The new team atop the Pentecostal Churches of Rwanda has its work cut out: Lead the church away from the disunity and mistrust that have defined it in the past four years.
The team, made up of five people, was selected last week to replace the executive committee of the Association of Pentecostal Churches in Rwanda (ADEPR), after all members of the previous committee were sent on remand on charges of misappropriation of congregation’s funds.
“Our primary focus will be to bring back unity among the church faithful, by first and foremost addressing what caused their anger and bringing back transparency in the church’s leadership,” promised Ephrem Karuranga, the new interim chairperson in his first address to media.
“We know members have been complaining about lack of transparency in governance. We we will make sure we do what they want us to do,” Mr Karuranga vowed.
And that task is not an easy one. Not even for the new team. Current wrangles in ADEPR are linked to the alleged mismanagement of Rwf3 billion raised by members to construct the Dove Hotel in Kigali.
This alleged mismanagement is what made its way into the charge sheets of the previous team, whose members are currently in remand.
However, a member of ADEPR who sought anonymity told Rwanda Today the disunity in the church goes beyond money.
According to the member, the Rwandan Pentecostal Church is suffering from divided loyalties.
“We have people loyal to the jailed leaders and who believe they were wrongly accused. We still have people attached to Pastor Samuel Usabwimana, who was chased from the church in 2013. We also have people who simply believe the interim leadership is not genuine,” he said.
He could be right for Bishop Tom Rwagasana, the jailed deputy leader, alluded to fissures in the church while pleading for bail in the High Court last week.
“Our arrest and charges are based on quibbles cultivated by the self-proclaimed committee of rescue and I think they have now attained their goal since we are jailed and the church has elected a new leadership,” he told the court.
Other remanded ADEPR leaders are Bishop Jean Sibomana, who was the chairperson, and Christine Mutuyemariya, the director of administration and finance.
The committee of rescue of the church was formed ADEPR faithful in January and has since publicly criticised the jailed leaders, accusing them of dictatorship and mismanagement.
The committee, which criticised the adoption of the title of bishop by the two top leaders — a title which has not been in the church for the past 75 years — was perceived as a rebel movement by the church leadership.
The de facto leader of this fraction Dr Jean de Dieu Basabose said he has confidence in the interim leadership and offered to work with them towards “bringing back sanity in the church.”
Three years ago, the Pentecostal church was also marred with division, which led to the change of leadership after several unsuccessful mediation by state organs.
Hope for solution
The Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), which regulates the civil society has asked the ADEPR interim committee to focus on getting closer to their members and get to the bottom of the disputes.
“We believe the interim executive committee has an action plan on how to address the challenges facing their church, but as the regulator we would advise them to bring together all faithful and involve them in deciding the way forward,” said Theodore Rugema Mutabazi, the head of division in charge of political parties, non-governmental organisations and faith-based organisations in RGB.
The Pentecostal church is among the big religious organisations in the country with approximately two million followers.
Some ADEPR faithful see a hidden hand in the change of their leadership, going as far as pointing fingers at the government. But RGB will have none of that.
“We have interest in having well governed organisations and whoever thinks we can contribute to their instability is getting it wrong,” Mutabazi responded.
“Internal regulations of civil society organisations clearly indicate how their leaders are voted in. We, as the regulator, are there to observe that these regulations are followed and nothing else,” he added
“The interim leadership should know that the problems facing their church concern all of them without exception. The same point of view should inform how to address the said problems. They should avoid the blame game,” advised Jean Leonard Sekanyange who chairs the platform.