I WAS not surprised this week when I heard complaints by some Kigali residents about their increasing discontent of the noise coming from an array of churches in residential areas of our city. This was reported by the print and electronic media. Rwandans of all walks of life are today trooping to the new churches in ever-increasing numbers in pursuit of spiritual rejuvenation. I am aware of the extreme sensitivity with which I must handle this subject because anything that touches the spirit is sacrosanct. But something must be said though in passing.
First of all the new churches reflect a deep sense of mistrust of traditional churches which have in the past taken their followers for granted. There is no doubt that these churches have had tremendous influence on our country and people. The new era of neo-liberal economics and freedom of expression and worship experienced in the last decade or so have offered the young generation some kind of free choice in the market place.
Europe has set a precedent: Throughout most of European cities, from London to Prague and other cities, cafes are full, the glitzy crystal and art shops are busy, and the dozens of historic cathedrals and churches are largely empty – except for tourists who routinely take photos. Whenever you visit Europe, it is not uncommon to find churches that have been turned into pubs or simply locked up by the local authorities because the number of Christians who turn up for Sunday service or confessions is so low that it is not economically viable to maintain them. You will probably recall the high cost of utilities in these countries. An elderly lady once told me in Stockport in Northwest England that Britain and most of Europe constitute post-Christian societies. In the Czech Republic “common wisdom has it that alcoholics outnumber practicing Christians and that more Czechs believe in UFOs than believe in God”.
For us in Rwanda, the scenario is a bit different. The young generation is so much infatuated with the preaching of the young, smart and charismatic pastors that they are prepared to part with a tenth of their incomes. Thanks to the eloquence of the pastors which are usually accompanied with sweet and melodious music from their huge musical gadgets.
I would personally have had no quarrel with our good pastors had it not been for our school-going children now entirely in their hands.
During vacations, parents are literally on their toes. There are compulsory night prayers imposed on these young people by the flamboyant pastors. There are prayers for peace and unity, there are prayers to resolve personal problems, there are prayers for success in exams devoted sometimes to an entire evening. But given the number of hours the young men and women spend praying, would it not be fair to
suggest that they should divide, probably equally, the time for church and work so that some development can be initiated?
In neighbouring Uganda, there are a number of prayer gurus who have emerged in the aftermath of liberalisation of airwaves. According to reliable sources, Ugandans are sending in their prayer requests to the radio in a bid to ‘cast unto Jesus burdens which were formerly cast unto witchdoctors’. I have also heard of on-line confessions thanks to the internet and ICT! All sorts of people are returning to the Lord.
This ranges from all those whose businesses have collapsed, those heavily indebted to those whose husbands have introduced a co-wife into their marital home.
The Ugandan pastors are advanced in their approach. One Pastor Namutebi is said to heal HIV/Aids patients and she can also deal with the lucrative visa applications and many other problems.
The pastors in Rwanda have found an increasing number of clientele. Apart from students on vacation, there are civil servants and other city folks who have found the lunch-time prayers extremely useful.
First of all, they fill up the spiritual void. Secondly, they are part of a lunch break pastime to while away the pangs of hunger. By the way, this is not only peculiar to Kigali. In Nairobi, at Jamia Mosque and other places of worship, in Kampala at the city square and even in London at Hyde Park! You can’t believe how one can while away the lunch break.
A friend of mine told me the other day that the upsurge in churches could remotely be attributed to Maslow’s law of hierarchy of needs.
That in life you have got to first of all get the basic needs, that is, food, shelter and clothing. Then comes self-actualization, which many folks in our part of the world are yet to attain. There are pay packages that cannot manage to take care of the basic needs of a family in a month. It is the churches with their vigilant pastors who have to provide the rest. This is what my friend called spiritual investment.
Be what it may, loud or persistent noise can be irritating, disturbing or simply quite unbearable. It may be disturbing sleep and causing considerable stress. Aren’t these enough reasons for affected residents to get deterrence from the concerned authorities? I believe your guess is as good as mine.
The writer is a consultant and visiting lecturer at the RDF Senior Command and Staff College, Nyakinama