Charles and Florence Buregeya
By Alaina Arp
Visiting his native country for the first time, Charles Buregeya was struck by the stench of human corpses. In 1994, generations of ethnic tension in Rwanda boiled over when the Hutu rose up against the Tutsis. Nearly one million people were killed during the 90-day genocide. Now, less than a year later, people were still finding bodies in houses. Charles watched United Nations military patrol the streets; he saw people slowly return to their destroyed houses. But shops remained closed; schools had been converted into orphanages; mass graves gaped everywhere. People ran back to their homes before dark, fearing further violence. At night, homeless people and abandoned children roamed the streets searching for food. No one could see a vision for the future. Rwanda had no hope.
Over the next several years, Charles returned to Rwanda many times in evangelistic crusades. Looking to be more effective in ministry, Charles attended Bible college in Uganda. There he met Florence, and they soon found common ground. Both had grown up in Uganda as Rwandan refugees, and both ached to help the thousands of Rwandan orphans.
“In morning devotions during Bible school, I would just cry imagining the street kids in Rwanda.” Florence said. “Little did I know that Charles was going through the same thing. One morning, he sobbed during morning devotions; he shared how God moved his heart to pray for the orphans. It’s something that we both love so much.”
After two years, they married and planned to start a ministry in Rwanda. But Charles felt God telling him to wait. Through an American evangelist, Tim Robnett, he learned about Multnomah Biblical Seminary. Interested, Charles visited Multnomah. He loved it, but still felt torn about his ministry in Rwanda.
“I used to do ministry with no training,” Charles said. “God was providing preparation for a bigger ministry.”
At Multnomah Biblical Seminary, Charles and Florence thrived. Charles built skills he needed to create a large ministry, and Florence focused on women’s and family ministry. Under Dr. Robnett’s mentorship, Charles envisioned a far-reaching ministry to restore Rwanda spiritually and physically: Africa New Life was born.
In 2001, Charles and Florence launched a sponsorship program for 29 Rwandan children. But they recognized that to restore Rwanda, Africa New Life needed to expand.
“When you help children,” Charles said, “you need to help women because they are the mothers. When you help children, you can’t just keep them stuck in an orphanage; you have to educate them. As a minister of the gospel, I want children to go to church. So, you have to plant churches. Churches need leaders. Now we are training pastors.”
Today, Africa New Life’s ministry includes more than 200 staff, nearly 5,000 sponsored children, three churches, six children’s homes, scholarship programs, schools, women’s outreach, and a college of theology.
“God’s in control of this ministry.” Alan Hotchiss, Africa New Life’s Executive Director in the U.S., said. “Now it’s too big for anybody, even Charles and Florence, to hang on to. Africa New Life is a conduit of God’s grace in Rwanda. It’s because of Him.”
While Charles and Florence founded Africa New Life together, Florence felt a particular burden for women.
“As a mother, I imagine if my child comes home and has no dinner. There are so many women who can’t feed their children every day.” Florence said. “That picture drives me to do all I can.”
Whether widowed or abandoned, single mothers head most families in Rwanda. Desperate, many women live as prostitutes; others face abuse as servants. Some have children who were raped during the genocide. To help them, Florence started the New Life Family Center. Each year, she teaches 73 women to sew and shares the gospel with them. After graduating, the women have a trade they can use to support their families.
“We counsel them, encourage them, give them hope.” Florence said. “When women first come to the program, they are closed and angry. As missions teams come share with them and listen to them, they begin to open up. It is so beautiful and satisfying to see them smile.”
Through Africa New Life’s ministry, Charles and Florence have changed thousands of lives. But to do so, they have had to sacrifice time together. Charles travels frequently, and the demands at home can be overwhelming.
“There’s so much need,” Florence said. “It’s tempting to always be there praying with the women who are suffering. But I am so much a mother; I love my children.”
Balancing ministry and family requires constant adjustment from Charles and Florence. To help unite the family, they bring their four children to the ministry after school. It means Florence’s office is a mess, but she loves it.
Dr. Robnett said Charles and Florence’s common vision and mutual respect makes them an effective team. They support each other and face challenges with prayer.
“Africa New Life exists because of them together,” Hotchkiss said. “There’s no doubt God brought them together for this purpose.”
In recognition of their heart for Christ and for ministry, Multnomah University chose both Charles and Florence for the Young Alumnus of the Year Award.
“You can’t honor one without the other,” Michelle Peel, Multnomah University Alumni Director, said. “Our hope is to educate, equip, and enrich students so they will make an impact. Charles and Florence’s work is an amazing example of the ongoing ministry beyond Multnomah and how it’s changing the world.”
Since Charles’ first visit 17 years ago, Rwanda has changed. Now, Rwanda is the safest and cleanest part of East Africa. Churches spring up everywhere. At Africa New Life, the children dream of their futures. While many people still struggle with poverty, Rwanda is rebuilding. As they work with the people, Charles and Florence see hope.
“I don’t know what in life can satisfy someone like putting a smile on a person who had no hope.” Florence said. “I don’t know what I could do but bring hope through Jesus Christ to someone.”