Pastor Ezra Mpyisi is not an ordinary man. At 95, he has made a reputation for himself not only for being the oldest Preacher in the country but also for his brutal honesty. It’s therefore not surprising that I was nervous about meeting and interviewing him on Wednesday.
I arrived at his home in Kagarama, Kicukiro district a little after 9am and the moment I entered his house, I was struck by how neat and organised his living room was. There was not even a spec of dirt on the floor, not even one cushion was out of place and none of the books from his collection lay open on the table.
I waited for about 20 minutes and when he finally walked in, his appearance completely matched the one of his home. His sky blue shirt, which he had tucked into a pair of navy blue pants, gave him a fresh look and compared to how old he is, the few wrinkles on his face only told of a life lived well. The only thing that betrays Pastor’s Mpyisi age is his walk and the hoarseness of his voice.
After we exchanged out pleasantries, he sat and opened his notebook and asked me my name. I obliged. He asked me to remind him the name of the company that I work for and again I obliged.
He noted both down. Just as I thought that it was my turn to start asking questions, his next question was unexpected. He was interested in knowing my ancestral origin, precisely where both my parents were born and raised. Thankfully, I had an answer.
Satisfied, he closed his notebook and stared at me for a few seconds before he explained why he had to know.
“It’s unfortunate that our ancestral homes are now deserted because of this country’s history but it is still important to know a little bit about someone that you are talking to. To be fair, I am Ezra Mpyisi, I am a Pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist Church and I come from Nyanza of Butare,” he announced.
And so our interview begun.
Pastor Mpyisi has seen it all. He has seen Kings come and go, he has seen colonialists divide Africans only to pack up leave when the continent fell apart and he generally has witnessed peace as he has war. He is indeed not your ordinary old man.
He tells me that he has served the King of Rwanda, represented his religion in parliament, lived in Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya for decades spreading the gospel and is basically an encyclopedia of Rwandan history. So what is he up to lately?
“Preaching is something that only ends when you die so I may have cut the sermons down significantly but I am still a Pastor. I occasionally preach, give bible lessons and I host a sermon on ‘Radio Ubuntu Butangaje’ twice a week. Other than that, I spend most of my time buried in my Bible,” he says.
Pastor Mpyisi tells me that he was an adult when the Missionaries came to Rwanda and introduced the Bible. Not only was he an adult, he was also their employee, doing their book keeping and studying at the same time.
Curious, I ask him what he thinks of Missionaries. His answer is simple.
“Missionaries brought many good things but they also brought many bad things. It is difficult to find a leader who does only great things or only bad things. This applies to every sector and including religions and families. Missionaries are for instance responsible for the Genocide that happened in this country. There is no doubt about that because it all unfolded when I was already an adult. Their role is really big,” he says.
Mpyisi believes that something needs to be done to strengthen the place of History and Culture in society.
“The core foundation of a country is its history, but if it’s not emphasized, its future is doomed. No one is teaching anything about the Rwandan culture. It should be a compulsory subject in schools. Kinyarwanda and History should be compulsory. It’s a shame that our children are studying American History, English and French as compulsory languages and our very own aren’t given as much attention,” he said.
I asked Mpyisi, who constantly refers to the Bible in our conversation, whether there is any sense in the meaning of God’s forgiveness if the sin is premeditated. He explains that the one thing most preachers forget in their teachings is to insist on ‘consequences’.
“People misunderstand God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness only makes sense if you put a stop to the sin. If you for example kill someone and ask for forgiveness, God will forgive you. However, you are guaranteed to live with the consequences. It is important to discourage sin by preaching about consequences,” he said.
Mpyisi says that fasting is one of the teachings in the bible that is misunderstood.
“When the holy books talk about fasting, they don’t necessarily mean starving yourself. The books mean starving the sin, refusing to feed the temptation till the sin is defeated. Otherwise, spending a week without eating and immediately walking straight into sin is useless. By the way, all this is in the Bible but I guess people rarely read to understand. We need to know that prayer without real action is a waste of time,” he says.
Using the hypothesis of a university degree, he said that Bible teaching used to take even close to a year before one could be baptized.
“Do you get a degree in only two weeks? If that is impossible, why should someone take Bible classes and get baptized in two weeks? What can you possibly learn in such a short period of time?” he wondered.
Secret to a long life
Mpyisi tells me that one of human nature’s setbacks is negative thoughts which he says can cause unnecessary stress, sickness and can make a person age faster.
He says that like any other person his age, he is sometimes in physical pain, which he says has sometimes saw him end in hospital. However, he says that he attributes his long life to simple rules.
“If you can avoid womanizing, smoking, alcohol and malice, then you will have peace and it is that peace that will give you a new lease of life. There is something unsettling about being weighed down by your conscience because you can never sleep. Fortunately for me, my conscience is clear because I asked for forgiveness from those I wronged,” he says.
As he escorts me to the door, I ask him why some people find him controversial.
“Do they even know the meaning of the word controversial?” he laughs. “Those who call me that don’t want honest answers and mostly can’t sustain a debate,” he adds.
About Pastor Mpyisi
• He was born in 1922
• He attended several primary schools during the colonial era such as; Rwamata Adventists School and Gitwe Missionary School.
• His first job was book keeping for Belgian colonialists.
• He got married in 1944 and was blessed with eight children, seven sons and a daughter
• He was later sent to Solusi Adventists University in Zimbabwe, which was at the time called South Rhodesia where he pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology.