Sixteen years ago I was desperate to work overseas amongst some of the world’s poorest people. So after one interview where I exaggerated my ability to speak French (almost none, to be honest) I found myself being posted to Burundi. As I had no real skills – a theology degree being of little use when it comes to providing people with schools, water and sanitation – I was made logistics officer.
I was responsible for maintaining vehicles, running offices, looking after communications, buying supplies and monitoring security. I loved it but probably wasn’t very good at my job (you should read this by my more competent successor).
It was then, and remains now, one of the bottom five poorest countries in the world. This beautiful, landlocked little country has been torn apart by ethnic divisions, desperate poverty and civil war.
While there I was privileged to meet and call as friend one of the craziest, funniest and most inspiring people I have ever come across, Simon Guillebaud. We went running together, swam in other people’s swimming pools, played Risk while breaking curfew and encouraged each other to follow Christ. I soon moved on, Simon, now a Burundian national, remained.
I’m explaining this because Burundi is once again on the edge of the precipice and Simon is still there in the thick of it, when most others have left. I wanted to use this blog to encourage you to care about and pray for Simon, his family and for the nation of Burundi.
What has caused the current crisis?
President Nkurunziza (a professed Christian) caused a crisis but deciding to run for a dubiously constitutional third term. Then on May 13th while the President was in Tanzania there was an attempted but ultimately failed coup. Since his return the President is pushing ahead with elections but due to the tensions it’s impossible that they could be called free or fair. On May 24th the leader of the opposition was gunned down in the street. Thousands of the world’s poorest are fleeing to neighbouring Congo or Rwanda (also very poor). Governments are withholding aid and the economy has taken a huge hit.
For more on the background and the political situation read this
Here are some pictures of the turmoil in Burundi
what is daily life like in bujumbura?
I’ll quote Simon.
20.05.2015 – More and more people are fleeing, getting searched at roadblocks even on their phones and laptops for pictures to see if they’re incriminated….Cholera has broken out amongst refugees, whose numbers are swelling by the hour in neighouring countries.
25.05.2015 – The sound of gunfire in the capital is normal now. Most people are petrified… My colleague Mariko told me just now his 3-year-old daughter Clarice is so traumatised by the shooting that every time she hears a gunshot she pees herself – she’s peeing herself multiple times these days.
01.06.2015 – More friends are fleeing the country. Random grenades are going off in the centre of town spreading further fear. The Burundian Franc is losing its value fast. The economy is grinding to a halt and the effects will be felt in the months and years to come.
What are the challenges for Christians in Burundi?
How do you avoid the violence? At a recent gathering of 400 youth leaders, these were the kind of questions they wrestled with:
One lad asked: “At night, when I’m on guard duty to protect my community from rogue forces, I have my machete with me, as does my pastor. Am I allowed to use it? I have to, don’t I?” Not your average youth conference questions…
In 1993 aand 1994 it wasn’t just Rwanda that suffered a genocide. In Burundi only 300,000 died. In these supposedly Christian nations people asked, ‘where did God’s people go?’ Simon and others are staying so that question can’t be asked a second time.
We’re here, standing strong, come what may, mobilizing youth and pastors and community leaders to preach and live out a costly message of light and life and peace for the glory of Jesus. That’s worth living and dying for!
how can i help?
You can give. Great Lakes Outreach (GLO) does amazing life-chainging work. Spiritual needs are met and physical needs are never ignored. It’s an investment that you won’t regret. It will save lives and promote peace.
You can pray. Life in Burundi can be exhausting, demanding, challenging and that’s if you have all the advantages of being able to leave when you want, for those that can’t it’s another magnitude of hardship. These dear brothers & sisters need your prayers.
“Sovereign Lord, would justice be done, would peace reign, would you soften hard hearts and keep the people of Burundi from further harm. Would you strengthen your church there with hope, courage, strength. Would you provide for their needs through the generosity and love of your people and may they never ask again, ‘where have your people gone?’. May your kingdom come and your will be done, in Burundi as in heaven. Amen”