Today I felt like I was observing history in the making. I was one of over two hundred people who gathered for the African Forum on Religion and Government just outside Nairobi Kenya. The Minister of Information from Liberia spoke about how Jesus is changing that nation. He was followed by the Vice President of Kenya who shared a similar story of his nation. But the highlight, without a doubt was the President of The Republic of Burundi, Pierre Nikurunziza.
To understand why this was so compelling and inspirational you need to know a few things. First, President Nikurunziza is the first democratically elected president of that country to be in office longer than three months! His father was a member of parliement and governor who was killed in 1972 when 100,000 other Burundians were killed in a rampage of ethnic violence. In 1993 civil war erupted, again prompted by ethnic division. In the ensuing war between ethnic Hutu and Tutsi, five of his siblings were killed and he escaped death when his car was riddled with gun fire before he got out an ran away. Estimates are that upwards of 300,000 Burundians lost their lives in the civil war. That is a staggering number in itself but even more so when you consider that one out of every 25 Burundians died in that war. If a similar percentage was applied to the USA then we would be talking about over 11 million dead. The impact of that much death in a country is beyond comprehension.
Since becoming president four years ago, Nikurunziza has worked on a principle of reconciliation prompted by his deep love for Jesus Christ. The result has been the disbanding of the rebel factions and their inclusion into the army and police force. There is such a unity within the army that the Burundians are now serving as peace keeping forces in at least three other African countries. The president said, “We have a responsibility to bring to others, the peace that Almighty God has brought to Burundi”.
The resulting peace in Burundi has allowed them to begin rebuilding the country. The focus has been on hospitals and schools. In the past few years they have built over 500 schools throughout the country and for the first time are building hospitals without having to wait on foreign aid to do it. That kind of work is also motivated by the presidents faith in Christ. There is an understanding that the whole Gospel, preached to the whole person, must include more than just an assurance of getting to heaven. If Jesus came to set the prisoner free, to heal the sick, to restore people to wholeness, then the building of schools and hospitals, the push for racial reconciliation and the efforts to bring peace to other lands are all seen as part of the responsibility of the government under the command of God.
To sit and listen to a head of state speak so openly about his faith in Christ was a unique experience. To hear him talk about how that faith in Christ, faith in the Gospel, motivated him to be a blessing to all the people of his country, not just to Christians, was an inspiration. Certainly Burundi has a long way to go. The peace is still young and as such can be fragile. In a country with a history for assasinating it’s leaders, the life of President Nikurunzizi is stressful to say the least. Pray for him. Pray for his country that it can be a model for others.