With the African proverb “a great tree has fallen” on the minds of many, Bula passed away in Lusaka, Zambia on 31 January from heart complications after a long battle with cancer.
“Omega leaves an incomparable legacy of ecumenical leadership in the struggle for racial, gender, economic, and social justice in her home country of Zambia, across the African continent, in The United Church of Canada, and globally,” said WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay. “The global ecumenical movement has lost one of its greatest leaders, and Omega will be deeply missed.”
Bula served in the General Council Offices in the Division of World Outreach as area secretary for Southern Africa and Gender Justice as the first-ever racial justice minister, and as executive minister of the former Justice, Global, and Ecumenical Relations and Partners in Mission Units. Her commitment to partnership led to the formation of the Partner Council, and was instrumental in shaping the Principles of Global Partnership that guide the global partnership program of The United Church of Canada today.
A lay theologian who contextualized the biblical story for advocacy and public witness, Bula is remembered as “a gentle giant” for her quiet boldness and enduring consistency for justice that creatively kept opening doors of opportunity to many.
A firm believer in education for transformation, Bula mentored wherever she travelled, whether at home in Zambia or in her ecumenical encounters across the world, including the annual WCC Ecumenical School on Governance, Economics and Management for an Economy of Life.
An advocate for human dignity and justice, Bula’s ecumenical career impacted the four corners of the earth, through her work on gender, ecological, and economic justice. While serving at The United Church of Canada, she was an integral member of the Roundtable for Specialized Ministries, providing much-needed financial support for the women’s programme.
“As a member of the Ecumenical Panel on a New International Financial and Economic Architecture, she brought an incisive feminist and intersectional perspective and never turned her back on the socio-economically marginalised,” recalled Athena Peralta, WCC programme executive for Economic and Ecological Justice. “A woman of great faith and courage, she inspired many to speak truth to power including to international financial institutions.”
She practiced what she preached on economic justice, by establishing a sustainable farm and guesthouse upon her retirement, providing educational and entrepreneurial support for members of her community.
When she worked with All Africa Conference of Churches as program executive for the Women’s Desk, she educated women across the continent on the adverse negative impact of structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in the 1980s and 1990s. She developed videos on women, economic justice, and empowerment to mitigate against injustices experienced by African women. She also gathered women to listen and learn together how to practice life-affirming strategies and tactics.
After her retirement, she worked with members of her church in Zambia and Canada to host a two-week children’s camp each August, dubbed “Camp Chipembi.”
“During her battle with cancer, she taught many of us a life-giving spirituality of gratitude,” said Rev. Nicqi Ashwood, WCC programme executive for Just Community of Women and Men. “Her regular WhatsApp updates were signed off this with powerful word: gratitude. Her genuine sisterhood in Christ lives on with the hope of resurrection.”
Dr Fulata Moyo, former WCC programme executive for Women in Church and Society, recalled becoming Bula’s “young sister” as Bula provided stepping stones for Moyo to reach her highest potential in serving the God of justice.
"I remember one time when I was experiencing a lot of resistance on the agenda of gender justice in participation, theological perspectives, and leadership, she held my hand and told me one of her similar experiences,” said Moyo. “She counselled me about the importance of embracing the building of a movement or advocacy, witness and resistance, for lasting impact, rather than standing alone and suffering the backfiring resistance alone.”
Pillay reiterated prayers and good wishes from the WCC. “We express our condolences and prayerful support to the bereaved family and friends,” he said.
The funeral will be on 4 February. The United Church of Canada will share a memorial service online as well.