Over the past five years, Rwanda has experienced a notable surge in marital conflicts and divorces. The National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) reports that in 2019 alone, there were 8,941 divorces, and this figure has continued to rise. Even within the church and among its leaders, marital disputes and divorces have become increasingly prevalent. To promote healthy marriages, TLRwanda has integrated marriage enrichment initiatives into its programs. As part of this effort, TLRwanda organized a marriage enrichment conference for pastors from various evangelical churches in Musanze and their spouses, which was held at Saint Vincent from 24th to 28th July 2023.

Participants after receiving their certificates

The training sessions were conducted by Dr. John Salvesen, the Pastor of Bear Creek Bible Church, and his wife Carolyn Salvesen, alongside Mr. Nelson Kilonzo, the Director of Holistic Ministries in TLAfrica. Dr. John commenced the training with a word of exhortation from Mark 4:13-30. He reminded the participants that they are called to be the good soil that receives the seed of the word of God and yields abundant fruits, as opposed to the barren soil that fails to produce any fruits. He emphasized that if they do not allow the word of God to sanctify them, they should not expect those under their leadership to be transformed.

Dr. John explained that when Adam and Eve sinned, God pronounced the consequences of their act (Genesis 3) which still affect marriages to this day. The primary purpose of marriage is to promote restoration in each other. He proceeded to teach about the six purposes of marriage, namely:

• partnership with purpose    • procreation   • pleasurable unity

• purity   • promoting restoration   • making the picture of God

He emphasized that effective parenting involves not only disciplining children but also instructing and training them, understanding them, appreciating them, and encouraging them. Above all, parents should lead by example rather than words alone. To achieve this, the wife is called to willingly submit to her husband, while the husband is called to love his wife (Ephesians 5). Dr. John also addressed other topics such as nurturing and maintaining closeness, vulnerability, love languages, communication of feelings, and parenting.

During the morning sessions, Dr. John taught pastors and their spouses together. In the afternoon, the participants were divided into two groups, where Dr. John and Mr. Kilonzo led discussions on leadership and administration, Men talked about crucial topics such as the distinction between leadership, planning, spiritual gifts, and personality types. The participants demonstrated a keen interest in the subject matter, posing insightful questions and engaging in group discussions to enhance their comprehension.

Meanwhile, Carolyn Salvesen instructed the wives on Bible study methods. Using Ruth and Proverbs 31 as their text, women learned how to ask a passage observation questions to understand what is going on in the passage, and how to apply its teachings to their personal lives. Furthermore, women engaged in crafting activities that stimulated contemplation and devotion. One such activity consisted of substituting negative thoughts about oneself or negative societal messages with positive affirmations. The participants were provided with two sheets of paper, one depicting a woman’s head filled with negative words and the other featuring a helmet. The women were instructed to conceal the negative thoughts with the helmet and inscribe positive biblical words about themselves.

Eugenie, one of the participants, disclosed that she recently started perceiving herself as useless and as a loser because she was no longer able to work to contribute to her family’s financial stability due to an unforeseen illness. She decided to write down affirmative words and regularly recite them to herself. Euphrasie, another participant, reported that when she got home, she shared with her husband about the activity, then the husband wrote down words of appreciation and validation for her, which uplifted her spirit.

On the third day of the conference, the couples were allotted a private period of introspection. Each couple was to reflect on the following questions: firstly, what does your spouse do that shows you that he/she loves you? Secondly, what does your spouse do that shows you that he/she respects you? Additionally, what can each of you improve to show love and respect to your spouse?

The majority of the participants expressed that their partner’s predominant love language is either quality time, words of encouragement, or acts of service. This realization led to a crucial discussion regarding how the Rwandan culture hinders husbands from demonstrating love toward their wives by assisting with household chores. Traditionally, household duties are perceived as the responsibility of the wife, and men are often ridiculed for engaging in such activities. For instance, Pastor Emmanuel said that he helped his wife with domestic tasks when they first got married, but eventually began feeling embarrassed due to the criticism from the neighbors. However, attending the marriage enrichment conference enabled Emmanuel to comprehend that husbands are called to serve and love their wives as Christ does for his church. This realization transformed his perspective on helping his wife around the house.

Testimonies abound of the ways the conference was beneficial and transformative. Theoneste and Francine stated that they learned a lot about themselves and each other. They discussed ways they have missed the mark and how they can improve. Second, they learned that as a couple they should set financial objectives which would mitigate conflicts regarding the utilization of their earnings. Thirdly, Francine understood how detrimental it is to compare her children to their peers because it affects their self-esteem.

In addition to the teachings and personal reflection, the pastors also engaged in recreational and group bonding activities, such as playing games like Agapira (a small ball game) and participating in blindfolding and leading exercises. The pinnacle of their bonding experience was the celebration of Mrs. Carolyn Salvesen’s birthday. The group honored her by singing “Happy Birthday” in both Kinyarwanda and English, as she cut a cake, then she was treated to a Rwandan traditional dance. Carolyn expressed her appreciation for the cake and the dancing and felt deeply loved and celebrated by her brothers and sisters in Christ.

As stated in the introduction, many marriages in Rwanda are falling apart. It has been observed that pastoral marriages suffer the most because pastors tend to maintain a facade of perfection in their role as church leaders. As one of the participants observed “pastors’ marriages are supposed to be exemplary”, therefore, they can’t confide in their congregants about their challenges. The marriage enrichment conference serves as a secure platform for pastors and their spouses to share their challenges and receive support from their fellow ministers. Additionally, the conference provides an opportunity for couples to retreat from the daily pressures of marital and ministry obligations, allowing them to reflect, bond, and appreciate each other. Chantal Urayeneza aptly noted that the timing of this conference is opportune, and she believes that many marriages will experience a positive transformation as a result of attending this event.

The conference culminated in a graduation ceremony and subsequent celebration. The Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Faustin, along with his spouse, Salome, conveyed a message of felicitation to the graduates, exhorting them to implement the knowledge and skills acquired during the conference.

By Solange Balikunde