Yohani Kayinamura: The Miles City-Rwanda Connection

Abe Winter
Star Staff Writer

Yohani Kayinamura is a thankful man from Rwanda, a small country in Africa that doesn’t like to focus on the past.

Yes, he was there, a teenager, during that horrible genocide that wiped out a million people between April and July 1994.

“I was 14 and was barely graduated from elementary school, so I didn’t really understand,” said Kayinamura, who was in Miles City to give thanks to those at Christ Bible Church for supporting the Umuryango Children’s Network in Rwanda.

“I am here to thank them for having been there and tell them how much difference they have made,” said Kayinamura, the founder/volunteer with Umuryango.

He will tell you he has family in Rwanda and Miles City, the latter including Herb and Pat Mackey, the couple he stays with when visiting here.

“Yes, I have family here,” he said, gesturing to Herb Mackey at the store — Unique Creations — where he was interviewed before returning to Billings to fly home to Florida where he teaches at Daytona State College.

“When I go home (to Rwanda) I teach for one to two months. It’s going very well. That’s not a job, it’s a calling.”

He came to America at the age of 20 and earned a degree in chemistry from Laroche College in Pittsburgh, then got his Masters at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., before embarking on his teaching career in Daytona in 2011.

“I was going back and forth throughout my education,” he said of his home country. “My teaching is going great. I serve on different committees and I love it.”

He is not here to ask for donations, although help has been provided by the likes of Grace Baptist and rich people such as Bill Gates. But help is needed in other ways.

“It’s a recovering country,” Kayinamura said, “but Rwanda is the cleanest country on the continent. We just don’t have a lot of resources.”

That’s where education comes in, and many from Rwanda are studying here in America or the new universities at home. “We don’t have the skills and knowledge to meet the developmental needs of the country.”

Herb Mackey, the owner of Mackey Construction when he decided to clean up his life and serve as a minister — he was a pastor at Grace Baptist for 12 years and still helps at the church — has been to Rwanda three times. A lot of his time there was uplifting to him and the street children he helped.

“It’s a relationship ministry,” Mackey said. “I spend a lot of time getting to know them, letting them know that they’re loved. I made a lot of friends. It was building lives and relationships.”

Mackey went to Rwanda for the first time in 2011, joining a group of 10 from College Station, Pennsylvania. In 2014 he accompanied a group from Grace Bible Church that included Evan Mackey, Ashley Parks, Rodney Parks, Stephanie Cross, Myrna Stone, Sandy Lee, Eli Beach and Ivy Jenkins. Mackey was there again last year.

“We spent a lot of time at the schools,” he said. “I leave a piece of my heart there every time we go. I can’t wait to go again.”

Cross, a Star Commercial Printing employee, said she didn’t know what to expect when she made the trip three years ago.

“I knew they’d have some Bible study and we would go to the school every day,” she said. “We had someone who would teach music and Sandy (Lee) would teach art … they were very excited for us to be there, very eager to learn. They wanted to outdo each other.”

She makes it clear why she wants to return.

“Because I miss them. They’re like my family It’s the best experience I ever had in my life. It’s the closest I ever was to God or have seen Him or felt Him. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that feeling again.

“It was a gift to me. It was life-changing. When we went on this trip, we mostly talked to (the children), got to know them, spent quality time with them. I just hugged them all.

“I was told I would fall in love with them, and I did.”

When the group approached the school, it was bedlam “in the best possible way,” Cross said.

“It’s like a rock star coming into town and they’re the groupies. They’re so excited every day we came into town.”

Kayinamura calls Rwanda “the most peaceful country on the continent, but they don’t want to focus on what happened in the past. They want to focus on the future.”

“I’m never afraid when I go there,” Mackey said.

Things have changed in his country. For instance, there was one university when Kayinamura, who is 37, grew up. Now there are more than 10.

“Right now it is a miraculous story,” he said, “the transformation that has taken place since the genocide is remarkable.”

A hero is current President Paul Kagame, the former general who led the army in stopping the genocide.

“He is very, very popular, not just in Rwanda, but all of Africa,” Kayinamura said. “All the other presidents like what he’s done in Rwanda.”

So he doesn’t come seeking people to come to Rwanda to build homes; rather to spread what probably is his favorite word: Love.

“For us, imagine a child who is 12 … runaway kids. They use drugs, live under bridges. They just run away from their families to beg for money. They get used to the street life.”

At Christ Bible last Sunday morning, Kayinamura showed pictures and told the story of Jean Claude, a young Rwanda man who was discarded by his family. He was discovered by the Children’s Network, got an education and now is working.

Better than that, he reunited with his family and is the bread-winner after his father broke his back falling off a roof.

“That’s a miracle,” Kayinamura said.

So what’s the big deal about visitors, say, from Miles City, spending a week  or two in Rwanda.

“When they see somebody from Miles City come to hug them, they realize they are something special,” he said. “Those kids are getting their first chance to love somebody. He (or she) is now their family.”

Mackey added: “I was just blown away by all the children who had no homes. I feel good when I come home. I promised them I’d be back. They made more difference in my life, I think, than I did in theirs.”


FOOTNOTE: Rwanda’s area is 10,169 square miles, which is smaller than Massachusetts. The population is expected to be12.322 million by 2018. The country is in central/eastern Africa, a few degrees south of the equator and is landlocked by four countries — the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi.

(Contact Abe Winter at starcity@midrivers.com or 406-234-0450.)

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see the the photo gallery Rwanda for more photos)