Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bible College

John Gee, a member of the Diocese of Edmonton, is currently in Burundi, working in the Diocese of Buye for a three-month stint. We welcome this guest post to the blog.

The Diocese of Buye has operated a Bible college since the 1930s. Originally it served a catchment area including all of Burundi, Rwanda, and the eastern Congo, and was funded by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in England. CMS discontinued its funding a few years ago, but the need for the college is as great as ever. With nearly 300 congregations, the diocese has a great and ongoing need for clergy, and the available alternatives for theological education are few. The nearest accredited Anglican seminaries are in Uganda and Kenya and the cost of going there is prohibitive for most Burundians.

This year, thanks to funding from the Diocese of Edmonton, the college is able to operate at its full capacity of 28 students for the first time in many years. Three of the students are women, which is the highest representation ever. Three of the men are in their third year and, God willing, will be ordained deacon next spring; all the others are in their first year. They are all experienced catechists from parishes throughout the diocese. Catechists are somewhat similar to lay readers and are a key component of the church in Africa, where there are never enough ordained pastors to conduct weekly services at all of the churches. Most of them are married with children, so coming to Buye for full-time education represents a considerable personal sacrifice.

The curriculum includes scripture, theology, church history, homiletics, liturgy, and pastoral training, as well as practical subjects including English, French, mathematics, health, and music. There are two full-time instructors plus a number of diocesan clergy (including the bishop) who teach individual courses. A careful process of discernment takes place throughout the three years of course work and summer placements. Some of the students will likely return to their parishes after one year as well-trained catechists; others who are found to have a vocation to the priesthood will stay for two more years and be ordained.

The college is an integral part of the Buye Hill complex which also includes the cathedral, hospital, secondary school, and residences for the bishop and other clergy, who have already noticed the renewed energy from having 28 highly committed students on site. All of them have asked me to convey their thanks to the Diocese of Edmonton for its help, which has come at a critical time and will make a lasting difference for the Diocese of Buye.


John Gee, a member of the Diocese of Edmonton, recently returned from Burundi, working in the Diocese of Buye for a three-month stint. We welcome this guest post to the blog.
In the Diocese of Buye, development is considered an integral part of Christian mission. Ministry here addresses the whole person; if people's bodily needs aren't being met, their spiritual life also suffers. It isn't primarily a matter of providing direct assistance to the poor, although that can be important, but of providing them with the tools to improve their lives. Rev. Jean Berchmans, the diocesan development coordinator, looks at his projects as signs of Christ's kingdom already in existence but not yet fully revealed.

Teaching Literacy
The Mothers' Union (the equivalent of our Anglican Church Women) operates programs in adult literacy and savings and credit which are open to both men and women of all faith traditions. The literacy curriculum uses participatory learning methods, with content based on life issues including HIV, gender violence, poverty, equity, maternal health, and care for the environment. Graduates of the literacy program are encouraged to participate in savings and credit groups. These groups use a “lending circle” microfinance model that incorporates savings as well as loans. Each member makes a set weekly contribution to the fund, which then provides selected members with loans for microbusiness as well as emergency assistance with family issues. In addition to combating poverty, this method builds a sense of community and fellowship among group members. They also learn business skills including marketing, planning, financial management, and the legalities of forming an organization.

Another key aspect of development is food security. The diocese operates a program that supports farmers to grow sorghum, a nutritious and drought-resistant crop. It ensures that they can feed their families adequately and also provides a source of cash income: there is a ready market for sorghum for use in making beer. Another program distributes livestock (goats or cows) to community members as a source of dietary protein and, just as importantly, of fertilizer to maintain Burundi's excellent but overused soil. Dairy cows are distributed to pastors to supplement their very small stipends; the calves are in turn passed on to other pastors so that the program is self-sustaining.

A third key area is water and sanitation. Burundi is rich in ground water, but the natural springs are easily contaminated by livestock and poor sanitary practices. The result is a great deal of illness and death from water-borne infections, particularly for children. The diocese has perfected a method of improving the springs by installing a simple filtration system, plumbing, a concrete headworks, and protective fencing so that the water is kept clean and safe to drink. It also tastes good! The church also sets up a village committee to ensure the spring is maintained. An investment of around $1000 Canadian can provide a village with safe drinking water indefinitely.


You can also read about the experiences of previous delegations from the Diocese of Edmonton, who learned about development projects including literacy classes, and microfinance groups (here and here).