Westside Christian student uses past to create future
- Bryan Atkinson
- Lake Oswego Review - Opinion
The year is 1996, and 9-year-old Eric Nshimiyumuremyi is scared. His mother has just died of disease, and he lost his father in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. He is an orphan with nowhere to turn. His only option is to live on the streets, homeless and hopeless.
Now it is 2009, and Nshimiyumuremyi, who changed his name to Enric Sifa to make pronunciation simpler, is a recording artist attending Westside Christian High School in Lake Oswego as a 22-year-old sophomore.
Rwanda, in east-central Africa, experienced a violent ethnic genocide, which left many children without parents. More than 1 million people were killed in only 90 days, devastating the country and spreading poverty.
Sifa's life journey is a message of hope.
'I always liked to sing when I was young,' he said. 'My mom was a singer in the church choir. When I was living on the street, singing became my personality.'
Sifa struggled to survive. He hung out at clubs because he liked the music and could run errands for patrons.
'It was fun in the club, but I couldn't always have fun because these big guys would get drunk and beat me up,' Sifa said.
'One day, I was beaten a lot. That time I stopped. I just had God telling me, 'Don't go into clubs.' I didn't know it was God, but my heart felt it,' Sifa said. 'The following day, I went to church and felt love. People greeted me, and they were smiling. There was good music.'
'So I thought, 'Why can't I stay here? I don't have to pay; no one will beat me up.' People invited me in their homes, and I became a kid like others. I received God in my heart; I became a believer.'
In 2001, a group from Portland founded Africa New Life Ministries along with a Rwandan pastor. Serena Morones and her husband Tony were part of the founding group of Africa New Life, which now sponsors 2,500 young people.
Morones met Sifa in 2002 on her first trip to Rwanda. 'I really felt like God said, 'He's a leader; I want you to help him,'' she said. She enlisted her parents in sponsoring him so he could return to school.
In 2003, Morones returned.
'I brought a little guitar over, and he cried. He said that he had been praying for some kind of instrument. It was the most humble little guitar,' she said. 'But it was so precious to him. It was symbolic because it was such a humble place for him to start.'
Sifa got his big break in 2004 when he won a national songwriting competition for HIV/AIDS awareness, which was on television and radio 'like American Idol,' he said. All of the professional and amateur musicians in Rwanda were competing. It was a big step for him to gain national exposure.
He toured the United States for three years starting in 2006 with a band called Hindurwa. Their two albums contain African and American music styles.
'I write songs of peace and hope and songs of praising God for what he does in my life,' he said. He will release an EP CD titled 'My Love' this summer that will be available from enricsifa.com and iTunes.
He has already achieved more than ever thought possible, so his dreams for the future are ambitious.
'My goal is to be a musician professionally. But it's not just being a star or making millions of dollars, it's impacting the world through compassion and through helping poor people,' he said. 'Me myself, I was helped. I think there are people struggling around the world, and they need help so they can do something with their lives.'
'Even though I am a musician and may make a lot of money, I still want to use God's gift to help other people.'
Bryan Atkinson is a Gresham resident who is in his sophomore year at Mount Hood Community College. He first saw Enric Sifa perform at Good Shepherd Community Church last year at the Momentum Conference for high school and college students.