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Fire in My Bones, by J. Lee Grady

The people of Uganda call it Balokole. In the Luganda language it means “the saved ones,” but the word became synonymous with the East African Revival—one of the most significant Christian movements in modern history.

This revival had humble beginnings in September 1929, just before America’s Great Depression. Historians trace it to a prayer meeting on Namirembe Hill in Kampala, Uganda, where a missionary to Rwanda, Joe Church, prayed and read the Bible for two days with his friend Simeoni Nsibambi. They felt God had showed them that the African church was powerless because of a lack of personal holiness.

“We must have a spiritual awakening, or we die. Political engineering, economic policies, government bailouts and stimulus packages will not save us.”

It is impossible to explain exactly what happened after this prayer meeting or how the resulting spiritual fervor spread. When God comes, unusual things happen. Within weeks after the Rev. Church returned to Gahini, Rwanda, Christians gathered to pray and confess their sins openly. A heavy spirit of conviction fell on the people. Whenever they repented for their sins and failures they would weep uncontrollably, ask others to forgive them and pledge to make restitution.

The weeping spread to farmlands and open fields. Unbelievers who visited these gatherings were converted after they witnessed the sincerity of the Christians. Repentance went deep. Husbands publicly apologized for adultery and farmers repented for stealing cows from each other. Eventually, as the revival spread from Rwanda to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi, even the centuries-old tradition of polygamy (which was still common among professing Christians) was unraveled in some areas.

Balokole changed African Christianity forever. In a 1986 article for Christian History, Michael Harper writes of the revival: “It’s effects have been more lasting than almost any other revival in history, so that today there is hardly a single Protestant leader in East Africa who has not been touched by it in some way.”

I spent the past two weeks ministering in Uganda and Kenya, and everywhere I went I met people who still talk about the East African Revival—80 years after it began. It breathed resurrection power into dead, traditional churches and triggered aggressive church-planting movements that affected a variety of denominations.

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