Last week, a person or group made their way along our street stealing all of the doorbells. This practice is well known in Burundi and could perhaps be considered a micro-enterprise. An item is stolen from the house or, more frequently, from a vehicle while it is parked in town. The part is probably not readily available except at the Toyota dealership. The owner of said house or vehicle then goes to the “doorbell vendor” or the “sideview mirror shop” downtown to buy back the missing part. Wink, Wink- we know that you stole it or bought it from someone who did and yet I’m willing to pay you something to avoid the cost and nuisance of buying this new.
This puts a little cash into the economy and the owner who can presumably afford this “tax” gets his mirror or doorbell (or whatever) returned. I don’t lose sleep over the injustice of this. It is the price of living and working in a desperately poor country. If the same person had come to my door asking for the equivalent of a doorbell- maybe a few dollars- I confess that I wouldn’t have readily given it to him. (Interestingly, now that we don’t have a doorbell, I won’t be confronted with begging or uninvited guests.) This is one of the tensions that most cross-cultural workers face- we want to enter the community and be available to people but we also tend toward isolating ourselves or filling our lives with same-culture contacts. (No, I didn’t steal my own doorbell to avoid being bothered!)
Our work here is a long term investment in the Burundian economy. In the future our doctors will hopefully find work in the medical field (it isn’t a given in this country) and be able to not only support their families but also contribute to Burundi’s recovery. But there will continue to be desperately poor people and families here for years to come. It is tempting to quote Jesus saying that “the poor you will always have among you” and let it go as the true condition of this fallen world. My worldview and theology, however, challenge me to struggle and strive in order to see the Kingdom come- the redemptive, compassionate, counter-intuitive Kingdom. We don’t always get it right. And there are times when we prefer to be isolated or stick to our safe community. But today I say with confidence that it is going to take more than a lost doorbell to make us lose hope.