By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? Psalm 137: 1, 4
When Gérard Nsabimana fled his beloved country of Burundi in 1995 at the age of 21 because of internecine warfare, little did he know that he would not be able to return to his home village of Musongati to live. He has remained in exile for 23 years now and has had to grieve the deaths of relatives and friends from distant shores. And yet, Gérard's response to the Psalmist's plaintive cry is, "I will sing with great fervor and reverence!"
Gérard grew up in the Methodist church. His late father was a United Methodist pastor, and his mother still attends the church that her late husband pastored for 39 years until his untimely death. Thus, Gérard knew of Africa University long before enrolling in 1997 because one of the first students to attend and graduate from the new university, Zephirin Ndikumana, was a member of his father's church.
After fleeing Burundi, Gérard lived in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in a transit refugee camp in Tanzania before enrolling at Africa University in 1997 with the assistance of the late Bishop Jean Alfred Ndoricimpa. Although he spoke three languages fluently---Kirundi, French, and Kiswahili---he spent his first year in the Intensive English Program to learn English, which he now speaks fluently. After graduating from Africa University in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture and natural resources with an emphasis in horticulture, Gérard enrolled in the graduate program at Oklahoma State University (OSU) with the assistance of Rev. Charles Ellinwood and his now late wife, Susanna. The Ellinwoods had befriended him his first year at Africa University, had embraced him as one of their own children, and had kept in touch with him during his matriculation.
While enrolled in the graduate program at OSU, Gérard interned at the Wesley Foundation. After completing his graduate studies and earning his Master of Science degree in agricultural economics in 2005, he was immediately hired by the OSU Wesley Foundation as its coordinator of international student ministries. Gérard said that he had been ignoring the call to the ordained ministry for a long time. However, everything changed in 2007 when he received word from Burundi that his mother was gravely ill. Determined that he would not grieve the death of another close relative from afar, he returned to Burundi and sat vigil at his mother's hospital bedside. It was while ministering to his mother during her illness that Gérard decided he could no longer ignore the call to ministry.
After his mother's health improved and he returned to the United States, Gérard enrolled in the graduate program at Duke Divinity School (Durham, NC) in 2008. He was awarded the Master of Divinity degree in 2011. Gérard has been senior pastor at First United Methodist Church (Stroud, Oklahoma) since June 2014. He is grateful to The United Methodist Church, Africa University, and the many individuals whom God placed in his path along his faith journey. His dream is to return to his beloved country with his wife Alina and their three daughters to be of service in the development of Burundi. Until that happens, he will continue to serve and praise God in this new land.
Gérard is the first Africa University graduate to be inducted into the Richard E. "Dick" Reeves Legacy Society. In 2017, James and Lou Ann McKimmy of Rapid City, Michigan, endowed a scholarship in Gérard's honor to celebrate his many accomplishments despite overwhelming odds.
Elaine Jenkins, director of planned giving, Africa University Development Office
A World Service Special Gift is a designated financial contribution made by an individual, local church, organization, district or annual conference to a project authorized as such by the Connectional Table. Current World Service Special Gifts projects include the Africa University Endowment Fund, the Leonard Perryman Communications Scholarship for Ethnic Minority Students, the Methodist Global Education Fund, the National Anti-Gambling Project and the Lay Missionary Planting Network.