African revival unites community with song, dance, prayer

Saturday, October 1, 2011 | 9:25 p.m. CDT
An attendee stands and prays during a song at the African Church revival at First Baptist Church on Saturday night. The revival, which is held in Columbia twice a year, welcomes African immigrants from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It continues until midnight Sunday, and it is open to the public.

COLUMBIA — As soothing, Christian music in the language of Kinyamulenge played in the background, Rainbow Kamanzai, 14, snapped her fingers and swayed as she listened to her cousin, Jolie Neema, sing on the stage.

In her long, vibrant green African tribal dress, she walked to the stage to join Neema for the chorus.


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The two were rehearsing for the African revival, a religious gathering that features song, dance and prayer, held at the First Baptist Church fellowship hall Saturday evening.

More than 50 people attended, including refugees and immigrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. In addition, 10 guests from Chicago were also invited to attend.

The revival takes place twice a year and is organized by Pastor Nene Rwenyaguza of the First Baptist Church. The event is planned to last from Saturday evening until Sunday, said Rubin Mazimano, a singer and pianist at the revival.

Mazimano, who is from Rwanda, came to the United States in 2003 because of a tribal war in his country. He moved to Columbia with his parents two years later and has been attending community college ever since.

“Columbia is a good place; there are many good universities,” he said. “I want to transfer to MU for nursing school one day.”

Mazimano has been going to the church’s Sunday African worship service since 2009. He said attending revival is always exciting.

“Part of the revival is to strengthen ourselves; it’s hard to be a Christian nowadays with all the temptations outside,” he said.

Revival also brings new experiences to people and gathers everyone together, Mazimano said.

“People who are here today came from the same place, but we’re now separated in different states in America,” he said. “But because of revival, we’re together again; it’s like home.”

“Akuna!” Dollar Namanyaha, one of the singers, said on the stage. Akuna, a Swahili word that means “nothing’s like God" echoed in the hall as the cheering crowd joined in.  

Rwenyaguza stood up and said in Kinyamulenge: “If you’re able to stand up, please do so, so we can all sing together.”

The audience stood up, clapped and moved to the fast-paced, spirited song.

Women who wore the traditional African tribal outfits cheered with high-pitched voices as their colorful, eye-catching dresses moved from one side to the other.

Swinging, stepping, skipping and clapping — as the music got faster, everyone in the room showed unconcealed enthusiasm and danced along to the accelerated rhythm.

Rwenyaguza, who goes by Pastor Nene, also fled from Congo’s civil war and came to Columbia three years ago. He said it’s a wonderful feeling seeing so many people worship God together.

“I preach all my life,” Rwenyaguza said. “I’m very happy to be here because we can see each other, sing in one language; we’re free.”  

Some MU students attended on behalf of Step Up! Mizzou, an association that aims to empower refugees and immigrants in the Columbia area.

Dan Kordenbrock, a graduate student studying law as well as the vice president of the organization, said he studied abroad in Rwanda three summers ago and has been determined to lend a hand to the local African community since then.

The law school student, who had never attended a revival before, said it was absolutely inspiring.

“I enjoyed it so much; it has given me positive energy seeing how they have been through a lot and are still going strong,” he said. “I think it’s a good way for them to maintain the culture in Columbia as well.”  

The revival will continue until midnight Sunday at the same location. The public is welcomed to attend and participate.

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