Most people remember Rwanda for the civil war of the 1990s, when armed Hutu militias set upon the minority Tutsi population and killed more than half a million people. 

The delegates of the fourth Global Anglican Future Conference, which opened in the capital Kigali yesterday, were reminded of a lesser-known and contrasting historical event: the East African Revival.

“We have waited for a very long time,” said the Primate of Rwanda, Archbishop Laurent Mbanda, in welcoming 1300 delegates from more than 50 countries to the week-long conference.

The Bible became their best friend, their walking stick, a pillar to lean on and to focus them to the word of God.

The gathering, he said, “comes at a time when the Church of England has shaken the world and more so the Anglican Communion. It comes at a time when false teaching is rampant. It comes at a time when the authority of the Scriptures is the thing to hold on tightly. While some have departed from the biblical authority [this is the time] when the tough get going.”

Above: A local choir sings in the Kinyarwandan language

The opening session featured a welcome from the Rwandan Prime Minister, a local choir singing the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah, traditional African dancing and drumming, and stirring addresses from GAFCON’s chairman, Archbishop Foley Beach, and its secretary, Archbishop Ben Kwashi.

Hanging over the conference was February’s decision of the Church of England to bless same-sex unions, a decision Archbishop Mbanda said had resulted in confusion: “The prophet Jeremiah … warns against the inescapable consequences of rejecting the authority of God's word”.

He then invoked the memory of the East African revival, which began in the 1920s and spread from Rwanda to neighbouring countries.

Above: Archbishop Laurent Mbanda

“GAFCON wants and desires and commits to bringing and keeping the Bible at the centre,” he said. “Let us keep the unchanging word of God. The East African revivalists moved with the Bible in their hands, preaching and teaching the good news of Jesus Christ. The Bible became their best friend, their walking stick, a pillar to lean on and to focus them to the word of God.”

The first GAFCON, held in Jerusalem in 2008, issued the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration to guide the movement, which Archbishop Kwashi said was now looking to the future. He outlined seven priority areas including evangelism, youth and raising the next generation of leaders.

And, as the conference draws together delegates from Western churches facing compromise on the authority of Scripture, and African churches – many under physical persecution and opposition – Archbishop Kwashi drew applause for his heartfelt address.

Above: Archbishop Kwashi addresses the delegates

“Whatever we are facing today, there is always hope,” he said. “Persecution has never killed the church. It will never kill the church. In fact, persecution helps the gospel to spread as Christians run from one place to another. 

“Brothers and sisters, you have nothing to fear. If only you know who is with you in all the circumstances of life. It is we, God's people, not God, who need to open our eyes. Wake up!”

Watch the livestream here

Watch the Heart of GAFCON here

Main Conference site here

Photos: Courtesy GAFCON/ Diocese of Jos/ Facebook