With all the talk of division and separation in our church and society, it’s heartening to know that there are places where United Methodists are coming together.
Next Friday I’m getting on a plane for my first trip to Africa. I got the call about 6 weeks ago when the Burundi United Methodist Church announced the sessions for a Course of Study program for about 200 of its pastors. Thanks to a partnership between the Virginia Conference, Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, I’ll be the first of a number of instructors to travel to the central African country. We’ll each go for short sessions to train the pastors over a two year period.
The reason for the crash course in the basics of pastoral leadership is exciting—after 12 years of division, the Burundi United Methodists have reunited. The division dates back to 2005 when Bishop Alfred J. Ndoricimpa died and two rival leaders both sought to control church affairs. A recent agreement led to a special Annual Conference in February 2018 and a plan to offer training to the many pastors who have not had any formal studies because of the divide.
During my 10 days in Bujumbura, Burundi I’ll be teaching Reformation and Wesleyan background. I’ll teach three classes of about 60-70 students over the course of 12 hour days. I will speak English. The pastors will speak Kirundi. We will all depend on an interpreter who will also be in the class.
There has been a lot of talk in the wake of the Called General Conference about the growing African church and its influence in the larger United Methodist connection. I will look forward to talking with African United Methodists—sharing a little of my heritage as a Euro-American Methodist and learning how the Holy Spirit is still at work in places far from my own cultural experience.
At that reuniting conference, 1500 people filled to overflowing St. Peter’s Church in Gitega, Burundi, according to United Methodist News Service (UMNS). Others peered in through windows from the outside as the Rev. Jean Ntahoturi, the newly recognized leader and representative of the East Africa Area bishop, spoke.
“We Burundians had destroyed our own home for 12 years. We are now going to stand up as Burundians and show the world and the general church of the UMC that by the grace of God we can restore the church for the glory of God,” Ntahoturi said, to the shouts of “God is good all the time.”
The visiting bishop from Sierra Leone, Bishop John K. Yambasu, president of the Africa College of Bishops, said in the UMNS article, “It appears all over the world people are building walls. I am delighted the walls that divided the church in Burundi have been pulled down.”
I long to see the hopeful sign of the Burundian Church and perhaps to bring back some of the spirit that was in that church that day. I look forward to sharing the story of more of God’s Good News when I return.