We left out hearts in Burundi in April this year Harriet Miles, Ruth Frost, Paul Edwardes and Sara Edwardes headed off to Burundi to work with Simon Guillebaud’s charity ‘Great Lakes Outreach’ (GLO).
Before we left we knew that Burundi was one of the hungriest countries in the world according to the Global Hunger Index. We knew that only 1 in 2 children went to school, that 1 in 5 adults have AIDS and that thousands of people are homeless. We also knew that they had suffered a genocide during the civil War which ended in 2005 and that it was still politically unstable. Undeterred, we knew we wanted to visit the country which Simon Guillebaud had talked about with such passion on his visit to ASM in 2016. We took inspiration from Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” What we didn’t know was how humbled we would be by the exceptional dedication of the Christian leaders we met.
During our week in this stunning country of lush vegetation and mountain scenery, we were able to gain an insight into just a few of the projects supported by GLO. Having spent our first night at the Kings Conference Centre in the capital Bujumbura, we travelled to Bubanza to see for ourselves the excellent work that J-Life does to support the widows and children who call this beautiful place home. Home – what do we think of as home? Well, a roof and four walls, but what else? Somewhere to feel loved, somewhere to learn and somewhere to belong? We saw this and much more as we spent time with these people who had nothing – many had fled the country during the unrest, returning to find their homes destroyed, their friends and families slaughtered or missing. Nowhere to live, nowhere to learn, no jobs, no prospects and no-one who cared. Step in GLO and their partner in this area J-Life.
J-Life has befriended these people, learned about their needs, encouraged and prayed for them. With the help of GLO they have been able to build a community centre where these marginalised people from the Batwa (pygmy) tribe can be educated, cared for and worship together as they learn about God’s love for them. We were invited to help members of the community carry the stones needed for the foundations of a new home for a widow and her seven children, two of who were handicapped. We had the amazing privilege of awarding some of the widows who had completed a literacy programme with a copy of the bible in their native language of Kirundi. We saw the area used to teach the Batwa about crop management and animal husbandry. All this demonstrated how J-Life is leading the community down a road to self-sustainment and salvation. The hope that J-Life has engendered here is palpable.
We saw that same tangible hope when we were taken to a field of cow grass in Gitega. Freddy, the founder of Youth for Christ in Burundi, had been gifted ten acres by the government and he set about fulfilling his vision of raising up a generation of godly leaders to transform Burundi. With minimal funds, but crazy faith, he dug the land and planted cow-grass. The cow-grass was used to feed cows which produced milk for orphans. That land has now been transformed with the construction of the Homes of Hope orphanage, Future Hope School and a health centre. Children who were abandoned now have a place to call home and we would agree with Freddy when he says they have some of the happiest children alive with them. Their smiling faces which greeted us on our arrival at the orphanage are a testimony to how people can be given new hope when the love of Christ is poured over them.
Travelling further north to Cibitoke province we visited another Batwa community where J-Life had just started working with these people. Here we saw that many families have no dwelling to call home, living under banana plants or in mud huts, which were on the point of collapse and offered little protection from the rainstorms. There was no community centre and a distinct lack or absence of access to education or healthcare. And yet … under a tin roofed, open sided communal area we heard one after another tell personal stories of how their lives had been transformed by the love and grace of Jesus. These destitute and malnourished people were full of joy as their faces lit up and they sang songs of praise. We couldn’t help but be moved by their stories and faith. We were then taken to see a plot of land marked out with the footings for a community centre. We listened as Kiki, one of the J-Life team, described the vision of building a centre where the community could meet together, worship, learn new skills, receive education and healthcare. The problem was that there were no funds to build the centre. When we asked “how much?” we realised that the money we raised before we travelled to Burundi would cover the costs!
We returned to our comfortable homes and lives in Marlow full of stories and images, and were determined our mission should continue. We knew we had left our hearts back with the people of Burundi but what were we being called to do next?
We have stayed in regular communication with J Life and GLO. We continue to support them in prayer and are continuing to spread the news of their great work and to fundraise for their projects. Very excitingly, we have recently received news that a plot of farm land had been secured for the Batwa community in Cibitoke. This is such an amazing answer to prayer! With the help of J Life, the Batwa have devised a planting scheme to grow food for themselves and also hopefully to produce a surplus they can sell. So we are launching a new fundraising campaign to raise the money they need to buy the seeds and farming implements they need. We also plan to contact the agricultural colleges to see if we can inspire them to sponsor a project there and perhaps get the students involved in solving the farming challenges and increasing crop yields in Cibitoke.
Some of the team are thinking about signing up for the GLO 2020 bike ride in Rwanda. A 7-day bike ride in this beautiful country across mountainous terrain. By all accounts, it’s going to be physically demanding but also a truly amazing and wonderfully inspiring experience. The funds raised will be going towards the lifesaving work of GLO.
If you want to know more, or if you fancy joining the bike ride across Rwanda, or if would like to be involved in our fundraising activities please do get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org If you wish to make a donation to our fundraising please go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mission-burundi.
This article, written by Sara Edwardes with contributions from Harriet Miles, Paul Edwardes and Ruth Frost, featured in the Autumn 2019 edition of The Bridge – the magazine for All Saints’ Church in Marlow. Pick up your free copy in church or download it here.