Pie Ntukamazina: Reconciliation is a discipline
If the church does not take part in poverty reduction and ignorance reduction, then people will continue to suffer, says a Burundian Anglican bishop and co-founder of Light University.
July 19, 2011 | Burundi, a country in the Great Lakes region of East Africa, was in the midst of a long civil war in August 2004 when a four-vehicle convoy carrying the Rev. Pie Ntukamazina, the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Bujumbura, was confronted by armed rebels.
The gunmen robbed the bishop and his 22 traveling companions, set fire to their vehicles, and held them captive in the nearby countryside.
Soon, other gunmen arrived and shot at the rebels in a firefight, allowing Ntukamazina and his companions to flee on foot. Ntukamazina found a hiding spot in the bushy scrubland. He remained there for much of the night.
When an unknown group of armed men arrived early the next morning, Ntukamazina climbed a mango tree, called out and identified himself. They invited him to come down, and then released him and his convoy.
Later, Ntukamazina met the men who had abducted him and asked them, “Why did you hijack me?”
“We didn’t know you, Bishop,” they said.
Today, Ntukamazina calls his abductors friends. “In one sense, reconciliation is when people were enemies in the past and they have come together to be friends in the present,” he said.
Ntukamazina has been the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Bujumbura since 1990, and he has worked on peace and justice initiatives in East Africa, such as the Anglican Communion’s Peace and Justice Network, the Peace Center-Giramahoro and the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation’s African Great Lakes Initiative.
He is also the dean of the faculty of theology at Light University of Bujumbura, which he co-founded. The private university opened with 250 students in 2000. Since then, it has awarded nearly 1,300 degrees and today enrolls more than 3,500 students.
Ntukamazina spoke with Faith & Leadership about Light University, his role as a bishop in Burundi, and the discipline of reconciliation. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: What do you see as your role as a bishop in Burundi, especially as it comes out of a long civil war?
My role as a church leader is to proclaim Jesus Christ as the savior of life and to also equip my community to be transformed and to be made whole.
By wholeness I mean to equip communities spiritually, socially and physically. In Burundi, as in the rest of the African continent, we are suffering from poverty and also from ignorance.
Equipping communities as a church leader does not involve only proclaiming the gospel, but it includes accompanying my communities in poverty reduction and ignorance reduction. We have to take part in educating and enabling our communities to know their rights.
In Burundi, we have been in a political crisis for more than 15 years. As a leader and as a bishop, I have to speak for the voiceless people. I have to participate in advocating for communities for the rights they don’t have and yet they should -- advocating for people, especially in the area of having the rights to education, having the rights to medical assistance, having the right to land, and having the right to vote and not to be so manipulated by politicians.
I know this sounds more political than any pastoral approach, but if the church is not taking part in civic education, then people will continue to suffer.
We also have to do the training of the trainers who will be able to train others. So we have to do development, but development doesn’t mean that it’s just looking for money. It’s a change of mind so that people can know what fits them, what do they need, what is their identity, and what are they looking for, and how they can relate to each other to be able to have a force to alleviate poverty and ignorance.
And we focus on the family. By this focus on the family, keep in mind that God has created three institutions -- that is, family, our nation and our church. As a church leader, I have to make sure that those three institutions are secured. And to make them secured is a very, very big question, which does not only involve me as a church leader, but I also have to plant seeds.
Q: How has the experience of being adbucted influenced your leadership?
That was a sad event, but something good came out of it. I spent a whole night in the bush. I remember in my prayer that night asking God a question: “Has my mission for reconciliation ended?” But my question did not end there. I asked another question to God: “If I happen to survive and be saved, what then would you like me to do next?” And I think this is what I’m doing.
After that, there were so many things that took place. One of them is the Great Lakes Initiative, which had not started at that time. Also, other church leaders and I accompanied the government in transitional leadership and helped to come up with a cease-fire.
I met those who hijacked me afterwards, and I asked them a question: “Why did you hijack me?” They said, “We didn’t know you, Bishop.”
This coincides with the question that is mentioned in the Bible, “I was thirsty and you didn’t give me water. I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food,” and the people who answer with, “We didn’t know that you were around.” And the Lord said, “If you didn’t do it for the least of those, you didn’t do it for me.”
So in one sense, reconciliation is when people were enemies in the past and they have come together to be friends in the present. And those people are my friends.