A Discourse to My Heart From the Rain Season

 

Approaching thunderstorm

Approaching thunderstorm

“He fills his hands with lightning 
and commands it to strike its mark.  His thunder announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach.   At this my heart pounds 
and leaps from its place  Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.  He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth.  After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
he holds nothing back.   God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.”    (Job 36:32-37:5)

Filling of the storm drains during one of these storms.

Filling of the storm drains during one of these storms.

This poetic writing expresses the sense of awe I feel each day as the rainy season has descended on Burundi. It can be a sunny morning and then in a matter of minutes everything changes. Clouds gather and begin to spill over the mountains to the west. The rumbling of thunder is heard somewhat distant but then with a flash of lightning and another rumble and I nearly jump out of my chair with the increased volume. The storm sweeps in from the west following the ridge of the mountains, traveling over the plains to the north, the top of Lake Tanganyika then onto Congo’s mountains to the east.

Since our house sits on the side of a hill with a panoramic view of the west, north and east when these storms move in, so swift and powerfully, I become aware again my own human frailty in the face of such forces of nature juxtaposed to the limitless power of God who created these forces and controls them still. It has also come to my attention just how much louder and abrupt the thunder is than another new sound I have come to hear on occasion in Burundi, that of the explosive sound of grenades, mortar blasts or RPGs.   As opposed to the thunder which you can hear approaching, these man-made sounds erupt as an interruption that doesn’t belong but tries to grab and hold your attention in fear.

These boulders were not here last year! Results of a recent deluge.

These boulders were not here last year! Results of a recent deluge.

The aftermath of a mudslide--road closures and rebuilding.

The aftermath of a mudslide–road closures and rebuilding.

This contrast has deepened my faith consciousness as it demonstrates God’s ways over man’s ways. These thunderstorms can move across the sky quickly dumping volumes of rain that can displace boulders, reroute rivers and overflow the storm channels. People often loose their homes, lives and livelihoods. While it can be the same with the man-made thunderstorm of violence, nature’s thunderstorms come without the intent of malice, vengeance or forced submission. They just move in their sphere of superiority and magnificence, wordlessly speaking of things we humans do not know or understand. While this could be a fearsome thing, as I stand inside the protection of the house and watch the tempest rainstorm pour down nearly every time when it is over there has been an amazing rainbow stretching across the sky carrying its reminder of a promise made by its Maker of love, forbearance and compassion for all the earth. Not so after the man-made thunder of arms.

Double rainbow!

Double rainbow!

There has been more rain than usual this season perhaps that is why these thunderstorms seem so much more pronounced than I remember them from last year. Or perhaps it’s the contrast with the man-made thunder that has caused me to give greater attention, contemplation and consideration to them. Whatever the reason it has caused me to lift my eyes to the skies and find my heart saying, “Come, Lord, come, show Your power and glory, fill the earth with the knowledge of You, as the waters cover the sea.”

Gilbert is well prepared for the rain as he rides a bike. The zinnias also love it!

Gilbert is well prepared for the rain as he rides a bike. The zinnias also love it!

We hold to the promise of the rainbow and look for good things to come!

 

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Recent Highlights

Lake Tanganyika looking across to Congo at sunset

Lake Tanganyika looking across to Congo at sunset

Due to living in an unsettled situation in which we’ve experienced things we knew were possible but certainly not very probable (i.e. political protests, an attempted coup d’état, sporadic gunfire and grenades becoming less unusual) we take great joy in the following recent events and the gift of each day.

Mobile eye clinic arrives at our gate.

Mobile eye clinic arrives at our gate.

John with his eye clinic team.

John with his eye clinic team.

 

First, in early October John Cropsey (from our Serge sister team) took a group from his eye clinic at Kibuye across the border to D.R.Congo for a week of eye surgeries and ophthalmology care. It was our pleasure to host them the first night of their trip allowing them to arrive refreshed the next day in D.R.C.. Their joy, camaraderie and enthusiasm were quite delightful. They were able to do 63 sight restorations and many eye exams during their week!

 

Gad and Caitlin's wedding.

Gad and Caitlin’s wedding.

 

 

Next, we attended a wedding between one of the graduated medical students of 2014 and the granddaughter of missionary friends. Gad and Caitlin have grown up knowing one another due to their families long time friendship and shared ministry. It was another testimony to how the Spirit and love are not bound by culture.  We were happy to be witnesses to this new marriage.

Caitlin's grandparents and our friends, Barb and Wayne.

Caitlin’s grandparents and our friends, Barb and Wayne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Randy!!! Doesn't he look relaxed?

Happy Birthday, Randy!!!
Doesn’t he look relaxed?

Fortunately, there was a mid-semester break right on Randy’s birthday weekend so we were able to get away to a small lakeside resort south of Bujumbura for two night. This was just what the doctor needed—some downtime, no students, no work, no problems, just time to read, sleep and talk. Our teammates, the Watts, joined us for one night, giving us more time to get to know each other and build our team.

One of my English classes.

One of my English classes.

Each day we are able to meet with students, either in the classroom or for Randy on rounds in the clinic, it is an event for thanksgiving. My classes are in the morning so there’s been no problems meeting. But George teaches in the late afternoon because his students are graduates who work and then come to evening classes. He’s had to cancel classes a number of times due to gunfire being heard in the area close to the campus. Fortunately, he’s been able to move his class to meet at another location, more secure and much quieter.

George's new place to meet for class.

George’s new place to meet for class.

One last highlight that has really tickled me is the growth of the herbs planted in the new brick planter. Both the Thai basil and the common basil have shot up along with some cilantro, parsley and zinnias. I’ve made pesto, Thai basil coconut curry and froze some basil as well. There are also some “volunteer” seeds such as tomato, eggplant, cucumber and papaya coming up, as we mixed some soil from the compost pile into the planter. As the rains have begun, the plants seem to have just the right amount of sun and rain for plentiful growth. They have become a testimony to me to remember that “He makes all things beautiful in its time” (Ecc. 3:11). It’s a needed reminder that calls me to wait, trust and rest in God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Herbs and flowers growing.

Herbs and flowers growing.

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The Making of a Planter Box

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“Try to leave things better than you found them.” This was a motto I grew up with and for good or ill passed onto my own children. I hope it will be part of the legacy I leave in my life in general but also specifically here in Burundi where we now live. Some days it’s difficult to know if I’ve added anything, have made anything better or just caused more confusion and been more trouble or work for someone. But here is the story of one thing that seems to be better on several levels.

Sizing up the work.

Sizing up the work.

The house we live in has a lot of concrete around it along with two patches of grass and several planted areas of large scrubs. I have wanted to grow some herbs and flowers but there seemed to be no good place to do so. I was going to resort to buying cement planter boxes when Gilbert, the man who works for us suggested building a planter box around the base of the water tank. This spot was just gravel with a cement walkway. Not an eye-soar but not anything to look at either. So I asked him how much such a thing would cost and who could do it, not sure if I wanted to enter into a project that had lots of potential to turn sour or costly. He quickly figured up a rough estimate but said he’s call the mason to come give a bid. Meanwhile, I sought the permission from the landlord.

The work begins.

The work begins.

The next day the mason and his worker arrived to give an estimate for the work, bricks, sand and cement. To match the bricks already used in the yard would be a bit extra, of course. To have them carried into the yard would also be a bit more, of course. But the total price was much less than I’d expected (about $60); the price of three cement boxes. But more importantly, everyone was looking for work after the difficult economic times of the past six months of political crises so this could benefit others on several levels. When the landlord gave approval, it was “a go”.

First, five hundred bricks arrived via two little yellow tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis that sound like a lawn-mower). Four men carried them from the street into the yard stacking them in neat piles in very hot weather. They seemed surprised but very grateful to receive large cups of cold water before leaving. Then the sand arrived, carried in on someone’s head, dumped in a pile two or three times. Next, I was to purchase a bag of cement, so Gilbert and I drove to the street in town that specializes in cement where I gave him the money and he returned to the car with a 25 kg sack of cement. All was in place and ready for the work to begin.

Near the end of day one.

Near the end of day one.

During the construction we also had the negotiation over the soil to fill the planter. A few days after the planter was finished and dried, two women arrived, babies on their backs, bags of soil on their heads.   They began filling the planter with black earth. Each trip took them nearly an hour to go and return by foot. When they were finished and I went to pay the mason, who had arranged it all, he told me they were the wives of he and his worker. I paid him the price we had negotiated but then found the women outside our gate and “tipped” them for their work. “I’ve paid you for the soil and work, but this is theirs”, I said through Gilbert, my interpreter. The mason laughed and agreed. Since then I have seen these same women working other construction jobs on our street (which seems to have a burst of building going on). They smile at me and wave their free hands while carrying sacks of dirt, sand or rocks on their heads. They have no idea how much respect I have for them.

The women bringing the dirt.

The women bringing the dirt.

The planter box is an improvement over the bare gravel area. The herb and flower seeds have been planted and are beginning to sprout. Providing work for others was beneficial for them. Experiencing their industriousness and integrity was beneficial to me. The positive cross-cultural human interaction we shared has left all of us better for it; more ready to extend dignity and kindness to others.

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I’m very glad Gilbert made the suggestion to build a planter box!  And very excited to finally have some herbs growing!

Finished planter.

Finished planter.

 

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Returnees!

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IMG_20150906_124425811_HDR“What’s this?”   “Who’s that I see?”  So these crested cranes seemed to be saying. They are the mascots at one of the local restaurants in Bujumbura. They seemed as genuinely happy to see our teammates the Watts back in town as we are!

First arrivals from the airport-- Cropsey clan

First arrivals from the airport– Cropsey clan

Starting on August 28th there has been an influx of Serge returnees to Burundi. This meant: multiple trips to the airport—4 in one day—for the Kibuye Serge team, beds occupied in two houses for nine adults and five children for the night, great conversation as we reconnected over dinner and breakfast, luggage unpacked and repacked in two vehicles for the drive up to Kibuye. It was a testimony to God’s protection and blessing over each one as we had all left the country in May or June unsure of how and when this day of returning would be. To say we were thankful falls short of the level of gratitude we all felt, despite their jet lag!

Our sister Serge team headed out for Kibuye.

Our sister Serge team headed out for Kibuye.

Our joy over their return was followed by more joy as the next day we welcomed our teammates, the Watts, back to Bujumbura—all six of them! Everyone knows how good it is to return to your own space after being on vacation, multiple that exponentially and you might come close to what it feels like to return to your home after you’ve been displaced due to circumstances beyond your control. They had been displaced first to Kibuye and then to Rwanda since mid May. They were very happy to be returning too!

Our teammates--George, Susan and Alma.

Our teammates–George, Susan and Alma.

As we all re-engage in our work and life here in Burundi we see how much harder it has been and continues to be for others who have weathered the recent crisis. They have lost much, including, but not only: money, business, wages, family members to displacement, studies, time, optimism, trust and hope. I have become even more aware of how each interaction can either build up or tear down in this time of recovery from chaos and crisis. When someone says, “Oh, you’re back!” with a smile in their eyes and a tone of surprise in their voice, I know they are feeling the infusion of hope that having others return brings. It makes me even happier to be back and to have others return too!

 

 

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The Exceptional and the Mundane–the Stuff of Life

 

Extraordinary--wedding photos being taken and mundane--man to the right getting water.

Extraordinary–wedding photos being taken and mundane–man to the right getting water.

It may be hard to see but this is a picture taken from our balcony; a wedding party taking photos while off to the right side a man is doing his daily task of getting water by filling jugs from some source near the palm tree. Life is a patchwork of the exceptional and the mundane, no matter what culture you live in. But this picture captures well what many of us living in Bujumbura are experiencing; some hopefulness that enables us to return to the stuff of life.

Life as normal, for Burundi that is.

Life as normal, for Burundi that is.

Over the past three weeks since our return to Bujumbura we’ve seen many such signs of life returning to the pre-April political tensions. Normally many people leave during the “summer months” when schools are out, taking their family vacations into the interior to be with extended family or off to other places to visit relatives. So even last year when we returned from our summer break in July we noticed less people in the city and a swelling as September approached and schools resumed. But this year it was different, the city was eerily empty when Randy left in late June. Now, I’m happy to see, Burundian traffic jams have returned, along with masses of bike taxis, moto-taxis and cars.

Students taking final exam.

Students taking final exam.

Each day more and more students have been returning to the university seeking to take up their studies again. I’ve been able to consolidate the classes we missed by making-up two to three sessions per class and giving a final exam to those who were present (about half the original number). A new semester is scheduled to begin in two weeks. Students and professors are both excited to be returning. Unfortunately, there are many sad stories of students in very precarious positions due to increased economic hardships in connection with the political turmoil of the past three months. But the fact that they are returning speaks to the hope we all have to continue with the stuff of life.

Class of mostly D.R.C. students returning to school.

Class of mostly D.R.C. students returning to school.

And here’s another sign of hope—a new business opening! Amahoro Café, a joint venture of some Burundians and Americans, opened its doors today, after a three-month postponement, serving burritos, chips and salsa to those of us fortunate enough to be living here. Yum! Our first mexican food in Bujumbura!  And how fitting is their name–“Amahoro” which means “peace” in Kirundi, the greeting people give each other here!  Today we are rejoicing in the stuff of life, both the exceptional and the mundane!!!

Another great restaurant in Buja!

Another great restaurant in Buja!

 

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Faithful Workers

 

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There are several parables in the Bible about a man who goes away on a trip and puts his servant in charge of his property. The master is away a very long time and while his return is expected it is unknown. When he does return he praises the servant who has faithfully continued to work even without the eye of his master. The master is so delighted with the faithfulness of his servant that he sits the servant down at the table and serves him.

Bujumbura

Bujumbura

I was reminded of these stories as we just returned to Burundi after being absent for a long time; two months for me and five weeks for Randy. To our delight, we returned to find our workers still here, faithfully working and everything in our house in order. Our return was unannounced and perhaps unexpected since we left during the political upheaval and protests. Many people in Bujumbura left the city.  I know at least one of our workers had the opportunity to go to Rwanda. But here they were, still in Bujumbura, coming to work each day, doing their duties faithfully even when no one was watching, trusting they would be paid, hoping we would return.

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Our night guard continued to come each night to keep watch over the house and be a presence that discouraged intruders.

Jack of all trades!

Jack of all trades!

Our day worker who gardens, cleans, guards and assists us in whatever we need, kept the house clean and ready for us and any visitor who might come.

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Our Sunday guard who works on Sundays so the day worker can go to church and have Sundays off.

These men have demonstrated an incredible work ethic! Their diligence and faithfulness has been an example to me of how I’m called to do my work. There are others like them throughout Burundi; diligent, dedicated and resourceful.  As well as many more who would like the opportunity to work, not only for the pay but for the value of work itself.  Wow!  It’s good to be back!

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

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Vacations are usually relaxing and overdue, well earned and critically needed; at least for type A, over-conscientious people.   Our first week in France really met the need to relax, disengage from all the stress and tension of the political uncertainties in Burundi and enjoy many good things. We were thankful to have our “out of Burundi” time begin there.

Biking in Vancouver

Biking in Vancouver

Since then we have spent nearly a week in Virginia, one in Canada and two in Washington. It’s been great to spend time with family, friends and share with supporters about the work in Burundi while also enjoying great roads, fast internet and long days of summer sunlight. We continue to read in the news of the ongoing political tensions leading up to elections, now moved to the 21st of July, praying, hoping it will be peaceful and we can return on July 23rd.

Randy talking to Issac who is holding one of his new sons.

Randy talking to Issac who is holding one of his new sons.

As we’ve been in the Seattle area where many of the supporters and original missionaries to Burundi live (particularly the medical work) Randy offered to give a report of the progress of the medical school. Last week we were able to gather with these “giants of the faith” who began the good work at Kibuye and HAU. A surprising and wonderful addition was that one of the first graduates of the medical school, Issac and his wife, Rachel, were also there with their five week old twins! We realize again how we stand on the shoulders of giants. The small, daily, continuous things we do—teaching, scheduling, organizing, reassuring, being present in Burundi living among the students—bears fruit that often can only be seen in the long-range perspective.

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It was a blessing to be among so many faithful servants who have gone before and tell them of the progress of the medical school. They also were thankful for the continued work in the areas they had labored in for so many years. There are moments in time that we get a glimpse of just how big and far reaching is God’s work in a particular place and that we are just a very small part of something far, far grander that we could ever imagine. Much like the grander of an enormous tree, grown slowly over time, bearing good fruit and greater effects than any can know or count.  Being encouraged we look forward to returning to Burundi next week, Lord willing!

 

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A Change of View

View from my apartment.

View from my apartment.

After a week of waiting for the airport to re-open, three plane flights, a bus, a train, a taxi and a two-hour train delay, I finally arrived in Sancerre, France a little over two weeks ago.   The view from the back window of the small, third-floor apartment I am living in is definitely different than where I was in Bujumbura.  It is beautiful, calm and restorative.

HAU campus empty due to protests near by.

HAU campus empty due to protests near by.

My heart aches for the continued situation in Burundi.  When I read the news I can imagine the impact on those who continue to live in the uncertainly of this time.  Those with whom our lives continue to be connected with and those we hope to see again soon.  But since I can do nothing there presently, it has been a great benefit for me to be in a constructive environment.  So here I am doing more french language learning.  Hoping that being here by myself, speaking only french, will give me the remediation I need to progress beyond “Bonjour”.

French school in Sancerre

French school in Sancerre

There are many different types of schools for french language learning.  Our school in Albertville was one type, with many good qualities.  However, it was not a good fit for me and it left me with a deep lack of confidence in myself and in any ability to speak.  So having this opportunity to participate in a school that is quite different has been very encouraging and healing for me.

Entrée course of our french dinner.

Entrée course of our french dinner.

Classes are only half the day (that’s all my old brain can take!).  There are excursions every week to cultural events to put one directly into authentic language situations.  One event was cooking a french meal together–all in french, of course.  Another was to a small historical village of potters.   I’ve opted for the combination course which gives weekly private lessons along with the classes, so I can work on the things I need, like just speaking with someone gently correcting me.  And there’s time for long walks to absorb the beauty and mull over the things I’m learning.

Sancerre on top of the highest hill around the countryside.

Sancerre on top of the highest hill around the countryside.

I would like to say that due to these things I am now “fluent” but that is not the case.  What is the case is I understand so much more than I did, I have more confidence to at least try and I believe I can make progress.  Perhaps even more important has been the deep healing I’ve sensed that I didn’t really know I needed.  I realize too how important it will be for us to recalibrate our french language learning from time to time, if we are to speak well with other french speakers in Burundi.

Typically french.

Typically french.

Bon courage!  There is hope–for my french speaking.   I have one more week of classes until Randy will join me here in France.  He will definitely need time to de-stress from the last three weeks of living in tension and change in Burundi.  I hope being amidst people who are carrying on life normally (minus political uncertainly and the stress of fear) will be part of that remedy for him, as it has been for me.   A good french meal or two might also help with that!   As will the times ahead of being in the U.S. with our family and friends.

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The View From Behind Our Walls

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For the past three and a half weeks the view inside our walls has become very familiar to me as the city of Bujumbura has experienced protests, closures, an attempted and failed coup d’état and the aftermath of it all.  Most people have stayed at home behind their walls only venturing out as need be for food and essential business (us included).   And although everyone would like to have it over, get on with life and return to “normal”,  there are still elections to come for the Parliament and Presidency.  Many want to see multiple days of calm, quiet and peace before they venture out, send children back to school, make plans beyond tomorrow.

Day 2 of protests--watching from clinic as protestors marched down the street in front of university.

Day 2 of protests–watching from clinic as protestors marched down the street in front of university.

For nearly a month the classrooms have been empty, not the least of which is because the university sits between two of the protesting neighborhoods where there has been teargas, water canons, gunfire and some deaths.  Many students have returned to their homes upcountry or in other countries or found places to stay in different neighborhoods.  Randy has continued to go to the clinic to make rounds on days that are quiet but even he has had to go through police checks and avoid streets that have been barricaded.

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We’ve sent visiting professors home early since they had no students to teach and movement around the city became difficult and increasingly unsafe.   We’ve sent our team mates upcountry to a calmer environment for their family.  We made plans for me to go to France to continue studying French since I am unable to do much else here.   Unfortunately, the day before I was to leave the attempted coup took place closing airports and borders.  (Then there was also the small issue of the fact that our passports were in immigration getting the exit visas to leave the country, we now have them in hand.)  Over the past weekend many expat families have taken their dependents out of the country as schools are not reopening, movement around the city has been so restricted and the tension of protests and fighting have made normal life untenable.

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As circumstances so often teach us–we know that we are not in control.  We find ourselves caught up in historic and political events beyond us.  We try to make informed decisions but we find our cultural expectations and experiences are no match for events such as this.  We desire to continue with our purpose for being here but unable to due to these things beyond our control.  We know our call and commitment is bigger than the road blocks we are experiencing but we have no ability to remove them.  Our human responses of frustration, anger and fear are not constructive and drain us of hope if we dwell on them.  We find ourselves “treading water”, seeking still to be productive, work, serve and not give up.

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For Randy this has meant continuing to make rounds, orchestrate sending students to various hospitals for stages under changing circumstances and making contacts with professors and resources for classes that will need to be taught in the future.  He seems to take it all in stride, always seeking to find a contingency plan when a road block appears.  Maybe that’s his years of ER training kicking in.

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For me, I am still trying to get to France to participate in a french language immersion course, which has proved to be quite difficult in the current state of things.  So as I experience my frustration level hit the ceiling, especially after nearly a month of being a “caged bird”, I am reminded to reiterate to myself the true reality that is above and beyond my emotions (Habakkuk 3:17-19, for example).  I find I must look at the beauty and wonder that is around me speaking hope.  And I must continue to pray for others, especially those who are full of fear and have limited means for escape or safety.   We continue to trust in the One who holds all things in His hands and never forsake us.

Here is another perspective of these events from our sister team, http://mccropders.blogspot.com     We share many of these same observations and experiences but it’s too much to write in one blog post.

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Beseeching From the Sidelines

 

Bridge at bottom of the hill from our house.

Bridge at bottom of the hill from our house.

Yesterday we sat on our balcony hearing repeated gunshots being fired for 20 minutes near the bridge less than a mile from our house. Again, we did one of the few things we are able to do, we prayed for peace, calm, restraint, wisdom and self-control for all those in Burundi.  This is the position we find ourselves in, on the sidelines, highly affected, hurting, watching, yet helpless to do much other than pray, stand, hope for Burundi and those we have come to know and care about here.

Looking over Bujumbura

Looking over Bujumbura

For the past ten days there have been protests in Bujumbura as a result of the announcement on April 25 from the President’s party that he is to be their candidate to run for election in June. If you’ve seen any news of late you will know this announcement was met with a wide range of responses—some rejoiced, some fled Burundi into neighboring countries (up to 40,000 now), some took to the streets to protest, some moved into the interior of the country to be safe and some are just staying at home.

Watching a cultural event.

Watching a cultural event.

We are guests here. It is not our country. We are on the sidelines, bystanders. We have no vote, no political power or influence. We feel helpless as we see the fear and tension in those we know—colleagues, students, workers, neighbors, church members—due to the pain and loss they experienced because of the twelve years of civil war. The last thing  Burundians want is to return to war, violence, fighting. Their collective past magnifies their fear such that much of Bujumbura has come to a stand still because of the uncertainty of what will happen over the next weeks coming up to elections.

Many shops are closed because many people have left the city.

Many shops are closed because many people have left the city.

The day-to-day business of life has been greatly affected: schools have been closed the past week and a half, shops have been closed or open shorter hours due to a lack of goods, services have been limited due to workers absenteeism.  The University of Burundi sent its students home and closed the dorms for the remainder of the semester. HAU has also been closed especially due to protests in the two neighborhoods on either side of the campus. Traffic on the road is considerably less as people are not going to work or out of their houses so there is little need for motorcycle and bike-taxis. Seeking safety and unable to make a living, some have left the city returning to their family home in the interior.

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Though we personally feel safe, our hearts are heavy with the grief, fear and stress we see in others and with how they are being affected by these events.   We may be bystanders in that we are not their countrymen but we link arms with them and others around the world, beseeching our Heavenly Father to bring peace, restore safety, create trust and draw Burundians together.

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