By Shannon Baker
BCM/D National Correspondent
ROSWELL, Ga.—Jean and Clementine grew up with each other in the rolling hills of Rwanda, an African country about half the size of Maryland. Like others, Jean eventually joined a Rwandan army, where in 1994, he found himself caught up in one of history’s most atrocious genocides.
In just 100 days, one million ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu sympathizers lost their lives to the hands of extremist Hutu militia.
During the conflict, Jean murdered Clementine’s family.
Later, a pastor taught Clementine about forgiveness, and God started moving in her heart. While in prison, Jean heard Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana preach about Christ.
Rucyahana also inspired Jonathan Golden, an Anglican pastor in Roswell, Ga. Golden is a graduate of Cedarville University, a Baptist college in Cedarville, Ohio.
When Golden learned that the genocide in Rwanda had devastated the coffee growing community, he recognized this “simple and tangible opportunity to make a difference in the redemption of the Rwandan people.” He saw “an uncommon opportunity for once warring countrymen to not only rebuild their homesteads, but to work together toward lasting peace.”
He purchased a roaster from E-Bay and a few bags of green coffee beans, and launched a new coffee company named after Rwanda’s moniker, “Land of a Thousand Hills.”
Golden, who pastors St. Peter’s Place in Roswell, Ga., wanted the coffee experience to be grounded in “coffee, community and justice.”
In other words, he wanted people to “Drink coffee. Do good.”
“Our business model, first and foremost, is that our company matches the message that we preach in our churches,” shared Golden, in a BaptistLIFE interview. He pointed to Micah 6:8, in which God requires mercy, justice and humility from His followers.
“We want to engage in redemption, rather than support the exploitation of people,” he said, explaining that 80 percent of coffee is “exploitation coffee.” Most coffee growers work for an unjust $.40 per pound, often in substandard working conditions.
Conversely, by paying coffee growers in Rwanda a fair, living wage and supporting community projects, Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee invests up to $1.86 per pound and ultimately, $3 per bag into the Rwandan economy.
“For every bag of Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee sold, the grower is paid a living wage and an additional $1 is invested in a micro-finance program designed to help genocide widows become entrepreneurs in their own communities,” Golden explained.
As Land of a Thousand Hills grew, Golden and his fellow organizers recognized the opportunity to build a wash station, which cleanses the coffee beans, for the remote village of Bukonya. Close to the northern border, Bukonya was affected by the fighting more than most other regions.
It was in the Bukonya coffee co-op that the miraculous took place.
Through a community-led Gacaca, a traditional form of justice that has been adapted to try the more than 100,000 people imprisoned since the genocide, Jean and Clementine met face-to-face.
Jean stood up in front of the community and openly and honestly confessed to his crimes.
“Jean honestly addressed what had happened,” shared Christina Sedor, Coffee Relationship Partner for Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee, explaining that the process allowed for Jean to repent fully in front of his peers and victims. “The perpetrators are not brought before everyone to be condemned, but instead to bring resolution and healing. People are given the opportunity to sit down and to ask questions.”
In the end, Clementine chose to forgive him.
Sedor likens the process to the message of the Gospel, which demonstrates that Jesus came to save, to forgive, to heal the past and to forge a whole new future.
“That’s the story of what God did for me and for his people,” Sedor shared, explaining that Rwandans do want to remember the genocide, but they don’t want to be defined by it.
“They want to be remembered as walking hand in hand together,” she stressed.
Ultimately, Jean and Clementine, along with Claudette, an orphan who had also reconciled with Jean for his role in murdering her family, combined their land so they could share the burden and reap the benefits together.
Now, working as true neighbors reconciled by power of God, Jean, Claudette, and Clementine work together each day, tending their coffee beans, discussing the harvest, making plans for the future—and rebuilding trust.
Noting that Jean and Clementine are just one story out of a country of eight million people, Sedor shared, “Specialty coffee is found where Rwanda’s greatest desire meets Rwanda’s greatest strength. The people yearn to be united, not only through forgiveness but through genuine reconciliation. Their country’s rich agricultural resources have answer to the impossible question of how they learn to be a community again. That answer is farming coffee beans.”
To that end, Golden encourages churches to start a “Drink Coffee. Do Good.” coffee ministry to engage congregations in the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of thousands of rural Rwandan families.
“A commitment to excellence in coffee has brought dignity and hope to the land. A door has opened for a generation to hear the Gospel and the message of the power of forgiveness is spreading through the hills of Rwanda. By drinking Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee, you are providing a platform for divided people to come together and forgive each other in the name of Christ,” he said.
“Why not serve Land of a Thousand Hills coffee—a coffee that matches the message that is being preached on Sunday mornings?”
Golden also urges people to change their buying habits. Rather than mindlessly buying coffee off the grocery store shelf, he encourages people to buy the product that gives back.
“What difference is your Sunday morning coffee making?” Golden asked. “God wants us to use all of who we are. He can use something as ordinary as coffee for His purposes.”
“We here on a completely different continent in a completely different society can equip the Rwandans to take care of their own society through something simple as enjoying the coffee that they grow,” Sedor agreed.
To learn more about the coffee ministry, visit online at www.DrinkCoffeeDoGood.com.