In two weeks’ time, we’ll be back in the UK, and our time as a whole family living together in Burundi will be over.
I find that hard to take in.
In fact, none of us actually wants to leave. We love this country, and we love living here. So it’s good to be leaving wanting more, rather than counting down the days wanting to scarper as soon as possible!
On Friday night, we had a leaving celebration with our favourite Burundian folks. Over 19 years there are a lot of deep relationships. We invited 70 key people together to eat, reminisce, and share with why the time has come for us to move on (already written about elsewhere, but put most concisely, for the kids’ education).
I looked around that room and it brought tears to my eyes…
…people I’d shared a skanky bed or floorspace with, people I’d crashed a car and dangled over a ravine with, people I’d been sick with;
colleagues we’d survived on ambush roads together where others died, soulmates with whom we’d preached in the bush where we’d seen literally thousands come to Christ, team-mates with whom we’d broken down in the middle of rebel territory miles from anywhere and been totally stuffed!
There was so much potential in that room – both realised, and also not yet realised. I looked across at fellow-dreamers and visionaries – in several instances, we’d looked years ago at a simple hill with eyes of faith, and now those virgin hills had been transformed into a thriving school, medical clinic and/or orphanage; or the field we prayed in by faith that was now a beautiful conference centre giving jobs to many and modelling excellence in Jesus’ name; or that land in faith that is now being prepared for a hospital.
And there were still so many dreams in that room that we are committed to see come into being.
The above examples are physical facts that nobody can deny and whose fruitfulness is easier to measure. Yet I get even more excited by the less tangible but more important – the leaders we’ve helped equip, empower and release, such that tens of thousands of people throughout Burundi are not what they would have been without our work; the people who are still alive because of our intervention, the marriages we’ve helped support and strengthen, the children whom we’ve helped get a better education.
I’m not writing this for our glory, but for God’s. We’ve just joined Him and sought to hear, follow and obey. Looking back to when I first arrived 19 years ago, I had about $300 in the world. I borrowed a bicycle from a friend because I was so skint, and for a while was the only Muzungu in the country cycling to work each day, pouring sweat. I had big dreams, but you have to start small, just as you are, with the little you have. Then money came in for a motorbike, and soulmate Freddy and I blasted around the country on some of the most dangerous roads in the world bringing life and hope to many. And so God in His faithfulness launched us out into this great adventure. Crazy days!
One brother, Emmanuel, testified to the fact he’d lost his first five children (from late miscarriages to a stillbirth to a baby dying a few days out of the womb) – some of you will remember, and you prayed for him – and how in the end we flew his wife to Kenya for better treatment; and she might even have died with the sixth delivery because the umbilical cord was around the baby’s neck and it got messy, but now here she was, and they have four beautiful healthy children after so many years of grieving. Beautiful!
I restated what we were about, what our DNA as GLO was and still is: that EVERYTHING is about relationships. Together we can do more than each of us on our own. Jesus is at the heart of all we do, and we do it all out of gratitude and by His grace. My voice cracked as I shared, and indeed I cut short my slightly incoherent speech to stop myself losing it.
Onesphore, to whom I am handing on the work of GLO in Burundi, organised and led the evening beautifully. He gave everyone a rousing challenge at the end to continue the work, to step things up, to embrace more risks, to count the cost. It’s truly the best scenario I could possibly have envisaged to be able to hand on the baton to a Burundian of such integrity, gifting, vision and passion.
So it has been and will continue to be an emotional time. The overwhelming feeling I have at the moment is of stunningly deep gratitude to God for the privilege of the last 19 years – to have had the chance to work with such wonderful Burundian brothers and sisters, to have had such an extraordinary impact alongside them in so many spheres, to have been so protected and relatively unscarred (myself, and more importantly the family) through some truly difficult times.
Wow! Thank you Lord!
I’ll stop there.
Jesus said: “I have come that you might have life, and life to the full!”
Thanks for being true to Your Word!
It was wonderful to read about this evening, arranged by your successor Onesphore, and imagine what a wrench for you it is to go. Thank you for sharing pictures and an account of the event. I’m sure God’s blessing, and the prayers of many including mine, will continue as the GLO team ensures that the varied and numerous things you initiated flourish after your departure.
I’ll be praying for you to survive the culture shock! Please keep in touch.
I know I speak on behalf of our church and our Kenyan Brothers and Sisters with whom we have ministered with for years. Thank you so much for your friendship in 2013 when we first came to Burundi and were delayed in getting the mobile health screenings underway. And again after the Lord laid it on our hearts to have land purchased and a Bible School built at Ruziba. AND for connecting us with dear Brother Emmanuel Citegetse (now PASTOR Emmanuel). AND for your encouragement in returning this year for me and a colleague to teach at Ruziba (next month). Thank you, my Brother. If our paths don’t cross again this side of the Jordan, we will have great rejoicing in Heaven.
How wonderful to hear of the workings of God through your ministry.
What a privilege to see some of the fruit of your labors as you know many go for years without seeing souls saved…..
May you continue to honor God in the years to come…
Thanks for sharing your heart. Very moving indeed. We feel the same way about the work we do here in George, South Africa and also realize there comes a time when the work goes on and it is time to change scenarios. Bless you mightily.
What an Amazing email to read, can’t imagine how hard it will be for you all, but God has been faithful to you and through Him you have achieved so many things. You should quite rightly be proud of yourself and your lovely family. Proud because when God called you to Burundi you obeyed Him and answered that call faithfully. I pray that God will abundantly bless you in your next adventure with Him.
What a truly wonderful way to finish your time in Burundi surrounded by your amazing friends, and to know that the work you have done is to be continued. What amazing memories, scary and otherwise you must have shared and deep relationships. Well done for everything you have done and God bless you and your family as you return to UK.
Simon you have been an inspiration to me (and many others). You have shown true dedication in your calling – a true disciple! And what a legacy you leave behind!
May the Lord bless you as you come back into this false living, uncaring western civilisation to adapt quickly as you wait a fresh calling on your life.
Burundi’s loss is our gain!
Bless you mate- much love! I still remember the week you left and were working in Woking….to think it was 19 years ago is mad! So proud of you and look forward to seeing you when you return! X
Many memories for you and many more blessings to come. Well done good and faithful servant and for handing God’s work baton on to another to win the race for our Lord.
….and don’t forget the huge blessing you have been and will continue to be to many outside Burundi whom you have caught up with your vision, mission and zeal. May you continue to go from strength to strength as God moves you to new pastures.
Amazing and lovely and wonderful!
A brilliant read and who knows where God will send you next – however I am looking forward to hearing your story and testimony to Gods grace and goodness in Burundi when you come to speak in Bournemouth at the Wessex Filling Station and know you will inspire many in their own personal walk with the Father.
May God inspire you and your dear family even more in these last few days and may you all know a great sense of satisfaction and enduring gratitude and humble heartedness in your continuing service to Him. He called you, He inspired you and He calls you onto a new an exciting future…
Hello Simon and Lizzie – How blessed I have been to have known you and watched the Lord use you in that beautiful land in Africa. You did what you came to do with GLO – trained up an army of African believers to carry on and lead the work there among the brethren. How deeply satisfying and humbling for you. Take these ‘crowns’ and lay them at your Lord’s feet in love and gratitude for allowing you to be used in His work for the Kingdom. And may the Lord go with you and your family for the next adventure. If you come to Idaho when we are here the eight months of the year, I would love to give you a godly hug as my crazy brother in Christ. Onward and upward. Grace be with you. Mary Lou Thompson
Thank you for sharing. It is amazing to know God partners with us to build His Kingdom. Thank you for your part and faithfulness.