For twelve years, from 1993 to 2005, Burundi, a nation of 8 million people, suffered through a civil war that took the lives of an estimated 300,000 people. It was a horrendous time of slaughter and genocide. Men, women, children, the elderly, people who had no desire for fighting, were caught in the vortex of tribal hatred. Hutu and Tutsi killed one another with machete and machine gun, just because their tribe was different. During the twelve years of violence, 5% of the population was killed. If that same percentage held true in The United States, that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 million people. That kind of comparison shows with stark reality that everyone in this country lost someone, and some lost everyone.
Yet, here I am in the capital city of Bujumbura just six years later and you would never know that anything so horrific had taken place. The streets are full of people going about their daily lives. Shops are open. New homes have been built everywhere you look. A brand new beautiful university sits on the edge of town. Hospitals and schools are popping up all over. There is food in abundance. And smiles and laughter to last a life time. How in the world could such a transformation take place? The answer is simple. One man led the way to reconciliation and renewal by living and preaching the Gospel. That man is Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza.
I first met President Nkurunziza two years ago in Nairobi, at a summit for African political and church leaders. Yes I know, I am not an African. How and why I was invited is another story altogether. But as events unfolded it was clear that I was supposed to be there and was to find some way to support this president’s vision and mission. At the time of our meeting, he had been in office for four years. Already in that time he brought the warring sides together and called for the church and Christians to demonstrate forgiveness and love for enemies and neighbors alike. He and his wife also led the way by adopting more than a dozen orphans from both Hutu and Tutsi backgrounds and actually holding house church services in their home. He integrated the warring factions into one army that was already being used throughout parts of Africa as peace keeping forces. Just recently he was elected to a second six-year term, a first for this country that had never seen a previous democratically elected leader last more than a year.
In discussions with some other Christian leaders in Eastern Africa it was eventually decided that the first step in helping advance the vision for a peaceful and growing Burundi, would be to bring Northland’s training on Distributed Church Ministry and Simple Church Planting to the pastors of Burundi. So this week, Pastor Gus Davies and I, along with Northland Elder, Marcus Mennenga, joined with three Kenyan partners, in order to teach 75 pastors how to plant churches, serve the needs of people in their communities, and advance a Gospel of reconciliation in their country. For 12 hours a day for three days, we taught, and taught, and taught. we would break for less than an hour to eat and then get back at it again. And everyday the wife of President Nkurunziza was there as a student, taking notes, praying, and in the end sharing with the entire group how excited she was that these pastors were being equipped in ways that would help continue the transformation of Burundi.
The many conversations with these pastors, that took place over meals and at the close of the training, were humbling and inspiring all at once. I was humbled that these men who have been through so much, lost so much, suffered so much, acted as if we had brought them a hope for the future that they never dreamed possible. What inspired me was the commitment they have already demonstrated in living for Jesus, no matter what. Almost every one of them lives by faith. Sometimes there is money in the offering, sometimes not. But as person after person said, “God provides”. They left our training with a renewed energy and tools to reach and serve others. I can’t wait to go back in six months when we do the second level of training with these same pastors and get to hear the stories of changed lives and as a result, a changed country.