News - Teaching Hope to Sing

Teaching Hope to Sing

Teaching Hope to Sing

You whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, "You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off"; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:9-10 ESV)

The "courage to walk by faith" took Dr. Jeff Wilson and his family on a journey to what might seem like the farthest corners of the earth: Bujumbura, Burundi. Dr. Wilson spent seven weeks as a visiting music professor at Hope Africa University, and while the subject matter was familiar, the rest of his family's experience was anything but.

The Wilson family's journey began three years ago in 2009, when Dr. Wilson led the choir in a chapel performance on the Friday of Global Impact Week. The featured speaker that day was David Goodnight, a GC alumnus, who mentioned his recent visit to Hope Africa University, described the need for formal music teaching at the college, and encouraged members of the choir to consider whether God might be calling them to serve as visiting teachers. Wilson felt God tugging at his heart to shift his sabbatical plans from visiting Europe to include time serving at Hope Africa in Burundi. Things moved quickly from there, as his family wholeheartedly looked forward to the adventure, but then stalled as the requirements of daily life, career, and fundraising took three years for the journey to come to fruition.

Hope Africa University is a Free Methodist institution that opened in Kenya in 2000, and moved to its current location in the Republic of Burundi in December 2003. The liberal arts university focuses on training students with "professional skills and core values to be salt and light in their society." Degree programs range from medical and psychological studies to civil engineering and information technologies. HAU holds classes in both French and English to encourage bilingual proficiency and prepare students for success in the larger pan-African society.

Students come from all over Central Africa, including Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya, as well as further afield. However, many come from a background of poverty and have gaps in their education. This is the first generation of college students since the inter-tribal wars in Central Africa that spanned the 1990's and 2000's. Classes are large, and the university is growing very quickly.

Dr. Wilson came prepared to teach music theory on campus, but as is often the case when going abroad, his plans changed and he ended up involved in so much more. "The students are very eager to learn, but they have little formal training," he said. Music theory is a general education requirement for all undergraduate students at HAU, but a lack of standardized musical background means students and teachers must start from the very beginning. Dr. Wilson worked with the University's choir, more than doubling it in size to about fifty members and, along with his entire family, taught group piano classes. He also spent a significant amount of time collaborating with music instructors on campus to help them build the foundations for their program of study. Pam Wilson homeschooled their children and worked with a local ministry called Sister Connection, a Christian outreach to Burundian widows begun in part by Joy Buconyori, wife of the Free Methodist Bishop and Rector of HAU, Dr. Elie Buconyori.

Each Sunday, the family joined in worship with local congregations in Bujumbura as well as the "up-country," where the bulk of Burundi's population resides. They experienced firsthand the committed, impassioned faith of local believers. Free Methodists arrived in Burundi about fifty years ago, but their numbers are growing quickly, now exceeding the population of Free Methodists in the United States.

Seven weeks in Africa gave the Wilson family a lifetime of perspective on what it means to truly step out on faith. Returning to Greenville, they are excited to share about their time abroad, and even more excited to encourage others to act. "There can never be too many answering God's call," said Pam Wilson.

This story was published on December 20, 2012

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