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Out of the Fire

Hope exists for a lasting peace in Burundi

Burundi – While a hope exists for a lasting peace through the coming elections in October 2004, the Church of the Province of Burundi has been working extensively with the country’s communities to ensure that the hope remains strong through a Christian spirit of co-operation.

Talking with the Rt Revd Martin Blaise Nyaboho in Nairobi earlier this year at a Mission and Evangelism Conference, the Bishop highlighted the challenges that the church had faced. “The Church has been working and growing, despite going through fire,” said Bishop Nyaboho. “The civil war, which has been ongoing for many years has caused incredible damage to the country’s infrastructure, eroded trust among its people, and displaced millions. In such an environment, you would expect the church to crumble; but through the constant efforts of its congregations and leaders the Anglican Church has been at the forefront of many social initiatives, given people reasons to stay together, and offered opportunities for reconciliation.”

The current crisis – which is now nearing its end with some 97% of Burundi enjoying peace – started in October 1993 with the death of the country’s president. The Anglican Church, which numbers 500,000 out of the country’s seven million population, lost many of its parishioners, with large numbers fleeing to neighbouring countries. The effect could have been catastrophic. “Initially, the Church felt paralysed. Its building were destroyed, its members killed or fled, to say nothing of the feeling of hopelessness caused by the conflict,” he continued. “But despite the fear and despair the Church remained and persisted with its message.” At the height of the war, Bishop Nyaboho even held Church services in the road, bringing people together in the middle of the countryside because the towns and villages were sometimes too dangerous.

“Ironically, the trauma that Burundi has gone through has started to show positive effects. The refugees have evangelised those that they fled to, new churches are springing up as those previously shattered communities restore meaning to their lives – we will even create a new diocese next year,” he continued. “But one of the major aspects of the revival has been the new energy that Church members have given to theological education.” He stressed that education was vital to train priests not only to lead the reconciliation process, but also to go beyond this to meet the challenges that Burundi had so far not been able to tackle – such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the successful propagation of Islam from religious scholars from abroad. “We now see young people responding to God’s call against these challenges, with them taking evangelism into new territory. And they are supported– as ever – by the valiant work of the Mother’s Union. There are school, hospital, and home visits, with a strong emphasis on community care.”

The Episcopal Church of Burundi had its origins in the 1930’s through the success of missionaries from Uganda and Rwanda, with its first converts from the country’s rural areas. Initially scattered, the 30-year missionary work, which centred on medical assistance and education, led to the creation of the first diocese, Buye, in 1965 with a Burundian as Bishop. The second diocese was created in 1975. As the province reached five dioceses by the early 1990’s the Church was given provincial status. It now has more than 150 parishes and some 170 clergy. Its Primate is the Most Revd Samuel Ndayisenga, who is also the Bishop of Buye diocese.

Currently the Arusha Peace Agreement is being implemented with ex-combatants being progressively reintegrated into a national army. The interim government is gearing itself up for formal elections whilst endorsing local political consultations and negotiations on the new constitution, electoral procedures, and on the structure of the first post-transitional government. “The Church in Burundi wishes to thank everyone who gave us support, whether moral or material, and we also thank God for that” Bishop Martin concluded. “I ask all of you to keep the Episcopal Church of Burundi on their prayer lists and at the forefront of your thoughts.”

Communion in Mission 2006
by Michael Craske
Anglican Episcopal World Trinitytide 2004