Samson Muvunyi with Bob Morikawa and Corey Chin of Plant With Purpose
I had just spent two days on an airplane from San Diego, when Samson and Birori met us in Kamembe, Rwanda, so I wasn’t in a very chatty mood. However, about 30 minutes into the 3-hour drive to Uvira, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I began to realize that the story Samson was telling was extraordinary. Too late, I began to really pay attention.
Samson’s humility was disarming, but as I listened, my jaw began to drop. The narrative was too improbable. It began with prayer, was marked with unbearable tragedy, and exhibited a hope that wouldn’t be quenched.
I had always intended to get him to recount it again, when I was rested and had my notebook out. Sadly, that will never happen.
I will try to do it justice here, knowing that all of the details may not be right.
Back in the late 1990’s as the Rwandan genocide spilled over into what was then Zaire and led to civil war, Samson, a young pastor from the Assemblies of God, coordinated or was part of a fervent prayer effort for peace and reconciliation. In September 1997, after the fall of Mobutu and the founding of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he organized a massive celebration, prayer gathering and outreach in the remote community of Minembwe, where he was from and where there had been tremendous violence.
The journey overland is difficult, so many of the guests were to be flown in. At the last minute, Samson gave up his seat on the first plane to one of his speakers. Tragically, that plane with all of the guests and VIPs crashed, killing everyone aboard. The 22 passengers included the respected local director of Food for the Hungry, who was to have been the keynote speaker.
That tragedy and its aftermath led to the formation of Eben-Ezer Ministry International, with Samson as its director. Eben-Ezer was created to promote peace and reconciliation amongst the various tribes and share Christ’s love with all regardless of gender or ethnicity.
We first crossed paths with Eben-Ezer in 2008 when Plant With Purpose began working in neighboring Burundi. Lazare Sebiteriko, our founding director in Burundi, and longtime General Secretary of Eben-Ezer made the initial introduction.
In 2011 we were horrified to hear that a group of senior staff from Eben-Ezer were ambushed by Mai Mai guerillas on the road to the high plateau to work with the schools they were shepherding. Six of them were brutally murdered for nothing other than their ethnicity and efforts to bring reconciliation. The Guardian ran this story on the incident.
But hope did not die that day. Many organizations would have given up at this point, but this only seemed to strengthen Samson’s resolve and the commitment of his team. Even though guerrillas again attacked them only a few months later, they continued to serve and love villagers of all tribes.
Three years ago, when Plant With Purpose wanted to begin work in Congo, we established a formal partnership with Eben-Ezer Ministry. Although Birori Dieudonne directs the work of our pilot project in the Kakumba watershed, Eben-Ezer provides the legal structure locally. Samson has long been Birori’s mentor and boss.
Over the last thirty years, I have been privileged to meet some very remarkable people; people whom God has used in extraordinary ways. They include Don Solomon Hernandez, in Guatemala, Pere Wilfrid Albert in Haiti, and Sundar Thapa in Nepal. Heroes that have inspired me. Their examples of faith, love, sacrifice and courage have greatly strengthened my own faith. I realized that day on the drive to Uvira that Samson Muvunyi belonged on this list.
Later on that trip as we walked up the Kakumba watershed together, I got to know Samson even better. This was a walk that he did frequently, continuing on for days to minister to people who were even further from the roads. Sometimes he would spend a week or more on foot, traveling from village to village, despite danger from guerrillas and bandits.
In June 2017 he completed an 8-day reconciliation walk. On his way back to Uvira, he had two alternative paths. Things were tense near Uvira, so he prayed about which path to take, and then, against the advice of many, he took the more remote path. That same day on the other path, a community that he would have visited was attacked and four people were killed.
Unfortunately in early July he was diagnosed with a severe case of malaria, complicated by his diabetes. We got the word that he was in critical condition and to please pray. Just a few days later it looked like he was improving, but sadly on July 15th, Samson was received into the arms of his savior.
Despite his incredible accomplishments for God’s kingdom, Samson was only 57, and leaves behind a young family, and many people who depended on him, including several orphans that he had been supporting, and assisting with school fees. He also leaves a huge hole in Eben-Ezer Ministry and by extension in our work in Kakumba. But hope has not died. It is my prayer that once again, God will bring redemption out of tragedy.