A church in Norwich is learning from the experiences of Christians 6,000 miles away, as two congregations come together to study the scriptures over Zoom. Rev Dr Fiona Haworth explains more about Christian Aid’s Just Scripture project
These days there’s nothing unusual about hosting Bible studies over Zoom. But thanks to a new Christian Aid initiative, congregants from our church in Norwich recently had the chance to study the scriptures with Christians 6,000 miles away in Burundi.
The project, which is entitled 'Just Scripture’ brings together Christians from the global south and the UK to explore issues of justice through the Bible.
Our monthly meetings have been a great opportunity to share with Christians on another continent, to build relationships, and to discover all that unites us in Christ.
I convene the group with Domitien, the pastor of our link church. Sometimes connections are glitchy, here as well as in Burundi, but it is extraordinary to be able to be able to come together this way.
Our contexts are very different, although we are both urban churches; St Peter Mancroft is a city centre church with a gathered, older congregation, and the Rugombo Church in Bujumbura, the largest city in Burundi, has a large congregation of all ages, including working adults and several hundred children, and church plants in rural areas.
We began with a meeting to get to know each other and find out about our contexts. Our friends in Burundi speak very good English, although English only became an official language in Burundi in 2014. Many have French names alongside their Burundian ones. A striking moment in our first meeting was the significance of names in Burundi, many Burundians have names expressing faith or thankfulness towards God, such as Blessing and Gift.
Our first study looked at economic injustice. We always begin by sharing our contexts with each other. Burundi is a very poor country with the majority of the population involved in agriculture, although as the church is based in a city many of the church members have clerical or retail work. They were very surprised to hear about the levels of poverty we have in England, the need for foodbanks and the levels of homelessness, the struggles of many working people with low incomes.
We then look at a passage of scripture together which explores the chosen theme. Our discussion about the passage invites us to share what surprises us, upsets us, or annoys us. We then have a conversation that allows us to ask questions of each other and discover more about how we let the Bible shape our response to issues of injustice.
Our discussion about the passage invites us to share what surprises us, upsets us, or annoys us
One session looked at climate injustice. Burundi is already seeing the climate changing. The rains are more frequent and much heavier which is causing flooding and landslides. Large numbers of people in Burundi have been displaced when their houses have been swept away or collapsed. Farmland has been destroyed with crops lost and livelihoods gone. Domitien spoke about the work of the churches in Burundi in supporting people by providing shelter and aid. One of their church buildings in a rural area collapsed in the very heavy rains of recent times. Over the Pentecost weekend revival meetings were held at the site of the collapsed church.
Domitien shared this news with us: ”This Church of Rugombo, is the one which was destroyed by water, I just have sent you its situation. This time, we had a revival meeting there for encouraging people to come back to the Lord, and others recommitted their lives to Jesus. This revival meeting took three days, from Friday 3 to Sunday 5 June 2022. People there responded to the Lord. People who have been reached in its surrounding and those who came to church, it was reported that 369 people including children gave their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Pastors did this in visiting homes in the surrounding area to share about Christ. We now inform you that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. We are doing our best to bring people back to God, and we always have the passion to serve the Lord in our lifetime and when it is still possible.”
We hear a lot about climate change in the media, but the chance to hear our friends in Burundi speaking about the way in which it is already affecting their lives brings the severity of the climate crisis home. It is moving to hear of their resilience and their commitment to sharing their faith in Jesus in such challenging circumstances.
There have been some differences. We agreed to look at gender justice as one of our topics. In all of our meetings, only men have attended from Burundi, whereas our group from Norwich reflects the makeup of our church with more women than men present. We asked if it would be possible for women to join us, and Domitien asked, but none came. It may be because the timing of our meeting means that women in Burundi are more likely to be involved in preparing food and childcare, but Domitien assured us that society was becoming more equal and opportunities for girls and women are improving in Burundi.
Our most recent meeting was our most moving one to date. Our topic was peace building and trauma healing. We heard from our Burundian friends about the civil war there. Both Domitien and Jerome shared the personal loss and trauma that they have experienced, and the healing that they have found over time and through the healing grace of God. They spoke about the role of churches and politicians in working towards reconciliation through the model provided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. They too have been touched by the war in Ukraine and are deeply concerned for the victims.
Being able to share with Christians who are in many ways more exposed to poverty, to conflict, to inequality, than we are has been sobering. There is so much that we take for granted in the UK.
Just Scripture is a wonderful opportunity for our churches to learn and grow together. It is encouraging to hear all that God is doing in Burundi, and we have been enriched by the opportunity to build relationships with our fellow Christians and celebrate our shared identity as beloved children of God.
For more information about Just Scripture visit christianaid.org.uk