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. He had come to Cedar Rapids to live, work, and continue his ministry with others like him and his family. A close relationship developed between Pastor Daniel’s family and St. Paul’s, with members of the congregation forming a support team to help them adjust to life in Cedar Rapid. Within a year an African National (AN) congregation of 130 was worshiping at St. Paul’s.
Over time, this congregation has grown and evolved. In 2011, Pastor Gillespie consulted the Church Council about African Nationals interested in becoming a United Methodist congregation as one of the missions and ministries of St. Paul’s, organized as any other worship service of St. Paul’s but conducted in Kirundi/Swahili/French languages.
On January 1, 2016, Pastor Daniel was appointed to St. Paul’s as a full-time pastor through a grant from the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Under Pastor Daniel’s leadership the worship attendance continues to grow. The AN worshiping community has connected to the United Methodist worshiping communities of St. Paul UMC of Omaha, Simpson UMC of Des Moines, and St. Mark’s and Asbury UMCs of Cedar Rapids for collaboration and support. An African National Festival of Cedar Rapids churches is planned for August 27, 2016.