On January 17 2018, Laurent Mbanda was elected the fourth Archbishop and Primate of the Province of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, replacing the retired Bishop Onesphore Rwaje.
He was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Shyira in March 2010. He previously served as the vice president for Africa region, Compassion International between 2004 and 2010. Prior to that, he was vice president for programme development at the same organisation from 1997 to 2004.
Transitioning into his new role to serve the Anglican Church, the new Archbishop explained his priorities for his five year term to Sunday Times’ Frederic Byumvuhore.
Give us a brief version of your testimony. Where did the motivation to become a pastor come from?
I don’t think the way I grew up shaped me to become a pastor. I did not really wish to be a pastor. My father was a school teacher. Therefore, I somehow dreamt of either becoming a school teacher or join the army. I wanted to be in the army because I thought this would take me abroad to study.
I did not really want to be a pastor because my father was working in a church-based school, before later on becoming a lay leader in the church. Then, there was no pay. There was a big difference between him and missionaries whom he worked with. I wanted to be in a position where I could help people who are serving God to have a better life because I wanted my father to have a better life.
I grew up in a Christian home but I did not commit my life to Christ until the 1970s. When I committed to Christ I felt a calling to serve God. My whole idea was to work with church organisations but if I could happen to be a pastor I wanted to support myself financially and work to figure out to help pastors live a better life. That was my dream.
What would you say are the substantial achievements of the Anglican Church in Rwanda?
The Anglican Church has significantly contributed in the country. If we go back and look at the achievements, the church has been contributing to education, and health (like Gahini, Kigeme and Shyira hospitals) among other sectors.
The church also tried to uplift the living conditions of the people in the community through creation of saving groups among other social and economic programmes.
It has also been involved in infrastructure development as well as holistic ministry to transform the lives of people spiritually.
What other areas do you think still need more focus to accelerate the development of the church and followers?
The church still needs to equip its leaders. We need to train and equip pastors well. We also need to continue evangelism because many people need repentance and to come to Christ. We really want to bring integrity, transparency, and accountability to manage human and financial resources in the church.
We have started many schools but we need to expand and focus on early childhood education, the first five years of a child are so critical when it comes to human development. The issue of sustainability of human and financial development matters a lot, which includes developing the capacity of pastors.
Establishing early childhood centres at every Anglican Church in the country and a university in 2019 are among top priorities in your vision? How will these be implemented and why are they necessary?
We should learn from the past. Early Childhood programme is something that was in my heart, growing up as a refugee. We have to increase the number of the centres to accelerate the development of Rwandan children at an early age. We have church buildings but they are used on Sunday. I would like to see them open for use from Monday to Friday for the children mission.
The house of Bishops has decided on an independent Board for the University under the name East African Christian University. It will be based in Kicukiro District. We have chosen five areas to start with like Public Health, Community Development, Education, Leadership development and Theology. The university will be open to all Rwandans among others from neighbouring countries.
What are your main priorities in terms of improving church members’ welfare?
True transformation and development is what happens in the mind and heart of a person. The scripture in Corinthians 5:17 says that when we receive Christ we become a new creature, the old is gone, the new has come. Christ transforms people’s values, the way they think, and work.
Teaching the word of God will impact people’s lives economically and spiritually. We should support people from the grass roots so that they are able to contribute to the church and country.
A new law that among other things spelled out minimum education requirements for preachers of the word of God was recently enacted. What are your insights about this law?
I have not read the law deeply yet. I heard about the debates but I am among the people who strongly believe that pastors, and leaders should be trained, and given the necessary tools in order to be able to lead churches and minster to the people.
Having a degree is a must.
We have challenges in our resources but we have to train our leaders. Also, the law asks churches to have bank accounts in accredited banks. Is that a problem, really?
We have to make sure that people worship from safe places and I will work for Anglican to meet the requirements. It is for our own safety. We should not have waited for the government to ask us.
Faith Based Organisations are coming up with a regulatory body, what do you expect from the body?
Yes, Catholic Church, Islam, Conseil des Eglise Protestant au Rwanda, Anglican Church, and Peace Plan came together to establish Rwanda Inter-Faith Council. We need a place where we sit together and discuss our own issues.
A similar body exits in many other countries. It is we, churches, who have to intervene in our own issues and context rather than the government reminding us what to do.
Under the council, we can advise the government, be a voice for the voiceless, and advocate. Soon, we shall submit the requirement to Rwanda Governance Board for registration.
The Catholic Church has asked Government to help change school terms due to extreme weather during the dry season, what does Anglican Church think about it?
The Catholic Church is being a voice for other church members. Many people have been requesting this and Catholic Church is advocating for the people. It is a common request and we are still waiting for the results.
Some couples in the country are cohabiting, what do you think is the main reason and if the Anglican Church faces the same challenge, how will you tackle it.
Cohabitating is a sin and it is an opportunity for the church to teach such couples.
We have seen many couples commit to legalise their marriage as a result of the gospel. All churches in Rwanda should intervene and help them to repent.
The increasing number of new churches has attracted many critics. It is said that this is related to internal conflicts among leaders, and that their preaching is misleading. Isn’t this destroying the credibility of churches?
Church conflicts are not new. They have been there and the history of the church shows that. In the church, there are people with jealousy, and different understanding and this may be the cause of such conflicts.