As a churchman and an educator, I look often at the relationship we at Hope Africa University enjoy with the Free Methodist Church of Burundi. I believe there is a fruitful synergy, some of which can only be intuited and not measured.
Alliance Niyukuri graduated with Hope Africa University’s first class of medical doctors. (Photo by Jason Archer)
The foundational fact is the Hope Africa University is a Free Methodist school. When the university moved to Burundi 10 years ago, the church welcomed it and granted five acres in a suburb of the capital city. The Board of Governors is a Free Methodist board, and the school is accountable to it for its performance.
Happily, the church is a live and growing church. In the past five years, it has added 37,204 baptized members and has a presence in every part of Burundi. The total baptized membership is 138,931. The total Free Methodist community would likely number around 250,000, which would mean that one in every 32 citizens of this country is related to the Free Methodist Church.
I am specific in saying “baptized members” because this figure is no light figure. To be baptized in this church, beginning with a confession of faith, the candidate is processed through two levels of membership classes before baptism. The candidates at each stage are recognized before the church and must answer the questions for membership at the end of Stage 2 when their baptism date is announced. I suspect that one-third to one-half of the 20-some district superintendents are graduates, or students, or part-time teachers at the university. Of the nearly 2,000 graduates of the university, a large proportion is made up of Free Methodists with good jobs who are able to pay tithes and offerings to the church and support students at the university. Many fill key lay positions throughout local churches and at the conference and general conference level.
There is also the credibility factor of what the medical ministry — at Kibuye Hope Hospital and at the Van Norman Clinic — contributes to the reputation and public awareness of the church to which the ministry is related. The medical ministry — demonstrating the investment of the church in healing after the model of Jesus — says much about the caring nature of the church. I found this to be true in the past when traveling in Rwanda. I would ask at the border post if anyone there had ever been treated at Kibogora. I never failed to find one. I would then ask, “Were you treated well?” The answer was invariably an enthusiastic yes. I find the same here (sometimes loud and dramatic), in personal testimonies of former patients from our facilities. Now we are multiplying doctors, graduates of the Frank Ogden School of Medicine (seven graduating two days ago as I write this). They were sworn in using a Christian version of the Hippocratic Oath. More care, more service, more witness, more of what Jesus would do.
It cannot be quantified but I know the university, through its varied effects, makes regular and substantial contributions to the kingdom of God through the leadership, health and body of the church, in one of the neediest parts of the world.
The Christians pray for the school and its branches, recruit and send students, and fill many key positions in the university. Many also are the assurances of prayers we receive personally from all levels of the church.
I would guess that the Free Methodist Church of Burundi may be unique in that it has the “Anthem of the Free Methodist Church of Burundi.” Here is a translation of it:
Be praised Lord God.
Praise to you who are holy.
You love the people of Burundi whom you created,
And sent messengers to us who are yours,
Who brought light to enlighten the Burundi people,
And those who believed received salvation.
May we bear the fruit of love,
And follow Jesus speaking the good news.
May we live in peace with all people and be forgiving.
May we proclaim your word,
The Word of Salvation, which frees us from our chains.
May we be light in Burundi,
And may it spread in Africa,
And give light to the whole world.
May we bear the fruit of love,
And show to others the light to bring them out of darkness.
In hardship and blessing, may we of the light never turn back.
May we be cleansed by the blood of Him for whom we wait to take up His church.
We will follow our King.
We will live with the Savior.
We will remain faithful.
To the end of life. Amen!
This is my translation. It is smoother in Kirundi, but I hope I have captured the meanings.
You can see how the relationships I describe enrich the meaning of what we at Hope Africa University do. The university is not limited in its impact to the country of Burundi; in fact it has similar influence in an ever-widening region and beyond. We see this as kingdom work. It is “salt” and “light.” It is God at work!
Bishop Emeritus Gerald E. Bates is the rector of Hope Africa University.
DISCUSSION: Why do you think there are more Free Methodists in Burundi than in the United States, a much larger nation?  Do you pray for Hope Africa University and/or other Free Methodist institutions around the world? 1