In 1995, Burundi was at war. In that context, the International Bible Society (IBS) published a tract in Burundi that asked a challenging question: Where have God’s People Gone? The large majority of Burundians claim to be Christians. This is true regardless of the political or tribal group with which one identifies. Operation World estimates that over 90% of Burundians are Christians. Burundi has been evangelized and missionary-ized for decades. And yet… And yet there have been a number of tragic events (Presidential assassinations, attempted genocides, systematic segregation, etc.) in Burundi’s short post-colonial history that cause us to ask with the IBS: Is there a difference in this country because of the Christians who are here? (This is a question that admittedly hits close to home for many other nations including the United States.)
Salty and Bright
On Sunday, Pastor Emmanuel preached from Matthew 5:13-16 on being salt and light. The application to the fragile situation in Burundi was powerful and prophetic. He began with a review of current events in Burundi which includes rising tensions within and between the two main political parties. Emmanuel reminded us that as salt and light we are to prevent the decay of society and light the darkness. We are to maintain our distinctiveness as Christians while remaining fully engaged with the world if we are to be effective.
Praying Against or With Others
Emmanuel ended the morning by recounting a story from those difficult years in the mid-1990’s. A law at that time prohibited more than 5 people from gathering. One day, as he was feeling the despair of the situation, he went to a prayer room. When he arrived, another man whom he knew to be a Christian was praying. Encouraged by the sight of another believer, Emmanuel knelt next to him to agree with him in prayer. As the man continued praying, Emmanuel realized that he could not say “Amen” to this brother’s prayers. The man was praying curses on the same group of people for whom Emmanuel was praying blessing! Some days later, he heard someone with similar allegiances as his own crying out in prayer. He realized that if anyone from the opposition heard these prayers, they would surely not say “Amen” but would rather be angered or further depressed by them.
What do we do with that story? Can we simply attribute the politicization of these mens prayers to the trauma in which they found themselves? Like every generation before, our prayers are often the unfiltered cries of our heart. Don’t some of the Psalms sound a bit one-sided? God, save us and kill our enemies! Can we honor the truthfulness and rawness of the Psalms (and these Burundians’ prayers) and at the same time seek a better way- a way that offers forgiveness and grace to our enemies? A way that recognizes that the blessing comes with a responsibility to bless. My victory may not be complete or sustainable if it does not involve the victory of those who disagree with me.
As I listened to the sermon and prayed alongside African brothers and sisters who once again face days of uncertainty, I was moved to tears- tears of grief for the brokenness that continues to affect this country but also tears of thanksgiving that this pain and disunity are not the end of the story.
Our identity is in Christ and that is good news in a country where deep divisions are just under the surface of organizations and relationships and even the church. We are praying that Christ-followers in Burundi will grow in unity so that we are praying prayers to which we can all say “Amen!”
Thank you for praying with us. You can find prayer requests by following the Operation World link above and following www.missionalmillers.org. The most up-to-date prayer information will usually be found in the Missional Millers Facebook posts. Let us know how you are praying and how we can be praying for you.