Rev. Dr. Innocent N. Justice
Founder and President of African Rescue Ministries (ARM)
From Devastation to Devotion to God
I was born in the mid-70s in Gisenyi Prefecture, Rwanda to a father who was a driver in a local insurance company and a stay-at-home mother. My parents did not finish high school. When I was just one year old my parents relocated to Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, where my Dad was working for the insurance company. I did my primary school (Elementary and Middle school combined) at Muhima and Saint Family primary schools from 1981 to 1990. I vividly remember walking 32 miles from home to school! It was 8 miles one way, but it added up to 32 miles because we went to school in the morning, went home for lunch at noon, reported back at school at 1:30 PM and we were dismissed at 5:00 PM! The Muhima primary school was convenient for me, but I moved to Saint Family that had a better soccer team and best education!
After the end of the primary school state exam, I went to the Western Province of Rwanda in Gikongoro Prefecture where I continued my secondary school (High School) from 1991-1994, which was interrupted by the civil war of October 1990 that led to the genocide that took place in 1994. During the genocide, I lost my father, half-brother, uncles, my Godfather and his family minus one child who was not at home when they were killed! Furthermore, I lost many friends and I thought the world would end in 1994! Even though I lost both of my parents at young age, I was blessed with a Christian upbringing that led me to committing my life to Jesus Christ! I accepted Christ as my personal Savior in my early twenties and this changed my life forever!
Like millions of Rwandans, I fled my motherland and went to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) formerly known as Zaire. I spent almost two years in the refugee camp. In 1996, when the Rwandan and Ugandan armies invaded Zaire, all of the refugee camps were destroyed and the large number of Rwandan refugees were forced to return to Rwanda. Refugees who resisted returning home continued into the deeper parts of Zaire’s dense forests paid a heavy price! I was one of those who was repatriated to Rwanda. Back in Rwanda, I completed my high school education, got married to Victoire (Vicky) and decided to leave my country again for my own safety. I fled to South Africa where I lived for four years before I came to the U.S.
In South Africa, I started a small business to support my family while doing distance theological studies from the University of South Africa (UNISA). When I realized that it was hard to support my family and pay for my theological education, I had a tough decision to make. I decided to drop out of the university because there was no other financial assistance to support my education, but I did not give up my dream of theological training to become a Pastor
In 2005, my family and I relocated to the U.S. where Wesley United Methodist Church co-sponsored us. After arriving in the U.S., I realized that our move was the starting point for the long training journey that would lead me into the full-time ministry to which God had called me. In the fall of 2005, I enrolled at the Bluegrass Community and Technical College where I earned an Associate of Arts Degree in May 2008. After graduation, I transferred to John Wesley College in High Point, NC where I earned my BA in Pastoral ministry in May 2010. During this time, I was a full-time student, worked full time and served different churches doing ministry to refugees. I learned that if one worked hard one could achieve the "American Dream." I was not hindered by my family's background since no one in my family made it to college, but I was determined to be the pioneer and be the best I could be.
While I was a student at John Wesley University, (formerly John Wesley College) and doing my internship at the Mount Pisgah UMC, I shared with three Rwandan Americans and two Americans my vision of starting a non-profit organization, which I called Refugees Rescue Mission. During my time in Zaire I lived in a 7 foot by a 3-foot makeshift tent, so I knew how difficult it would be for newly arrived refugees to make a transition from refugee camps to a new life in the USA. I believed that if refugees could be given a chance to be empowered through education their children could achieve great things, even greater than what their parents achieved. That was the reason why Refugees Rescue Mission was created and registered as a non-profit organization on January 7, 2009, in the state of North Carolina, with the mission of facilitating the integration of new refugees in the Triad area. This was the birth of the Refugees Rescue Mission we have today.
I did not stop my journey with my undergraduate degree, but enrolled at Duke Divinity School where I received a full tuition merit scholarship. The education I dreamed of while I was a refugee in South Africa, I now achieved due to the generosity of people who gave through the Duke Divinity School Endowment! I will be eternally grateful to Duke Divinity School and those who gave so that I could have an education. I graduated with a Master's of Divinity in 2013 and was commissioned by the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church (WNCCUMC) in June of the same year. Since my time at Duke as a student and my graduation, I have served cross-racial churches one in Durham and two churches near Charlotte.
After three years of residency, I was ordained in June of 2016 and became an Elder in Full Connection in the WNCCUMC. The same year, I received an honorary Doctorate from John Wesley University where I did my undergraduate and I currently serve on the Board of trustees. I was honored when John Wesley University’s leadership acknowledged my long journey from devastation to devotion to God and my small contribution to the well-being of humanity! Now, I am pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry (DMin) Degree at Gardner-Webb University. My journey of serving God and making an impact in the lives of God’s children is not ending; it is just beginning.
I view my work with African Rescue Ministries as a way of giving back to the community where I came from. I have a deep passion for empowering, impacting and transforming the lives of refugees because I believe there is a way out of devastation if God’s children are given a chance! Would you join me on this journey of transforming the world?
To learn more about my journey, check out the video and links below: