Ok this has been a LONG time coming. My apologies to all who have said, “Hey! I want to hear about your trip to Africa!” and I gave the pathetic reply, “It was awesome,” and that was it.
Northpoint Church in New Braunfels, pastored by Brian and Sallie Leifeste, sent a team of six to Burundi, Africa in early June. Sallie led the team. NPC will tell you they have a very specific focus for missions, and that is Burundi. It is a tiny country, snuggled up to Rwanda and surrounded by its much bigger neighbors, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo. It is among the five poorest countries in the world. It has suffered 16 years of civil war and has been desolated by war, poverty, illnesses (HIV/AIDS as well as malaria, cholera, etc.) and lack of education and job opportunities.
It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
This is Claria! She is three years old. She was officially adopted by Burundi Youth for Christ. BYFC is a national organization, run by Freddy and Maria Jose Tuyizere. They are fabulous people. Their vision is to raise up a new generation of healthy, educated young people with the love of Jesus to help rebuild their nation. They are in process of building the first ever English-speaking international academy in Gitega. It opens September 2012. There are two centers called Homes of Hope for children like Claria–one in Cibitoke (“chi-bi-toh-kee”) and one in Gitega (“gi-tay-guh”). Eight children live in one house with a mama, and one papa oversees that compound. The kids eat healthy, regular meals, get medical checkups, go to school, and a biblical upbringing. The difference between these kiddoes and the street kids, the kids we saw walking around with no parents, was like night and day. You’ll see.
This is the view of part of Cibitoke from the top of the hill where Claria’s home and the local church we visited are located.This young man babysat his little brother for three hours while Mom sat in a ladies’ meeting. The baby never cried; the kid never complained. They never bothered Mom. They never asked for a snack, a drink of water, or anything. And it was HOT that day. I was so impressed. We couldn’t speak a word to each other, but when I flexed my arm and smiled, to say “Show me your muscles” this boy grinned and flexed instantly. His arm was just a wiry mass of muscles. I gaped. I think he might be 10 years old, but he looks like an Olympic athlete already.A shot from children’s church on Sunday. About 80 children and 10 or so adults were crammed in a very small building. At the end, we asked the children to pray while we prayed for them. This beautiful young girl is originally from Rwanda, and she is 14 years old. She gave a powerful testimony of God’s protection and provision for her.I, along with three other ladies on my team, spent three days teaching women from churches all over the area. Most had walked, maybe some rode a bike or a pikipiki (motorcycle) or maybe got a seat on a bus. They were hand-picked from their churches to come and be taught so they could return and teach others. I love these women! They are incredibly strong, and beautiful, and FUN! We prayed for them after our meetings, but on the third day, I suggested we have them pray for each other. WOW. They knocked us out with their prayers! These women can pray. I couldn’t believe they even wanted us foreigners to pray for them.
One other note: see the little chocolate feet peeping out from either side of the lady in the middle? I loved that! So many women had a baby strapped on their backs. It was such a common sight–chocolate feet! 🙂
After pray, that’s when the fun began! It was time to sing and dance! I’ll never forget the joy we witnessed there. Now these women, you have to understand, have overcome so many obstacles in their lives. They’ve had children die of hunger and disease. They’ve lost their homes in the rainy seasons. Their husbands are overburdened with pastoring. They literally have to grow everything they eat. And yet they sing! They dance! They shout and they whistle, and they beat on drums. It felt like we were insulting them if we didn’t dance with them, so we did!Some of my favorite characters I met in Cibitoke. These kids are my “banditos”. They were a harums-scarum crew of kids who scaled the hill to come stare at the muzungus (white people). They were a little timid at first, but warmed up fast.Kids will be kids!Another day was food distribution for the poorest in the community. The local pastors divided up 600lbs of rice, 600 lbs of beans, and bars of soap (6 per household). People started showing up hours before it was time in the hot sun.I grabbed a chance to go to a local market with our hosts. I wanted to see what regular life was like in the village. We stopped to see an old WWII graveyard, and these kids walked by.At the market! I was pretty frustrated by my experience there. Pam and I stuck out like giraffes at a hamster party. Everyone stared at us. We were swarmed by people, and it did not afford me much of a chance to take any photos. I had to resort to leaving my camera hanging at my hip, and just trying to aim and take a shot without looking like I was. As you can see, it was a very colorful, busy place. So much to see!Eggplant. Delicious!One of several types of bananas. I couldn’t eat bananas for about a month once I got home, I was so sick of them.This lady graciously allowed me to photograph her with her baby.On we went to a very small community that evening. We really were the circus come to town. Everyone crowded around us. The children were thrilled when we took their pictures and showed them the backs of our cameras or cellphones. They cheered like Burundi had won the World Cup.Now. We had planned to have a children’s outreach one day. Sallie dreamed of inviting the street kids, the ones nobody looks after, to come and eat a meal. The wonderful ladies in Cibitoke’s Homes of Hope (little Claria’s home) cooked all day to feed what we thought would be 300 children. You know what an African stove looks like? Like a big pot sitting on top of a pile of burning wood.
Before the meal, we had a children’s service in the church. Here are three stragglers walking up the road. They didn’t know what to make of me.Into the church…Singing songs, and having fun.One of my banditos! (In the camouflage.)Watching a simple presentation of the Gospel. They were mesmerized.After hours of singing, games, the lesson, and memory verses, it was time to eat!! Shiny new tin plates heaped with rice, beans, meat and bananas were passed out. These precious babies were so good and patient! No fighting, no squirming.A large number of children came in after everyone had been served. We had realized we were feeding more like 400 children. But in reality, it was over 700.A beautiful little girl after she had just washed her face.My banditos! Mugging for the camera.Ahhhh! A real treat! They passed out bottles of Fanta and Coke! Most of these kids had never tasted a soft drink before.On to the next town, Gitega. Gitega was such a sweet relief after Cibitoke’s sultry, hot weather. In Gitega, I needed a jacket in the morning! It’s located up in the mountains, about 2 1/2 hours from the capital, Bujumbura.Local children, gathering wood.The most memorable part of my trip. Meet Claude. He thinks he is 11 years old. Most kids don’t know their birthdays. No one records it, and when parents die, there’s no one to ask. His father had died, and he said his mother left him and his siblings. He was currently staying at an “auntie’s” house. He does not go to school. We met him on the road up the mountain, Mt. Songa, the highest peak in Burundi early Wednesday morning. I shared my Fig Newtons with him, and he decided to accompany us up the peak. Every time I stopped to catch my breath (often) he would wait patiently. We never said a word to each other, as neither of us spoke the other’s language, but Freddy spoke to him and got the bit of his story which I share with you.
We all shared what we had with Claude when we got to the top. We spent time there, looking at the hills surrounding us, the countries we could see from that vantage point. On the way down, he stopped at his house and called. Three little girls in dresses came running out. He handed them his bag of treats and bottle of water. They took one look at us, and fled, yelling, “No! No!” Hilarious. It was difficult to say goodbye, now that I had held hands with Claude, shared breakfast with him. I think about him a lot. This photo causes a lot of discomfort. How can I help him? How can he go to school? There are problems in this world too great for me to understand or solve.This dear lady is the proud owner of a house built by Northpoint Church. She is a widow. She was delighted to see us and tell us how she is doing. We prayed with her. It was our last day in Gitega.I admired this kid’s attitude. I hastily grabbed this shot as my team, already loaded into the van, called for me to (again) hurry up!This young mother asked me to take her photo with her brand new infant. I gasped at his size. He was so tiny!!On the way out of Gitega, back down the mountain, we stopped at a memorial to students who were murdered during the civil war. This small school has had an edifice built over it. It was very somber, walking through the rooms.The outside view. Another rounded, domed structure stood nearby. In French, the words “This, never again!” stood out in gold letters across the top. Again, an incomprehensible moment for me. The point of this, Freddy said, was for us to see their history. To feel their pain. To become their friends, and help them heal. “When you come visit us, and here our story, we heal,” he said. “Burundi doesn’t need money. Burundi needs friends.” Over the course of that week, Burundi added a few more friends from a small town in south Texas. If you would like to visit, and learn more of their story and what Freddy and Marie Jose are doing in Burundi, please contact Burundi Youth for Christ.