Sunday, April 7, 2013

Report from Rwanda and Burundi

In January and February I spent three weeks in Rwanda and Burundi, mostly in Burundi. I inadvertently neglected to update this blog, so here is my report on that trip now (BTW, I am leaving for Kenya at the end of this week):
                                                        Expository Preaching class
                                                          Devastated central market
                                                          Frederic Harerimana teaching
                                                        Nestor Bukuru and his church

Expository Preaching
We did round 3 of expository preaching in Kigali, Rwanda with 14 students. Actually, it was round 3 for some, but about half of the students were new, so it was round 1 for them. It demonstrated the importance of doing this more than once. One round 3 student said, "Now it is all clear." We focused on two passages: Ezek 36:22-32 and John 7:37-39. The preaching and critiques are always a highlight. We divided into two groups for the preaching: I took one and Theophile Rugubira took the other. All of the preachers in my group were new, so many of them fell back into the old ways much of the time, but the critiques were helpful. Fortunately, we had sufficient time for me to preach one of the passages, so they were able to see exactly what I was advocating. That proved illuminating. Also, the students themselves expressed the desire to get together every two months or so for preaching and critiques on their own, in their own primary language. That will facilitate learning and understanding, since in most cases English is their third language.

Bujumbura, Burundi   
I took the 6 1/2 hour bus ride to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, located at the top of Lake Tanganyika, the deepest lake in Africa. Here it is Florida-like: mid-80s and lots of semi-tropical vegetation. At the African leaders strategic planning summit in Kigali last November, I had talked about the importance of setting up indigenous committees/structures in each of the East African countries, for accountability and continuity purposes. The Burundians have done that. Frederic Harerimana is the chairman, along with Francois Sebagabo, Venat Bagabo, Nestor Bukuru, and Bonaventure Haringazi. We want to do things right here.

We will be doing three 1 Timothy conferences and one TOT, all in suburbs of Bujumbura. We have just finished the first conference, with about 20 participants. It went very well. Frederic did translating for me and taught three of the units. Venat and Nestor also taught. The bishop of Eglise Emmanueliste du Reveil Church hosted. He is an enthusiastic proponent of what we teach (he has been a participant in the past) and gave a testimony concerning the impact that the teachings have had on him and his people. I also preached in his church last Sunday.

A Tragic Loss    
About a week ago the central market in Bujumbura was burned to the ground. It appears to have been a well-planned arson. It has not yet been announced who is responsible. This is a terrible tragedy, especially for such a small country as Burundi. I was informed that the central market was home to countless small businesses, did the equivalent of about $5 million in business each day, and that about 5000 people worked there. Everybody and everything was totally wiped out. There were also a few deaths. In addition to the great personal losses, this will have significant economic repercussions throughout the country and for the country' s economy. Please pray for the people and peace of Burundi.

 Kanyosha and GatumbaWe did two 1 Timothy conferences in the Bujumbura suburbs of Kanyosha and Gatumba, before about 47 participants. Venant Bagabo, Nestor Bukuru, Frederic Harerimana, and Francois Sebagabo taught along with me. Developing good African teachers is particularly important in a country like Burundi where very few people speak English (the national language is Kirundi). The conferences went well. At the conclusion of the Kanyosha conference one of the pastors, Samuel, told us how my discussion of the so-called "prosperity gospel" in connection with 1 Timothy 6 had spoken very directly to him. He had been told by a "prosperity teacher" some years ago that if he continued to preach and teach the gospel as he was doing, he would never be able to live in a big house in an affluent neighborhood of Bujumbura. I am happy to say--and he is happy to say--that he has remained faithful to the real gospel of Jesus Christ and now sees from the exposition of the Scripture why that is so vitally important.

TOT in Bujumbura
We conducted a TOT on 1 Timothy for 15 participants at Francois' church in Bujumbura. Since 1 Timothy is written primarily to leaders, its impact on individual church leaders is always front-and-center at the pastors conferences. However, at this TOT, our discussions brought home to me, in a way I had not appreciated before, how the entire book is challenging the churches in order to get the leaders to ask themselves and reevaluate how they "do church" and why they do things the way they do. Specifically, what does the "church as a family" (1 Tim 3:15; 5:1-2) and "church as pillar and support of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15) imply for how we do church, our priorities, and what we focus on?

We talked about many issues along these lines. Sometimes the discussions became quite animated, and at times they spent some time debating in Kirundi rather than English. All this is good, and I hope that some of the pastors saw a little bit about how bound many of us are to our own traditions, and also saw the great potential the churches have for making a real difference in their people's lives and in society if changes are made. This is particularly important given the burning of the central market and the financial devastation that resulted to many people. The churches, despite their own relative poverty, should play a prime role in restoration.

Final Thoughts
There has still been no announcement concerning who is responsible for the fire. Please pray for Burundi and for the revival and re-prioritizing of the churches. I preached at Nestor Bukuru's church (the walls of which are made of papyrus reeds). My Burundi leaders will be developing a strategic plan for our work in that country. I probably will return to Burundi in the late summer. It appears that we will have the opportunity to do five days with all of the pastors of a particular denomination at that time. So, there is potential that we can make a significant difference in this beautiful and challenging land.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support. I will keep you advised of developments. God bless you, Jonathan