The Power Of Words
I was reminded recently of my first trip to Bujumbura, Burundi. Even though I knew there was a civil war going on, had read the news reports, coming face-to-face with our radio listeners who were living in that reality day in and day out was something I wasn’t prepared for. But the people in Burundi taught me that nothing is impossible with God.
The year was 1997 and there was a civil war going on in Burundi that would later be called a genocide. I was on a whirlwind trip through Africa. I think we visited 11 countries in 16 days. Burundi was the fifth stop on that trip. Getting to Bujumbura in those days was no easy task. There were no commercial flights into the country so you had to enter by vehicle.
Our route took us through Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda’s 1994 genocide
might have been over, but recovery was slow. Our hotel had a 15inch thick wall around it to protect guests from stray gunfire and mobs. I believe on our first night in the city six people were killed. Wrap your head around that.
Our Burundi National Director, Sophonie had driven to Kigali to pick us up. Rwanda and Burundi are set in the mountains and the landscape is lush, green, and beautiful. It is hard to imagine that genocide could happen there. We crossed the Kagera River and Sophonie told us that during the genocide the locals had called it the river of blood because the water had turned red from blood.Living Words Can Heal
We stopped on the side of the road to get medication for Sophonie’s wife. He and I stood outside the car chatting and within a minute there was a crowd around the vehicle. They said, “You are the man on the radio.”
They were right. He was the man on the radio.
“You have to stay with us. You cannot leave. You must come and preach to us.” The crowd around the vehicle grew larger. We couldn’t be on the road after dark, it wasn’t safe, so we had to keep going. We had a similar incident when we got to the border and people recognized Sophonie’s voice.
A man I met on the street in Malawi — listening to a radio.
One of the locals we hired to help build the West Africa transmitter and station.
From a radio distribution in Kenya.
A listener who received a free radio in Mozambique.
In Bujumbura, we visited with listeners. I spoke with a woman who’d had a difficult marriage, so difficult that she had divorced her husband. TWR produced a peace and reconciliation program with the purpose of using the Word of God to bring an end to the genocide.
This woman heard the program and applied the principles of the messages to her own life. She realized she needed to reconcile with her husband and got him to listen to the programs with her. By the time we met, she was remarried to her husband. Listeners in Bujumbura told us that on Saturday afternoons when TWR’s program air, we don’t farm, we don’t get married, we don’t do anything but listen to the program.
On a later trip to Burundi, a listener said something to me that forever changed my life. He said, “It is impossible to humanly forgive those who did this to my family, the only way it is possible is through the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This was a difficult trip. I remember being afraid, of hearing gun shots outside the hotel at night, but God surrounded us with His angels on that trip. As we loaded the vehicle to return to Kigali, I happened to look under the vehicle — I am a mechanic by trade. I saw brake fluid on the ground. I already knew the vehicle was in bad shape, but we had to drive through the mountains to get to Kigali so having working brakes seemed important. Sophonie said he knew a mechanic.We left for Kigali with basically no brakes.
We drove down several back alleys and stopped next to a mosque. On the side of the road sat a guy with a few wrenches. There was no building, no shop. I was horrified when they took off the tire and saw there was no pad left on the brake shoes (that’s bad). We fixed the leaking brake line…sort of. We left for Kigali with basically no brakes. The car had a fueling problem and wouldn’t idle so we drove the entire trip at 60km per hour (which doesn’t seem fast here, but you’re not taking into account the condition of the roads between Bujumbura and Kigali and the thousands of people on the roads).
Sophonie kept his hand on the horn for most of the trip. How we didn’t hit someone or get in an accident can only be explained by the fact that God still had work he wanted me to do.
Many years have passed since that trip, but the memories are still fresh. These experiences reinforced in my mind the power of radio, of how even in the most difficult situations people were hearing the message of hope, of peace and reconciliation, from a radio.That is why we do what we do and why we won’t stop proclaiming the Goods News of the Lord Jesus Christ.SaveSave