Breaking Spiritual Poverty in Burundi
April 24, 2014
This Burundian woman, her sister, and ten children are living in a structure intended for use as a kitchen after a storm tore the roof off of their house.
Nyaga* and her sister Esther* live in Giharo, a district in southeastern Burundi near the Tanzania border. They are both widows, with nine children between them. They are also raising a handicapped boy whose parents died of AIDS.
This family was the first in the village to receive Christ when a team of evangelists from Fountain of Life Churches visited them last fall. The sisters turned their humble mud-brick dwelling into a house of prayer and invited people in the community to join them.
When the ministry leader traveled to Giharo in February, the women greeted him with tears.
The roof of the house where they lived and gathered others for prayer had been torn off by pounding rain and wind. The storm struck at night while they were sleeping.
“God is so good. He protected them and they all came out of the house without any injury and were helped by their neighbors,” he said. “However, now the family does not have a suitable place to sleep. They are all living in the small building next door that was used as their kitchen.”
Despite the damage to their home, Nyaga and Esther are praising God for His hand of protection upon them and their children.
The home was also used as a prayer room for believers in the village.
“The 12 people who prayed in the house before the rainstorm continued to gather for prayer after the roof was torn off. They also continued to call other people to come to know Jesus,” said the ministry leader. “Now there are 46 believers in the village.”
Giharo is one of six districts or “communes” in Rutana Province, a region where witchcraft and animist traditions are still a mainstay in village life. Missionaries with Fountain of Life Churches are greatly encouraged by the openness of the people in the district to hear the gospel and receive Christ. They are especially excited to see the spiritual transformation taking place in Nyaga and Esther’s community.
The purpose of the ministry leader’s recent trip to their village was to disciple some of the new believers and train them as evangelists. The next step is to plant a church.
“I thank God that one of the believers in the village gave us land where we can build a church,” he said.
However, the needs in the community are many, and poverty is an overwhelming problem for everyone. The two ladies and their children still need a new roof so they can move back into their home. Until a church is built, believers will also need to find another location for prayer meetings.
The ministry plans to provide Bibles ($12 each) for those trained to become evangelists, as they cannot afford to buy any themselves. Bicycles ($125 each) are also essential for transportation so they can reach more unreached people throughout the district.
A history of turmoil
Sadly, the plight of the people in Giharo is typical of rural areas throughout Burundi, one of the poorest countries on earth, where over 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Almost every family is touched by tragedy, whether from political conflict, natural disasters, chronic hunger, or HIV/AIDS.
An estimated 300,000 lives were lost between 1962 and 1993, as decades of enmity between the Tutsis and Hutus erupted into genocide. Since the signing of a peace accord in 2000, conflict has been greatly reduced.
At the height of the civil war, hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled to Tanzania to escape the bloodshed. Most of the refugee camps in Tanzania have shut down or in the process of closing, as some 450,000 Burundians have returned to their homeland.
Those who return find there is a lack of basic medical and educational services. The endless cycle of famine and floods creates a shortage of food. Hope for a brighter future is in even shorter supply.
It is the children who suffer most. Over half a million boys and girls have lost at least one parent, according to Operation World, and 45 percent of children under the age of five are undernourished. Thousands have contracted malaria and/or AIDS. Many do not receive an education beyond primary school.
Such immense needs present challenges for the churches in Burundi. Although over 90 percent of the population is considered Christian, traditional religions and superstitions influence the culture, particularly in rural areas.
Civil war and HIV/AIDS have left many children orphaned in Burundi.
Christian Aid Mission comes alongside Burundian ministries, like Fountain of Life Churches, to bring the gospel to unreached areas and to plant churches that will serve as a beacon of light for the oppressed.
After visiting Giharo, the ministry leader traveled north to the neighboring Ruyigi Province, where there are also few Christian churches. Fountain of Life started a church in the commune of Nyabitsinda that now thrives with 65 members. It is the only church in the area.
On his way to Nyabitsinda, the ministry leader encountered a man leading a group of a dozen children down a dirt path.
“I was sitting under a tree because I had walked 13 miles that day, and I was tired, hungry, and thirsty. This man gave me water and I prayed for him and all the children. The man asked me if I was a pastor.”
“Do you have a church around here?” the man inquired.
“Yes, but I am looking for a place to start another one,” the ministry leader explained. “I am going to have a meeting with some people and train them to tell others about Jesus.”
The man nodded with a smile. “I would like to go to this church,” he replied. “This Sunday I will take my family to your church so they will know about Jesus.”
Please pray that God will raise up many evangelists and church workers in Burundi who will be instrumental in leading their people to true peace through Jesus Christ and renewed hope for a better future for the next generation.
* names changed