IN APRIL 1994, genocide swept over the small African country of Rwanda. Within three months, as many as one million people died. Most were Tutsis, victims of the Hutu-majority government. For many years, fear of ethnic violence had led people to flee their country, especially to neighbouring Burundi. In 1959, the refugees seeking safety there included a five-year-old boy, Laurent Mbanda.
This is the remarkable story of how that boy became Bishop of Shyira in the Anglican Church of Rwanda. It tells how, without money or documents, he sought work and education in Kenya, finding shelter and support with American missionaries. Under their auspices, he went to the United States, scratching money together for education, including a doctorate. He worked for Campus Crusade and then Compassion International, rising to the top of the latter’s bureaucracy, but at the end insisting that he return to head the work in Africa, including Rwanda. It was there, in 2010, that he was elected bishop.
He tells his story as a testimony to the God who will always provide, and whose intervention accompanies every step — a very African belief, both spiritually and culturally. Alongside that, he has, like many who have been refugees, self-determination and an entrepreneurial spirit: he set up a company in the States sending used clothing for sale in Africa, and those same skills are now putting his diocese on a firm footing.
The book illustrates how American missionaries and aid agencies still operate in ways that their European counterparts might describe as “colonial”. It also raises some questions about Anglican ministry, with very little about his ordination and formation.
Perhaps these matter less, given the scale of the problems that he has faced. His overriding concern is for the children, having known what it is to be a hungry and homeless child himself, and above all that they might have hope.
The Rt Revd Michael Doe is Preacher to Gray’s Inn and a former General Secretary of USPG.
From Barefoot to Bishop: A Rwandan refugee’s journey
Changing Lives Press £22.50
Church Times Bookshop £20.25