AU Grad Strengthens Church Unity in Burundi

A special Burundi Annual Conference session, held Feb. 5-7 in Gitega, sealed the deal on coveted and elusive unity for United Methodists in this East African nation.

For 12 years, the church in Burundi had two centers of power: one led by the Rev. Lazare Bankurunaze and the other by the Rev. Justin Nzoyisaba. The two factions had contended for control of church affairs since the death of Bishop Alfred J. Ndoricimpa in 2005.

From left to right: Bishop Daniel Wandabula, Mr. Zepherin Ndikumana (AU pioneer graduate), Rev. Jean Ntahoturi, and Bishop John Yambasu. In May 2017, the Rev. Jean Ntahoturi, a graduate of Africa University, was elected the new legal representative of The United Methodist Church in Burundi, and social relationships in the church began to thaw.

“The election of a new legal representative … changed the political dynamics in the Burundi Annual Conference. Rev. Ntahoturi had a desire to reconcile the sparring factions in the Burundi Conference, (and he) has a keenness for adhering to the Book of Discipline,” said Bankurunaze.

A reconciliation team comprising one lay and one clergy member from each faction met in Harare, Zimbabwe, in August 2017 for mediation led by West Ohio Bishop Gregory V. Palmer. The result was a memorandum of understanding signed by both parties to operate as “one strong and vital United Methodist Church in Burundi.”

At the annual conference session in February, about 1,500 people filled St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, and others craned their necks through the windows to witness the event. They applauded when Ntahoturi took to the podium.

“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.”

Bishop Daniel Wandabula also spoke at the annual conference and said he was grateful to God for the new leadership.

“It was very good for the church in Burundi to elect a legal representative who loves the Lord, who loves the church and knows the church,” he said. “Rev. Jean Ntahoturi’s knowledge of the church paved the way for dialogue with the opposing camp. As bishop of the area, I am very grateful that the spirit of God was and is at work and the church in Burundi will get to greater heights as they continue working together as a team to make disciples for the transformation of the world.”

Adapted from an article by Tafadzwa Mudambanuki, senior manager of Central Conference Relations at United Methodist Communications.