Saskatoon-funded church destroyed in Burundi, minister imprisoned

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A Unitarian minister from East Africa who raised thousands of dollars in Saskatchewan last year has been imprisoned and his church riddled with bullets in his native Burundi.

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Efforts are underway to protest the detention of Fulgence Ndagijimana. He was recently arrested at gunpoint and is being “interrogated severely,” according to a statement by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. An unknown shooter emptied a clip from an AK-47 and the church was looted from its computers and other valuables.

“It’s terrifying, just heartbreaking. I wonder what’s happening to him,” said Liz James, one of the hosts for his Saskatoon visit.

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Ndagijimana came to Saskatoon in January 2014 to raise money for a scholarship fund, making impassioned pleas to those attending the reception and church service. Burundi — which is bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo — is the second-poorest nation on earth, and is wracked by the same colonial scars and resulting ethnic tensions as neighboring Rwanda. He said a small donation will go a long way to help young students reach their potential. More than $7,000 was raised.

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“We wish to serve, to accommodate differences, in a culture that’s divided,” he said at the time. “I think Saskatoon is cold, but everyone has been warm.”

Rev. Brian Keily of the Unitarian Church of Edmonton, who recently sat with Ndagijimana on the church’s international council, has been working hard to mobilize support for his friend. He notes Ndagijimana could have left the country when the violence and threats against him began but he chose to stay.

“He’s a very brave man. He loves his country,” Keily said.

As far as Keily knows, work continues distributing the scholarships, as well as other projects granting micro-credit loans and working with those afflicted with HIV.

An online petition has been created, and unitarian officials in New York are raising the case with the United Nations.

Unitarians have been viewed with suspicion and targeted for years in religiously conservative nations, including Burundi, because of their skepticism.

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