Corneille Gato Munyamasoko, general secretary of the Association of Baptist Churches in Rwanda (AEBR), received the 2015 Baptist World Alliance Congress Quinquennial Human Rights Award.
The presentation came on Thursday during the Baptist World Congress in Durban, South Africa.
BWA General Secretary Neville Callam called Munyamasoko a “committed Christian” who has worked to “help people overcome national rivalry and prejudice based on ethnicity.”
Callam also praised Munyamasoko as a “peacemaker” and “pacifist” whose “prophetic witness” casts “the church as a home of peace, leading pastors attracted to the politics of genocide to confess their sinful actions and forgive each other.”
Munyamasoko’s parents fled ethnic violence in Rwanda in 1959, and he was later born in exile in Zaire, which is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He became a teacher in the DRC.
After the Rwandan genocide in 1994, which included violence that bled into the DRC, he moved to Rwanda to help rebuild the nation. He took a job as a high school principal in a region bordering the DRC.
Armed genocidaires (those responsible for genocide in Rwanda) who had fled to the DRC often crossed the border to attack people in the region he lived. He and his wife, Anne-Marie, cared for orphans in their home.
During this time, the AEBR called Munyamasoko as education director. In that position he oversaw 51 schools, in which he launched peace and reconciliation clubs because most of the students had witnessed genocidal acts and some were even survivors of attacks.
Later, as the AEBR’s director of development ministries, he established regional efforts to help Hutus and Tutsis work toward forgiveness and build relationships.
In 2010, he helped create peace camps to bring young people together for a week of dialogue and reconciliation.
At the same time, he worked to reduce stigma against those with HIV/AIDS and has assisted churches in the DRC and Kenya as churches in those nations sought to build peace.
In his acceptance remarks, Munyamasoko spoke about how he felt a “call to the ministry of reconciliation,” and he encouraged the global Baptist family to become peacemakers.
“I believe that my peace entirely relies on the peace of my neighbor,” Munyamasoko said, “and I cannot fully live life as long as I am surrounded by the oppressed.”
Munyamasoko wrote in the July-September issue of Baptist World, a publication of the BWA, that he worked to help pastors and churches rebuild trust after the genocide.
“We were driven by the idea of making the church a home of peace, to help build a culture of peace in the church where Christians deal with problems that arise within and outside the church,” he wrote. “The church is called by God to restore peace by promoting biblical justice and reconciliation.”
“The church should prepare people of goodwill to be involved in conflict resolution and peacemaking, and mobilize Christians to know the real mission of the church, which is to be a messenger of peace and reconciliation,” he added. “It should prepare Christians and others to engage in in-depth reconciliation with God and with others, and to be in peace with the environment, taking care of the creation and working for the improvement of life.”
Human rights advocacy remains a key priority of the BWA, demonstrated by the award, as well as the Commissions on Human Rights Advocacy, Religious Freedom and Peace.
Last month, the United Nations cited a BWA report on human rights violations in the African nation of Eritrea.
Edward Dima, president of the Baptist Convention of South Sudan, told EthicsDaily.com his story that – like Munyamasoko’s – includes living amid violence and living as a refugee.
The first person from his young nation to attend a Congress, Dima also pastors First Baptist Church of Kajo-Keji.
In a video interview with EthicsDaily.com, Dima talked about his own time as a refugee in Uganda.
“It was such kind of a painful situation to leave home,” he said. “You just go with nothing and then begin a new life.”
Dima added, however, that he became a Baptist as a refugee after meeting a missionary and then returned home to serve as a minister.
Dima also told EthicsDaily.com about recently visiting refugee camps where 100,000 people – most of whom are Muslims – are living after being displaced by violence.
He and other Baptists minister in refugee camps and to “internally displaced persons” (someone who has fled their home but remains in their nation and so is not technically a refugee) in the region.
Dima’s church is situated at the border of Uganda, and he has led peace and reconciliation efforts in the aftermath of border skirmishes between residents of the two nations.
Peacemakers like Munyamasoko and Dima can be found walking the hallways of the Congress as evidence of the global Baptist family’s commitment to work for human rights for all people.
Editor’s note: Pictures from the BWA World Congress will be posted throughout the week to EthicsDaily.com’s Pinterest page and Facebook page. Video interviews of BWA attendees will be posted to EthicsDaily.com’s Vimeo page. Kaylor’s previous reports of the Baptist World Congress are available here:
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.