“Utabesha ntasumira umwana.”
This Kirundi proverb – and as you know, proverbs shape and reflect a given culture – could be translated as: “If you don’t lie, you won’t feed your kids.” (literally ‘He who doesn’t lie won’t take his child to market.’)
There are some beautiful aspects and some darker aspects of any and every culture. In Burundi, this is one of the darker ones. Lying, deception, and stealing are all very normal, accepted as a given, and sometimes even respected attributes.
Today I bumped into our conference centre’s ex head-chef. We’d sent him to South Africa for 5-star training and had really invested in him. He says he’s a committed Christian. But it soon became apparent he was stealing in a number of areas, although it was hard to prove. You can only get rid of employers here if you’ve got watertight proof, because they’ll take you to court as a matter of routine. Thankfully, albeit sadly, he was caught red-handed a few months ago, and systematic abuses were uncovered. Goodbye Albert!
I’d wondered how I’d greet him when I eventually came across him. Would I shake his hand? It took me by surprise when he walked up to me. I think he was ashamed. I looked him in the eye: “I’m really sad you stole from us.”
I went on: “The most important thing to me is that you’re OK before God, that you’ve repented, and are restored.”
“Oh, I’m fine, before God I’m totally fine. It was a stitch-up job by the others in the kitchen. I didn’t steal anything.”
At that I just shrugged, excused myself and walked away. I didn’t want to hear any more lies. I was sad that he didn’t want to come clean. One of our challenges as followers of Christ is to inculcate a deeper culture that supersedes the twisted proverbs and perceived wisdom of a fallen world. In Burundi the issue of lying seems an obvious one to me, but that’s the point: when you come from a different culture you can sometimes (but not always) be more objective from a critical distance.
The interesting question for you and me might be: although our culture isn’t so rooted in endorsed and explicit lying per se, what lies are we blind to because of our own cultural indoctrination? How about greed for starters? Are our standards as followers of Christ any different from those around us? The cunning deceit of greed is that it always compares upwards to those who have more, not downwards to those with less.
That’s worth pondering and facing up to. Go on, search your heart, mind, attitudes, prejudices, or look at your bank statement – face the facts if appropriate, and don’t lie – they don’t!