On July 1st, Burundians celebrated 52 years of independence. Today, July 4th, the U.S. celebrates its 238th Independence Day. Here is some of what I saw and thought…
Everybody Loves A Parade
On Tuesday, Janette, Samuel, and I went downtown to see the preparations for the Burundian celebration. We worked our way in near the staging area for the parade participants which included a number of Burundian and International groups- church leaders, students, a marching band, Handicap International, security guards, military units. Along with some US Army cadets, we were the only white faces around. It always makes me a little nervous to be around so many soldiers who are sometimes not as careful with the weapons they are carrying as I would like.
This parade was not for the masses but rather a short procession in front of dignitaries including the President who were all tucked away inside the National Stadium. We also watched a number of paratroopers jump from a high-flying helicopter and land inside the Stadium.
Independence Means Work
Independence Day is a good day to reflect on how far this country has come. There is an elected President in place. There is no open conflict (although opposition parties might disagree with that assessment). But multiple assassinations and political intrigues have plagued them from the very beginning. They are consistently on the wrong end of lists for corruption, poverty, hunger, and education access. The effects of the years of colonization are neither easily nor quickly forgotten. It is a fragile independence to be sure but there is at least some degree of self-determination. And there is a lot of work left to do before all Burundians enjoy the freedoms and benefits that ought to come with independence.
Independence vs. Independent
I wonder if we sometimes confuse these two terms. Americans celebrate them both with almost equal vigor. The first is a condition we have while the second describes what we are. Burundians have independence or freedom. But they are not independent. Millions of dollars in foreign assistance arrive in Burundi each year. Many international NGOs have a significant presence here. Burundians need the rest of the world to see their country and look for healthy ways to come alongside them.
No one disputes that fact. Burundians are not going to be able to grit their teeth and pull themselves out of this hole. Their dependence on others is tangible and sometimes used against them- “unless you change this policy, you won’t qualify for that loan.” (We know how Americans would respond to that sort of pressure!) Is it okay for a country or a person to be dependent on others?
We Need Each Other
Within the church, we face this same tension. We have been set free in Christ and yet we are part of one Body which presumes certain limitations on those freedoms. With God’s help, we can learn to embrace this inter-dependence. Our freedom must not lead to isolation but rather to a greater sense of community. As we serve in Burundi, we want to be mindful of our connectedness to you who pray for and financially support us. And we pray that you will look at those near you who are perhaps outwardly declaring their independence but inwardly longing for someone to be with them in their utter dependency.