FOR LAURENT MBANDA, struggle isn’t new.
Mbanda, born in Rwanda, fled ethnic violence in the country in 1959, when he was 5 years old. Mbanda and his family faced deprivation in a series of refugee camps, but he eventually attended college in Kenya and graduate school in the United States. He earned a doctorate in education from Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.
After working with Compassion International for several years, he left his job to serve the Anglican church full time. He became archbishop of the Anglican Church of Rwanda in 2018.
These days, he’s focused on training pastors and promoting discipleship and education in the country. He says the church is still involved in helping Rwandans recover from the ethnic violence of 1994, when tribal extremists killed some 800,000 people in 100 days.
Many Rwandans died in churches where they had sought refuge but met slaughter by militias. Though American Anglicans did not face physical danger, Mbanda says Rwandans’ own sorrows deepened their sympathy for Christians trying to adhere to the gospel: “We are a country that went through the upheavals of the sinful nature of men.”
It would be easy for Rwandan bishops to say no one came to their aid during the violence, so why should they help others? But Mbanda remembers Rwandan bishops saying the opposite. Since no one helped them, they didn’t want to refuse a cry for help: “We have a soft heart as a country that went through a difficult time.”
Benjamin Kwashi had been through a difficult time as well.
Now an archbishop in Nigeria, Kwashi has watched persecution by Islamist militants grow severe. He says he’s faced three attempts on his own life. Last year, members of the Fulani tribe attacked his compound in Jos, where he and his wife provide shelter and care for orphans who have lost parents to violence.
But he says that when Anglicans in America faced difficulties, Nigerians didn’t consider their response as a mission to save them but as an opportunity to serve the church. They saw that Anglicans in America lost valuable buildings and their ministers faced financial uncertainty. Some faced scorn for holding to Biblical truth.
When congregations began leaving, officials in The Episcopal Church argued that church law required departing congregations to surrender their property to TEC or their dioceses, even though the congregations usually had financed and maintained buildings themselves.
In some cases, congregations walked away from buildings instead of mounting protracted lawsuits. In other regions, departing dioceses are still battling TEC to maintain the properties of their congregations. (Some congregations have remained in TEC and tried to press for change from within.)
ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach says partnerships Americans forged with Africans and others were both critical and encouraging. “There has been a preparation, watching our brothers and sisters encounter intense physical persecution. … It’s prepared many of us for the cultural persecution that we’re all facing here in the West.”
Last month’s Texas gathering brought together more than 1,000 Anglicans from 23 countries. During a packed worship service they sang about the church’s one foundation in Christ: “Soon the night of weeping will be the morn of song.”