As we started our descent into Burundi, the sun was coming through the clouds, and I had this thought: “There is now light where there was once great darkness.”
In 1993, Burundi experienced a genocide that saw many people lose their lives. We are not talking about a hundred or a thousand people; we are talking hundreds of thousands. I remember landing in Burundi when the airport was surrounded by artillery shells. In those days, one never imagined that light would shine on this country again. Now, as we descended, and I looked outside, I felt in my heart that the light that comes from Jesus has become a part of the new Burundi.
We got off the airplane at 10:00 a.m., and it was already hot. We had worked with our team in Burundi to obtain our entry visas ahead of time, so we thought it would just take a few minutes. We filled out medical forms, customs forms, paid for our visas and had them stamped. By the time the whole process was done, it was 11:30 a.m. Needless to say, we were the last ones to leave the airport.
As soon as we left, I felt right at home. I have been to Burundi many times, and it has always been one of my favourite places. It has a special place in my heart. The people smile; they are friendly, and it is green – and I mean green! On the trip from the airport into the city, you see corn, rice and potatoes growing. The people are out in the fields doing hard labour. They are tilling the land with hoes and shovels as there are no tractors. The sides of the roads are streaming with bicycles as bikes are a primary mode of travel and transport. In the few days we were there, I saw them hauling people, bricks, every kind of vegetable imaginable, gas, water, furniture … you name it, and they were transporting it on a bike. (I’ve included a couple of pictures in this blog to give you an idea of how important bikes are in this culture.)
So why would I bring a team to Burundi? First off, I brought them so they could experience the joy of these people. Secondly, I brought them to show the impact that our radio programs and our on-the-ground ministry has in the country. And finally, the biggest reason, in my mind, is to encourage the team in Burundi. Not many people come to visit. In fact, when I asked if it is a tourist destination, the local people looked surprised and said no.
There were many highlights to our trip. We went to visit the local market, not a tourist market. They sell everything there: vegetables, clothes of all kinds, shoes, furniture, radios, live chickens. If you like to bargain, this is your kind of place. If you don’t enjoy being in closed spaces, this is probably not the place for you. I love it! I make friends, and I talk to people; it was a joy to just be there. The market is huge, and we were the only white people in the whole market. This is Burundi in its purest form.
The highlight of every trip of this nature is to meet with and encourage the staff and to meet with listeners. In Burundi, there are many stories and to hear them is something that is indescribable. This trip was no exception.
Jason Brown, TWR Canada’s Director of Ministry Development was on the trip with me. He writes about his visit to a village outside of Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi:
We drove about half an hour outside of the city in a right-hand drive (British) vehicle, on the right-hand side of the road, watching the scenery becoming increasingly rural, and the buildings increasingly simple. Just past one strip of roadside shacks and stores, we turned left into an area with many long homes and dozens of children hanging around, all with torn and dirty clothing, with one, probably eight-year-old, boy running around with one hand holding up his shorts because the elastic had long disintegrated. As soon as they saw two cars with not one or two, but FOUR mzungus (white people) they got very excited and swarmed the cars, making it difficult to continue. White people were clearly a novelty in this community, and they all wanted to touch us, to welcome us and to try out the few English words they had learned or heard before. “Welcome.” “Who you?” “American?”
I resisted the urge to roll up the window and keep my clean hands to my introverted self and reached my arm out the window to them as they kept coming up to hold my hand or to touch me, giggle and run away. It took us a while to reach the church building where we were meeting with a pastor and a group of TWR listeners, which is always one of my favourite parts of trips like this. This group talked about how TWR’s programs on peace and reconciliation helped them let go of grudges and anger they had held for many years. (This country is recovering from over 35 years of civil war; trust and forgiveness are still very relevant and sensitive topics.)
One testimony was from Benjamin, a listener of Jesus is the Answer, among other programs. He told us how some years earlier, just before the war ended, his family’s land was taken from him. He told us, “After I learned on the radio program that Christ died for us and reconciled us to God, I couldn’t hold anger for other people any more. So rather than go to court to get my family land back, I was able to forgive those who took the land from us and be at peace in my heart.”
The people in Burundi love our programs, and this is just one story we heard while there. In a country that had no hope just a few years ago, TWR is filling a void and bringing hope back into their lives, and it is so exciting to have a part in this!
For 18 years TWR Canada has played a role in bringing light into what was a dark and evil place, and the people of Burundi say thank you to Canada for continuing to support their ministry. God is good!