Joyful singing filled the air in Gitega, Burundi on Saturday, Feb. 29 as 192 pastors graduated from the country’s first Course of Study program. It was a day of celebration, not only for the pastors, but for the entire Burundi Annual Conference, which is recovering after more than a decade of strife.
“Within the past year, we have seen a complete fusion between the two church factions that existed when we started. Students had the opportunity to interact more closely and realized they have the same aspirations and suffer the same pain. In short, they realized they are children of the same mother, who is The United Methodist Church,” said Rev. Jean Ntahoturi, legal representative for The United Methodist Church in Burundi.
For twelve years, The United Methodist Church in Burundi was divided into two factions. During that time, hundreds of pastors were ordained without the specific credentialing required under the Book of Discipline. In 2017, the two factions began a historic reconciliation process and, as part of that movement, they set a goal to provide theological education to all pastors ordained during that 12-year period.
The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) – together with colleagues in Burundi, the General Board of Global Ministries, the Virginia Annual Conference and the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio – raised funds for and developed a Burundi-specific Course of Study program for those pastors.
The first Burundi Course of Study classes took place in the spring of 2019 and concluded with the February graduation ceremony. The program incorporated all the standard pillars of United Methodist pastoral education, while also providing training and discussions that are specific to Burundi’s context and the needs of the Church.
“I was baptizing infants before, but now the number of children that have been baptized has increased after teaching the congregation that infants and children are part of God’s family through the Sacrament of Baptism. Now the congregation understands, that to be fully engaged in God’s Ministry, one needs to be baptized,” said Rev. Mbonabuca Julien, a new Course of Study graduate and pastor in Gitega, Burundi.
Bishop Daniel Wandabula, Resident Bishop of the East Africa Episcopal Area, was encouraged by the great faith and conviction he saw from the Course of Study graduates.
“I did not attend the classes with the pastors, but I was so happy to see them graduate and give testimonies through speech, song and action. I particularly saw the determination they had to go out after the training and make disciples of Jesus Christ,” said Wandabula. “This is what was most meaningful to me. As Church leaders, Christ has called us and sent us out to preach His word and make disciples. This is what the training should do – equip our pastors. I am confident that this Course of Study program has done it well.”
The Course of Study program offered a flexible education option so pastors could continue serving in their ministries full time, even as they completed their studies. GBHEM arranged for distinguished instructors from African United Methodist theological institutions and the wider UM connection to teach different portions of the course. The agency also helped establish an accelerated timeline that allowed students to complete their courses in a year.
“I was honored to be a part of some of the first courses that took place in 2019, and our agency is excited to see how these pastors are already using their new training to impact their communities. The example set in Burundi will allow us to further expand and adapt our ministerial training for contexts around the world,” said Rev. Shannon Conklin-Miller, associate general secretary of GBHEM’s Division of Ordained Ministry.
The United Methodist Church already has more than 200,000 members in Burundi and it is growing rapidly. Church leaders hope the Course of Study program will not only help those already serving as local pastors but will inspire others who may be considering a life in ministry.
“Following the ‘Church and Community Development’ course, I am going to urge my fellow pastors and parishioners not only to focus on spiritual growth but also the whole being through community development. This will be helpful to my ministry in the future,” said Rev. Nduwimana Marthe, a recent graduate and pastor in the Cankuzo District of Burundi.
In his final remarks at the graduation ceremony, Ntahoturi urged graduates to embrace their roles as leaders and use their education to build faith and strengthen their communities.
“This is your church,” he said. “Always be aware that every step you make as individuals will always aggregate and add up to building a powerful and respected United Methodist Church.”
About GBHEM: The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry embraces the ministry of learning and leadership formation in The United Methodist Church and Wesleyan tradition; serving Christians around the world who are shaped by a process of intellectual engagement, spiritual and character formation, and leadership development. We cultivate a dynamic culture of call and vocational discernment that encourages lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in God’s ministry and mission for the Church, the academy and the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.