On Sunday, we traveled up to Bugarama to join a group of Americans and Burundians serving on a Palmetto Medical Initiative team. This is the same organization with which I served in May of this year. Pastor Emmanuel asked me to take some leadership with this team since he and the Project Director were not going to be in the country.
After two and a half years in Burundi, we are still relative rookies when it comes to knowing Burundian culture and language. We do, however, have cross-cultural experience, humility, and passable French. All of those were useful in this Murphy’s Law week. The team was enthusiastic to begin the week and on Monday we set up the clinic and pharmacy at a local church.
PMI provides nurses and other personnel while Harvest for Christ and PTI provide translators and general helpers. Three Hope Africa University medical students joined Dr. Anne, Dr. Santiana, and me in the provider area.
Unfortunately, Burundian bureaucratic realities caught up with this team after seeing only 37 patients. After failing to secure last minute approval, the team stopped seeing patients until the authorization could be given. Two days of phone calls and negotiating followed but ultimately the permission was denied. The Americans received this news graciously even though we were all disappointed to be unable to help the hundreds of Burundians who were coming to see us.
We then began looking for local ministries which might be willing to host this team for other projects. We set up a tour of the Harvest for Christ Muramvya campus- an outreach to the Batwa, a consistently marginalized group in Sub-Saharan Africa. We also planned a working visit to The Cries Of A Child, a ministry to orphans in the Bukeye community.
The next morning, however, the provincial police became interested in the team. This “interest” led to a temporary restraining order keeping us away from Bukeye and not allowing us to leave our hotel (imagine photo inserted here of police officer with a very large gun. We don’t take those pictures.). We still do not know what provoked this response but it was obvious to us at that point that the team needed to return to Bujumbura. This is not shocking to us but at the same time does not fit the usually hospitable picture we have of Burundians. I grieve especially the impression that this gave to our American guests who are now going to be ambassadors for a different Burundi than the one we have come to know.
As the team descended the mountain to Buja, our family drove over to Kibuye to visit our colleagues there and to welcome a young couple considering service with HAU. We always enjoying seeing those friends and our kids were able to play in the nearby forest and enjoy the more temperate climate. On our way, we stopped in to see the Brooks family who have just moved to Burundi to work with the Bible School in Mweya.
Josh was the lead pastor at Wenatchee FMC, one of the churches which has generously supported us. They are staying in Mweya for 4 months. We remember being new to Burundi and hope that we can be an encouragement to them even though they are 2 hours away from us.
On Thursday, we returned to Bujumbura with a short stop at the Harvest for Christ site where we said hello to our Canadian friends serving with MBMission and Harvest. The kids enjoyed seeing a 1 day old calf there as well as a chance to break up the trip back to Buja.
Friday was Assumption Day and a busy holiday for this predominantly Catholic nation. We appreciated the opportunity to recover and settle back in to the Buja heat. Friday night was the farewell dinner for the PMI team and we joined them at the Martha Hotel for a delicious meal. Of course the meal was followed by a number of speeches and goodbye hugs.
We would not want to live this way all the time but it was a blessing to step out of our routines for a week. The opportunity to see other ministries and to encourage co-workers is not glamorous missionary work but can be real gifts. We’re thankful that we’ve been able to give and receive those gifts in our years of missions work. And what about your mission field? Are you encouraging those laboring alongside you? Is there someone who needs a visit or a note from you today?