DAYTWO – BUJUMBURA – MATANA
The night was hot; but no mosquitoes (a great relief). In the morning we all emerged cheery and happy; except for 1 who had struggled to sleep at all. She remained cheerful but a reminder how in a group it is important to pay attention to each member recognising that each experiences the same place and event differently.
We walked along the road to visit the very impressive new Bujumbura Anglican Cathedral. The old one is dwarfed by this new light, bright and airy space. In 2009 I preached here when there was no glass in the windows and much was far from complete. The finished cathedral is a delight. Then walking by Diocesan Office, Peace House and sneaking into the Scripture Union building whose door was open but only the cleaner to be found.
The strangest thing about walking the streets of Bujumbura on a Saturday morning is that they a deserted and still. All the shops are closed; no one is allowed to travel into the city because for 2 hours or so everyone is expected to do community service. For most this is cleaning and tidying the space around where they live; seeking to keep the streets clean and even made more attractive. We watched a young man clearing the detritus from a storm drain. We also watched an amazing chain gang throwing mixed concrete up to the top of a 3 storey building. The muscles on display were commented on by at least 1 member of our group. We all admired their fitness to do such hard graft in the heat. This was work rather than community service. We later learned that an entire day of such work would earn $4. For the day here in Burundi not a bad wage. But it is piece work that only lasts a few days. Then for many no work for weeks. No social security. Life is tough in a city where so many are poor. We had seen street children gathered in groups the evening before.
Then after lunch the time to split into our 4 separate groups had arrived. 1 group remains in Bujumbura to learn about the work of that diocese. Another travelled to Buye in the north. Rosemary & I along with Phil (a vicar in the diocese) & Poppy (a student at Chester Uni but from the diocese) were driven by Seth, the diocesan secretary, up the hills winding as we went onto the flatter top of Matana. It is dry season and today is Saturday so there are many social gatherings; including weddings. On several occasions we drove past groups surrounding the bride, serene in white, accompanying her to the church. Some had drummers sharing in the procession. The largest had 7 brides stretched out along the road. There we some grooms groups too. We also saw a few wedding cars, bedecked in ribbons. For marriage in church here you go through a period of preparation; up to 2 months we are told.. Then the group that has prepared together will be married at the same service.min Uganda a few years ago I shared in a service at which 56 couples were married in church in the 1 service; that was for different reasons as many of those couples had been together for many years but never gone through a church ceremony. These brides were nearly all young and entering marriage for the first time. There was so much joy around.
As ever the roads were full of people walking somewhere, carrying food, or wood. The roadsides in the villages full of things to buy. Women shelling peas together; children playing; card games happening; bars busy. Life is full; full of surviving or making just enough to live just above survival. Yet so many smiles too.
We arrive in Matana and are welcomed by the Dean and others. There is much protocol in Burundian society; yet such warmth and hospitality. Over tea we get into a deep discussion about this countries history, and the killings, and revenge, and working for peace. Every time I come I hear more; I hope it helps me understand a little bit more. It is a nation that has been through so much pain and hurt. Seeking to create a long lasting peace and well being for all. As our hosts said, “we need God’s grace for it all; forgiveness is not easy but it has to be the way.” it is an amazing country.
DAY THREE – MATANA
Matana Cathedral from the outside looks much like an English Parish church; well English missionaries did build it. The Confirmation service was due to begin att 9.30; well we started pretty soon after that. The Cathedral was packed from he start, by the end there were hundreds also surrounding the building. 243 candidates ranging from children around 10 years old through to a man in his eighties. There must have been around 2000 inside the building in total; no wonder they have plans to build a new cathedral close by. The growth of the parishes means that when there is a gathering together like this (this was a Parish confirmation not a Diocesan one) there really is a need for much more space. It was my privilege to preach. Preaching with an interpreter is an experience I have learned to enjoy even though it has it’s restrictions. Canon Seth, Diocesan Secretary, was easy to work with. We seemed to establish a rhythm that worked for us both. When preaching there is always the question in mind, ‘Am I communicating? What is being heard? It is an act of faith that God will be at work in the minds and hearts of those who listen. With an interpreter there is a further step of faith, ‘Will what I am saying be properly interpreted and passed on?’ it is a healthy way to be reminded that the interpreter always is the Holy Spirit, and the hearer. There is an intended message but how it is heard and received can only lie with them.
Serving communion to over 2000 takes quite a time especially when everyone comes to the front. Not much time for quiet personal reflection but plenty after you have received. Choirs sing throughout. We had some great music throughout.
Lunch provided by the Mothers’ Union is as plentiful as ever. You are not fed small portions here. This always seems strange in a country with so much poverty but it is the way of their hospitality. Generosity is found amongst the poorer in a way I hardly ever find it among the rich.
In the afternoon we are taken to a fascinating village where the ancient first king of Burundi is believed to have been born. He united the various dominions around into one land. Apparently there were 2 brothers who ruled over different dominions. One proved infertile and so arranged for his brother to make his wife pregnant. It is this child who, after fleeing to Tanzania at one point with his mother, returned to lead his land into becoming the unifying power. Exactly when this was we struggled to discover but probably the 16th century. The traditional style king’s hut and compound has been rebuilt ; it is similar to that of the king of Buganda in Uganda. Unlike that 1 which attracts many visitors this is in the middle of no one a long way up a very narrow track. Our guide Revd Vincent makes the comment that Burundi has just celebrated it’s 50 th anniversary of independence; he adds ‘We have not been good at keeping our history’. Buts then colonial powers sought to sweep that history away, even remove the memories. So there is the beginnings of a recovery in the desire to recall the past.
As I am reading through Israel’s history in the Old Testament at present; and since the Christian faith is rooted in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth history matters. It is hard to see how the memory here will be recovered when the story has not been passed down clearly from one generation to another; or perhaps it has and is waiting to be recovered and rediscovered in the folk tales of ordinary villagers.
It is a fascinating site to visit. Here we are watched by a group of children who are clearly desperately poor. We are the unexpected and bewildering entertainment unlike some places they keep their distance almost fearful it would appear; but whether that is of us or the man who is gatekeeper to the king’s palace wielding a long stick it is hard to decide.
DAY FOUR -MATANA
An incredibly full day! A gentle start belied all that lay ahead. We met with the Matana Diocesan Staff in their offices. After the usual introductions, which in Burundian protocol take a little while, we found ourselves in some really helpful discussions about development, the impact of cuts from aid agencies, the switch of some agencies away from working with or through the church; we shared about changing cultural patterns. There is an awareness here of the potential for life to change very rapidly for some ( the arrival of the mobile they talk avidly about; its positive impact on their ability to communicate). We explore what partnership between us might look like; they hope something will develop.
We then spend time with 2 groups of women. The first are being taught tailoring in a Mother’s Union project. There are many of these found in East Africa but each time I see one and hear the women talk about what learning these skills means to them I am inspired by those who teach and those who are learning. The ancient treadmill sewing machines work wonderfully well. A reminder of the dependency on electricity that most of us now have. Then we talk with a savings group. The impressive Five Talents trained 2 women to go and train others in savings and micro-credit. The stories this particular savings group tell of how this simple programme of saving a small amount each for 6 months and then beginning to lend the capital to one another to help develop their small businesses are inspiring. They speak not simply of their improved business but their greater self respect and self esteem; their sense that they are able to help their children more and the improved changed relations between husbands and wives. Micro finance is a key way forward in helping the poor move out of their severe poverty. It will not make them rich, but then they do not want to be rich, they simply want enough for them and their families to live on healthily. All credit to Five Talents for the work that they do.
In the afternoon we meet some students from the small Bible School; no library or text books; each trainee catechism has a Bible, a prayer book and a hymn book. They are taught the Bible and some other skills for 6 months. These remarkable men and women lead churches. Their theology may be basic; their biblical interpretation may be literal but they are people of faith who serve the Lord they love as faithfully as they can. If only more help could come their way.
Then we learn to make porridge! The teacher is brilliant; in the UK who could possibly become a TV chef for his communication skills. This porridge is highly nutritional, a mix of maize, soya and groundnut flour mixed with palm oil and water. It tastes quite good. Those being taught are people living with HIV; men and women. They meet every fortnight for mutual support and to learn a new skill or support lesson. Anti-retro vitals are great but they have to be supported by a high nutritional diet to be effective; not so easy when you are very poor. It was a wonderful group to spend time with.
Put all this together and you have a church working for the total well being of people. They seek to care for the poor; to bring health to bodies and minds; to build self esteem; to offer hope and they do so with prayer and the good news of Jesus Christ. This is holistic mission.
Rosemary & Poppy get to visit 1 of the women from the savings group and see her home and meet her extended family. Phil & I join the fellowship study group for the early evening. We have fun with the children of the house as well as a good Bible study and some lovely singing. Then supper in 3 homes for us. The hospitality we have all been shown is staggering; why do we find this so hard in our land of plenty? The meal also reminds me of the mixed up world in which we live for in the background a DVD is running – Madagascar 2. There a some new almost universals that can be bewildering.
DAY FIVE – MATANA – GITEGA
Farewell to Matana who have been superb hosts. After the many farewells we visit the source of the Nile. This is the most southerly such and 1 of the few places where some work zaps and is being done on tourism. There’s already a pyramid over the place of the springs and the land around the trickle of water that flows out of the hillside to begin to form a tiny stream that eventually becomes the Nile is being landscaped. Such a small flow that becomes such a mighty river. Such a small start to a long journey. It is a parable in itself.
Then to Rutana to visit the site of the new church being built. The existing 1 holds only a couple of hundred; the new one will hold 1,000. Local Christians are moving stones, sawing wood, helping in whatever way that they can to bring their dream into reality. It will take 2-3 years for them to complete. But the church here is growing in number. A brief conversation is able to be held with the local pastors on some of the differences we have in both seeking to grow the church. At present they are more successful than we are. They a aware that the issues we face may also come their way one day soon.
Then onto Gitega our home for the next few days. We say farewell to Canon Seth who has cared for us so well whilst in Matana. He is generous, thoughtful, kind.