Illuminatio et Salus Populi (Light and Salvation to the People)
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18
The title of my address today is illuminatio et salus populi, the emblem of the University of Rwanda, one of my alma mater. I still remember the song encapsulating that emblem. I even rehearsed it in my shower this morning with a view to singing it in front you, but on second sober thought I relented because I have it on good authority, albeit third hand, that it is not a Christian virtue to inflict pain on one’s listeners.
Perhaps an anecdote will shed some light on why I chose this theme. It was summer 2001 and I had just been hired as an articling student (a law intern) at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. My goal was to be hired back. My first case related to counter-intelligence. It involved a Canadian public servant mired in indescribable entanglements with an oil prince in a third country. The case read like a fast-paced novel: it had drugs, it had guns, it had, well… I could continue, but out of respect to present audience, let the rest be imagined rather than described.
My finest hour came in July 2001 when I had to brief the authorities. While I performed well, my job was not yet fully secure and I was so conscious as not to do anything that would jeopardize my chances. The situation got interesting when in August there was a car accident involving a family of Canadian diplomats: father, mother, son and daughter travelling to a vacation destination. A truck hit them. The result: mother and son were pronounced dead at the scene; father and daughter escaped the accident unscathed—that is physically—and attended the funeral. This senseless tragedy shook everyone at the office as we all grappled for meaning.
My articling principal, knowing that I am a practising Christian, still grieving, asked me how I, and especially the two surviving family members, could still believe in an all-loving, all-good, and all-powerful God in light of such senseless tragedy. “Your question,” I said, “reminds me of a question that a five-year-old girl, whom my parents had adopted after she saw her mother, her brother, and her sister murdered in her sight, asked me. The first night with us, I asked if we could pray for her, but she stopped, and asked to whom I would be addressing my prayers. ‘To Jesus,’ I said. 'Then stop,' she replied. 'Why?’ She asked, 'How could I believe in that God when my mother, my brother, and my sister were murdered while praying to that Jesus.’” Yet, in the following weeks, God ever so graciously and mysteriously ministered to her so much so that she asked that I intercede to Jesus for her. My articling principal listened carefully and said nothing afterward.
September came, and I still had no word on whether I would be hired back after my February 2002 call to the Bar of Ontario. I could not wait any longer: my stress had reached a breaking point and my articling principal could see that I had lost my cool. So, he asked me what the matter was. “I am worried that I will not be hired back, and if I am not hired back, that will be the end of me,” I said. Then he said, almost in jest, “Why are you worried? Don’t you Christians say that you do not worry because God always takes good care of you? Why don’t you practice what you preach, Victor?” From that moment on, I stopped bugging him.
I got hired back and went to a two-day retreat with the entire office. I got a ride back with my articling principal, now a colleague. As we were approaching my place, he pointed to a building and asked me if I knew that there is a beautiful church inside. Before I could express my astonishment, he added, “My wife and I have been going there since last Christmas; you should try it out.” Wow; I was completely floored. Unbeknownst to me, and perhaps to a small degree through my very imperfect witness, God had rekindled his faith.
I must end exactly where I began. Graduates: from your infancy, much like Timothy, your parents have trained you in the way of Christ. As you contemplate Jesus’ glory, he shines through you as you are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory and light, which comes from Jesus.
People are watching you. Sometimes, you will bear perfect witness; most of the time, it will be imperfect, like my witness to my articling principal. Sometimes it will be through your strength and joy, and at other times, it will be through brokenness and possibly grief as was my case. But never be discouraged on account of your imperfection. We are to hold this light of the glory of God in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power to redeem from scepticism to a prayerful life is not from us but from God. After all, as Jesus said to Paul: my grace is sufficient for my power is made perfect through your weakness. Therein lies the salvation of our peers and of our culture.
Graduates: may you, as you contemplate the Lord’s glory, be transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord.
Graduate Address 2023
by Victor Ndihokubwayo
Victor, who has graciously served on the Board of St. Timothy's Classical Academy since November 2020, has been practicing law for the Department of Justice Canada since 2001.