Meet the Leader
Reverend Dr. Celestin Musekura, Founder of ALARM
By Jeff Hartman
Reverend Dr. Celestin Musekura is the type of person I can’t imagine meeting more than once in a lifetime. His dynamic personality and personal testimony are inspiring people around him to forgive, to find hope and peace after sorrow, and to be leaders of transformation in their own communities. Here is the story of how Celestin came to start ALARM, an organization that is changing East Africa.
Working both as a preacher and administrator of a Rwandan Baptist Church in the late 80’s, Celestin was a key leader in his community. Like many pastors in Rwanda at that time, he didn’t have formal theological training so he went to Nairobi, Kenya with his wife and children to study.
Soon after the genocide, Celestin returned to Rwanda to find the rest of his family. He found plenty of chaos and “madness” but not his loved ones. He was told they may have fled to the refugee camps in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo but that the chances of finding them alive would be slim. Nevertheless, he set out to find them despite the odds.
The refugee camps were overwhelming. Although the people had survived the fighting in Rwanda, they had new battles to fight: disease, hunger, and more conflict within the camps. Death was everywhere and odds of finding his family alive diminished every day he was there.
While in the camp, he came upon a group of women and children who had spontaneously gathered for worship. Without a leader, they sang songs of praise and read from the Bible in an effort to provide comfort and hope in a place where comfort and hope were almost non-existent.
Celestin did not have his Bible with him, but when someone provided him with one, he began to preach a message of love and hope. As he preached, more and more people gathered, and soon a large crowd was listening. In the middle of the crowd, his mother miraculously appeared, leading to an emotional reunion with his family.
While Celestin was relieved to find his family alive, he still knew the refugee camp was a place of death for many people. All he could do was pray for them as he left to return to his wife and kids in Nairobi.
During the flight to Kenya, Celestin couldn’t get the faces of his friends and family out of his mind. He kept replaying the conversations he had had with other pastors in Rwanda. Many were asking, “Where was God during the genocide? Does God even care?” Some were questioning whether God even existed. Others were so guilt ridden and confused at their own actions during the conflict, they left the church and wondered if they could ever be forgiven. As these conversations ran through his head, Celestin heard God ask, “Did you see my people?”
Celestin realized God was calling him back to Rwanda to minister and build up the church with new leaders. When the plane landed in Nairobi, he knew what he needed to do. He planned to first minister to the pastors and teach them the biblical message of repentance and forgiveness, and then, because many pastors did not have formal training, he would teach more formal Biblical truths and skills of discipleship.
Celestin moved back to Rwanda in 1994 and began what would later be called African Leadership And Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) in Rwanda. As a Hutu teaching peace and reconciliation, people thought he was working for the Tutsis. He was initially viewed by some as a traitor to the Hutus. As a result, he was beaten three times by his own people. In August of 1997 he was held for 3.5 hours in a torture room. The authorities thought he was in opposition to the government by teaching reconciliation and forgiveness rather than justice.
In December of 1997, his life took a turn of unimaginable proportions, and his faith and the truths he was preaching were put to the ultimate test. Five members of his family and 70 members of his church were killed in revenge killings after the genocide. He now had to personally answer the same questions about God others were asking. He also had to do the unimaginable: forgive the murderers. In other words, he would literally have to practice what he was preached.
God clearly spoke to Celestin and told him he needed to forgive the perpetrators even before he knew who they were. He was able to do this, but his faith would again be tested one year later when he came face to face with the wrongdoers. God clearly told him he had to forgive them again and embrace them, which he ultimately did.
Through forgiving the perpetrators, Celestin realized something he didn’t expect. He actually benefitted more than they did. By forgiving the people who had wounded him deeply, he became a free man. He was free from anger and bitterness. Through this experience, God gave Celestin more strength to continue his work with ALARM. He moved forward with a clearer purpose and understanding of the true power of forgiveness.
Questions still remained in Celestin’s mind. How could a country that was deemed a “missionary success” in the 1980’s – with over 90% of the population being Christian – have experienced a genocide? How could something like this occur in a society that claimed to believe in the Bible and God’s teachings? It just didn’t make sense.
He eventually realized many church leaders were not trained formally and did not have a good biblical understanding. People were being “saved” but they were not being discipled. Celestin believed people were not deeply rooted in God’s Truths when the genocide happened and that they acted as tribal Christians instead of Biblical Christians. He believed people viewed themselves as members of their tribe and not members of God’s family, acting with more loyalty to their people and not God.
The answers to these questions significantly mold ALARM’s approach in its work. They continue to biblically train local pastors and teach them how to disciple and walk with their people. They have expanded the training of servant leaders to involve all sectors of society, including local and government leaders. They have become even more passionate about helping facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation and are committed to initiatives such as education, economic empowerment, human rights, and even basic needs such as food and health care all in an effort to transform communities.
Today, ALARM is touching the lives of thousands across East Africa. It’s amazing to realize that it all began with a single man who chose to follow Christ in the midst of incredible pain. Through forgiveness, Celestin became free to change the world.
Celestin is married to Bernadette and they have four children. Splitting their time between the United States and Africa, they currently make their home in Dallas, Texas where they serve in the ALARM US office.