COLUMBIA — When Nene Rwenyaguza came to the U.S., he thought his ministering days might be over, but they were just beginning.
Rwenyaguza, 41, fled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2002 after his village was attacked. After a six-year stint in Nairobi, Kenya, he made it to St. Louis on Nov. 4, 2008.
Through all of this, he was separated from his wife and four children after fleeing the Congo and was reunited with them in July 2013.
Through 11 years of separation, Rwenyaguza clung to faith.
“My faith was stronger because of the Bible, because I believed Jesus,” Rwenyaguza said.
Now, a year after being reunited with his family, Rwenyaguza was able to express his faith once again as he was ordained as a minister Saturday night, with both his friends and his family there to celebrate.
The ordination service featured traditional African music along with messages from Rwenyaguza's friends within the First Baptist congregation. Many First Baptist members attended, wearing traditional African dress.
Rwenyaguza has been ministering with the African worship service at First Baptist Church of Columbia for several years. African worship at First Baptist began about five years ago when Africans started visiting the church’s 11 a.m. service. It grew enough that the African members began their own service at 5 p.m. on Sundays, which now averages 60 people each service.
“In Columbia, you don’t even realize that we have that many Congolese here, but we do. And now it’s grown to where it’s not even all people from the Congo; it’s Rwanda and other parts of Africa, too,” First Baptist Church Pastor Carol McEntyre said.
For many in the African congregation, worshiping at First Baptist was not the first time they had crossed paths, nor was it the first time they had met Rwenyaguza.
“They knew each other in the Congo," McEntyre said. "When they immigrated to the United States, they kept in touch even though they were spread out all over the country. So, actually, the people who were worshiping here with us called Nene and said, ‘We want you to come be our pastor.’”
McEntyre was thankful for Rwenyaguza and the African congregation’s influence on First Baptist Church.
“It’s just such a blessing for the rest of our congregation to have the African worshipers here," McEntyre said. "How joyful they are, even though they’ve had such tragedy in their life. To see them live out their faith, to me, is such a testimony of the strength they have and their belief in God. ... They’re such a great example for us.
“It’s a picture of what the kingdom of God is like,” she said.
Associate Pastor Ed Rollins shared excitement with Rwenyaguza, since he was recently ordained in January after being in the ministry for 30 years.
“It’s exciting because we got to do it together,” Rollins said.
With his preaching, family and job at Boone County National Bank, Rwenyaguza has a full load, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m busy every day, but I’m happy,” Rwenyaguza said.
Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.