LAST WORD ON BURUNDI (FOR NOW)

I am back in Beirut to resume my investigation of the Syrian refugee camps and the feasibility of doing a project here.  Tomorrow, a local pastor will be taking me to visit some camps in Tyre, a city in Lebanon established in 2,750 BC. Tyre is a coastal city 46 miles south of Beirut and 22 miles south of the city of Sidon.  It is 44 miles north of Lebanon’s border with Israel.  Jesus visited the region of Tyre and Sidon during His earthly ministry.  It is there that he had His encounter with the Canaanite woman who begged him to cast out a demon from her daughter.  Matthew 15:21-28.  The pastor taking me to Tyre has a significant outreach to the Syrian refugees living there.  I will send an update about my trip to Tyre on Wednesday or Thursday.Something happened a few days ago that really got me thinking about my motives and objectives in doing what I do.  It started with an email from a person who, ironically, has been a generous contributor to GCA for many years.   The email was in response to my update about refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley.  This person wrote a one-sentence email stating, “I appreciate your motivation to help disadvantaged people but you can’t save the world from poverty and oppression.”  Admittedly, this statement took me back a bit.  The thought crossed my mind that if the statement is true, then I am wasting my time with all these projects.  I mean, I spend an awful lot of time traveling to desperately poor and dangerous places, and if I’m fighting a losing battle, then why continue to do it?So I thought and prayed and prayed and thought about this dilemma until God, in His infinite wisdom, gave me clarity.  It came to me that this supporter was absolutely correct!  I can’t save the world.  No matter what I do, the world is still going to be the same poor and sin fallen place that it is today long after I’m gone.  So, I sent this supporter an email response that simply stated, “You’re right!.”  I have not heard back.You see, my work through GCA is not about saving the world, or even improving it (although I think we’re doing that).  No, what I’m all about is obeying God’s call in my life and doing the acts that He impresses upon me to do.  God’s Word tells us that we should have the same mind as Christ, as much as it is possible for a sinful man.  It never tells us to save the world.  In fact, that will never happen until Jesus returns and creates a new earth that is as sinless and perfect as the one God originally created.  Until then, all that we can do is try to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the lost and lonely.  Think about it, even Jesus Himself didn’t save or heal every person with whom He came in contact, and He was God!  The best I can do is to be obedient to His calling and pray that the things we do will draw people to Him.We are not in the business of saving the world, but only in the business of following Jesus.  I leave the eternal consequences of our work to Him.  My supporter’s statement is true.  If we forget that, we will have lost sight of the reason and purpose of what we do.Back to Burundi one more time.  On Saturday, one of my Burundian friends took me to the community of Musama, a poor slum in Bujumbura.  Musama is in a sector of Bujumbura where the State Department does not want Americans to go, but I felt safe there because my friend knows the people.  My friend is hoping we can do some sort of water project or porridge program for the starving children in Musama.The people of Musama are every bit as poor as the Batwa people we serve in Gahararo.  This is an area where unemployment is almost 100%, and of course there is no government assistance.  The very little money that is made there comes from the sale of roasted peanuts, which the women of the community sell for 100 Burundian francs a bag, the equivalent of about 4 cents.  Most of the men in Musama spend their days drinking Primus beer or banana “beer” (actually moonshine).  I have been told that drugs are not a big problem in Burundi, but alcohol definitely is.  I was in Musama around 10 in the morning and every man I saw there was openly and obviously drunk. Most of the children in Musama are ill and just as many are starving.  No one in the community has enough food.  A person who lives in Musama can go for days without eating.  Even when there is food, children are often left to go hungry, because the adults have to eat first so they have the strength to care for the children.  The same thing was going on in Gahararo before we helped fund the porridge program.  As you know, the results of the porridge program in Gahararo have been spectacular and I’m sure the same will be true if we ever do a similar program in Musama.I am no longer shocked by the reaction to me of Burundians who have met few, in any, white people.  As usual, most of the children in Musama were afraid of me and the men either begged me for money or else sat staring at me as if I was an alien.  The women were the only ones who seemed to be comfortable with me, more or less, or showed any interest in the welfare of their community at large.  Unlike the men, not one of the women asked me for money.I spent about an hour walking through the narrow alleyways of Musama and another hour sitting and talking with a group of ladies and one drunk man who were roasting the peanuts that they would sell later that day.  They told me about the types of problems the community needs help addressing, including starvation of the children, dirty water, and the prevalence of AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, typhoid, and other diseases.One of the things we look for before we do a project is a person or persons in the community who is already engaged in trying to help address the community’s needs.  This is what we have done in every GCA project; we team with someone who is already a “local hero,” by definition someone who has assessed the needs of his or her community and is proactively working to provide relief.  The perfect example of this method is Frances.  Frances was already serving meals to the children of her community long before she and I crossed paths.  All we really did for Frances was to help her do her job a little better.  Before I even consider doing a project in Musama, I will have to determine if there is someone like Frances in that community who is actively trying to make a difference and only needs our help to make her job a little easier.  My friend is working on finding out if such a person exists in Musama.  If so, we will take the next step.  If not, we will not be able to do a project there.Before I wrap it up for tonight, let me tell you about an incident that happened while I was in Musama.  As I sat talking with the ladies (and one drunk man), a tall man went running by.  He was running very fast!  About 10 seconds later a group of about 20 men, women, and children went running past.  Some were carrying machetes and sticks and all were shouting.  They too were moving at top speed, and were obviously in pursuit of the first man.  One of these chasers stopped to tell us what was going on.Apparently, the man being chased was some sort of a witch doctor.  He had given a young pregnant girl a potion to induce an abortion.  This potion was against the law.  The girl was extremely ill from the potion and some people said she was going to die.  During an argument near the girl’s house, the witch doctor ran away and the others chased him.  A few minutes after the pursuers went running by, they came back by the place we were sitting with this witch doctor in tow.  He was resisting, but the mob wasn’t about to let him go.I asked my friend and the ladies what was going to happen to the witch doctor.  They told me that he would be turned over to the police if they could find an officer nearby.  If not, the crowd would execute him right then and there.  When I  asked whether the mob would be arrested for murder if they executed the witch doctor, everyone smiled but no one answered my question.  I have no idea what happened, but intend to have my friend look into it.
Peace,
 
Niles

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