Uganda in 1957, due to civil unrest, and married Daphroza six years later. They have seven children together.
“Around the time we got married, we had not yet accepted Jesus into our lives and used to go drinking a lot. But in 1964 on an Easter Sunday, as we made our way to a bar, we decided to go to church and pray before our drinking spree,” Pastor Leo said.
“When my wife saw me stand up at church, she thought I was going out so she followed me but quickly returned to her seat when she realised I was headed for the front. That night ended our drinking and we gave our life to Christ ,” he said during an interview with The New Times.
He began to split his time between his job at the post office and preaching lessons from 5:00 p.m to 10:00 p.m daily. Amidst several challenges working part-time jobs, he finally decided to dedicate his time to serving the Lord. He soon became District Supervisor in Arua District (Northern Uganda) of the 30 churches under the Full Gospel Church.
Just when things were going well, Idi Amin Dada, former President of Uganda, banned all churches not affiliated with Protestantism, Catholicism or Islam.
“One time we were caught preaching underground and were arrested. But I asked them to free the others seeing as I was the one who called them. I was arrested along with 15 other pastors,” Pastor Leo recalled.
Considering the fact that he had been behind bars before, the man of God had a thing or two to pass on to his fellow pastors about their new abode.
When Idi Amin was informed about the pastors’ arrested inArua, he ordered his soldiers to kill them. Luckily, a lot of controversy had risen as an Arch Bishop had just been killed and the dust was still in the air. So they were released on provision.
Upon their release, Pastor Leo said he felt death awaited him because of the ban of other churches in Uganda, so he fled to Kenya. He rented a house with sheer faith and promised to pay for it at the end of the month even though he didn’t have any money.
“The first Sunday I went to church and praised the Lord in every way that I could. Eventually, they gave me a chance to speak and I told my story. They gave me a job at the church as a pastor and I was paid 1,200 Kenyan shillings which was a lot of money at the time,” he recalled.
After the fall of Idi Amin, the Pastor and his family returned to Uganda where he requested to be a National Evangelist. He went to Luwero district (Central Uganda) where there were many orphans and together with other pastors, started an orphanage called Ambassadors of War. The children were educated and their basic needs were made; some studied there and others went to other schools around the country.
Pastor Fred Wantante from Uganda said, “When I joined the church, I didn’t have much. But Pastor Leo took care of me and gave me $100 every month from his own pocket to see me through. He never once forgot. He has inspired me and a great number of people because he is a great man with a huge heart.”
“It was impossible to stop Leo from going to all these places. He simply wouldn’t have it any other way and strongly believed in God’s protection. And it was God who had protected us all that time so I believed he would return safe and he did,” said his wife Daphrose Muzaire Rucibigango.
However, pastor Leo insists that all this time he was away, his heart was in Rwanda. Even while the country was not safe, the pastor says it was an honour to be Rwandan. And when he and his family returned to his homeland on 20th July 1994 to start the Restoration Church, he had many experiences to bring to his people.
What he found upon his return deeply saddened him as the country had just suffered the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. He said the number of orphans was staggering.
“I went to Kibirira and the number of orphans there saddened me to the point of tears. I cried, knelt down and prayed for the children. We put a decent roof over their heads and also helped with their basic needs. They were about 50. We called it the Kibirira Orphanage,” he says.
He returned to Kigali and focused on setting up churches and restoring hope and forgiveness among the people. He managed to get food for the orphanage but found that the number had increased to 2,000. It wasn’t easy feeding all of the children as he wasn’t aware the number had gone up but somehow he did.
God continued to provide for them and eventually everything seemed okay, Pastor Leo noted. But food wasn’t the only thing on the Pastor’s mind – so with help from well wishers, a school was built as well.
Tom Hakiza, one of the youth in the Kibirira Orphanage, said he owes everything he is today to the place and the people who sacrificed so much for the well-being of others.
“I didn’t get a chance to see my parents but I was raised in that orphanage and it was my family. Today I’m in my second year at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and I hope to be an engineer so I can go back and assist the people growing up there, just like I was assisted,” said a tearful Hakiza.
As pastor Leo worked at the orphanage, he also started setting up branches of the Restoration Church.
“The best thing about our church is that its congregation was devoted to it and their generosity was humbling. We hardly ever received funds from outside the church. As we speak, we have churches in Gisenyi, Gitarama, Rwamagana, Kibungo and many more but the main branch is in Kimisagara,” he said.
His sixth child, Gad Rucibigango, said the pastor’s shoes are not easy to fill.
“I want to be like my dad but I just don’t know how. It’s hard but I also know it’s possible because he has taught me what is really important in life and that is serving God, and serving others,” he says.
The pastor’s 2nd born, Isaac Rucibigango said he has never seen a man so kind as his father.
“In the early years, many pastors would come home at 3:00 a.m in the night looking for shelter and I would be forced to leave my bed and go sleep in the girls’ room. To top it all off, they would stay for over three weeks,” he said.
“But dad always welcomed them with open arms and happiness. My mum’s patience and continued tolerance I believe, also helped shape him into the man he is today,” he adds.
On May 16th, 2012, Pastor Leo and his wife Daphrose celebrated their marital Golden Jubilee with a service at Kimisagara Restoration Church that was followed with dinner at Kigali Serena Hotel. Although they have managed to set up 65 branches of the Restoration Church in Rwanda, their goal is to see that number go up to a hundred.
Many people including pastors from Uganda, Kenya and the Congo, came to celebrate with Pastor Leo and also tell his extraordinary tale. Pastor Leo has served God for over 50 years and continues to impact the lives of those he touches.