Yesterday morning, John Carey and I took a short flight from Nairobi, Kenya to Bujumbura, Burundi, a tiny East African country that most people have never heard of. Many have heard of Rwanda, however, which shares a border with Burundi, and which has suffered under decades of tribal war between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. The 1994 genocide, made famous in the West by the movie Hotel Rwanda, left at least 800,000 dead. Most were hacked to death by machetes. Those same two tribes, the Hutu and Tutsi, have also been engaged in conflict for decades in Burundi, where hundreds of thousands have lost their lives. There is now a tenuous peace, yet scars still run very deep. In the aftermath, hearts have become receptive to the gospel, which is the only hope.
Our primary contact in Burundi, Bienvenu Bizimana, is part Hutu and part Tutsi. Before today at the airport, we had never met face-to-face, but he and I have corresponded hundreds of times by email after we were introduced by a mutual friend about two years ago. Since then, Bienvenu, who speaks four languages, has helped us translate The Disciple-Making Minister into East African French (which is not the same as the French they speak in France) and Kirundi, Burundi’s national language. We ultimately printed 2,000 copies of the Kirundi TDMM in India and then shipped them to Burundi, because that was cheaper than printing them here. Bienvenu has distributed about 1,000 of those books so far to pastors all over the nation.
You would never know it from looking at him, but Bienvenu is about the closest thing to a modern apostle that I’ve met. He is an amazing soul winner, and has directly or indirectly planted about seven-hundred viable and continuing house churches in his nation over the past five years! He told John and myself a story about how, recently, a young man approached him on the street of Bujumbura and started witnessing to him. He let the young man talk for some time to test his gospel before revealing that he was already a believer himself. Then Bienvenu asked the young man how he had been saved. He told Bienvenu that a man by the name of Azoor had led him to the Lord. Bienvenu then told him that he is the one who had led Azoor to the Lord! That made that young man Bienvenu’s spiritual grandchild! Amazingly, Bienvenu’s spiritual lineage has now reached seven generations of believers!
After checking in to our $30-per-night hotel, we drove to the hospital in a rented car to see Bienvenu’s wife and new baby daughter who had just been born the day before. Emily, Bienvenu’s wife, had suffered some alarming complications late in her pregnancy that needed medical attention, which Heaven’s Family paid for by means our Critical Medical Needs Fund. So I was quite happy to learn that both mother and baby were doing well.
The hospital where we visited Emily and new baby Milcah is hard to describe. Emily and Milcah were lying in an old metal-framed bed that was fit only for a junkyard. The floor was rough concrete and paint was peeling from the walls. Burundi has the lowest per capita gross income in the world.
The total hospital bill for the delivery amounted to $35, of which one-third had been paid when Emily was admitted, and now two-thirds was due before the hospital would release her and the baby. I asked Bievnenu if it would be OK if Jesus paid the balance, and he clapped his hands in joy and first told us how he had no money when Emily was admitted, but the brother in Christ who took Emily to the hospital had surprised them by paying her admission fees. Bienvenu had no money to pay the final two-thirds either. So it seemed our arrival in Burundi was perfectly timed. We were also blessed to pay for some prescriptions that Emily needed. I later asked Bienvenu what he would have done had I not given him what he needed for his wife and daughter to be released. He told me that he would have just waited for the Lord to answer his prayer in some other way!
A new miracle from God, with her proud parents. Heaven’s Family (that’s you!) helped!
After the hospital visit we traveled to Bienvenu’s “house,” which is also hard to describe. Bienvenu, Emily, and their two daughters rent two rooms of a one-story structure that, if people saw in the United States or Canada, they would assume it had been built long ago for horses. Although they do have concrete floors. Other families rent adjacent rooms, each for about $70 per month.
Waiting for us there in one room were about twenty house-church leaders all sitting on the floor, worshipping the Lord without the aid of any instruments. In a very typical African-style, one person would sing a verse alone, and then everyone would repeat that verse in beautiful harmonies. I have never forgotten the experience of hearing the acapella harmonies of worshipping Burundi-believers from my first visit a few years ago, and I had told John to prepare to experience a taste of heaven. It was indeed heavenly simple, pure, heartfelt, and zero hullabaloo. John was floored by it, and he has quickly fallen in love with our family here.
We spent about four hours with those leaders, sharing testimonies, discussing the Word of God, and answering their questions as best we could with the help of Bienvenu, who translated for us. Near the end, a few of the leaders testified how their spiritual lives had been significantly impacted from studying The Disciple-Making Minister, which was a real encouragement to me. We also shared a meal of beans and rice with a sauce, which the Burundi-believers ate without aid of utensils, just scooping it up and putting it in their mouths. They provided forks, however, for John and myself. We had a lovely day.
Still greatly missing my family, of course, but I was able to talk to them via SKYPE late in the evening. My oldest daughter, Charity, sent me some photos she took of my new grandson, Liam. He is apparently a sleepy guy:
Tomorrow, Teryl and Danny arrive from Nairobi, and they will immediately start their two-day leaders’ conference. I’m anticipating another lovely day in Burundi. — David