Presence as an Act of Defiance in Burundi…

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.”

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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.

Defiant.

Together.

By our presence, choosing to stay.

With His presence, the only Way…

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