23 September 2016
Proximity 2016 - Simon Guillebaud - Ministry In Perspective
I know some people really struggle to believe the stories I share from our annual summer outreach. Maybe you need to come out and meet these folks for yourself!
In any case, in what was a massive and complex logistical operation, last month we sent out 701 volunteers for two weeks, who worked in every single province and in twenty-two different hospitals. This outreach was formally approved by both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Health (which is amazing considering the current tensions and suspicions in the country because of rebel movements). The hospital authorities were mostly very receptive, although there was some opposition. Sometimes the opposition was overcome by the whole team donating blood.
Here are a few stories:
17-year-old Aristide from Cibitoke was pronounced dead by the doctor, who withdrew the drip and covered his body with a sheet. The mother started weeping hysterically, and her cries drew the attention of our team nearby. One of them came rushing in, and felt led to claim his life back from the dead. After praying over the corpse, Aristide started breathing again, and he and his mother promptly gave their lives to the Lord, along with another forty-one people who witnessed or heard about what happened.
A 13-year-old boy at Ngozi hospital had swallowed a 7cm nail, which showed up clearly on the X-ray. He needed emergency surgery but his mother was freaking out because they couldn't afford it and she thought he'd die at any moment. The team gathered around and prayed for them. He then pooped it out - ouch!
A mother at the hospital in Nyanza Lac was about to give birth. She had previously had six stillborn babies (a problem in the West that could have been treated, no doubt, but here access to healthcare is about as poor as it gets). She was in total distress, as you'd expect, so our team took her aside and prayed for her. Others told them to leave her alone, but she rebuked them, saying she needed God's help. Shortly thereafter she gave birth to her first living baby (who is still alive and well), and gave her life to the Lord.
So our 701 folks spent their time washing seeping wounds, soiled patients, stinking societal rejects, and loving them in practical ways like doing their cooking, laundry, and general cleaning. They prayed for them, encouraged them, and listened to them. Just under 7,000 inpatients were ministered to, along with many more family members and staff. They reckon about 24,000 heard the gospel and 3,345 people made commitments.
Loving people in word and deed. Bringing hope and healing in humility.
Thanks for all of you who prayed. So much could have gone wrong on so many levels. I'm very proud of our guys working in extremely difficult and unusual circumstances (which is why this year for security reasons they stuck to towns). It would have been reasonable and sensible maybe to cancel the outreach, but they went ahead and God honoured their risk-taking and boldness for Him. Wonderful!
We arrived back again yesterday in Burundi after a summer of speaking at multiple meetings around the UK and also many precious times with family and friends.
It’s great to be home. Yes, Burundi truly is home.
However, that doesn’t mean all is well here. Far from it. I was shocked to see how much visibly thinner a friend was who just came by to see me. Most people are very, very hungry. Many others are very, very frightened. The future remains very, very uncertain.
I stopped in on a friend, and voiced my feelings of joy at being home, but also of deep concern for the children and wanting them to be protected from the many potential scenarios my imagination offers up in its darker moments. She replied: “It’s so good you’re back. Your presence with them here is an act of defiance for all those naysayers wanting to see this nation fall apart.”
Jos' summer birthday party - he loves his superheroes!
I like that. Presence as an act of defiance. Hope edging out despair.
The situation remains fragile, but more stable apparently than when I brought the family back in January (see 17th December blog Packing for an Uncertain Future and 1st January's Toughest of Calls to Make). That felt a much heavier decision, going against the advice of most of our Burundian leaders. One senior UN friend in Geneva had deeply discouraged me with his verdict at the time:
The Burundi that you and your children and your wife remember and are nostalgic for is gone and will not come back. That chapter in their life is closed. Which does not preclude that at a later stage they return, and a new, different Burundi chapter may start. But not any time soon.
More positively, one of my closest Burundian friends had also written:
I just finished reading your last message announcing your arrival soon. To be honest with you, since you informed us that you had resolved to come back, I've been thinking of you every morning when I wake up with one question: can I/should I advise him to bring back the family here or to stay on in the UK? Honestly, my sincere answer was “no, they should stay”, “I don't see things improving as soon as we would have hoped or wanted” At the same time I knew that you had chosen to come back not because things were better or were going to improve soon but because you feel called to be part of what things are now. And, when that calling comes from God, all our 'wisdom' should stop since we can't be wiser than Him. That is why I have been unable to tell you what I thought. I feared I would have told you the opposite of what God had said! I like very much your rationale about security, God's will, and our (im)mortality (we’re immortal until God calls us home). You know that I share it 100%. The challenge is to always match the words and the deeds. Every time that it happens, we should thank God who enables us to do so. So, welcome brother!
That was back in January. I’m so glad we took the decision we did, because being here during the last tough stretch was important in terms of encouragement and solidarity with others. You vote with your feet.
Although the security situation is definitely more stable than then, the poverty is only deepening. Our contribution remains literally life-saving many times over.
So we’re back for another stint. Kids start the new school year this Thursday. Friday to Sunday we’re having our strategic ministry leaders/spouses team-building retreat. These folks could have fled, as many have done so, but they’ve chosen to stay and try to be a part of the healing and transformation of beautiful broken Burundi.
By our presence, choosing to stay.
With His presence, the only Way…
We returned two weeks ago in time for Lizzie’s ailing Mum Rosemary’s 80th birthday, during which we went out for a very special celebratory ice-cream. Her condition quickly worsened and after spending most of last week in hospital, she graduated to glory in the early hours of Monday morning. She’d wanted to make it to her other daughter Sarah’s wedding on the 23rd of this month, but in the end it wasn’t to be and she has been released from her substantial pain. We are so grateful to have been in country and now to be able to be with and help Gramps (David). There will be a Thanksgiving service for Rosemary at Highfield Church at 230pm on Wednesday 13th July, to which all are welcome.
It’s been beautiful to read Facebook comments and receive letters expressing gratitude and fondness for Rosemary’s life and the impact she had. She’d been a nurse in India, where she met David. David's job as vicar then took them to Kent, and then onto Manchester, before spending their retirement very actively in Southampton. I am so hugely grateful to her and David for their total support to Lizzie and me in our call to Burundi, they have been amazing grandparents. And of course, without her and David, I wouldn't have landed Lizzie!
And on a lighter note for your amusement (I know Rosemary enjoyed it), here's sharing one of my favorite recent family pictures. We had a horrible journey back from Burundi, which included four flights, and two of the three children vomiting countless times, beautifully decorating my sweatshirt amongst other things. I myself was battling malaria and/or amoebic dysentery (was taking meds for both) and thankfully didn't leave a mess on the plane, holding out until back in the UK, whereupon within five seconds of sitting in my kind friend's vehicle, which he'd committed to lend to me, I'd lost control of my faculties and it was a veritable shitastrophe! Meantime, Lizzie had driven another car back to Southampton with more pukings in the mix, and arrived without access to the place where we were staying. So below shows the wreckage of the Guillebaud clan, with Grace passed out on the grass verge, and Zac sprawled on the roof of the car, inside which Josiah was fast asleep. The joys of family travel - we can laugh about it now!
Below are my/our summer plans, just keeping you in the loop in case you want to come along:
21st June – arrive back from Burundi
22nd June – Rosemary’s 80th birthday
25th June – Men’s breakfast at St Luke’s, Wimbledon Park
26th June – 1030am St Paul’s Catholic College, Burgess Hill, then 3 Counties Church Haslemere at 7pm
27th June – ANCC, Kick Off
28th June – KCC youth, Hedge End
30th June – Isle of Wight, 730pm in Newport
1st – Sunday 3rd July – annual mates’ weekend
3rd July – 2 morning services at Sunnyside Berkamstead, evening St Andrew’s Chorleywood
4th July – Lunchtime event and then GLO board meeting
5th July - 7.30pm Church of the Holy Spirit, Aylesbury
6th July - St Mary's, Beaconsfield
7th July - St Mark’s Battersea Rise Happiness auction event
8th July – King’s school assembly
9th July – family cricket match
10th July – All Saints Marlow, 915am and 11am
11th July – King’s School assembly
12th July – Wonersh Parish Church
14th July – evening Hutchinson event
17th July – St Mark’s Battersea Rise, 3 services
21st July – Men’s event in Harpenden
23rd July – Sarah and Kevin’s wedding
24th-29th July – New Wine, daily talks on Isaiah 48
30th July – Men’s breakfast at Christchurch, Virginia Water, 8-915am
31st July – Hertford Baptist Church
1st August – Jos’ birthday
2nd-17th August – Family holiday in France
20th-27th August – Lee Abbey, a week of talks on 'Encounters with Jesus' - Never the Same Again
30th September – Back to Burundi
Oof! See you sometime at one of those events maybe. If not, have a great summer your end!
I'm not sure what's going on with the blog, but you were sent one from last February yesterday, and the previous one came through twice. Sorry about that. Trying to work out the glitches. Have a great day!
10 riders, 3 support crew, 800km, 48,000 feet of climbs in 7 days.
Those stats don’t do justice to what was simply an incredible week on what was the fourth annual GLO cycling tour. Due to the insecurity in Burundi, we had to do it in Rwanda instead. I was sad about that, because I wanted to expose the lads to Burundi and her amazing people, but Rwanda’s hills and our chosen route proved a significant step up in challenge. In fact, Geoff, who's now done the tour in both countries, said this week was twice as hard as back in Burundi. Oof!
Words can’t do justice to such a week; but it’s mission accomplished for me when I get to pack them off back to their loved ones today alive and (relatively) well, when we’ve raised close to $45,000 for the poorest of the poor, when repeatedly I’ve seen grown men weeping either by sheer physicality of the challenge or during intimate times of raw sharing in our evening team times – beautiful.
I (and the others) feel physically wrecked. Some of you knew (and prayed) about my bust finger which I thought might preclude my participation. Thank God it wasn’t an issue at all. Instead many of us battled flu, asthma, bucketloads of snot etc, probably caused by the extreme changes in climate as we went high and cold and hot and low through mountains, jungle, valleys and more.
Schoolkids rushed out of classes screaming us along, busses tooted their encouragement, and each cyclist tooted his own encouragement due to the 1,639 bananas, 722 cliff bars and 421 gels that were consumed and played havoc we our gut.
Friendships were renewed or deepened. New resolutions were made. Humbling appreciation was recognized that we weren’t born in such a difficult part of the world and that therefore we are answerable for the incredible privileges we have been given.
We finished last night with a surreal and fantastically entertaining night at the British Embassy, celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday. We appreciated her thoughtful consideration in helping the tour end with a bang.
I just love it that I repeatedly heard in different formulations: “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
So that’s a snapshot of the 2016 Tour, the hardest yet. Thanks for praying for us, thanks to those who sponsored us, thanks to Kimberly of Team Rwanda who helped in organizing it, and famous retired Kiki of Rwanda’s national cycling team who coaxed us up the steepest inclines, thanks to Bosco, Jean-Paul and Eric for driving ridiculously slowly behind and in front of us and cooking us amazing food, and thanks ultimately to God for His protection, the beauty of His creation, and for the chance of a lifetime for this group of men to regularly cry out in pain, disgust, and jubilation as the adventure unfurled.
Fancy joining the five of us already signed up for next year?!
The longer I am involved in work in Burundi, the more strategic I see the role of education is.
Education is crucial to seeing Burundi transformed, and sadly the old style of learning by rote as taught in the vast majority of schools (with class sizes sometimes over a hundred) simply cannot produce critical thinkers who can creatively contribute to the economy and society as a whole.
In 2008, a kindergarten started across town from us with an intake of 80 little children. It was of such high quality that the parents begged my friends Jesse and Joy Johnson to add on primary, and now years later, a secondary school. It is called the Discovery School. They have currently reached up to seventh grade, and are adding a grade each year. So now there just over 800 children, and it will end up being 1,300 in total. Each day begins and ends with prayer. Each class has a Bible lesson but that doesn’t stop a number of Muslim kids also attending.
The fees are $15/month, which is way too much (hard to believe for outsiders from wealthier countries) for most people, but parents will make whatever sacrifice it takes to get their kids the best education available. Discovery School aims to keep the education as affordable as possible, so chooses to keep the fees down to benefit the maximum number of people. I asked Jesse about the school’s impact on students’ lives, and he said: “Well, it’s not just the kids. Many of the 65 staff, when they started with us, were skinny as can be, only eating one meal a day, and only owning two shirts, but now they’ve filled out and are able to provide for their families.”
Such is the popularity of the school that kids are coming from the other end of the capital. This has meant the need for several busses to ferry them to and fro each day. When the crisis kicked in last year, many fled the country and others were unable to pay, which meant a loss of $17k of unpaid fees. Still the school is financially surviving, amazingly, and needing to build new classrooms each year to accommodate the growth. Even when they could easily justify holding onto all their profits, they choose to make monthly contributions to the church-planting efforts of their umbrella organization, the Emmanuel churches, which is so beautiful in the context of such crushing need – because they know they are blessed to be a blessing.
So this summer, they’re using their remaining profits towards building more classrooms, but urgently need funds for another bus. Their current busses are 36-seaters and take 90 kids at a time! Laws are applied differently out here, so it is acceptable but not ideal! The busses pay for themselves in two years, so the idea of buying – rather than hiring one or doing double trips which will take so long and make kids late for school – is a no-brainer.
Can anyone help by pledging towards the $20k needed for a reasonable second-hand bus? Discovery School is a huge success story, all the more as it is a going financial venture in the poorest country in the world and is more than surviving in the midst of the direst of economic situations. Please dig deep if you believe in the value of education. 800 kids every day are being taught in a loving empowering environment, and many of them will end up as key leaders and influencers in the future in Burundi. A new bus is critical to the smooth-running of the coming academic year.
It’s another beautiful story in the midst of all the brokenness we’re living in. If you can help, please donate here, with whatever contribution (large or small) to help keep the show on the road (and specify 'for Discovery School'). Thanks so much!
If you follow our movements closely, you’ll know that we’ve been through some pretty challenging times recently, and sometimes there is more bad than good news. So I wanted to write a little about a friend of mine called Francois, who is as inspiring as it gets. Here are a few stories from his life:
He became a follower of Jesus in his teens and he just wouldn’t shut up at school about his newfound faith. He preached all the time - in lunch breaks in the open-air - and lots of staff and students came to listen to him. He was exhausted in lessons as a result, and the teachers were unhappy with him. People were getting converted which antagonized the authorities, so he ended up getting expelled for preaching the gospel. Others who had converted received written warnings, and their parents were summoned to a meeting. Francois told his school friends not to worry about him, that he’d be back at school on Monday morning. God would be faithful. One of the parents at the ensuing meeting asked the headmistress: “So let me get this straight, you have expelled this boy for telling the kids not to cheat, steal, lie, sleep around etc, but you have never expelled a student for lying, cheating, stealing, or sleeping around?” The headmistress was caught and cornered, and accepted Francois back on condition he agreed only to preach at the school Christian Union meetings! He told me he had 13 Bibles confiscated during that time, but always managed to get hold of another one.
During his university years, he felt compelled to go on a road trip around the whole country with just $4 to his name. Everyone thought he was crazy, jeopardizing his future job prospects, but there was always ‘someone’ whom he bumped into when he arrived off the bus at each town, and who would feed him and provide for his onward journey. The result of his apparently foolhardy venture was that he planted a staggering fourteen clubs in different provinces, and they have stood the test of time, with some incredibly dynamic young leaders emerging from them.
When he and his fabulous wife got married, penniless as they were, they knew of two abandoned girls with AIDS who needed a family. Trusting God would provide, they took the girls in, and have since had two sons of their own.
For the last three years, they’ve been working with the marginalized unreached Batwa (pygmees) in the North. He initially moved up there on his own and lived alongside them in a tent, just building trust whilst serving them rather than letting them see him as ‘provider’ to meet their needs as ‘beneficiaries’. Those despised folks were beautifully empowered to rise out their destitute states and many came to faith in the process.
So there’s a little snapshot. Francois is so dynamic and inspiring, he’s been called back to the capital as he can wield more influence on the movement as a whole rather than just in that particular isolated Batwa community. With his extra charges, he was already struggling to provide for all four’s schooling when they lived upcountry where costs for living are much less. Now in the capital, they will definitely be needing more to survive. He trusts God, of course, as he’s seen his needs met in the past, but I wanted to write about him to see if anyone wanted to get behind him.
What a privilege to be able to sow into such a family’s life, I reckon! Through them, many lives have been and will continue to be impacted. Contact me if you want to help them financially, and do pray for them as they live the beautiful life.
It was what was written on Francine’s T-shirt that grabbed my attention.
It simply couldn’t be more inappropriate, of course, because here she was, languishing with about eight hundred other impoverished displaced people in the most miserable of conditions.
Lots of worry, little happiness.
Just over two years ago there was terrible flooding on the outskirts of Bujumbura, during which more than 130 people died. Over four thousand houses disappeared in a few hours, some of them literally without any remaining trace. Francine was one of those caught up in that time, after which she and these other precious folk were dumped on a small plot of land 5km outside the capital at a place called Carama.
For the last two years then, we’ve been involved in helping them with food, and for the last year have provided the children with 100 litres per day which has massively reduced the hideous malnutrition rate. Gateway Church in Swindon and others from the New Frontiers network have sacrificially contributed so that there is a monthly food distribution to these people who are clearly amongst the poorest on the planet. Without this help, many would have died by now. No doubt at all.
And Evariste, whose initiative it all was in the first place, organized the most basic of classrooms for the 280 kids to receive an education – that’s 140 kids in each class, and we’ve hired a few teachers – hardly ideal but at least providing some hope and structure to these cast-offs of society.
I often tell the story of a little street urchin in the slums. He believed in God and another boy was teasing him one day: “If God loves you, why doesn't he take care of you? Why doesn't God tell someone to bring you shoes and a warm coat and better food?” The little lad thought for a moment, then with tears starting in his eyes, said, “I guess he does tell somebody, but somebody forgets...”
Honestly, it felt overwhelming and hopeless to be amongst those landless dirty hungry people. Life in Burundi on most levels feels overwhelming and hopeless these days. Yet I know God doesn’t forget. Gateway Swindon haven’t forgotten. And I don’t want to forget.
Francine didn’t know what the writing on her T-shirt meant. She was grateful beyond words for the bag of maize and beans she received. She and her grandson Eric will live another day. Don’t worry, be happy…
If you also don't want to forget, and are able, please do help by clicking here.