Yesterday was our last official day of ministry here in Central Africa. We traveled north from Bujumbura to a medium sized town called Bubanza.
As you can see from the map on the left (click the map for a larger view), we were headed along one of the major roads of Burundi. What this means is that the road was paved. What this doesn't mean is that the road was any good. Oh certainly, as we traveled further and further north towards Rwanda, the road got much better. By the time we reached Bubanza, the road was so good it would rival the best roads in the US. But most of the way north, the road was beyond bad—it was terrible.
There were huge potholes that spaned nearly the entire width of the road. Traffic would have to slow to a crawl to cross them. This meant that the ride was a continuing oscillation between spreading up as fast as you could go and then slamming on the breaks to avoid wreaking your car on the potholes.
Of course, if the pothole didn't span the entire road, then the driver would weave back and forth across the road, missing as many as he could. This often meant leaving the road all together and driving for a bit on the shoulder. Unfortunately, the weaving, the bouncing, and the jerking forward and backward as you either sped up or slowed down, was too much for poor Joseph. Just as the road began to get slightly better, we had to pull off to the side to allow him to.....er........breath a little bit.
Fortunately, he held down his.........um.......he began to breathe easier, and we were able to continue after about 15 minutes. Martin and I definitely felt sorry for him, but we didn't let him know that. The wise-cracks were flying pretty thick, which caused Joseph to smile for a couple of seconds between that "I don't feel so well" look returned.
When we finally reached Bubanza, we found it to be a medium sized town for Burundi. Remembering it's Burundi we're talking about, that doesn't mean all that much, but still, it's bigger than a village. The nicer buildings were all along the main road. By "nicer" I mean made out of regular bricks, not the mud bricks that are the mainstay of most architecture in this part of the world. We made our way past those buildings to a rutted dirt path and got as close to the church as possible. Then we walked.
It wasn't a far walk, but as Joseph put it, we picked up a posse pretty quick. The dirty ragged children followed us to the church, staring at us as if we were side-show attractions. And to them at least, I guess we were. My guess is they don't see many mzungu in Bubanza.
The church itself was made of sticks resembling bamboo, had a thatched roof and a mud floor. While the congregation didn't seem to mind the rude dwelling, the lack of obvious prosperity is a detriment to the church. It seems some of the other churches in the area (mostly Pentecostal and Roman Catholic) have spread around the accusation that this church must be a cult or it would have a better building. No, it doesn't make any sense, but that doesn't change the facts.
When I spoke at the general convention in Fizi, I spoke from Luke 7:11-17. In recounting the story of the Widow of Nain, i emphasized how Jesus' compassion was kindled when he saw her. He didn't see the crowd, he saw her. I mentioned how Jesus is the same "yesterday and today and forever." This was a message of comfort for those in Congo. As the region once again is on the brink of all out war, many in the congregation—particularly those from Bukavu, have an uncertain furture ahead of them. They needed to hear that Christ viewed their sorrow with compassion.
Teaching the pastor's from REMAC is always an extremely rewarding experience. They are obviously hungry to learn the Word and ask a plethora of questions about real-world ministry.
Preaching to their congregations, on the other hand, I've always found difficult. They sing and dance (boy oh boy, do they dance: see 2 Sam 6:14), and when they're done, I preach. Often they seem so worn out that they don't have the ability to listen. But when I told this story, the majority of the congregation seemed to respond.
Among the crowd was the pastor of the church in Babanza. He specifically asked me to preach the same sermon to his church, since few from his church were at Fizi. So I did as he asked. Interestingly, Martin commented that I preached the sermon differently in Bubanza than I did in Fizi. I didn't purposely do anything different, but Martin commented that the Holy Spirit took control so that they heard exactly what they needed to hear. I pray he is correct.
This much I do know: they were moved by the story of Jesus' compassion. When it came time for the service to end, no one seemed to want to leave. One would break out into a song and the drums would start and the people would sing. Then they would be dismissed again, and another would start to sing. I can't say this never happens in North American churches, but I can say I've never witnessed it.
Tomorrow we fly home. The trip will be long as we are far, far away. And while Martin and I are eager to return to our families, we are experiencing a certain sadness about leaving these people that we have come to love. Joseph isn't eager to leave at all. He openly wishes he could stay longer. I don't know how to explain it. I love the people back home: my family, my church, my friends. But I love these people as well. Leaving tomorrow will be tough.
Thank you for praying for us. Your prayers have done more than you can possibly imagine. I know that sounds like preacher talk, but it isn't. What we have experienced is a genuine movement of God among these people. God has been gracious enough to allow us to participate. You prayers have allowed you to participate as well.