Singing God’s message Performing helps choir leader forget war-torn homeland


It wasn’t too long ago that Ben Rutabara was running for his life in the war-torn country of Burundi in Africa.

On Saturday, Rutabara will be singing the praises of the Lord for saving his life.

Rutabara, who is now the choir master at St. John’s Lutheran Church, is putting on a free concert at the church that will feature gospel and inspirational music from his recently-released CD “Revive Us Again.”

The free-will concert will be from 6-8 p.m. and the music is designed “to encourage people to hear the word of God,” Rutabara said.

The “word” helped Rutabara escape the ravages of poverty, hardship and war that led many in his country to hopelessness and dispair.

“I consider that God saved me. The God who saved my life, is the one whose message I’m spreading,” Rutabara said.

Rutabara, a certified nurse assistant, lives comfortably in Dickinson with his wife, Esperance, and their two children.

When asked about his homeland, Rutabara leaned back in his chair, sighed softly and shook his head.

Memories are still vivid of the sight of his friends being attacked, brutalized and killed.

One night, he was asleep in his house when rebels attacked his village.

Luckily, Rutabara was able to get out and scramble into the darkness undetected to the nearby woods.

The night was illuminated by flames that engulfed the homes in the village. Many of the homes, including Rutabara’s, had grass roofs, so they were easy targets for rebels.

His brother was in a house that rebels torched. As he scrambled to get out, rebels chased him but he got away, Rutabara said.

Many died that night.

“We would hide. If they don’t see you, they don’t do anything to you,” he said.

Rutabara was born in Congo, he was raised in Rwanda where he went to high school  and attended college in Burundi.

He admits being afraid all the time.

Then one day, Rutabara wanted to do something to help people deal with war, poverty and hopelessness.

“Then it hit me. I can sing. I can reach people through song,” Rutabara said.

He started a group, five boys from the church choir in Burundi. They called themselves “The Bishops” and were soon performing at churches and conferences all around the area. They made an album in 2007 of gospel and country western music.

He was influenced by American music, which stoked a dream of one day coming to the Unted States.

Rutabara dream came true in 2010 when he attended a leadership conference in Cincinnati.

After the conference, Rutabara chose to stay in the United States. He moved to Portland, Maine, where he lived for 1 1/2 years before moving to North Dakota in 2012.

While he was in Portland, he served as volunteer at the Philadelphia Church.

And he sang. And people listened.

He moved to North Dakota in 2012, and became choir master at Adonai Church in Dickinson. He moved to St. John’s earlier this year.

Rutabara toured the country, doing concerts in churches and community center-type settings in places like Dayton, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Phoenix.

He’s also put on concerts in Dickinson and in Killdeer.

Saturday’s concert will feature three acts. Teresa Howie, of Belfield, and Carlos Beca, of Dickinson, will also be performing.

The proceeds from the concert will go organizations whose mission is to help orphans in Africa, he said.

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