Again we are welcomed warmly. Bishop John has been bishop of Gitega since 1985. Quietly he shows us around the Diocesan office area gently explaining how things have grown and developed since he first began. Almost impercibility we find ourselves hearing of the time when 150 displaced persons camped inside the compound grounds because it was the place they felt safe. How the diocese welcomed them, fed them and helped them over several years. There is a quiet grace about this man of God. Unassuming, having had to handle all kinds of difficulties that I can only just begin to imagine how I might respond if faced with such matters. Jean Francois is a lively principal of the Bible College. She explains how the focus at present is on training 12 pastors who are largely returnees from Tanzania. People who became Christians in the camps and were cared for by the Anglicans there now returned and wanting to remain Anglican. Needing training as Pastors so the diocese is providing it. It is a joy to see such work being led by a woman. Later at dinner we also meet her husband who is a school chaplain. The dinner is with the whole diocesan staff. The thing I notice most is their lively conversation with each other and their laughter. It is also the whole staff, whatever their role they are included. There is something vibrant about them Asia group. This is my introduction to Gitega. Tomorrow we visit church planting projects.
The whole morning was spent visiting a number of church planting projects. They were all from St. Luke’s which is both cathedral and parish church. These visits took us deep into real settings where the levels of poverty were clearly to be seen. Yet here there is enterprise and desire to establish a centre of worship and witness. Each was taking a different approach in the first instance. The first a former small house with inner walls removed to create a space where 50 gather each Sunday. Twice a week literacy classes are held in the same space. The congregation is lay led; the literacy programme locally run by those trained by Mothers Union workers. Close by the foundations of a permanent building are in place; these we done last year. There are bricks that have been locally made but not yet enough. It is hoped more work will be done this year but the anticipation is this is a 5 year project. Close by an independent full gospel church is being erected; deliberately started to be near the Anglican church it is thought.
The second is a small hut like church purpose built for worship. Around 120 gather here each work, mainly children. We meet many delighted children here. Again lay led. But this building is becoming in need of care aft 5 years; the average life of a mud brick church is only 10 years. There is a gaping gap between the side and end wall which if not repaired will lead to the collapse of a wall before long.
The third is a plot of land. 16 families who live in this area and travel into town each week have a vision for building a local church. The diocese has bought the land. At present the 16 families a cultivating it to produce crops for cash to give them the capital they need. They give. 1 or 2 days each week to working together on the land. They are also engaging with the wider local community to see in what ways they can serve. They always begin with Bible study and prayer. Lay led once again. Close by there is a small growing ‘commercial’ centre. They hope to assist with the growth of local trade through their presence.
The fourth again deep in the hills has foundations laid but with a wooden pole and tin roof structure within it. This began just a year ago. Next week the concrete columns go up. Then they will wait as they raise the finance for the bricks. Eventually the tin sheets from the temporary structure will help roof the new building. A local man, a congregation members, is employed to ensure the iron sheets are not stolen. Lay led once again. Being developed to serve the local communities.
There are some principles at work here. First there is a desire to grow the church through growing new congregations who are locally rooted. Second these are all encouraged by the bishops, the diocese and the parish leadership but they are all lay led. Third there is a core community from which the new church can grow. Fourth there is a commitment to work with the local community and serve it not simply through worship but also through meeting local needs, like literacy, commerce, agriculture etc. fifth there is a combination of funding at the outset to help the project start but then an expectation that the local people will raise the money / do the work to bring about the vision. Sixth there is an importance placed on having a specific place and space in which the people can meet; the building is seen as important.
Gitega Diocese has a strong commitment to growing the church through growing new congregations.
In the afternoon we share in a time of worship and fellowship with members of St Luke’s Cathedral congregation. Alongside singing, adding scripture, introductions, a word from the bishop we have a time of questions. Some of them share their challenges and their joys in knowing Christ as Saviour. We are asked a range of questions about our churches, congregations and inevitably the issue of human sexuality came up. Whilst at Lambeth some US bishops admitted to not previously realising the impact some of their statements and decisions have had here in Africa. Sadly little attention appears to have been made to this since, though there are some notable exceptions. The positive nature of same sex friendships is recognised and valued here. Indeed there appears to be a greater acceptance of this possibility without sexual overtones being real. It is not easy handling these questions without offering long explanations of cultural difference etc. But it remains essential that serious listening and engagement across the communion continues.
I have said little of our group thus far. Rosemary is with me so too are Phil Williams, vicar of Porchester & Area Dean of Gedling. Our fourth member is Poppy Richards a member of Ordsall Parish and student at Chester. We spend a lot of time together and chat about what we have seen and heard. But our conversation ranges across many matters relating to home, church, mission etc. they are great company; really stimulating. I am enjoying having a younger mind and voice as part of the group. She is quite a star. It is also brilliant spending so much time with 1 of my excellent clergy. He was already a star and just shines brighter by the day.
St Luke’s Primary School began in 2009. They have 6 classrooms. 13 teachers look after 338 pupils who attend school in 2 sessions either 7.30-12.45 or 1.15-5.30. Sometimes they have to double up classes which will mean 100 in a lesson. There is little by way of text books or equipment. There is no electricity and the school secretary and head teacher do not even have a traditional typewriter to use. It is on the same site as St Luke’s Secondary School which began last year with Senior 1 (equivalent to Year 7/8). They have 116 pupils & 4 staff plus Principal. There will be up to 120 joining in September to create a new S1. There are no labs, no assembly space and a minimal number of text books. The vision is clear but the needs to develop these 2 schools are huge. Th e Burundi Government has decided that Primary Schools should be P1-P9 so that those who do not pass the exam to get into Secondary School at the end of P6 are not turfed out into nothing but can continue with education for a further 3 years and then possibly move into a vocational training of some kind. The idea is laudable but suddenly another 3 classrooms are required on this confined site. There will be the mix of ages across the 2 schools and there is no finance to provide the extra resources. Where do you even begin? What becomes first priority? Electricity, new classrooms, textbooks, recruiting staff … In the UK we take our education too much for granted; we fail to recognise how privileged we are to have such a strong system in place; we continually compare ourselves with our Western counterparts without recognising the vastness of the gap with the world’s poor when it comes to this provision. This is no exceptional story in Gitega it is repeated time after time across this land, and many many others. Education matters; it needs priority. It must be one of the issues for which our aid is used.
Then onto Mushasha Parish where they are bringing the final touches to their brand new parish church. Outside parishioners are tidying the grounds and planting some new trees. Windows are being painted, slightly bizarrely with grey undercoat over a gloss coat of blue – there must have been some reason. Some teenage helpers are clearly not that enthusiastic about being here, the signs are the same all over the world. Younger children are having great fun swing how many can hang onto the branch of an avocado tree at the same time. Loads of laughs and smiles; they also recognise that they are entertaining us so play up to it; there are some universals with children at play. There is also a large community hall which will be dedicated on August 5th by Bishop John Ndwayo alongside consecrating the new parish church. The area appears more well to do than some others; seen partly in the clothes worn by the parishioners. Clearly much work has been put into this, and much generous giving of money, time and talents. The work began in 2005 just as Eraste Bigirimana then parish priest and diocesan secretary moved to Muyinga to become bishop there. The parishioners talk of their hopes for the use of the hall by them and by the community. They speak of growing a congregation from its current 200 to filling the church, which would hold 3 or 4 times that much. They also talked about friendship with a parish in England. Their hopes would be that they could learn from our church how we do things as we have been around so much longer; they hoped too for people to visit from England who would help them with the programmes of development and outreach that they run. This was a vision of companionship and mutuality not dependency and receiving.
The afternoon was very different. We drove up the rough Ngozi road to Gishoro where the site of the King’s resting place from his flight in 1908 is found. The huts are built along the same lines as those we had seen in Matana. Our guide loves his subject but his large bare feet gnarled by the years are distracting from the commentary. But then the real drama begins as we take our seats and the drummers enter carrying there various sized large drums on their heads, and beating them as they enter. For the next 30 minutes we are gloriously entertained by the finest African drumming I have witnessed. They drum, dance, leap, chant and sing telling stories of friendship and unity as they go. There are 22 adults and 2 children who we later learn are 8 & 11 but the latest in the family line of drummers. Once they played only for the king; now to entertain. The Burundians with us absolutely love it too. At times it is almost deafening. At the close we are invited to join with them 1 at a time. None of us can hold the double rhythm required on top and side of drum; there have been many complex rhythms throughout and not once was there a slip. Simply stunning.
In the evening we have a pleasant meal with +John, his wife Christine and their family along with Tharcisse the Diocesan Secretary who has been our ever present guide whilst in Gitega.
Our final morning in Gitega takes us to the largest coffee factory in Burundi. Here washed coffee beans arrive; they are graded (7 grades available) then de-husked, sorted by size and colour (using a computer controlled colour imager), bagged and prepared for transportation around the globe. The very best coffees go to the premium niche markets; the poorest end up in cheap instants and the middle grades end up in Starbucks, Costa, supermarkets etc. it is a fascinating process to see and have explained. We also get to experience cupping which is tasting coffee to grade it; a process akin to wine tasting – spitting out included. Our guide is a lovely Muslim who has worked here for over 20 years. He tells us that in the move from state owned to privatised factory the workforce has gone from 75 to 25. However there are 900 working here today on a daily paid rate. Many are involved in hand picking the beans; this is for the real niche market high end coffees. Others are lifting sacks etc. Their pay is just 3000 burundi francs a day (£1.50). There are still at least 100 people outside the gates hoping they might be taken on even though it is late morning. The director who leads the tasting is a true world citizen; born of Portuguese & Indian parents who grew up in Kenya, was educated at Ampleforth College, Yorkshire and now works in Burundi for a company based in Switzerland. He does assure us that Burundi coffee is amongst the world’s best but does not produce enough to have a major brand of its own; most ends up in some blended form of coffee whether ground or instant.
From here we go to see the earlier stage of the process at a washing station. 1 kilo is bought here for around 465 francs (22p). The amount a coffee bean goes through from being picked to reach our cup has grown in my mind. It has been stripped, washed several times, stripped again, graded, checked, sacked, roasted, ground and possibly reconstituted, all for the sake of a wonderful drink ( at least if it was a good coffee bean). The argument that the basic producer deserves a bit more of the profit share by being paid a decent amount for the raw material is clear to me.
A long slow lunch with Tharcisse & +John follows (slow to due to service rather than choice) & then we await the arrival of the group from Muyinga as the vehicle bringing them is taking us there. A brief reunion after 7 days apart is good and it is clear they have had a really good time thus far; just as we have. Before the group coming from Makamba arrive ( we later learn their vehicle had a break down but got going again okay) we are off to Muyinga. It is an eventful journey in that very early on the car is clearly very eating and the oil warning light comes on. We continue more slowly, coasting in neutral down the hills whenever possible. I pray silently as I know the others are also doing. If the Lord could provide oil for a widow he can do the same for the car. He can also guide the driver to drive thoughtfully and cautiously avoiding overheating. It may have been both that happened I will never know but the warning light went off, the heat dropped and we arrived safely in Muyinga, having very briefly driven around Buhiga seeing the hospital, secondary school, primary school, technical school and church. Buhiga has been a centre of mission since 1935; here is where the Anglican church in Burundi began. A shame we had no time to stop and reflect on the brave pioneers who came here.
Our time in Gitega diocese was gentler than Matana but still stimulating, rewarding, inspiring and raising questions of mission here and at home. I learn so much about our situation by observing that of others.