Corneille Gato Munyamasoko, general secretary of the Association of Baptist Churches in Rwanda, will receive the Baptist World Alliance’s quinquennial Human Rights Award in July, following action by the BWA Executive Committee meeting in Falls Church on March 4. Munyamasoko was lauded by the award committee for having dedicated his life to Christian ministries, to promoting peace and reconciliation, and to combating the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
According to Eron Henry, reporting for the Freedom and Justice arm of the BWA, Munyamasoko was born in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where his parents had fled following an outbreak of ethnic violence in Rwanda in 1959. As a teacher in the DRC, Munyamasoko worked to help Rwandans and Congolese overcome ethnic differences.
When the Rwandan genocide of 1994 spilled over into the DRC, with Hutu invaders killing Tutsi residents, Munyamasoko moved his family to Rwanda in hopes of helping to rebuild his native country. Working as a principal in a Baptist high school near the Rwanda-DRC border, Munyamasoko witnessed many atrocities, including the murders of the entire student body of a nearby boarding school. He and his wife, Anne-Marie, took in children orphaned by the genocide to raise as their own.
Later elected as deputy general secretary of the Association of Evangelical Baptists of Rwanda, Munyamasoko oversaw 51 schools and regional churches in addition to serving as pastor of a local church. Believing that the country’s future depended on changing attitudes among the young, he promoted peace and reconciliation clubs in secondary schools, and later launched a movement of “peace camps” that help young adults from different ethnic backgrounds come to terms with the violence they had witnessed and to gain a greater appreciation for one another.
Munyamasoko has also worked with church leaders in the DRC and Kenya to promote peace and reconciliation, Henry said, and has tackled other social concerns, as well. Aware of a strong stigma in the churches against persons suffering from HIV and AIDS, he began training pastors to become role models in caring for people with HIV and AIDS. The result, Munyamasoko told the committee, is that the stigmatization “is no longer an issue in our congregations.”
The award will be presented during the Baptist World Congress in Durban, South Africa, meeting July 22-26.