As Burundi struggles not to implode – which is not to say it will, because we truly believe in God-with-us, who can intervene and save our precious nation from calamity – many things have gone through my mind. Near the top of the list, as a father and husband, has been the well-being of Lizzie and the children. White folks are not targeted in this deteriorating situation, but so many innocents have already been caught up in it, so who’s to say what might happen?
How do a 5, 7 and 9-year-old process what they are hearing, seeing, sensing? They have become regularly attuned to hearing gunfire and the chanting and whistle-blowing of crowds just a few hundred yards away. They have been driven past smouldering roadblocks. In years to come, I wonder how they will talk of these strange days…
Last week, whilst at a friend’s house around the corner, demonstrators ran through the streets. Everything went quiet so our friend looked out of the front gate to see what was happening. A police truck suddenly pulled up out of nowhere and started hauling four innocent girls onto the back as suspected ‘insurrectionists’. My friend shouted to intervene. Two of the girls got through her gate to safety, a third had her top clean yanked off but also got through, whilst the last one, just 14-years-old, was led away arrested. The policeman involved was angry at this turn of events, so proceeded to fire several shots into the air whilst just outside the gate – you can imagine how loud that was. So our kids, with their other little school buddies, sat on the floor with their interrupted game of Monopoly as the three young ladies were now crying in the house, one just in her bra. That night, as we put Grace (7) to bed, she said tearfully: “I want to leave Burundi.”
Two days later, I dropped the family off in the car because our path ahead was blocked by a barricade of rocks on the road to some other friends’ house. They only had to walk another hundred yards, but Zac (9) looked at the charred barricade, at the group of police one way and some demonstrators loitering the other way, and whispered: “Mummy, I’m scared.”
(This is 200m from our house, and 20m from our partner New Generation)
Yesterday afternoon, on the way to a farewell football game with friends, I was elsewhere as Lizzie drove out of our house. Our tiny insignificant street has barricades at both ends, one more impenetrable than the other. She turned left and came to the pile of rocks. A kind passer-by started lifting the rocks out of the way, but immediately another man came up and starting punching him. The latter backed down and the men went their separate ways. So Lizzie climbed out of the car and lifted the rocks out of the road herself. The puncher walked away without turning back – the unwritten rules of engagement at this stage probably include NOT punching white women in broad daylight – and Lizzie proceeded to make light of it by flexing her muscles extravagantly like a bodybuilder for the children’s sake as they watched from the car.
(Such barricades are being constantly put up all over the capital to halt the police)
Those three relatively minor incidents are thankfully the extent of what the kids have gone through, though they have obviously been aware of the tensions. And I hope in the future there’ll be nothing more than that. You see, yesterday Lizzie and the children flew out of Burundi. Our hand was forced because Josiah (5) choked on some popcorn last weekend and his breathing immediately sounded terrible. On Tuesday we went to an experienced US pediatrician who said Jos needed a bronchoscopy as soon as possible to get the popcorn out of his lung, and that could not be performed in Burundi. Honestly, it was a shock in the immediate, but actually I felt quite relieved, because our lingering dilemma of what to do was over. The kids hadn’t been to school pretty much in two weeks, and their lives consisted of being cooped up at home with sporadic forays to friends nearby. So they are as we speak on their way back to England to Lizzie’s folks, and I’d value your prayers for Jos’ treatment and openings at a local school for the three of them. What can I say about Lizzie? She is truly top class, a gift from God to me!
So many people are affected. Yesterday I sped across town on my motorbike to the bus station as a friend was fleeing the country with her three truly traumatised children. She’d had enough of them hearing grenades and gunfire. She had virtually no money and was taking a bus to Rwanda with just an address of some folks she’d never met, but to her that was better than staying here. I was able to give her a wad of cash and pray her off. They were four of many thousands doing the same.
(Some of the 50,000+ Burundians who have already fled to camps in Rwanda)
The situation looks quite intractable right now. The President is definitely running for a third term. The constitutional court has endorsed it as legal, and he formally signed his application at the electoral commission yesterday to run in the presidential elections taking place on the 26th June. The opposition has vowed to fight, and yet their leaders are accused of being disorganized and cowardly, as most of them stay at home whilst sending their underlings onto the streets to risk their lives. Two days ago, a suspected (and later confirmed) ruling party youth wing member got out of a car and was burnt to death by the crowd, which was an own-goal for the opposition who have thus far claimed the moral high ground as victims of what they perceive is a repressive state apparatus. May they not lose control of their own people, or that would be catastrophic. Equally catastrophic would be if the ethnic dimension comes to the fore, which most are resisting but some are seeking to manipulate for their sick ends. I have had repeated conversations with educated, rational folk here who are absolutely petrified about what they fear might happen in the coming days. Meantime, our team is doing everything we can by both forming peace committees in different suburbs and recording lots of programs so as to maximise TV and radio to preach peace, hope and truth in a context where there is so much violence, despair and rumours. You can still donate by clicking here.
(This ruling party youth wing member’s life was saved by the army from a lynch mob)
Maybe Zac should be employed by the UN as a peace negotiator, because I haven’t heard of a better solution to the crisis than his suggestion over lunch the other day: “Why doesn’t the President’s football team play against the opposition’s, and whoever wins the match gets to run the country?”
(The President has his won team, Halleluya FC)
Burundi, Burundi, how long and how deep will this mess become? God help us!
I awoke this morning and it’s deathly quiet – not just because last night’s half-hour gunfight about 1km away has ceased and there’s hopefully an agreed day of peace for people to restock with food, but also because the usual hubbub of my kids playing in the next room isn’t taking place. I’m home alone now, but feel relieved that they are gone, safe, and untraumatised. So many others aren’t as fortunate. Please keep praying for our friends here; for our precious colleagues, partners, neighbours, leaders; for God to do a miracle for beautiful Burundi.