I am a citizen of the Republic of Rwanda. Our country is famous for a terrible civil war which took place from 1990 to 1994, resulting in the deaths of somewhere between half a million and a million people. I became a disciple at the age of 19, in Cape Town, South Africa, where I was living at the time with my dad. When I started studying the Bible, we were living as asylum-seekers in South Africa. My heart was not totally at peace, because some things in my official documents were fake – for instance, my age was changed in order to get me into school. I decided that when I reached the right age and was allowed to do things on my own, I would make things right.
Three years later, in 2012 (I was 22), I moved back to Rwanda, in order to correct my official documents. My dad was not happy with my decision, he thought it was not wise. My plan was to be able to return to South Africa and go to college, but that plan didn't work. Suddenly I found myself in the very difficult position of having to figure out how to get myself into higher education in Rwanda, a country made up almost entirely of rural subsistence farmers.
I had finished high school in South Africa, but that was all. My dream was to become a nurse. I tried to qualify for local nursing training. I applied to different schools in the US, but I could not figure out how to get any scholarships, and I did not have money to pay on my own. I started volunteering at hospitals in Rwanda, where I thought I could meet missionary doctors from Europe and the US and make connections that way. At one of my volunteer hospital jobs, I met a man and his wife who were Christian believers, from a church not affiliated with the Churches of Christ. As I worked with them at the hospital I shared my dream with them. We talked about how I got to be where I was, and why I couldn't continue my education in South Africa. We became friends.
One day in 2015, after they had returned home to the US, I got an email from the wife. She wrote, "You can come! We found a college for you that can help you get the degree you wanted – (it would be a prerequisite to qualify me for nurse training) – and we're going to sponsor you. The college is not far from us. You can live with us and you will be going to school! Start packing your bags, that's all you're allowed to do." They worked so hard to get my visa, they even sent me suitcases to use, all the way from the US!
While I was still home in Kigali I let them know that I regularly attend the International Church of Christ, and I wondered if there was an ICOC church in the city where they live, in Walla Walla, Washington. I had never been in the US so I wouldn't have any idea. The wife replied, "Yes, there is an ICOC, it's in Eugene, Oregon—about four hours' drive."
That sounded so far away. Maybe I'll be attending now and then, I thought. I talked it over with my friend and mentor in my church back home in Kigali; we were thinking it would be difficult but probably doable. And so I came to the USA to pursue my dream to study to become a nurse.
On the 6th of December, 2015, I landed in Walla Walla, Washington. The first few weeks were really great. My host family couple got me ready for my college orientation and helped me get all my vaccines. It was a really exciting time. I continued connecting with the disciples in Kigali, in Kenya, in other parts of Rwanda, and with disciples I knew in different parts of the US asking them, "Hey, does anybody know where the nearest church I can attend besides Eugene, Oregon, might be?"
One brother contacted me and asked if I had checked the church locator on the Disciples Today website. I checked once, but didn't see Walla Walla. "Try 'Tri-cities,'" he said. Tri-cities? That's only one hour away from where I was staying! I got online and found the website for the church in Tri-cities, and the number for Ian and Francine Edmunds, who lead the church. I called Francine and introduced myself. I told her I had been here for two weeks.
Francine told me that there were a couple of disciples who actually live in Walla Walla, and commute to church in Tri-cities! That very week, disciples from the Tri-cities church came to visit me—a sister called Vivienne, and one of the campus brothers. I was really excited, so thrilled. Now it was time for me to ask my host family for permission to go to church in Tri-cities. I approached the couple and explained that I found out that the church I attend is in Tri-cities; I feel like it's still far, but it's my desire to attend the service there once in a while. I heard there is a married couple who drives from here to there every week, and I can travel with them.
To my great disappointment, they said, "Absolutely not."
I decided not to fight them right at that moment, and to go and pray first, about their response. I Iet my friends back in Kigali know about what happened in that conversation.
That same week, my host family's church had a father-daughter event, which included an ice hockey game in Tri-Cities. On the way back home, I brought up the matter again, this time with the husband, hoping I could persuade him. He also told me I could not go to the ICOC church in Tri-Cities, and the reason was that, "We can't be attending two different churches. We want you to be attending church where we are." I said, "I have nothing against your church. As you know, I have been going to church with you. I will come and visit you; but my real church is the Church of Christ, that's where I belong." And the husband said, "No. If you start doing that, it will feel like you are fighting for the church more than you are for us."
Three days went by. On the weekend leading up to New Year's Eve, on December 29th I brought it up again. Why can't I attend the church that I want to attend? The husband brought the case back to his wife, and the wife said, "No. We cannot be in two different camps. If you're with us, this is where you are. We're going to start doing research about that church of yours." "That's ok," I said. "I do know there's different stuff online you're going to find, it's not all true. You can call Francine, call Ian, ask them questions, you are welcome to do so."
They said they didn't want anything to do with them, but googled ICOC, and found and read some negative reports. They came to me and told me, "You're in a cult!" I said, "With all due respect, it's not a cult; and I'll tell you why it is the way it is: we have some sad things in our background and we're not proud of it; but this is where I want to be, this is where I grew up, this is a part of my life and my faith. Just give me a chance, you don't have to come and attend. I will. You can come and visit."
Things really exploded. They gave me two days to decide "whether you choose the church or us." I was terrified. What am I doing, I was thinking! During those two days, I called my mentor in Kigali, and I sent messages to different people in Rwanda and Kenya. My host family started to control my phone and every move I made. I texted Francine really fast and I even had to hide myself in the middle of the night to message people in Rwanda to ask them to pray for me. The next morning, I was clear about the fact that I was not going to choose these people. Why am I being asked to compromise my faith?
The next day I was so quiet. I was challenged with a lot of talk. Then on the 31st of December, they called me and asked, "Have you made your decision?" I said: "I want to be a nurse. I feel called to the medical field. I want to obey you, I want to be in school, but I don't want school to come at the cost of what I believe in, my faith, my church or my spiritual family. That's not what I ever dreamed of. So, if there's a way we can work around this together, I am willing to do so." They said, "No, we're not going to do this." I said, "then I'm sorry; I will choose my spiritual family."