African-American History Month

Divinity Student Working to Heal War-Torn Africa

Born in a Christian home in the African nation of Burundi, Ornella Umubyeyi was a young girl when her family moved to the neighboring nation of Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. More than a quarter-million people were killed in the massacre that lasted three months, bloodshed that resulted from decades of strife between the Hutu ethnic majority and the Tutsi minority.

“The country was still broken in many ways,” recalled Umubyeyi, now a doctoral student in the Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity. “My parents would be singing in hymnals. I would say, ‘There are many life challenges. Why are you singing?’ My mother would say, ‘Sometimes in the darkest time, we see God’s light.’”

Umubyeyi, who came to America 10 years ago, wants to share that light with people in her country. By earning a Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Care and Counseling she hopes to bring healing in a place scarred by years of torture, fighting, death and grief that continues today.

“We don’t have a lot of ministers who are doing pastoral care and counseling in Rwanda or Burundi,” she observed. “I realized I needed to get my doctorate to get all the tools to provide the help they need. I have heard good things about this program, so I chose to come to Gardner-Webb. I really like the classes. They are more practical instead of just theory.”

While working on her doctorate, Umubyeyi is already helping people in Burundi through her non-profit organization, Soul Survivors International, which is registered for tax-exempt status in America.

“I have been using the funds I get here to put some kids in schools and help single mothers who are HIV/AIDS positive,” Umubyeyi explained. “I want to be involved in ministry, but the kind of ministry I want to be involved in is with people who are struggling.”

In honor of African-American History Month, Gardner-Webb University reflects upon the diverse contributions of African Americans in shaping our great nation. GWU strives to create environments that foster meaningful dialogue and collective action that is both uplifting and empowering, and the University honors the courageous actions of African Americans that have made America a better place to live and work for everybody.