This August marked an important moment – the return of the Panafricaine conference, or PANAF. This triennial conference welcomed 300 students and graduates from the 19 national movements of the Francophone Africa region, also known as GBUAF. This year, the conference met so that students could share experiences, build community, and gain the necessary skills to be effective witnesses on their campuses.
To celebrate, to envision, to refocus
Eric Makon, from the GBUAF regional staff team, explains how important the PANAF is. “It’s our main meeting,” he says, “bringing together people from different nations and experiences to pray and share the realities of ministry in their contexts. The teaching and workshops give perspective for the next years of ministry in this part of the continent. Everyone goes back to their countries with new structures to implement, and many new ideas. PANAF is a visionary meeting.”
Emmanuel Bagumako is from Burundi, the country in which this year’s PANAF was hosted by the IFES national movement, UGBB. He is also part of the regional team. He explains that “this is a celebration of the fact that IFES is present in 19 countries in Francophone Africa. We gather to celebrate God, to share fellowship together, and to recenter our focus. We discuss our strengths, our challenges, and we dream together. We spend a whole week listening to God and preparing ourselves for the future.”
In this video, James, a volunteer in North Kivu province for GBU, the national movement in the DR Congo, shares his perspective on what being part of the PANAF is actually like.
One of the highlights was the beautiful worship, sung in the Kirundi language of Burundi. Odette is a student from GBEEN Niger. “Even though I couldn’t understand it,” she shares, “it gives us a taste of what it’s going to be like in heaven. There will be so many different tribes worshipping God together.” At other times, it was moving to be among hundreds of participants singing the same songs familiar to each from their regular student meetings, even though they had never met, coming from different countries.
Helping students pursue their calling
The PANAF encourages students to understand where God is calling them. Innocent is a UGBB Burundi volunteer, as well as Tier 1 Coordinator for the IFES Logos and Cosmos Initiative. The most valuable outcome for him was the chance to meet others working in science. They gave him the challenge not only to excel in scientific understanding, but also to think about that might connect with theology, as well as with societal problems. “It made me question”, he says, “‘How can research serve society in the best way to glorify God?’ So I commit to learn humbly, to be inspired and grow in what we are learning here, so that I can learn how I can be useful to the movement here, to the church and society in Burundi particularly, in other African contexts and the world in general.”
As well as constituting a new introduction to IFES, for student leaders the PANAF was a much-needed chance to receive encouragement, refreshment, and fellowship. Odette is a student leader who has felt lonely. “Sometimes it feels like we are the only ones in the world doing this”, she says. “But the most important thing I learnt is that I am not alone. It strengthens my faith to know that we are family working together. For other participants the conference was as enlightening as it was encouraging. “I understand that my life is not compartmentalized”, shares Lucien, who is from GBEEG, the national movement in Guinea. “The divine calling has resonated in my heart. I am committed to living for the Lord at university, the church, and society.”
For one another and for the world
The experience of the PANAF also helps each national movement to grow organisationally, connecting with other movements. “It is really helpful when we hear how others are doing and what initiatives are working that can be translated into another context,” Emmanuel says. Hosting the PANAF has also changed the way that UGBB is viewed by local government officials. “They used to see us as very simple and insignificant”, says Emmanuel. “But, with the presence of representatives from 19 countries, and the content of what we are doing, they understand. They see the importance of the ministry for Burundi in general.”
The PANAF is also helping the region to engage with one another in order to face their biggest challenges. According to Armand Dzadu, General Secretary of the GBU in Togo, “the whole challenge is how to be effective in raising up students who understand the issues and impact society. We say that the church in Africa is large, but not big. We have many churches and fellowships, but we are sensing that there is not a real impact, in government and marketplaces. The church is spreading, but it is not always solid. We are hoping that this kind of conference could help raise and engage pastors, as well as engage our universities academically, which will lead to transforming communities.”
On the regional level, the impact of PANAF reverberates in a different way. The PANAF builds networks among staff workers and students from around the continent. This year, it also helped to boost graduate support for the ministry, as graduates from different countries had an opportunity to network and think together about what they can do in their various spheres of influence – churches, governments, and other organisations. This is good news for the student movements, as Emmanuel explains; “we’re currently seeing a move of graduates coming back. The support from graduates had really dropped off, but now they are so interested in reconnecting and supporting the movement. We are so thankful for this conference.”
Indeed, dialogue across generations can only have an enriching effect across the board. One of those graduates who attended the conference in 2019 was Professor Abel Ndjerareou, of UJC, the movement in Chad, who shared the following:
“Every time I find myself in a GBU meeting, I feel rejuvenated. Firstly, because it reminds me of my youth … second, because the energy of young people is very contagious. Finally, because they give me hope that this great work that is the GBU will continue even after we leave.”
The vision of the Francophone Africa region, wherein many students, thriving as communities of disciples, impact the university, the church, and society for God’s glory, did not originate at this year’s PANAF. But with each opportunity to gather and worship, to share, pray, sing, and learn from one another, it does become easier to see.
You can watch the webinar, broadcast live from PANAF’22 especially for supporters of IFES/USA, here.
To learn more about the 19 national movements represented at the PANAF conference, you can see the region in figures on GBUAF’s website here.