Photo: Thomas Kemper
Good news and enthusiasm about new opportunities for growth and mission service accompanied two representatives from the recently reunited United Methodist Church in Burundi on a visit to Global Ministries’ headquarters in Atlanta.
In 2005, the Burundi church divided following 12 years of ongoing civil war and unrest after violent coups erupted in the country in 1993 and 1994. As the fighting escalated, many fled the country, finding refuge in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda. Tens of thousands lost their lives.
In August 2017, United Methodists of the two Burundi branches declared their intention to reconcile and reunite as one church at the Comprehensive Africa Task Force meeting of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Bishop Gregory Palmer, chair of the Comprehensive Africa Task Force, said, “There was expression of readiness and overtures of reaching out to one another because, in some cases, people in the same household were aligned to the different groups in the church. The Lord was at work, because people in the two groups had been talking, and they said they were 98 percent toward reconciling.”
In the letter of reconciliation signed by representatives of both groups, United Methodists in Burundi expressed the desire to find a common mission and bright future together.
The Burundi United Methodists held special annual conference as a reunited church in February 2018. Today, the Burundi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church is part of the East Africa Episcopal Area of the Africa Central Conference.
In the unified church, all pastors will be received into the fold and given training. Leaders within Global Ministries, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and the Burundi Annual Conference formed a curriculum development team that has designed and led two of three sessions with 196 pastors. Burundi pastors report experiencing a renewal of their call and an empowerment in their ministry with these new tools and knowledge.
Growth and service
During the Atlanta visit, the Rev. Jean Ntahoturi, the legal representative of the Burundi UMC, and the church’s lay leader, Zephirin Ndkumana, shared plans with Global Ministries for three focus areas for growing a vital church in Burundi.
First, they identified a need to care for members and expand the church’s reach. During the split, some members joined other denominations, but the current leadership believes those members are likely to return and bring others with them. A measure of stability in the country has facilitated the return of a significant portion of the displaced population. The Burundi church has set a goal to double its membership from 200,000 to 400,000 over the next five years.
Second, the church has identified areas of service that need expansion, including health ministries, education and programs that address food security.
The third area of focus is structural and operational. Ntahoturi and Ndkumana expressed a need for better human resources, financial reporting and institutional accountability across the reunited church.
This Advent season, you can help the Burundi UMC in its efforts toward building on its reconciliation and growing its ranks. Support peace in this newly reconstituted church with a generous gift.
House is the senior writer/editor for Global Ministries, Mission Engagement. With thanks to Eveline Chikwanah, the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference Communicator, for quotes from her 2017 story on the Comprehensive Africa Task Force meeting.
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