Last weekend, I traveled to the interior of Burundi with John and Diana Nally who are visiting from Jackson, Michigan. Bishop Deogratias joined us on our journey to Mweya and Burenza. What a privilege to hear the Nallys’ heart for Burundi and to get a clearer picture of Deo’s plans for the coming months.
We arrived in time for lunch with the “Mweya Missionaries”: Wayne and Barb Vibbert and the Joshua and Amanda Brooks family. These folks are helping the Burundian church revitalize a Bible Institute where local church leaders are able to receive training which will help them better serve their communities. We toured the ITEM campus (roughly translated- Mweya Evangelical Institute of Theology) and enjoyed the beautiful weather.
Over the River and Through the Woods
On Sunday morning, the Nallys, Vibberts, Bishop Deo, and church leader Japhet all loaded into our car and made the 2 hour trip to Burenza. The first half hour is on semi-paved roads and the last 1.5 hours are on dirt roads that often are just wide enough for a vehicle but really made for a cow or a motorcycle. We drove through small groupings of adobe houses and banana and coffee fields. Recent rains let up over the weekend which made the Burenza visit even possible.
We arrived to a full church of several hundred people who were already singing. We took a quick tour of the clinic before entering the church. Bishop Deo was the special guest and speaker for the morning. The service was in Kirundi so I didn’t catch much of it but the big themes of celebrating what God has done in that community came through clearly. The Bishop shared from Matthew 6 with a challenge to be salt and light. The requisite post-service meal was provided by the local church. The goal for we who eat meat regularly is to honor those who sacrificed to give us a special meal and to not eat any more than necessary so that others may join in the feast. In this hospitable culture, however, not eating enough of a host’s food can be a sign of disrespect. The amount of food that a Burundian is able to eat at one sitting is truly amazing…but that may be the only food eaten that day.
When the after dinner speeches were concluded, we loaded up for the return trip. That evening, we joined the Brooks and Vibberts for a short time of singing hymns and praying. It is a privilege to share this missionary journey with other same-culture families. While we wouldn’t want to be isolated from the Burundian church, we are refreshed by the occasional opportunities to sing and pray in English.
Burenza Health Center
The point of this trip was to see the Burenza Health Center in action. The Nallys and I returned to Burenza on Monday morning to ask more questions and get a better sense of the work they were doing. The center opened about one week ago. The nurse is seeing about 20 patients per day with half being children. The usual Burundian diagnoses are present- lots of malaria, anemia, diarrhea, parasites, and other infections. There is a small area where patients can be kept overnight as well as a laboratory, pharmacy, and obstetrics area.
There are many barriers to overcome in order for this health center to thrive. Although patients are only charged 30 cents for a consultation, the cost of the medications and tests often pushes the total price to $3. That doesn’t sound like much but in an agricultural community, very few have the cash to afford this care. Negotiations are ongoing to allow the health center to join the government subsidy program that would provide care to children under 5 and to pregnant women. The Jackson FMC has been a tireless supporter of this work from the construction of the building to the purchase of some of the medications. Improvements are needed in a variety of areas but this clinic is already serving the community and will provide healthcare to people who would otherwise have no access. In this first week, the clinic is already giving medications on credit to patients who cannot afford them. While we can praise God for that mercy, we must pray and work toward a more sustainable and efficient model.
After sharing a fanta and some roasted chicken pieces with the Health Center staff, we drove out of the backwoods to Gitega where we enjoyed a lunch with the Vibberts. We finally headed down the mountain to Bujumbura- a total of 6.5 hours of driving in the day!
*Thank you to Diana Nally for sharing her pictures. Due to technical difficulties, most of our pictures were lost.