Free Methodists are thanking God for the faithful legacy of Bishop Elie Buconyori — the leader of the 130,000–member Free Methodist Church in Burundi, the president of Hope Africa University and the president of the Free Methodist World Conference — while mourning the end of Buconyori’s earthly life.
Nzigo Onesiphore, the Burundi Free Methodist Church’s executive secretary, said that Buconyori died on Easter Sunday, March 31. A funeral was held Friday, April 5, at the Ngagara Free Methodist Church in Bujumbura.
In a joint statement, the Free Methodist Church – USA Board of Bishops described Buconyori’s death as “a huge loss to world Free Methodism and to the broader Body of Christ. In Burundi (and all of central Africa), he was a beloved and respected bishop. At Hope Africa University, he was an esteemed leader. In the World Conference, he has made invaluable contributions in times of turmoil and has been a wise member of the World Conference Executive.”
Buconyori was elected bishop in 2000, the year Burundi became a full general conference. He succeeded Bishop Noah Nzeyimana, who had served for 15 years.
Buconyori served as the director of the Mweya Bible Institute in the early 1980s and then became the director of the All Africa Literature Center in Kenya. At the same time, he launched the Free Methodist Church in Kenya with the sponsorship of the Burundi General Conference. He supported refugees and shared the gospel with them.
“In the late 1990s, Bishop Elie analyzed the refugee situation where tens of thousands of refugees were in camps in Tanzania with a great vision for growing the church as these refugees returned home,” said Bishop Emeritus Gerald Bates, who attended the funeral. Through Buconyori’s work, Bates said, the Free Methodist Church doubled within the refugee camps. “What looked like a tragedy was turned into a blessing whereby the FMC in Burundi quickly sprang up in areas we had not previously touched.”
He was the founding rector of Hope Africa University, which began in Kenya and later moved to Burundi. In 2011, Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza gave Buconyori a presidential award for his entrepreneurial achievements with Hope Africa University, the nation’s fastest growing and largest private university. In 2012, the Inter University Council
of East Africa elected him as president, its first leader from Burundi. He also served as a board member of Chicago-based Olive Branch Mission, which operates in the United States and Africa.
David E. Bates, Olive Branch’s president and chief executive officer, said Buconyori had experienced “serious health challenges” but is now transitioned “into the arms of His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Buconyori led Burundi’s Christian Church Forum that represents 80 percent of Burundi’s population. Iwacu, the nation’s largest magazine, named him one of Burundi’s five most powerful people in 2010.
The Free Methodist Church – USA bishops said people around Buconyori “were always cheered by his infectious smile and his evident love for the Lord Jesus. We were looking forward to the leadership contribution that he would make as president of the World Conference. He was our brother and friend. We will grieve his death and miss him greatly.”
“We want to express sincere sympathies to Joy and the Buconyori family, to the Free Methodist Church in Burundi and to the staff and students of Hope Africa University,” the bishops said. “We call the Free Methodist Church – USA to join us in prayer for the Buconyori family and the FMC in Burundi.”
Along with his wife, Joy, Buconyori is survived by his children, Désiré, LaCharité, LeBonheur and LeBeni.