Rufus Muhirwe is tall, thin and soft-spoken.
Look at this gentle man and you would never guess the years-long nightmare he endured before coming to Raleigh, N.C.
He found that God was with him through those years. And the fact that Muhirwe is planting a new church is a testimony to his Christian faith.
Muhirwe (pronounced “moo-HEER-way”) was born in 1961 in a village within Katanga Province in the southern part of Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s a nation in central Africa that has suffered for years from repeated wars, poverty and all other ills that occur when there is no peace.
Thousands have died over the years, and the violence continues today. At least 1,300 people have been killed there in 2020, according to press reports.
More than 200 people groups speaking many languages live in Congo. But Muhirwe’s people group is considered a minority, and often his people are treated as foreigners even in their own country. As Muhirwe grew up, he and his family fled from village to village to escape the fighting.
In one of those villages, church members shared the gospel with him, and he became a follower of Christ. A pastor discipled him, and Muhirwe became an evangelist.
But again fleeing war, he fled to the neighboring country of Rwanda and then on to Kenya. He left his wife and children behind until 2009, when they were able to join him.
There was no war in Nairobi, Kenya’s sprawling capital city.
But there were certainly hard times for a refugee family. Muhirwe was not allowed to work. He and his family struggled to survive. His children often went hungry.
It was a low point in his life. But God told him, “I will be with you. And He was,” Muhirwe recalls.
Finally in 2016, a resettlement agency helped him, his wife, Patience, and their five children get off the streets of Nairobi and resettle in America. The place turned out to be Raleigh.
The family loved America. Muhirwe found work with a catering company, and his children had food to eat, clothes to wear and shoes on their feet. They had a place to live. Most of life was great. But spiritually, Muhirwe and his wife still felt homeless.
They visited many churches and often found they were not overly welcome. Even the African-American churches left them feeling uncomfortable. Then, one Sunday, as Muhirwe ran through a list of churches, he came to Carolina Pines Baptist Church, an Anglo church on the south side of Raleigh.
“When I came to Carolina Pines Baptist, I felt like I was at home. I was at peace,” he said.
Nobody there spoke his African language, and Muhirwe was still struggling to learn English.
“I did not understand all their English, but they welcomed me,” Muhirwe said. “That, I understood very well.”
Most amazing to him as a father was the love shown to his children.
“The people from this church loved my kids! Every Sunday they wanted me to bring the kids to church,” Muhirwe says with a smile on his face.
His kids had attended English-speaking schools in Kenya, so they spoke English much better than their parents.
As time went on, though, he asked the church for a room where he and Patience could gather to study the Bible in their own language. Muhirwe began inviting other Africans in the area to come to their services. Soon a bigger room was needed as the people came.
That gathering eventually became a new church. It is not just that Muhirwe speaks their language. It is that he has lived through the same kind of nightmare, yet he has been sustained by a Savior.
The church is small as yet, but Muhirwe is confident it will grow. He knows – he absolutely knows – that God is faithful.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Creswell is a contributing writer and formerly part of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina staff.)