This is my first attempt to reflect on my recent trip to Burundi. Of course, I have been reflecting non-stop in my mind but those thoughts are more random than anyone would care to read here. So I will try to reign in that temptation to go off on every tangent that comes to mind…you can thank me later.
Janette and I both have a peace that we are to keep moving toward service in Burundi. The specifics are still up in the air as is the timing. This is not a decision that has been made in a moment of exhilaration after my trip to Burundi. Rather, it is the culmination of several years of God-promptings to consider this opportunity. Godly leaders in the church as well as trusted friends have encouraged this step. Even our kids have kept the idea in front of us asking, “When are we going to move again?” and “When do I get to take my first trip to Africa?”
With that background, I ventured with 3 friends to Burundi about 3 weeks ago. Getting there is a bit of a marathon with over 20 flying hours on Ethiopian Airlines including brief stops in Rome, Addis Ababa, and Kigali. Scott, Chris, Dave, and I started connecting or re-connecting during those hours. We each had a different agenda for the trip and I think we were stretched and strengthened by the people we met and the progress we witnessed.
The vision that Bishop Elie Buconyori has for Hope Africa University (HAU) and for the Burundian Free Methodist Church is compelling. His decades-old dream of a Christian University in the “heart of Africa” is becoming reality. The hard work of many Africans and expats as well as the generous support of Western donors are coming together at just the right time to see the Kingdom come in a troubled region of a troubled continent. And Bishop Elie seems to be God’s man “for such a time as this”. His leadership and wisdom were obvious as we toured churches, schools, health centers, and the University with him. That vision was also evident as we toured empty fields and barren hilltops where he sees schools and dorms and new campuses for the glory of God and the transformation of a nation.
After spending several hours at HAU and talking with some of the students, I am impressed by their desire to learn. Having been denied education for so long, they are now hungry for knowledge and willing to sacrifice to get it. There is a small but dedicated faculty trying to meet the growing demands. Much of the teaching is done by part-time faculty or visiting professors. The administration does a good job of balancing schedules of visiting professors with needing to give the students a stable academic load. The instruction is mostly in French but students are expected to be able to attend a class in English. Gaining a working knowledge of English is one of the first tasks for incoming students. There is an excellent library on campus and it continues to grow as containers arrive from the U.S. with more books.
I was particularly interested in the medical school students and classes. There is need for more professors and basic science instructors. But the acute need is for clinical educators/preceptors. The first medical school students have reached their fifth year of a seven year program. They are needing to spend time in the hospital. Kibuye (HAU’s hospital in a rural area of Burundi) is the only option for them at this time. They love the attention they get there as they are only passive onlookers in the government hospitals. Both primary care and specialty doctors are needed to care for the patients in Kibuye’s region as well as to guide the medical students in their clinical years.
The prospects for progress in Burundi are improving. We saw construction of new buildings all over the capital city Bujumbura. People are on the move. Violence is only sporadic now and usually related to crime as opposed to
political differences. We heard Burundians say that they are glad to have outsiders come to help in the rebuilding and restoration of their country. There is a sense of hopefulness.
After hearing the vision from Bishop Elie and seeing how those dreams are becoming reality, my heart is full as I consider working alongside African brothers and sisters for the Kingdom to come. We are trusting God to make it clear when we are to go and what we are to do in the meantime as we live in the “in between”. We are thankful for friends at home and abroad who are praying for us and who are helping us consider next steps.