East Africa Revival: Timeline and Key Individuals

In the 2005 movie “Hotel Rwanda”, Don Cheadle, as Paul Rusesabagina, personified heroism in light of great tragedy in a dramatic retelling of Hutu/Tutsi genocidal war in the land of Rwanda. Little do many know that eighties year prior to the release of the movie, a radically different kind of stirring began among the people of East Africa that arguably continues to this day. This stirring later became known as the East Africa Revival.

Ruanda Urundi,[1] as it was then called, became a colonial acquisition of the Germans in the 1890s as German East Africa. After the First World War, per the Treaty of Versailles, in 1921 Ruanda Urundi came under the Belgian mandate.[2] The remainder of German East Africa became Tanganyika, under the British mandate. Geopolitically, as a territory of Belgium, where Roman Catholics where an overwhelming majority, Ruanda Urundi was closed off to both the British and to Protestant missionaries. Thus, it was only by mistake that British explorers were able to scout the Belgian lands, and only by the brief annexation of eastern Ruanda by the British that the Ruandan Mission could plant medical missionaries as seeds of a coming harvest.[3] The Belgians were unaware of the exploratory trip and had denied the Ruanda Mission entry almost a year and a half earlier, prior to the annexation. Thus when Eastern Ruanda returned to Belgium, the Ruandan Mission faced opposition from both the government and the Catholic church for years afterwards. Still, the Mission persisted. Beginning through the small enclave of missionaries and several converted tribesmen, revived Christianity spread through all East Africa, starting in Ruanda, beginning in the late 1920s.

The Ruandan Mission was intimately connected to revival in East Africa, even before missionaries reached the lush valleys of Ruanda. The connection lay in the University of Cambridge and the Keswick Convention. The missionary nearest to the center of the East Africa Revival was Joe Church.[4] He had been converted while a student at Cambridge on the evening of August 29, 1920.[5] From then, he was welcomed into the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU). Thirty-eight years before Church’s conversion, D.L. Moody made his famous trip to Cambridge which culminated in the conversion of many students and the sending out of the Cambridge Seven with the China Inland Mission. Following these events, Cambridge became of hotbed of missionary enthusiasm. One person so enthused was George Lawrence Pilkington.[6] Pilkington followed the missionary call to Uganda and, in 1893, witnessed a revival among the Baganda, characterized by increased devotion to Christ, rapid increase in the number of conversions, increased involvement of the laity in evangelism, and rapid planting of churches and building of buildings by the natives.[7] The event in Pilkington’s life that sparked the revival was the filling of the Holy Spirit. On his furlough, in 1896, Pilkington spoke at the Keswick convention testifying “to the work of the Holy Spirit in his own life and in the Uganda Church.”[8] His experience was characteristic of the Keswick emphasis on the crisis event in a individual’s life leading them to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Early Keswick Theology[9] emphasized the post-conversion experience of the second blessing. This second blessing corresponded to a renewed emphasis on “Spirit-filling.” In this respect, the Spirit-filling is the result of surrendering and bending one’s will to God’s; also, it is the means to a higher Christian life, a form of Christian perfectionism.

The connection of Keswick theology on the East Africa Revival is indubitable. First, Keswick theology greatly influenced the earlier Ugandan revival, as already mentioned. Second, Keswick theology flourished in the CICCU, out of which Joe Church would come to Ruanda. Ultimately, the constitution of the Ruandan Mission expressly indicated that it existed on Keswick lines.[10] The influence of Keswick theology upon many CMS missionaries and the Ruandan Mission, in particular, is not debated among scholars, there is near universal agreement.[11]

Revival—A Brief Timeline and Identification of Key Individuals

In his recount of the Revival, as it began in Ruanda, A. C. Stanley Smith identifies five “Mile-Posts” of the spread of the revival.[12] The first, 1921–26, marks the initial stirrings of revival and missionaries in Kigezi, on the Western Ugandan border, followed by the first entry into Ruanda and the arrival of Dr. Joe Church.[13] Second, 1926–1931, was the establishment of the Gahini hospital. During this period there was the great famine in Ruanda. The hospital was spread thin; during these times Joe Church felt at his lowest, which led him to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit with an African brother, Semyoni Nsibambi.[14] They were transformed. The revival, at large, began during the third “Mile-Post”, 1931–1936. The revival that began in the hearts of Church and Nsibambi spread through the entire staff of the Gahini hospital, culminating in the conversion of Yosiya Kinuka,[15] who along with Nsibambi’s brother, Blasio Kigozi, formed one of the first evangelistic teams of the revival.[16] With the formation of evangelistic teams, the revival spread from personal dedication to evangelistic zeal.

Beginning with Smith’s fourth “Mile-Post”, 1936–1941, the revival brought about the formation of Revival teams that took the gospel to the interior of Ruanda and Urundi. Out of the increased fruitfulness among Africans by Africans, the training of indigenous leadership also became a priority. Lawrence Barham became revived from the influence of his students, and in addition to wide itineration, Barham labored for the training of an ordained African clergy in South-Western Uganda.[17] This period also marked the beginning of intense opposition to the revival from missionary clergy.[18]

The opposition is best characterized by the reaction of the “missionary” clergyman serving at Bishop Tucker Theological College, in Mukone, Uganda. William Nagenda, one of the “Balokole”, or “saved ones” as they were called, and 25 other students were expelled from the College after meeting for early prayer which had been forbidden by the faculty and administration.[19] This event did not stop the movement, but invigorated the leaders, like Nagenda, to take the revival message and spread it broadly.

Smith’s final “Mile-Post,” 1941–46, marked the widespread geographic distribution of the revival. On Sunday, October 5, 1941, Festo Kivengere was revived out of a life of apostasy, antagonism to the revival, and very loose living.[20] Festo became one of the most well-known revival leaders, not just in East Africa, but across the globe. His ministry would span from North America, to Europe, to South Asia and Pacifica. In many ways, the East Africa Revival was in fact a global revival!

The timeline after 1946 is difficult to maintain because the revival was spreading internationally. Revival teams, led by Joe Church, William Nagenda, Semyoni Nsibambi, Festo Kivengere, and many others, entered Urundi, Tanganyika (later Tanzania), Kenya, Sudan, and then travelled abroad to Europe and the United States. Partial (non-black) teams entered South Africa at this time as well. Festo moved his family, along with another revival brother and his family to Tanganyika, where they would serve for several years.

These few examples demonstrate the broader principle that evangelism and missions characterized the revival from the earliest stages. As the teams spread, the revival spread to other groups. Richard K. MacMaster and Donald R. Jacobs, in A Gentle Wind of God, trace the influence of the revival on Mennonite missionaries and their churches and institutions at home. They also trace the influence on revival fellowships that meet up to this day.[21] Through these influences, especially through the wide itineration of the revived Africans and missionaries, other individuals caught the revival and continued to propagate the message elsewhere, including, Norman P. Grubb,[22] Roy and Revel Hession,[23] Erma and Herbert Maust, Wayne and Mary Lou Lawton, among many others.[24] Furthermore, the East Africa Revival intersected with the ministry of Billy Graham through Festo Kivengere. This relationship persisted allowing Festo Kivengere to hold great influence upon global evangelicalism.[25] Though Festo died in 1988 from the effects of Leukemia, the revival fellowships continue to meet and Africans continue to sing “Tukutendereza Yesu.”[26]

Tukutendereza Yesu
Yesu Omwana gw’endiga
Omusaigwo gunaziza
Nkwebaza, Omulokozi

We praise you Jesus,
Jesus Lamb of God
Your Blood cleanses me,
I praise you, Saviour.

Overall, the fact that no single work has yet to capture the totality of the East Africa Revival, though it has received much study, is evidence of the breadth and duration of the movement.

HT: Andrew Naselli


[1] These nations are now known as Rwanda and Burundi, but the older usage will be maintained in these posts.

[2] Kenneth Ingham, “Tanganyika: The Mandate and Cameron, 1919–1931” in The History of East Africa Vincent Harlow et al, ed. Vol II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 547–50.

[3] A. C. Stanley Smith, Road to Revival: The Story of the Ruanda Mission (London: Church Missionary Society, 1946), 12–3, 19.

[4] See also note 22.

[5] H. H. Osborn, Pioneers in the East African Revival (Winchester, UK: Apologia, 2000), 55–6.

[6] Charles F. Harford-Battersby, Pilkington of Uganda (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1899), 20–40.

[7] Ibid., 221–239.

[8] Ibid., 251.

[9] For an excellent history, analysis and appraisal of Early Keswick Theology, see: Andrew David Naselli, “Keswick Theology: A Historical and Theological Survey and Analysis of the Doctrine of Sanctification in the Early Keswick Movement, 1875–1920,” PhD dissert, Bob Jones University, 2006.

[10] Hooper, “Trans-Atlantic Evangelicalism and Its Impact,” 81; Smith, Road to Revival, 42.

[11] Hooper’s article is by far the most explicit source for this conclusion: Hooper, “Trans-Atlantic Evangelicalism and Its Impact”. However, see also major Christian histories of the era: Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 88–92; Bengt Sundkler and Christopher Steed, A History of the Church in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 863–5; J. Edwin Orr, Awakenings in Africa, 158. Gordon Hewitt does not mention Keswick by name, but the influence on the missionaries during the movement is unmistakable. Hewitt records Joe Church’s plan to build up “a true holiness movement in Uganda” through his vision of a “Uganda Seven.” The connection to Keswick and his early Cambridge days is unmistakable. Gordon Hewitt, The Problems of Success: A History of the Church Missionary Society 1910–1942, Vol. One (London: SCM Press, 1971), 235–41.

[12] The following summary is based upon Smith, The Road to Revival.

[13] John Edward Church, known as Joe, was a major lay missionary impetus in the East Africa Revival. See his edited diary of  his participation in the revival from 1927–61: J. E. Church, Quest for the Highest: An Autobiographical Account of the East African Revival (Exeter: Paternoster, 1981).  See also: Osborn, Pioneers, 53–110. For an account that integrates the ministry of Church with the revival more broadly, see: MacMaster and Jacobs, A Gentle Wind of God.

[14] Church, Quest, 66–8. Note: Nsibambi’s first name, according to Church is Simeon; it is Simeoni to Osborn. However, his son, Professor Apolo Nsibambi, Prime Minister of Uganda, informs us that the correct spelling is Semyoni. Apolo Nsibambi, Uganda: The Origins of the ‘Bulokole’ Movement, September 3, 2007, http:// allafrica.com/stories/printable/200709040123.html (accessed August 5, 2009). For an account of Nsibambi’s influence on the revival, see Osborn, Pioneers, 15–52; fittingly, Osborn begins his account with Nsibambi’s biography.

[15] See an account of Kinuka’s influence in Osborn, Pioneers, 191–226.

[16] Smith, Road to Revival, 54–64.

[17] Osborn, Pioneers, 153–90.

[18] MacMaster and Jacobs, Gentle Wind, 51–66.

[19] Ibid., 54–6; See also, Osborn, Pioneers, 111–152; cf. Church, Quest, 178, 180, 184–6.

[20] Anne Coomes, Festo Kivengere: A Biography (Eastborne, UK: Monarch, 1990), 98–103

[21] MacMaster and Jacobs, Gentle Wind of God.

[22] Norman Grubb, was Executive Secretary of the World Evangelization Crusade and was responsible for arranging visits of East African Revival Teams to Great Britain in the late 1940s and early 1950s. See MacMaster and Jacobs, Gentle Wind, 119–20. He had served with C.T. Studd in Central Africa but discovered the revival after the visit of two Ruandans to his office in London. In light of his experience and study, he authored a book explicating the message of the revival: Norman P. Grubb, Continuous Revival (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, n.d.).

[23] His most influential work is Roy and Revel Hession, The Calvary Road (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1977). In its eight printing in 1977, it is still widely available, including online: http://www. christianissues.biz/pdf-bin/sanctification/thecalvaryroad.pdf (accessed August 10, 2009).

[24] See especially the chapter of testimonies in MacMaster and Jacobs, Gentle Wind, 321–57.

[25] Festo Kivengere not only influenced Billy Graham, but also John Stott, Steven Olford, among others, having spoken before the National Association of Evangelicals in 1978, as well as serving on the committee of the 1974 Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization, giving the last plenary paper of the conference on “The Cross and World Evangelism”. And all of this, he served while his own country suffered under the harsh dictatorship of Idi Amin. Coomes, Festo, 213ff.

[26] Emmanuel Hooper traces the origin of the hymn to D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey. This connection is very interesting since it involves Moody’s ministry at Cambridge, the hotbed for sending missionaries to East Africa. Emmanuel Hooper, “The Theology of Trans-Atlantic Evangelicalism and Its Impact on The East African Revival,” Evangelical Review of Theology 31.1 (2007): 75–7.

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29 Comments

Filed under East Africa, Revival

29 responses to “East Africa Revival: Timeline and Key Individuals

  1. Pingback: Festo Kivengere: Keswick Theology Matures in East Africa « a mission-driven life

  2. Wes,
    I’m a seminary student who has recently returned from serving 5 years on the mission field in Kenya. I’m working on a brief biographical sketch of Festo Kivengere for a class and found your East Africa Revival and Festo postings VERY helpful. Thanks!

    • wlh

      Dave,

      I’m glad to have been of service. Be sure to listen to some audio by Festo. I have a link to an online sermon in one of my posts. Also, you can get some cassettes from libraries around the country. He was a phenomenal speaker–Spirit-led and biblical. Blessings to you my brother.

      -Wes

  3. Tamara

    Hello, I stumbled upon your blog after being challenged by my Bible teacher to study the East Africa Revival. God is definitely not finished with east Africa. Thanks you made it a whole lot easier for me to study this revival because of the resources you provided.

    I am a on a journey for the knowledge of God. I graduated from a 4 year unaccredited bible college. But I have set my heart on a pilgrimage to become a theologian, one who seeks to explore the depths of God’s being. And praying for the grace that came upon Paul to preach accurately the mystery of God.

    I have a question in all of your studying of missions do you think we are closer to the fulfillment of the great commission unto the salvation of Israel and the return of Christ???

    Tamara

    • wlh

      Tamara,

      I’m glad to hear from you! May God Bless your ministry and allow you to grow in knowledge and wisdom beyond your imagination.

      There are more and more resources available on the revival. Mark Shaw dedicates a whole chapter to the movement in Global Awakening; Mark Noll has a chapter as well in The New Shape of World Christianity. I suspect every year more works will be written on the revival.

      Regarding your question, the number of people who have not heard of Jesus is still in the Billions. There are still thousands of people groups without a gospel witness, hundreds more without the scripture in their language.

      So, if the sole determining factor in the return of Jesus was the geographic spread of the gospel to unreached peoples, then I say we have a ways to go. Second, what does it mean to “fulfill” the Great Commission? I believe the church will be active obeying the Great Commission until the end, thus Jesus says “lo, I am with you always until the very end of the age”.

      Remember God’s character: gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and relenting concerning calamity. God is not slow in keeping His promise, but wishes that none should perish. Jesus will return in the proper time when His purposes in salvation have been accomplished.

      -Wes

  4. Gabriel Hertis

    Hi Wes,

    Just this past week i was speaking with the Bishop of an episcopal baptist church in Africa, based in Lubumbashi, DRC who was on hospiatal leave here in Johannesburg and he told me about the EA revival, the work of William Nagenda and Bishop Festo in Kigoma, Tanzania. This Bishop’s name is Kitobo Kabwe, well known in the “Eglise du Christ au Congo (or ECC) in DRC. He met them in 1964 and testifies of their great faith, uncompromising method of evangelism and their distate of corruption.

    He says there are many surviving members of those mobile evangelistic teams of the time in his hometown Lubumbashi. He invited me to visit and do research on the movement in his country, which i hope to do sometime next year.

    Exciting.

    • Norman Paul Desire

      Dear Wes am glad to see this blog by God’s grace I had the opportunity to hear ,visit Bishop Festo Kivengere as a young person and it was his ministry that I was encouraged though had ships to move into ministry of an evangelist his message and live has left a great mark on my life .Ihave by the grace of God joined Revival Fellowship here in Rwanda where this East African Revival began .Please pray that this Nation Awakens again by God’s Spirit .

  5. Joshua Tusingwiire

    Hi Wes,

    I was just off the phone with a friend speaking about revival when the East African Revival came up. So i decided to do some research on this great move of God.

    I am a nationl of Uganda, the country at the heart of this revival. Now, get this: The revival is coming back. And every sober, spirit-filled, heaven -connected christian is able to tell this. Sober christian leaders all over the world have prophesied about this (yet another) great move of God that will start at the heart of East Africa and later impact the entire continent. Africa will become the source of spiritual transformation for the entire world.

    In Uganda, already, we can see God preparing an army of young people, filled with the Holy Spirit, digging deeper to understand the principles of the kingdom of God to be able to impact their societies.

    It is clear this revival is going to be majorly about christians establishing the kingdom of God in their areas of influence (Education, politics, Economic, Celebration, Social, Religion, Media).
    I am a 27yr old Brand Manager with a local organisation, also ministering in the Teens ministry at my local church, and the Lord has given me various communication, all telling me that revival is coming back to east Africa. And the signs are already showing.

    So, pray for East Africa, and ask God for what your role will be in this new move. You have done a great job in capturing the old one, how i wish that you will be apart of this fresh one.

    God bless you brother,
    Joshua

    • wlh

      Joshua,

      May God hear your prayers and continue to pour out his Spirit! I so desire to see a movement of God like the East African Revival. Praise God for his abundant grace!

      -Wes

  6. The name of our LORD Jesus Christ to be praised forever and ever! Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to enter through the gates of the city and eat from the fruits of the garden! [Revelation 22:14] AMEN!

  7. Paul Musuni

    The current church should borrow a leaf from the east african revival & keep the fire of our forefathers burning to take many to heaven.
    Uganda has a unique calling as a nation,lets put aside our differences & revive the world.

  8. tdritchie

    I’m having trouble making sense of how the EA revival led to multiple genocides in Rwanda. Any thoughts?

    • wlh

      tdritchie,

      I didn’t mean to make a causal relationship between the two. In fact, I don’t think anyone would argue that the revival led to the genocides. The racial tension between the Tutsi’s and Hutu’s is an age old tension. The revival impacted many people in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, but this does not mean that every person in those countries are Christians or were affected. There are millions of peoples in those countries in dozens of various tribes. The number of Christians is far less. We have to keep in mind that many Christians and pastors were killed during the genocide, along with a lot of other people. Also, we have to remember that the genocide also followed political and tribal lines and not necessarily religious. That is the best response I can come up with at the moment.

      • tdritchie

        I didn’t mean that you drew that relation, I was just posting a general statement for discussion. Thanks for your reply!

  9. Praise the Lord brethren.I now understand where we have come from.This fellowship has nurtured me and have made me grow in faith.Glory to God.

  10. Helmut Egesa Wagabi

    The Tukutendereza fellowship, also called the East Africa Revival, holds on to the historical and biblical position of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. It emphasizes moral and spiritual uprightness amongst the members and a complete break with things of the lower nature such as smoking, drinking alcohol and visiting discotheques. Confession of sin publicly is done to remind people of the quagmire from which Christ drew us and the victory we now have with Him.

  11. Opio Harrison

    I m deeply pleased to learn that many people around the world and Africa is particular still hold on to the true salvation preached by the East African revival. I received salvation through public confession of sins 23 yrs ago. i have never known any upright believers than the members of the chosen Evangelical revival who are remnants of the East African revival. I started research on public confession of sins by the early church and any one with information on this please help me so that i can further Gods work. Iam also deeply pleased about the documentation of the East African revival but i do request any researcher who is interested in studying about the Chosen Evangelical revival can contact me and i will lead him/her to Eastern, central and Northern Uganda. I am currently in Egypt but will be back to Uganda soon.( How can I meet Helmut Egesa Wagabi)
    Eng. Opio Harrison
    Cairo University Egypt.

    • Thanks for your interest and the research you are doing on the EARF. I am still a member to date because I have considered the fact that many church members today have biblical knowledge but have never known what it means to walk humbly with the Lord. In the EARF, brokenness and contrition is emphasized because we are mere mortals coming before the immortal God and so can only declare the truth of the gospel in a humble, contemplative way.

  12. Andrew

    Hi Wes,
    God bless you so much for this research. I am Rwandese, and i feel proud when i here that EA revival started in my country, but i also feel ashamed when i remember the genocide which happended, again in my country. I can say that when the devil saw the revival, he felt so bad about it. So, he worked through those who were influential in Ruanda (now Rwanda)-especially Belgians and some corrupt few, so that what used to be the source of revival to the region, can become the source of refugees to the region (1959-immediately after the revival), and the source of dead bodies to the region through rivers and lakes (1994 genocide). God didn’t forget, though. He is the one who had brought that revival and many gave their lives to Christ during and after that time. The same God is still able to do even more. In fact, i am seeing many signs of it happening again. People with the full of Word of God, Holy Spirit and discipline, Missionaries across the region both from Rwanda and the region. I can say that, few years after many years of darkness and tears in the country, the gospel in Rwanda is back on track, and it has already started to spread again. Finally, i thank very much missionaries from Europe (especially UK) and USA, for the the great contribution to all the revivals in the world (especially in Africa)-You preached the gospel to God’s people, He will keep rewarding and blessing you more and more. Amen!

  13. Glory be to Jesus, I’m proud to be part of what the lord did in Uganda ,Rwanda and other countries around. I teach about Revival All over the world.Last year, even this year , I told the people in USA about this revival and hundreds of them prayed and asked the lord to restore the church in its position. Let us pray that the Church may reposition its self. Let us not forget that Satan is at work. He is real and present,looking for someone he may devour, let us talk about sin and confess our sins, not necessarily in public but we shouldnt forget about sin because its real.
    We shouldn’t still be in bondage because the blood of Jesus washed us clean and we are nolonger slaves to sin.
    Tebaliko musango abo abali mumukama waffe Yesu.

  14. Field Lily

    We need another global revival such as this one. I read about the ones in the west, and didn’t realize until recently it was not only the west, but Africa, China. We need a world wide global revival. Nothing is to hard for our God.

  15. Keiru Israel

    Thanks a lot all. Am taking a study research on the late Bishop Kivengere right now, but unable to trace a man who fathered him into ministry. Any help on this, I will be appreciative (Use my email above). God bless!

  16. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon on a daily
    basis. It’s always useful to read articles from other writers and practice a little something from their web sites.

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