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Student Stories: Odel Rugema

Odel grew up with fierce determination to build a better future for himself and his family, but the path he would take was not one he would have initially chosen. The Lord had other plans.

In 1995, five-year-old Odel left Uganda for neighbouring Rwanda with his parents.

Rwanda was a smouldering wick still reeling from civil war and genocide just months earlier, but many Rwandan refugees in Uganda felt that it was safe to return home. What they found when they arrived was a nation of traumatised people working together to re-build their beautiful but broken country – brick by brick, school by school.

Odel grew up with fierce determination to build a better future for himself and his family, but the path he would take was not one he would have initially chosen. The Lord had other plans. He went to university in Kampala, Uganda, graduating in IT in 2014, but later returned to Rwanda. ‘The Bishop [in my diocese] asked me what I wanted to do for a job,’ says Odel. ‘He said I should work for the church.’

Odel’s parents were retired pastors. He had fond memories of growing up in a church community, but after graduating university he felt the pull of a technical job with better money and prospects. ‘I grew up not having enough food’, says Odel. ‘I knew all the hardships.’

The Bishop gave him a job teaching IT in a diocesan school. Odel was later promoted to Deputy Head teacher.

‘The Bishop taught me to listen to my calling. He reassured me about working in the church. I started opening my mind to be happy serving the Lord. I needed to trust the Lord and have no fear for tomorrow.’

Odel crossed paths with foreign missionaries as well as local church leaders. Echoes of God’s gentle voice often came through these people. The Bishop connected Odel to a pastor from the UK who often visited the diocese. This pastor encouraged Odel to listen to God’s call on his life.

Stepping out in faith

Odel stepped out in faith, preaching holistically in his community. The more he led, preached and served, the more certain he became that he was called to work in full-time ministry. ‘I prayed for a place to study theology,’ says Odel.

The Bishop connected Odel with staff at All Nations Christian College. With the help of the student bursary fund, Odel was able to accept a place on the undergraduate programme. ‘The Lord provided for my studies. I used to trust in myself; now I trust in the Lord.’

Still, the more painful aspects of Odel’s past surfaced. He struggled to process his memories of being a refugee and the stress he remembers his father suffering. He associated being a pastor with the trauma they had all experienced.

‘I used to trust in myself; now I trust in the Lord.’

Contextual, applied theology

Odel chose to move forward in faith and threw himself into his studies at All Nations. ‘I feel called into holistic transformation,’ he says. ‘I tried to pick modules in this area … I knew it would be hard to preach to someone who hadn’t eaten in four days.’ The Poverty and Justice modules Odel chose focus on integral mission and transformational development.

This helped Odel understand how to minister contextually to hungry souls in hungry bodies – to understand that the call to love God and love our neighbour means ministering both to people’s spiritual and physical needs.

Rwanda has made great strides in many areas – education, gender equality and climate action, for example – but many people still live in poverty. Odel sees the local church playing an integral part in showing love, compassion and practical action to people in these circumstances.

‘I want to use my skills to train others,’ says Odel. ‘Since coming to All Nations, my faith has grown in ways I would not have expected ­– getting my visa, financial help through the student bursary fund, and other things.’

Tutors helped Odel to gain a deeper, sharper understanding of the Bible and how to apply it, and meeting people from different cultures around the world grounded his way of thinking. ‘[I learned] that the way I do things is not always the right way.’

Hopes for the future

Odel wants to serve in the Rwandan church as a pastor and has a heart for developing community, but before he does he hopes to study the MA in Transformational Development at All Nations with the help of the student bursary fund.

Rwanda can only continue the progress it has made as a safe, stable country with a growing church if led by wise Christ-like leaders – leaders like Odel, who has received contextually relevant mission training. Odel was able to study at All Nations because of the generosity of people donating to the student bursary fund.

Thousands of God's people across the global South face financial barriers in accessing our training but, with your support, they will be able to study at All Nations, whether on campus or remotely. This year, we launched the Enable All appeal to enable all people with a desire to serve Christ in the global church to access our transformational, gospel-focused mission training. Will you help more people like Odel? Be a part of something incredible ­– donate today!

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