Our massive summer outreach is always fiercely contested and hugely fruitful. This (the 14th) year was no exception. Some of the teams faced real opposition, and needed breakthroughs to operate at all.
In any case, I’m pleased to be able to feedback to you that 700 people went out in 35 areas for 2 weeks, and they saw 8,900 choose to start following Jesus, with several dozen dramatic miracles taking place.
Stories are still coming in, but the below are what I received yesterday, which I wanted to share with you – to encourage and stir your own faith, and to thank you for standing with us in prayer. Here goes with a selection:
Pascasie’s arm had been crippled for 26 years. Our team went door-to-door in Gihosha, and she responded in faith to their message. They prayed for her arm, and she was promptly healed!
Hated and feared, Patrick was a known serial burglar in Songa. A mystery illness then struck him down, which included paralysis of the neck and feet problems. He was house-bound for three months and the community were just waiting for him to die. That’s when our team showed up, told him about the love of Jesus and hope in Him. They returned a second time, and when they prayed for him, he was healed. From then on he accompanied the outreach team, testifying to his healing miracle, and asking forgiveness of everyone he’d burgled or done wrong to. Many others responded when they saw this ‘new man’ and heard his story first-hand.
In Gitega, a husband beat up his wife and sent her away once and for all, keeping the four children. The next day, in God’s providence, our teams visited both him at his home, and her 6kms away where she’d gone. He was convicted of his wrong behaviour, and hurried off by foot to seek her out. When he arrived, he saw her being prayed for, and burst into spontaneous praise. Both of them repented, became followers of Jesus, burned their fetishes, and are now involved in their local church as a reunited family with no more violence in the home.
Bugagi had the reputation as a place of despair, alcoholism and witchcraft. Last year, our team went there with no apparent fruit. A witchdoctor did visit with them, saying he was happy to add Jesus to his other fetishes, but they insisted he’d need to burn all his charms and pledge sole allegiance to Christ. His house, including all his fetishes, then burnt down. He was frightened, and returned to them, saying that as he hadn’t been prepared to deal with it, God had burnt his house down! He and three other families joined the local church. This year the team returned to find a transformed Bugagi, with new hope in the air, and with another 17 families deciding to follow Jesus.
Adelin from Kayanza was demon-posessed, and used to bark like a dog at night-time. His wife and children were naturally scared stiff, and tried various witchdoctors to find a cure for his affliction. Our team visited the family, prayed for him, and he asked if he could stay the night with them. That first night together, he began howling like a crazed hound. He was delivered as they prayed for him, and now the family is all at peace as they witnessed God’s power and surrendered their lives to Christ.
That’ll do. Amazing! Beautiful! And we look forward to doing it again for the 15th year in a row in 2020. Pray for peace as it’ll be election season, and last time around saw the nation plunge into crisis. Please Lord, may these coming months lead up to peaceful, free and fair elections indeed…
God bless you all,
PS Looking ahead, for your information: we sent out 700 people this year, and turned another 200+ down because of financial limitations. We spent $20,000 on the outreach, to see 8,900 people come to Jesus, as well as other fruit, so it’s money incredibly well spent! But it could have been even more fruitful with another 200 sets of boots on the ground. So if you wanted to sow into this venture to see so much more remarkable fruit, do click here to contribute. Thanks!
TED/MAP talk in North Carolina at New Wineskins Conference
Hello, my name is
Simon Guillebaud. I’ve recently completed 20 years working in Burundi, a
conflict zone in Central Africa, and one of the most beautiful but broken
countries on the planet. That’ll do on introduction, time is short. This
TED/MAP talk is just 15 minutes to share my top ten lessons from two decades of
cross-cultural work – isn’t that an impossible task? I’ll try.
So I’m picturing
Paul in his cell in Rome, and he’s about to be led away to have his head
chopped off (he probably died that way). He’s been told he’s got 15 minutes with
one person of his choice, and he’s chosen a passionate young mentee (let’s call
him/her) Jo – that’s you – and he’s downloading the most important life-lessons
from his adventures he can think of. He’s got to be quick, they’re coming soon.
He’s talking fast, and so am I. Are you ready? Write this down, Jo!
Here are my ten top life-lessons from two decades of working in Burundi:
It’s all about…
1) …grace – A young lady recently started working for our charity, Great Lakes Outreach, in Burundi. She was found down a toilet where her mother dumped her after giving birth. Someone saw this discarded piece of flesh in the filth, reached down, and picked her up. They cleaned her off and got poo on themselves in the process. She was still alive, was fed through a straw like a little bird, weighing just a few pounds. My friend who adopted her gave her the most beautiful girl’s name. When I married my wife Lizzie, I said to her that if ever we were blessed to have a daughter, I’d like to name her after that girl. So they share the same name. Grace!
The start of her life is a picture of the gospel, our message, the bedrock of our lives – it doesn’t matter whether we’re multi-murdering, raping, pillaging idiots in Central Africa or self-absorbed people in America (UK, wherever), all of us need God’s grace. And He in Christ reaches down from heaven to earth, bridges the chasm, picks us up, cleans us off, takes our filth on Him, and says to you and to me: “You’re my beautiful child. I love you this much (arms stretched out wide on the cross), now come, live for me!” That’s grace, and that’s our message. You can’t earn it, you just live in response to it. May that underpin everything we do. It’s all about grace, so let’s live grace-fully.
2) …gratitude – This is linked to grace, but building further on it. I had a man come to my house with a grenade to blow me up. He’d written me a letter saying he was going to cut out my eyes. Was that a fun experience? No, but it was one of the most defining experiences of my life. Let me tell you why:
Faced with the imminent prospect of losing these two little things (my eyes), let alone my life, I was consciously grateful for the first time for the gift of eyesight – which is a gift, not a right. Your challenge is that you live in an entitled culture and we are an entitled generation. It’s all about our rights. The best gift Burundi has given me is the gift of gratitude. Nothing is a right, everything is a gift. Food, health, education, security, friends, family, clean water, the list goes on. When I’m tempted to be self-pitying or thinking I’ve had a hard lot in life, I list off all those gifts. It’s a game-changer! Stop complaining. Don’t take anything for granted. Be grateful. Grateful people make happy people. You’ll be nicer to live alongside and therefore more effective in your work.
3) …humility – We usually think our culture is the best. We are so wrong! There is so much wrong with our greedy, individualistic, consumerist (I could go on) respective Western cultures. There is so much richness in our host cultures, because every culture has good and bad in it. Dig for the gems. Learn the language, the proverbs, the stories. Listen, listen, listen! Don’t criticize. For example, the African says to the American/Brit/etc: “You have watches, we have time!” They might just be late for your meeting because someone was dying on the side of the road as they came to meet you. How dare I arrogantly reproach them for their lateness, their ‘African time’, when they did ‘the Good Samaritan’ whilst I would have walked on by to honour my punctuality proudly whilst leaving someone to die…? Seriously? People are more important than schedules, aren’t they? Humility, humility, humility.
4) …relationship – One of my life mantras is ‘Everything is about relationship’. You can’t microwave or fast-track friendship and trust. Spend time with people. An African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
2015, Burundi teetered on the edge of total implosion. It’s too politically
sensitive to go into details, but we had the holiest meeting of my life with
our key leaders. Were we willing to stand up and preach non-violence, forgiveness,
and dialogue, when the Church at large had completely gone to ground in fear?
Yes, on somber reflection, we were. But how could we do that and be effective?
Because the context of our relationships was that we had been meeting monthly
for breakfast for five years together, so we loved and trusted each other.
Honestly, it was amazing. We counted the cost. Thankfully nobody died in our
team, but we were ready.
It’s all about relationship, so live connected, invest the time, be patient, seek out and embrace genuine accountability with key folk, and you’ll go far together
5) …people – People, not stuff. Please care more for the folks you aim to come alongside than for your possessions. Live more simply. People, not stuff, and then people, not pets. The biggest criticism of missionaries has often been that they show more love for their pets than the people around them.
Maybe I’ll say more on this in the Q&A, but as far as you can, seek to work alongside the best local leaders of passion, integrity, gifting and vision. Our job is to encourage, equip, release. If you back a person of average passion/integrity/gifting/vision, the ceiling is set at mediocrity. Our work was so stunningly fruitful because I had the advantage of living in country and patiently observing and praying, so we were able to identify the best of the best, which meant the sky was the limit in terms of fruitfulness. I’ve lots more to say on that but time is ticking.
6) …patience – Rome wasn’t built in a day. When God wants to make a delicate mushroom, he does it overnight; but when he wants to make an sturdy oak, he takes decades. We want long-term fruit. Don’t over-estimate what you can do in one year, but don’t underestimate what you can do in ten. I look back and am blown away at what we’ve been able to do by God’s grace. But in any given one-year time-frame, I might have felt discouraged and overwhelmed, and not seen much obvious progress. Short-term missions have their place, but let’s be realistic on what can be accomplished in anything less than chunkier time-frames.
7) …now! Yes, it’s all about patience, but it’s also all about now! We want to live urgently. ‘Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.’ I once preached about living ready, being all in, people need saving and rescuing, etc, and two days later, those listeners were killed in a big rebel attack. Our message and mission is urgent. Live like you believe it’s true. Don’t waste time. You’ve got 1,440 minutes today that you’ll never get back again, so use them well. Be focused. Is this activity good use of my time? As C.S.Lewis said: “Anything which isn’t eternal is eternally out of date.”
8) …rhythm – Yes we should live urgently, but we have to work from a place of rest. Work hard and play hard. Don’t try to ‘go faster than grace allows’ (Brother Lawrence). Put first things first, which means being a worshipper before being a worker. Guard the secret place. Seriously. Be very accountable with somebody on this point. Cultivate intimacy with God through meditation, Scripture, prayer, etc, it’s an absolute priority if you want to be built to last. How are you doing on that one?
9) …the Kingdom – Kingdom capital K, or Church capital C. You’ve got your little patch. But remember the picture is so much bigger. Be part of the bigger whole. It’s not a competition. Help others around you. It’s not win/lose or lose/win. Go for win/wins. Their big slice of cake doesn’t mean my slice therefore has to be small. Let’s bake a bigger cake together! I fundamentally believe as you try to help others, God’s grace boomerangs back and smacks you hard in the face!
10) …faith – Choose faith, not fear. There’s lots to make us afraid. But no. Driving along one of the most dangerous roads in the world, my colleague leant across one day, and said to me with a glint in his eye: “Simon, isn’t it exciting, we’re immortal until God calls us home!” He’s right! Perfect love casts our fear. This life won’t last for ever, it’s not our home or end destination. My marriage proposal to Lizzie was: “Are you ready to be a young widow?” That was tested in the 2015 crisis, by this stage with three kids in tow. Fear said leave, but faith said stay, which links in with my next point…
11) …staying – Many years ago, I was on a short-term mission trip to Sao Paolo in Brazil. We went to work with street-children, who were in ample supply – the plan was to rescue 7 million in 3 weeks – I say that somewhat tongue in cheek because having the right expectations is very important. We went to the main square, and I’ve been in much more dangerous situations in Burundi many times over, but this was the most traumatic incident I’ve ever experienced. Fear often comes through not understanding the dynamics at play.
we were mugged by a gang of street-children. These weren’t cute little urchins
but damaged and dangerous little thieves who survived through knifing people,
stealing, etc. One of them about 10-years-old came over to our 6ft4in team
leader, cursing and spitting. He pointed at him angrily and spoke with venom
and hatred: “You may be big, you may be strong, but there’s only one of you!”
And then they attacked us, throwing glass bottles at us, which shattered on the
floor around us as we fled and sought police protection.
night, we processed the experience in the safety of the compound, sat around in
a group. I simply wept. I wept that we’d met just a handful of the seven
million screwed-up precious little street-children of Brazil. As I cried, the
team leader gently came alongside me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said
something that has left an indelible mark on me for the rest of my life. In
fact, it might have been the one thing I’d traveled all the way to Brazil to
learn: “Pity cries, and then goes away… but
compassion stays!” That rocked me. I returned a different person, resolved
to never walk away.
Jesus chose to ‘stay’, and so must we, to be authentic and consistent with His call on our lives, engaging with people’s pain. But ouch, it can hurt. It can be geographical, but ‘staying’ is more a heart attitude. It’s tempting in the face of so much @£$% that life throws up and all the overwhelming needs we get confronted with, to harden our heart, but no, we insist on staying soft. As Jackie Pullinger said: “God wants us to have soft hearts and hard feet. The trouble with so many of us is that we have hard hearts and soft feet.” Stay soft-hearted, hard-footed. Choose to stay.
12) …communication – It’s not what you say, but what they hear, and therefore understand. Can you hear the difference between gusura and gusura? No you can’t. One means to visit, the other means to fart. Tonal languages are subtle. I want to make sure I’m visiting the government minister and not farting on him!
friend Vicky’s flashlight broke, so she asked the hospital guard to walk her
home, except the word ‘walk’ and ‘have an affair’ are virtually identical in
Malagasy. He took her home thinking he’d struck the jackpot, and she had a
One US lady was sharing her testimony in Francophone
Africa. She wanted to say in French that her
past was divided into two parts. Instead of ‘passé’ she said ‘derrière’ (behind,
backside). She went on to say that one part of her butt was black, one part was
white, and between the two there was a great chasm!
are both funny and serious examples, but suffice to say, so many problems come
through so many layers of complexity across cultures. Misunderstandings are
easy, so tread carefully. Communicate clearly. Choose the right means of
communicate. Get folks to state back to you what their understanding is. Two
ears, one mouth, listen listen listen! And don’t listen to just one side of any
story, it’s never the full picture.
And remember, it’s all aboutgrace, gratitude, humility, relationship, people, patience, now, rhythm, the Kingdom, faith, staying, communication. And there could have been more said on each point or even further points, but that’ll have to do.
for farting with me, I’ve enjoyed your visit! Go for plenty of walks, avoid
having affairs. And may your derriere’s testimony be powerful, leading to many
more seriously, thanks for listening to my talk, which wasn’t quite 15 minutes,
or even 10 points as I’d agreed, but that was an unrealistic expectation from
an African – and I am indeed a proud African, a Burundian, one of about a dozen
white Burundians in the world!
if I’m Paul, and you’re Jo, well I can hear the guards’ jangling their keys at
the cell door. I’m off to my graduation to glory. Whether it’s by
head-chopping, hanging, or feeding to the lions, ‘for me to live is Christ, to
die is gain!’ What a privilege! I’ll see you on the other side in due course.
Be assured, the call on your life to serve wherever in the world is absolutely
worth everything you’ve got. Yes, you’ll definitely receive plenty of sucker
punches along the way, but hang in there. It’s totally worth it. I say this,
and I know our heavenly Father says it, “I believe you’ve got what it takes to
be who He’s called you to be! Get out there, and change the world, one person
at a time!”
Just a few weeks ago, 1200 parents in Burundi were wondering where the money would come from to get their children back to school. Thanks to your generosity and swift response, we’ve been able to help keep around 3600 children in education for the coming year. Thank you SO much!
We distributed £30/$40 to each family, which, for many, has made all the difference between keeping the children in education, going into debt or losing their place(s) at school.
One parent, Odette, sums up the gratitude of so many: ”We are so grateful for the help. Books have become so expensive. One textbook can cost over 10,000FBU and that’s just for one child excluding uniforms, school supplies and other textbooks. Thank you and may God continue to use you to bless so many others.”
Another, Ephraim, talks about narrowly avoiding having to take out a loan to pay for education. He says: “Preparing for the new year is such a stressful time of time of the year for us. One begins to wonder about going into debt just to make sure you’re child’s spot isn’t taken.Thank you so much for your gift. It has really helped my family.”
One of children says, “I’m especially thankful for my textbook since English is favourite subject.”
But the children’s smiles say it all… THANK YOU!!!
Below are some juicy quotes that I used which are worth cogitating over:
“When God forgives, He forgets. He buries our sins in the sea and puts a sign on the shore saying, ‘No Fishing Allowed’.” (Corrie ten Boom)
During the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in South Africa in the days immediately after the ending of apartheid, there was a hearing involving a policeman named van de Broek. He recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbecue meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it. The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked.
She said she wanted van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded agreement.
Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”
Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.
I was driving along one of the most dangerous roads in the world with my team. Many had been killed in ambushes on it. Yet we talked away cheerfully, having total assurance that our mission was worth the risk. Next to me in the front seat, Etienne looked across and said: “Simon, isn’t it exciting? We’re immortal until God calls us home!”
This is the 3rd talk in the ‘One Thing’ series I gave recently at Lee Abbey.
In 1910, William Borden went to Yale University as an undergraduate and afterwards became a missionary candidate planning to work in China. When he made his decision to invest his life in this service, many of his friends thought him foolish. He had come from a good family. He had wealth and influence. “Why are you going to throw away your life in some foreign country,” they asked, “when you can have such an enjoyable and worthwhile life here?” But William Borden of Yale had heard the call of God. While in Egypt, on the way to China and even before he had much of a chance to do anything, he contracted cerebral meningitis. Soon it was evident to everyone, including himself, that he would die. At this point, Borden could have said to himself, “What a waste. My friends were right. I could have stayed in New Haven.” But Borden did not think this way. As he lay on his deathbed in Egypt in 1913, he scribbled a farewell note to his friends that were in some sense his epitaph. The note said, “No reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.”
Below is the second talk in the series at Lee Abbey from a few weeks ago entitled ‘One Thing’:
The Gospel according to Hollywood sometimes nails it.
In the film City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal and the late Jack Palance, they are riding slowly across the range on horseback, discussing life and love. Palance plays a wily cowpoke, while Crystal is a tenderfoot from Los Angeles who has paid for a two-week dude ranch vacation. Of course, he gets more than he bargained for, and in the process, Crystal learns something important about himself. Listen carefully to their slightly edited conversation:
PALANCE: You city folk. You worry about a lot of $£%@!, don’t you? CRYSTAL: $£%@!? My wife basically told me she doesn’t want me around. PALANCE: How old are you? Thirty-eight? CRYSTAL: Thirty-nine. PALANCE: Yeah. You all come out here about the same age. Same problems. Spend fifty weeks a year getting knots in your rope then . . . then you think two weeks up here will untie them for you. None of you get it. (Long pause) Do you know what the secret of life is? CRYSTAL: No, what? PALANCE: This. (Holds up his index finger) CRYSTAL: Your finger? PALANCE: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean $£%@!. CRYSTAL: That’s great, but what’s the one thing? PALANCE: That’s what you’ve got to figure out…
I recently finished speaking at a family holiday and Bible-teaching week at Lee Abbey in Devon, which we now do every year. It’s a fabulous place if you ever wanted to join us. So over the next few weeks, I’ll put out one talk at a time, if you fancy listening. The theme of the week was ONE THING, and this first talk was ‘One Thing I Ask/One Thing is Necessary’
This is me: 17th century, Brother Lawrence 1614-1691 writes of a person who was full of good intentions but ‘wants to go faster than grace allows’.
A.W. Tozer: “We take a convert and immediately make a worker out of him. God never meant it to be so. God meant that a convert should learn to be a worshipper, and after that he can learn to be a worker. The work done by a worshipper will have eternity in it.”
“These are days of much activity in the field of church and mission work, but no amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King Himself. The devil is not greatly concerned about getting between us and work; his great concern is getting between us and God. Many a Christian worker has buried his spirituality in the grave of his activity.” Duncan Campbell during the Hebrides Revival ‘49-53.
Smith Wigglesworth gave this challenge to Christians: “Be filled with the Spirit; that is, be soaked with the Spirit. Be so soaked that every thread in the fabric of your life will have received the requisite rule of the Spirit – then when you are misused and squeezed to the wall, all that will ooze out of you will be the nature of Christ.”
“Simon, we can’t send our children back to school this Monday because we have no money to buy the uniform and school book and pencil. We go without food, sanitary towels, everything, but still can’t make it. It’s often the children of parents in ministry who are the first to drop out. Please, please help my team, I beg you!”
Charlotte cried as she pleaded with me – she wasn’t just desperate for herself but for her staff at the life-changing ministry she runs and which GLO supports. And as my three children prepare to start at a beautiful school next Monday with all their needs met, her plea haunts me: “It’s often the children of parents in ministry who are the first to drop out.”
If you’re a parent, it probably never crossed your mind that your children wouldn’t go to school. What would I not do for my kids? It’s so unfair.
September is the hardest month of the year for folks in Burundi, because it’s back to school for the kids – or not, as the case may be.
So what do I say to her? I love her, her gospel ministry, her faithful colleagues working for a pittance.
Will you hear Charlotte’s plea through me? One of my roles is as a voice for the voiceless. “Please, please, I beg you!”
GLO supports 15 local partners in Burundi and that’s about 600 salaries all in. We would love to give £30/$35 to each of these families to help them get their children back to school next Monday morning. (There are an average of six children per family. The price of a couple of coffees per child could make a lifetime of difference, keeping them in school instead of dropping out.) Could you help 1, 3, 5, 10, to make this happen?
PS The summer outreach campaign was amazing yet again. I’ll share more once all the results and stories are in. I also have great news of Theogene, the orphan from Ciya who grew aubergines to pay for school fees and wanted to start a rabbit farming business with his brother. He is going back to school next week too, with your support. I’ll also write more soon on how he is getting on…
Should this become a book? That is the question I’m wrestling with. Maybe your honest feedback will help me make my decision.
During our year of travel, I started with writing a book as my intention, and below is what I’d begun with. But then a few months in, a few key folks said I should drop it and live in the present, rather than sharing our lives too publicly. So I dropped it. But the kids thought it was a good idea. And then a number of folks have written asking me to. So, what to do? I don’t know, but here’s the introduction, for your perusal. Feel free to share any thoughts you have…
If it ever came to fruition, the title might be
Nuts to be Normal
Subtitle – A Normal Family’s Nutty Adventures Around The World
It’s the eve of our departure. Lizzie, my remarkable lady, has whittled down our luggage to 45kg/99lbs for the whole of the coming year between five of us – hand luggage only. Josiah, our youngest, has just expressed yet again his displeasure at this adventure we are about to undertake. I’m feeling daunted, excited, and impatient to get cracking. Many questions and feelings assault my over-active mind. Are we nuts to be doing this? Will we only last a few weeks and come back with our tails between our legs? Is our marriage strong enough to endure what will undeniably be plenty of stressful situations in multiple different scenarios across the continents?
Well, in these coming pages you’ll find out how long we lasted, how our marriage fared, and much more. I’ve always placed a high value on authenticity, so I won’t sugarcoat, photoshop, or airbrush my/our deficiencies, idiosyncrasies, or plain cock-ups. And there are plenty of them.
I’ve written a number of ‘spiritual’ books, but this one is very different. It’s more of a humorous travelogue for you to enjoy as you wince, sigh, guffaw etc. at our collective highs and lows. If you’re a parent, maybe you’ll sympathise with us as we struggled to get things right. If you haven’t had kids yet, it might put you off ever doing so! As a human, there’ll be plenty you’ll relate to, I’m sure. Whatever your own life situation, maybe in some way hearing of our escapades will stir a desire in you to do something a little ‘outside the box’.
As I snuggled up with my darling daughter Grace at bedtime a few weeks into our adventure, I whispered in her ear: “Do you think we’re nuts doing this round-the-world trip?” Quick as a flash, she replied: “No Daddy, it’s nuts to be normal!”
It’s nuts to be normal. I thought that could make a good title for this book.
So meet the crew:
I’m 45-years-old. I’ve just completed 20 years of living in Burundi, Central Africa. It was the most dangerous country in the world when I first arrived there, and I genuinely thought I’d die before the age of thirty. Well, I didn’t die, although others I cared about did, and people tried to kill me. I ended up starting an organization called Great Lakes Outreach. That story is told in another book called Dangerously Alive – African Adventures of Faith under Fire. Wonderfully I found a fabulous lady to share the journey with, and in due time three children came along. For their educational needs, and having found a truly exceptional local leader to take on the running of GLO in Burundi, the time seemed right to leave the country and transition back to the UK. Our kids have experienced gunfire and such like, but are thankfully not traumatised. This year on the road is a dream for us, and their ages make it the perfect time as they are old enough to remember, engage with and appreciate what we will do, but young enough that it won’t mess up their long-term schooling. I’m a terrible sleeper, which means that often before the others even wake up, I can be working on the laptop, as I continue in my role as International Director. So essentially this year I’ll be juggling work around travel, and doing plenty of speaking, networking, and fundraising along the way. That doesn’t make for very interesting reading, so I won’t refer to that side much, unless something particularly noteworthy happens.
Lizzie is my wonderful wife. I don’t think many women would have been willing to raise their children in a conflict-zone, and likewise not many would be willing to undertake this coming challenge. She’s feisty and fun. She’s gentle and firm.
She’s chalk to my cheese.
Whereas I’m all about the big picture, she’s about the detail. Whereas I love speaking to crowds, she hates being up front. Whereas I’m happy to leave an AirBnB rental the following morning, knowing we’ve paid the cleaning fee, she’s intent on getting the hoover out and leaving it cleaner than we found it. Whereas I stuff everything hickledy pickledy into my travel bag, she has bought everyone else colour-coded packing cubes for their rucksacks – I kid you not! In fact, before agreeing to my proposition of this crazy year, she laid down three non-negotiable stipulations:
1. Zip up bags (it’s a weird dysfunction of mine that I always leave things unzipped, apart from my flies on most days)
2. No bungee-jumping (I’ve done ten in my life and was keen on A.J.Hackett’s one in New Zealand, but have ‘sacrificed’ that desire now)
3. Walk with us, not a mile ahead of us (this has caused a fair amount of tension in the past, striding through airports or out on a date and losing her or the kids in the process)
I often quote the African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’ Well, I entirely agree, it’s great wisdom. Sadly, I simply can’t not do ‘fast’, and as you’ll see, it only took a few weeks before I lost her for the first time, presuming she’d kept up with me! But I really do hope we go far, and go together.
Lizzie is an absolute trooper. We were both awarded MBEs a few months ago for services to Burundi, and she wanted to decline hers, saying she didn’t deserve it. In the end she agreed to accept it, and hopefully not just because it meant three more family members could attend the fancy ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Without her, my life would look very different. She was the hostess with the mostess to gazillions of guests in Burundi. She was an encourager and a confidant, and loves being part of a team. She has shaped me and released me. She’ll admit to being a tad tetchy one or two days per month, but in general is rock-solid and level-headed. I have usually described ours as a great marriage, whilst she would call it good, so generally she sees things in less bright colours than I do. I definitely wind her up sometimes, and I know we’ll blow a few gaskets over the coming months, but that’ll all be part of the richness of family life on the road.
Zac will become a teenager during the trip. He’s spent most of his life in Africa, away from pop culture, screens and sarcasm. This makes him beautifully devoid of cynicism and negativity. He still sticks out his hand to hold mine as we walk down the street – which surely won’t last much longer, but I love it every time he does so. Like me at his age, he’s very small, and will mature late probably, but it will hopefully mean we don’t have a grumpy teenager with mercurial moodswings to navigate throughout the year. He’s fiercely competitive, and hates losing to the point of tears. He’s earnest and yet playful, loving kicking a ball around at any opportunity. He’s intelligent but doesn’t like the idea of us home-schooling this coming year. Like his sister, he wants to be with people the whole time.
Grace turns eleven in a few months. She’s got bags of energy, a strong sense of justice, and is very sociable. She’s got a lot of love to give, and I’m sure will end up doing something impactful with her life. She’s conscientious and thorough. She’s up for any challenge, and loves scoring goals against boys when they’ve discounted her on the basis of her gender. Her danger is bossing the boys around, and sometimes they can exclude and gang up on her, which we’ll need to watch out for.
Josiah is nine-years-old. He will do anything to get out of working, so we anticipate home-schooling being a challenge with him. He’s got bags of emotional intelligence so reads the room very well in terms of detecting if someone is stressed or angry, and diffusing the situation with a cuddle or a joke. As you will see, he comes out with the most hilarious comments, and is an entertainer with a winsome cheekiness that we have no doubt will get him far in life. Unlike Zac and Grace, Josiah is happy to play by himself. He’s also the one we are most concerned about. Last Christmas, we spent two weeks in South Africa, and when we returned to Burundi, he walked along the corridor of our home, kissing the walls and exclaiming: “I’m so glad to be home!”
Jos is most similar to me, whilst Zac and Grace take after their Mum. Jos and I are natural rule-breakers, opting to ask for forgiveness rather than permission before doing something, whereas the other three are rule-keepers. That can cause tension at times.
So that sets the scene a little. Anyway, the fact is, if he (or any of us) hate the experience, we’ll quit, because life’s too short and we don’t want to mess up our family. But I really hope we can make it.
Before deciding definitively that we would go for it, we wanted to see how the family coped with a challenging road trip. So we decided to drive to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. We would stay in cheap accommodation anywhere along the way, without booking ahead, and eat local food, and see how it went. I love the freedom of the road, and not knowing what a day will hold. Lizzie was amused by my saying each day: “I love it that we don’t know where we’re staying tonight, and that nobody in the world knows where we are right now!”
Once we’d left Burundian territory and entered Tanzania, the roads became horrific. The worst kind of road is one where there has been tarmac in the past, but now there are two-foot deep potholes, so if you hit them unsuspectingly, the whole vehicle slams into them mercilessly and bounces up and over. We didn’t have a local Sim card, so were relying on Maps.me, which is an offline downloadable map that uses the phone’s GPS. It works well, except that it doesn’t differentiate between a hamlet and a town. Thankfully that first night, we asked and were completely re-directed away from any number of hamlets that wouldn’t have any lodging to a town where there was a hotel. Maybe not so thankfully, it was Saturday night, and shortly after we went to bed, the hotel’s nightclub music started pounding through our walls and kept most of us awake for a long bleak night of non-sleep.
The following day, we continued on our way. My favorite memory of that journey was looking across at one stage, in the middle of nowhere, and seeing that Lizzie was waxing her legs! It seemed so totally incongruous. And then half an hour later, I looked again and there she was, acting out and memorizing her Bollywood dance routine from her iPhone for a performance she was due to take part in a few weeks later! We made it to friends of friends in Mwanza, who kindly hosted us for two nights. Then we blasted eastwards and entered the Serengeti. We were grateful to have our Burundi passports with us, so that instead of paying $60/person/day, it was $6, so we were literally saving over a thousand dollars over the few days. What with the boom in Chinese and Russian tourists, prices for accommodation had soared, and choices were very limited. The usual cost was $400- 800/night, with a few much higher. There was one place in the whole park for $30/night. That’s what we went for! And you get what you pay for, so it was extremely basic, but totally adequate. We went around the corner to eat some sketchy-looking rice and beans with the workers for $1 (instead of $20/head), and prayed that our guts would nuke any unhelpful germs. Thankfully they did.
The Ngorongoro Crater was another further day’s drive eastwards, but was a must-see, as it is a World Heritage Site, and the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera (crater). On the way, we saw the unparalleled wildebeest migration, in which as far as the eye can see stretches out a long undulating line of wildebeest making an annual loop as they gauge the best place to be for munching tasty grass. They estimate that a staggering 1.5 million of them travel together – mind-blowing.
The Ngorongoro crater itself is 610m (2,000feet) deep, and covers 260 square kilometres (100 square miles). Its name is Maasai language for ‘Mountain of God’. Instead of $295/day, our vehicle cost a delicious $30 with our Burundi number plates. We hired a guide and spent the maximum allowed three hours in this area of lush and densely-populated flora and fauna. Windows wound down, we watched lions lapping water out of muddy puddles just six feet away (they don’t attack cars). We saw hundreds of zebra, gazelles, and flamingos, dozens of hippos and elephants, plenty of giraffes, a rhino, and only missed out on elusive cheetahs and leopards. It was stunning.
Then came the long drive back to Burundi. It took three days. I always had an underlying tension wondering if our trusty 4×4 Prado would break down because of the hammering it was getting on the diabolical roads. What on earth would we do, without knowing anyone within ten hours’ drive, in the thick bush, if something went seriously wrong? As it happened, it was just as we made it across the border back into Burundi that a huge clanking noise started up in the engine. We made our way gingerly back a further four hours to our home in the capital, and the next day the mechanics at the Toyota dealership handed me a painful $1,200 bill for repairs, so our dirt-cheap holiday instantly became a lot more expensive.
But we had made it! Due to the nature of a safari holiday, even the holiday part had been spent in the car. So during that week away, we had spent a total of fifty hours in the car, and – wait for it – the kids hadn’t complained once! That blew my mind. They had passed the test with flying colours. We’d stayed in cheap places, eaten cheap food, remained healthy, driven looooong daily journeys, and everyone had loved it. So yes, the trial run had been successful, and it was all systems go for me to start planning our around-the-world adventure!