Nsabimana is the son of a Methodist district superintendent who was killed in 1998 during the more than three decade long Hutu-Tutsi civil war that claimed more than one million lives. A Hutu, he lost three brothers in the conflict as well. Now in his final year at Duke Divinity School, Nsabimana will speak on the topic of forgiveness.
In a previous interview Nsabimana said that his mother's words kept him
centered on the need to forgive those who murdered his family.
“I asked my mother how she felt (about the deaths of her husband and sons). She said it is really hard, but we are supposed to forgive them. If we believe in God and that he created the people who did this, then there is no way we can run away from forgiveness.”
Nsabimana, who grew up with the people who murdered one of his brothers and his father, said he hoped one day to have a conversation with the killers.
“I feel like I need to meet face to face and share with them that I am willing to see how we have gone wrong,” he said. “They go to church, and I want to talk with them about what it means to confess and say we are followers of Christ.”
He said he had no choice but to forgive them.
“I don’t think it matters whether they say they are sorry for what they have done,” he says. “I wish they could come to believe what they did is wrong. That is my prayer. But I don’t have a choice. I must forgive.”
Scotland County native Dr. William K. Quick is the pastor-in-charge at Gibson Chapel.
"Gerard is one of nine children who grew up on his family’s farm, raising most of their own food as well as coffee, the major cash crop in Burundi," Quick said from his home in Durham.
"In 1995, he fled his war-torn homeland, first to the Democratic Republic of Congo, then to Tanzania and Zimbabwe. There he studied agriculture at Africa Methodist University with the help of the United Methodist Bishop in Burundi. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in 2002."
Due to the kindness of a pastor from Indiana, Quick said, Nsabimana made his way to Oklahoma State University, where he earned a master's degree in agricultural economics in 2005. While there, he became close friends with the director of the Wesley Foundation on campus who encouraged him to consider "answering the call" to become a Methodist pastor.
"My wife Mary and I opened our home in Durham to Gerard and he has become a very close friend," said Quick. "He worked on the Duke Endowment at the Cedar Grove UMC in Orange County. In addition to planning worship services and making pastoral visits, he helped to plant and maintain a community garden."
The Anathoth Community garden served as a bridge between Nsabimana's own agricultural and religious background and the farming tradition of rural North Carolina church members.
"Farming meant more to him and his family than producing food and income," Quick said. "It was an arena for fellowship and family. Once a week, Gerard accompanied church members to the farm of nearby neighbors and, while the women sang hymns, everyone plowed the fields by hand."
Nsabimana plans to return to his homeland one day where he hopes to combine his two vocations, farming and ministry, despite the deep distrust among neighbors as a result of the war.
“I ... realized that as much as I wanted to go back home and work in agriculture, it was important for me to get an education in ministry," he said. "You can’t teach people to grow crops when they are angry at one another.”
Nsabimana, who will graduate in May 2011, remains optimistic that conditions will improve in his native country.
"Since the presidential elections have just taken place things are not very good just now," he said. "I plan to wait a couple of years before going back, and will return to Oklahoma following graduation where I will begin serving as a Methodist pastor."
Nsabimana said he was optimistic that conditions in Burundi will one day improve.
"I am always optimistic," he said with a laugh. "I remember how I grew up safe and comfortable, and how things went from bad to worse about 1993. But I am still hopeful."
Quick said Nsabimana's visit will be a wonderful opportunity for local people to hear his unique and powerful message.
"It is an honor to have him in the Gibson Chapel and to preach Sunday," he said.
The Gibson Chapel Mission, located at 13280 Church Street in Gibson, is an outreach effort of the Rockingham District “Partners in Ministry”, designed "to reach out in a servant ministry across the community."
The Rev. Leonard Fairley is superintendent of the district.