Despite usual hardships and renewed political tensions in the country, Sunday, August 21st was a joyful day in Bujumbura, Burundi, as the Assemblée des chrétiens unitariens du Burundi (ACUB) dedicated its brand new church building (the first UU church built in East Africa) and ordained its first minister, the Rev. Ndagijimana Fulgence.
Rev. Ndagijimana is a former Dominican novitiate and current program manager with the UK-based NGO CORD, working on issues of conflict resolution and re-integration of former rebels into Burundian society.
Numbering nearly 70 members, the Bujumbura congregation has grown steadily since its founding six years ago. With their American partner church, People’sChurch of Kalamazoo, MI, they have initiated several projects to help build the civil society of Burundi, address local needs and raise the visibility of liberal religion in Burundi and the surrounding region. One of these is a micro-lending program which serves around 60 families, including training in basic accounting and literacy. With help and support from other American and European UU’s a cottage industry in palm-oil soap production has also been established.
One of the top three priorities emerging from the workshop was the building of a church home, so the ACUB asked their Kalamazoo partner church to help. Between July 2010 and the dedication of the building last month, nearly $30,000 was raised from the partner church and several other North American and European congregations, plus a $15,000 loan, which allowed design and construction to proceed on schedule. (Contributions to help repay the loan are still welcomed!). Partner Church minister and ICUU program coordinator the Rev. Jill McAllister was able to participate in the dedication ceremony and had the honor of helping to ordain the new minister.
The new church building is located in the Kanyosha neighborhood of Bujumbura, a growing ‘suburb,’ which experiences many of the problems associated with rural migration to the city. Domestic violence rates in this area are some of the highest in the country, and as a way of immediately settling into their new home, the congregation has undertaken another joint project with their partner church which will address domestic violence by designing and offering relationship and anger management training for men.
The Bujumbura congregation has also already inspired and supported several satellite UU groups in other Burundian towns and in Kigali, Rwanda. Together with a growing UU congregation in Congo Brazzaville, the ACUB has initiated the creation of a regional, French-speaking East African UU network, the ASSOCIATION UNITARIENNE FRANCOPHONE AFRICAINE (AUFA) which hopes to work in partnership with a coalition of North American congregations in support of francophone African UUism in general. Harry Seymour, a member of the UU Society of Ridgewood, N.J and also a supporter of the ACUB who was able to attend the August events in Bujumbura, will work with Jill McAllister to create a North American coalition and try out this new model of partnership.