- The average Burundian lives on $6/week
- Percentage of population living in poverty is 69%
- As of 2010 the number of mobile phone users/100 people is 0
- Number of people owning personal computers/100 is 0
- Users of the internet/100 is 2
- Average life expectancy is 49 years
- 80% of the population is illiterate or under-educated by global standards. Of the remaining 20%, half are unemployed
- 8% of the population has HIV or AIDS
- The capital city, Bujumbura, population 900,000, has no stop lights
Yet, on my recent 10-day trip to this nation in the heart of Africa I met some of the most joy-filled people I have ever encountered. (To see a day-by-day, very brief pictorial journal of my time there please go to the Men Matter Facebook page. I invite you to “Like” it, to get periodic, real-time prayer requests and Peregrine ministry updates).
Burundi and its neighbor Rwanda have experienced several cycles of tribal genocide over the past century, most horrifically in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were slaughtered, raped, or maimed by opposing tribe members. The resulting offspring of those rapes, and orphans of those murdered parents, fill the streets of Bujumbura as unwanted young women and men.
My first exposure to these tragic victims was at the Home Care Center directed by a stunningly compassionate and strong Burundi woman named Peace, in partnership with Tirzah International. Peace and her family emigrated to Canada during the genocide, but returned to Burundi several years ago to bring hope its women.
I traveled with a team of men, five from Texas, one from Louisiana, and Peregrine board chairman Dave Kirkland. We were welcomed by 40 young women enrolled in the discipling and seamstress training program run by Peace and her small staff. These women, who are learning a trade in order to survive and support their children, previously described themselves as “garbage.” They experienced rape, abuse, beatings and life at the bottom of the heap. Some were so traumatized that they entered the program mute—literally unable to speak.
The Home Care staff and Tirzah began by telling them that they are not garbage, they are deeply loved, beautiful daughters of God himself. The transformation in these women is no less than miraculous!
They had every right to hate, or at least fear us, because we symbolized the very elements of cultural history that led to their own suffering. We were foreigners; we were men; we were white; we were wealthy; we had power. But rather than stand back from us as we arrived at their school, they burst into joy-filled singing; dancing around us, showering us with flower petals.
For half an hour they covered us with their singing and joy. We were dumb-struck as women knelt in front of us and washed our shoes with towels. Take a look at this joy-filled welcome dance.
After showing us their love, Peace asked these women if any would be willing to express what the Home Care program meant to them. Familiar with the reticence and awkwardness of many people in our own country when it comes to pubic speaking, we couldn’t believe how quickly and fervently one woman after another stood and expressed her story of transformation from garbage to child of God.
Each one began with a smile and the words (phonetically) Yays-hah-Sheem-way! —Praise Jesus! invariably followed by the response from all the other women, AMEN!! For more than half an hour, these formerly broken and rejected women couldn’t wait to stand and tell their story of redemption.
Our team was invited by Tirzah leadership to help them explore the possibilities of providing a similar message of hope and significance to “Street Boys,” the thousands of young men living on the streets of Bujumbura. Most are drug-using thieves barely eking out a life, trying to survive the consequences of having been born unwanted.
Peace arranged a meeting for us with several young men who had either been Street Boys, or were currently working with them. We set up 20 chairs in the largest room at the Home Care facility and waited to see who would show up. Fifteen men came in, then another five, then ten more. They sat on the floor and filled the outside patio. Forty young men came to tell us their stories.
The story of Abednego was a typical one. Born into utter poverty in the countryside, he came to the capital hoping to find employment and found even deeper misery. His days were filled with drugs, robbery, fighting and begging for money. One day he met Desiré, a Christian who befriended him and led him to the Lord. Today Abednego makes $10 a week selling SIM cards for the cell phones that ex-patriots and the wealthy can afford. He is one of a small core who has dreams of developing an agricultural training program to provide employment, hope and dignity to the men of Burundi.
For two hours we sat with these young men and heard their stories of pain and hope. At one point we asked them, “What is it that draws you to Peace and the women on her staff?” Their response, “We are all looking for a mother.” Tears welled in my eyes, as they do now. Grown men, ages 18-32, experienced in the awful ways of the streets and living in grinding poverty, were simply longing for a mother.
Later, we asked Desiré why they weren’t longing for a father. His response: “Father means nothing good to these men. Father is the one who beat them, the one who abandoned them, or the one they never knew.” They don’t even know how hungry they are. They are not only economically impoverished; they are relationally and spiritually impoverished.
Our team met with men who offered hope for what might be done for these men. We met separately with Desiré, Fabrice, Abednego and Dieudonne (Gift of God) who shared their dream of establishing a small farming and discipling community, where men are taught the same spiritual and practical lessons the women at Home Care have been. Afterward we laid our hands on them and asked the Lord to bless their dream.
We met Mark and Apollinaire, the senior pastor and worship leader of Life Center. Apollinaire is the extraordinarily gifted, self-taught sole music teacher in all of Burundi. Yes, the only music teacher in the country. He trains worship teams and instructs others on the instruments he taught himself to play.
The men invited me to speak at their Friday evening worship service. Not all of the members of the church would be there—just 1000 or so. The vibrancy, joy and power of the worship and dancing were beyond anything any of us had experienced before. Take a look at this Burundi worship service, which only partially demonstrates the joy we experienced.
What an honor it was to speak on I Cor. 16:13, 14: “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be people of courage and be strong. Do everything in love.” I commended them for their faith, their resiliency and their courage; and I urged the men in particular to do everything in love; that is, live their lives on behalf of others, not just themselves. I discovered a long time ago, these verses and lessons apply to men in all cultures.
At the end of the service I thought I heard my name mentioned from the stage and, on checking to see what it may have been about, discovered I was invited to preach again on Sunday morning. I spoke on a verse that has become one of my favorites in recent years, Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with great joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
My goals for this trip—of going, listening and learning—were met beyond expectation. Where we go from here in helping the men of Burundi is uncertain, but we all returned with a commitment to do what we can. The businessmen on the trip felt compelled to work in creative partnership with the key men we met who have a vision for resolving economic poverty. I’m certain there is a place for the message of Peregrine to help resolve the spiritual poverty we saw.
The challenges are historic and profound. One man told us, the primary problem of Burundi is fatherlessness. I suspect he’s right. Others told us that the men of the nation live with crushing shame and hopelessness due to centuries of colonialism, poverty, witchcraft and genocide.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I agree with the statement, “The first priority of any country is to build good men.” Because the difference between good men and awful men is so enormous. That is exactly the vision of Peregrine. We are compelled to help men:
- Understand their identity in Christ
- Embrace their roles as son, brother, husband, father and grandfather, and to
- Identify and live out the unique calling God has for their lives.
There is still a lot to learn about the needs of Burundi, but I left with an invitation to return and provide further spiritual guidance for men. When and how that will happen remains to be developed, but I’m certain it will.
Thank you to every one reading this who gave generously, who prayed faithfully and who sent messages of encouragement along the way. You were, and will be, a part of how God uses Peregrine to bring even more hope, joy and peace to this country that so desperately needs it.
Thank you for going with us.