Darlene Zschech: Bringing God’s ‘Hope’ to Rwanda
Darlene Zschech is a world-acclaimed singer, songwriter, worship leader and speaker, most notably for her involvement with Hillsong in Sydney. She has achieved numerous gold albums and her songs are sung in many nations of the world, and Darlene’s success stands as a testimony to her life’s passion to serve God and people with all her heart.
A passion for helping others
As a songwriter, Darlene is perhaps most famous for the chorus ‘Shout to the Lord’, sung by an estimated 25 - 30 million churchgoers every week and has been covered by at least twenty other artists. But now Darlene has a new passion in life: to bring hope to the people of Rwanda, through her ministry, HOPE: Rwanda. Darlene says that she does not want the world to forget that during the 100-day genocide in 1994, over one million people were killed and hundreds of thousands were brutalised and displaced.
Serving God from a young age
Darlene has a long history of walking with the Lord and recalls how, “at the tender age of 15, I committed my life to the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ. Since that moment, His plan for my life has continued to unfold as I have learnt daily that Jesus is both my Lord, and also my best friend. My passion for worship really started to develop from the moment that I got saved. Once I had become a Christian and really met Jesus, my whole understanding of why music was even there, started to change, and I’ve been on that journey, discovering freedom and integrity in worship, for many years now.”
Worshipping from the heart
But worship was not always Darlene’s passion. She confesses: “I didn’t want to be a worship leader. I love being in the background arranging, recording and producing. But, one Sunday, Pastor Brian Houston was leading worship and he just walked off and left me in the middle of the service. At the time I had no confidence when it came to leading worship.
One thing I do know, however, is that through worship, and through learning how to love my God with a whole heart, through that process, the walls of my heart have softened, and I just want to worship my God in Spirit and in Truth.” How did ‘Shout to the Lord’ come to be written? “I’ve written about this story so many times, and it still takes my breath away as I was not going to the piano to write such an important song,” she said. “I went to worship my God when I was at the end of myself! I opened my Bible to the Psalms and started to pray and to play and within about 20 minutes, ‘Shout to The Lord’ had been composed.”
Darlene’s love for people
But it is not just worship that occupies Darlene’s heart. Together with her husband Mark, the children of war-torn Rwanda fill a massive space. She explains, “In April 2004 my husband Mark and I went on a Compassion trip to central Africa to visit two of our sponsor children.
It coincided with the ten year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda when, in 1994, over one million people were literally slaughtered in a one hundred day period.
The genocide was recent enough that every Rwandan was affected by it and many people were still grieving for their family and friends that were lost. There was definitely an air of sadness wherever we went. In a country of eight million everyone has been affected by it one way or another. I remember one day going into a bank.”
A new mission is birthed
“The teller was this beautiful young girl who had one arm and a huge cut across her face. It was very obvious in talking to her that she had been brutalised in the genocide. You cannot help but be impacted by that.”
“When we visited some of the memorial sites and encountered the people there, we had definitely under-estimated the impact of the genocide. We flew from Kigali straight to Nashville in the USA for the Gospel Music Awards.
You couldn’t get more of a dichotomy! But we had about 36 hours of flying so Mark and I had a very long conversation about Rwanda. We had a real conviction in our hearts. Both of us knew we had to do something and it had to be significant.”
A day later in Nashville, we were at a Gospel Music Association breakfast. But my mind was still miles away in Rwanda, and I began having a conversation with God. I knew we couldn’t have that experience and not question the why. I felt God say to me, ‘Now that you know what the problems are, what are you going to do about it?’ I said, ‘Lord, but we are just two people - what can we do?’ I sensed we needed to do something much bigger than us. Then I felt God prompting me to look around. I saw all these influential people in the room and realised that they could do something too. Suddenly, it all fell into place.
Remembering the forgotten victims
The Rwandans refer to the genocide as ‘the time the world forgot us’. We often talk of the Church leading and influencing our world. What Mark and I saw was how we [the Church] could lead the charge in this emotional, cultural, spiritual revolution of Rwanda.”
After launching HOPE: Rwanda, the couple went on to hold The 100 Days of Hope (April 6 - July 15, 2006) project that was strategically co-ordinated to cover the same 100 days that saw approximately one million people viciously slaughtered.
“A framework for our HOPE: Rwanda 100 Days of Hope was that it would cover the same days of the anniversary of the genocide,” says Darlene. Over the same days as the anniversary of the genocide, we would orchestrate as many of our friends as we could to go into Rwanda and just do what they do. In those 100 days our aim was to put hope in - to fill Rwanda with what was 100 days of horror with 100 Days of Hope.
The Church working together for an impact
The project was called a Global Church Mission and was about the Church working together and having a major impact. The concept was that everyone can bring different elements to the table. We had national events, as well as city-wide, regional and provincial events, each with specific programmes associated with them. So there were quite a few layers and a fairly comprehensive structure. We were looking at everything from evangelism to care, to teaching farmers how to get better results from their block of land, to worship, to leadership, to micro-enterprise, to immunisation to literacy.”
I asked Darlene to share about some of the projects that HOPE: Rwanda is now involved in today.” HOPE: Rwanda is still operating and we now are being more effective than ever before,” she said.
Committed to long-term change
“We are committed to the long-term sustainability and development of this beautiful country. Many of the initiatives that started in the ‘100 days’ are still operating and growing. For example: The Village of Hope. This was a God-idea to meet housing needs of widows and orphans of the genocide or of HIV/AIDS who were living in appalling conditions to give them more of a dignified life. In 2010 there are 26 homes with 26 families in them, most of these widows have taken on additional orphans into their houses, because they want to bless as they have been blessed.
Rebuilding a nation
And there are plans for more homes, a community centre and school to develop the area and meet the needs of the community. Also, the HOPE: Rwanda education team has trained over 1000 teachers on a three year pathway to be teacher trainers. And now we are working with the Rwandan Ministry of Education to develop the English curriculum teacher training materials to re-train 31 000 Rwandan teachers in the next two years to teach in English, and are also training the Ministry’s district inspectors and tertiary institution lecturers.” These are strategic nation-building endeavours that have grown out of the initial ‘100 days’ event in 2006.
An overwhelming effect
“There are many more examples of this in our other projects as well.”
And how has her ministry in Rwanda affected Darlene as a Christian? “My heart is actually still completely overwhelmed,” Darlene says, “but I have learned that people are people - with the same kind of dreams, same desire to live a life of some sort of eternal value, mums want their children to flourish, dads want their children to be educated, immunised and fed more than once a day. The basic cry of humanity is the same - we all want to be loved and valued. But so many on the earth have to fight each day just to survive, rather than live, and we are desperate to be part of bringing the answer.”
How you can get involved
According to Darlene there are many ways that you can get involved in this worthwhile cause. Firstly:
- Please see our website for more info: http://www.hoperwanda.org
- Join our e-mail list through a link on our website, which includes invitations to join various teams to go to Rwanda, and information about how you can be involved both at home and in Rwanda.
- Become a monthly partner or donate.
- Share the vision with others and pray for the people of Rwanda.