Jesus Christ is the door to liberty, said Dimitrina Oprenova, who preached the Thursday evening sermon for the BWA Congress in Durban, South Africa. The theme for the Congress is “Jesus Christ: the Door.” Wednesday night’s program focused on Jesus as the door to light; Thursday’s service emphasized liberty.
The service included the presentation of the BWA’s Human Rights Award to Corneille Gato Munyamasoko, general secretary of the Association of Baptist Churches in Rwanda. Speaking in behalf of the selection committee, BWA General Secretary Neville Callam praised Munyamasoko for having dedicated his life to Christian ministries, to promoting peace and reconciliation, and to combating the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
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 continues to work with church leaders in the DRC and Kenya to promote peace and reconciliation, while also encouraging pastors and others to reach out with care to persons suffering from HIV and AIDS.
Gato told participants that he felt called to a ministry of peace and reconciliation while serving as a high school principal, and never dreamed of receiving an award for it. Noting that many others are also involved in similar work, he expressed gratitude to the BWA for recognizing the importance of peace and reconciliation ministries.
Prior to the evening message, Ezekiel 34:17-24 was read in Chinese, and John 10:1-9 in an Asante dialect from Ghana. Aselil Saethre Dale of Norway brought special music.
Oprenova, an associate minister at the First Baptist Church of Sophia and president of the Bulgaria Baptist Women’s Department, focused mainly on the story of the man born blind whom Jesus healed, insisting that his blindness was not due to either his sin or his parents’ sin (John 9). Jesus’ healing words liberated the man from the stigma of sin and guilt, she said, though the religious authorities of his town did not recognize it.
That story set the context for Jesus’ comparison of himself to a shepherd who cares for the sheep, she said. Oprenova emphasized three “pictures” found in John 10:1-9:
(1) As a good shepherd, God searches for the lost. Since God already knows each of us, however, the important thing is our desire to be found, Oprenova said.
(2) The shepherd inspects and cares for each sheep at the end of the day, then sleeps in the gate to protect them, literally becoming the doorway for the sheep. “I am the gate for the sheep,” Jesus said (v. 8). Jesus is the door to liberty, but liberty is not doing whatever we please, Oprenova said, but begins with repentance and submission to God so that God can save us from our pride, our prejudices, our decisions, and the consequences of our decisions.
(3) The shepherd calls believers to be agents of liberty. Sometimes even in church we may be like Pharisees, Oprenova said, blinded by pride, traditions, titles, or status. “Has anyone pointed a finger at you because of gender, color, economic status, the way you were born, or because you stand for freedom and justice?” Oprenova asked. “And have you pointed a finger at another?”
We don’t need to apologize for being who we are, she said. Though we may be inhibited by fear, forgiveness frees us and allows us to serve and love as God desires.