Radical change – Learning English in Rwanda

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Jean Bosco Nsanzimana, a pastor at Nyarungenge International Chapel in Kigali, Rwanda, talks about why learning English is ‘more than necessary’ for a Rwandan pastor who wants to serve their church.

Every part of social life

Two decades ago, English was made the official second language in Rwanda. This replaced French, in the hope that it would unify the different regions of the country. It meant a radical change, especially for the education system and government services. To help people adjust to this, many English training centres opened for people who came from a French speaking background. These were eagerly used by students, teachers, government agents and businessmen. But what about church leaders?


Teaching English

Bridget Howard teaches English at the Pastors’ Training School at New Creation Ministries, Kigali, Rwanda.

The Pastor’s Training School serves churches which have no training programme for their pastors or other church leaders. The pastors sign up for a four year training programme, made up of four three-week study blocks per year. They are taught conventional Biblical and leadership subjects in Kinyarwanda (the Rwandan mother tongue) in the mornings, and a module of English in the afternoons.

The course uses the Bible to introduce and reinforce concepts and vocabulary. The students read the passages first in Kinyarwanda to help them understand the meaning of the words in English. And of course, there is always singing – a must for any African classroom!

One course module is ‘English for Worship’. This is particularly relevant for pastors who hold an English service alongside their Kinyarwanda services. Foreign visitors to their churches will usually speak English, so it is a particular incentive for a pastor to be able to welcome them in English to the service. It also enables pastors to engage with the wider East African church.

Little by little, pastors realised that they too should learn English. Behind this need were two driving factors. Firstly, pastors need to be able to help the Rwandan church integrate into the English speaking world. Where previously English had only been necessary for economic and political affairs, it was now needed for every part of social life. People who used to go to West African schools for their education started to prefer English speaking East African schools in order to learn or improve their English. Many churches in Rwanda have been planted by East Africans, and there are many regional conferences and training programmes for church leaders that take place in English. Access to these could benefit Rwandan pastors enormously.

Serving a new generation

Secondly, pastors are serving a new generation who are coming through an English speaking education system. There is an increasing introduction of English words into everyday language, replacing French words – it is becoming impossible to communicate without using them. This is a reality both at home and at church as parents interact with their children or with other young Christians at church, who are being encouraged by their teachers to speak English as much as they can. 

The desire within the church to face these changes, encourage integration and, more importantly, serve the younger generation of the church, is motivating Rwandan pastors to learn English. Relevant programmes that are being developed for them are really important, as the existing English training centres do not always fulfil their specific needs. This work will allow Rwandan pastors to serve the body of Christ and spread the gospel more efficiently and effectively. 

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