Last month many new members from Africa joined St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids, the result of the work of Pastor Daniel Niyonzima. He was appointed in 2016 as a full-time pastor through a $90,000 grant from the Iowa Annual Conference made possible with apportionment gifts from United Methodist churches across the state.
The new members of the church come from several countries including Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. St. Paul’s UMC has responded to the growing population of African National immigrants in their community by developing worship services and other ministries in which the principal languages are Swahili and Kirundi. These ministries are intended to help these new residents from Africa grow in their faith and retain their heritage while becoming American citizens.
In 2007 Pastors Carol Sundberg and Harlan Gillespie received a call from a St. Luke’s Hospital social worker requesting a pastoral visit for Daniel Niyonzima and his wife, Perpetua, who had just given birth to their eighth child. Daniel explained to the hospital staff that he and his family were immigrants from Burundi and a refugee camp in Tanzania. In his homeland he was trained as a pastor by United Methodist missionaries. A close relationship developed and within a year an African National (AN) congregation of 130 was worshiping at St. Paul’s.