First Steps: Burundi 2019
The beginning of a trip like this is all about adaptation. We arrive with an idea of what we want to accomplish, but no clue what it’s going to take to get there. After previous trips, we always think we know, but our goals also become loftier each time. This causes fresh disparity on each trip for us to have to overcome.
The pastors’ training was the only group whose material remained perfectly relevant, though that’s not to say that everything is going perfectly smoothly. Health issues are practically to be expected when it comes to international travel, and there’s been an element of that. Mostly, it’s just been stomach troubles (and those are currently all behind us), but the American pastor with the most experience coming to Burundi had a more complicated issue. He’s been getting home medical injections for roughly four years at this point, and for the first time, he encountered a mechanical issue. Namely, the tip of the needle was missing after he received his most recent injection. Now, the injections are on a part of his body where it won’t puncture anything critical if it is in fact still in there somewhere, but it’s also very likely that the thing is somewhere on his bathroom floor, as an ultrasound and an x-ray both found nothing. One of the best surgeons in Burundi has said that he’ll be fine for the duration of the trip, but he should get a CT scan once he’s back in the States.
The pastors are reportedly fantastic students and have been asking excellent questions. A piece of their everyday training has been to break off into small groups (ten Barundi to one American), and the discussions have apparently been quite fertile. Each American pastor is focusing on a particular topic: Servant Leadership, which was discovered to be an entirely new concept on the last trip; Pastoral Leadership and Jesus’ example as a priest, prophet, king (or shepherd), and suffering servant; and the general idea that things for Christians apply to pastors as well, and that being a pastor means more work should be expected of you, not less.
Up in Bwenge (Wisdom) Hall, the counselors have already learned an incredible amount—and I’m talking about the Americans. After the last trip, when they touched on a therapeutic method called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), THARS requested specifically that this next trip focus primarily on teaching Barundi counselors as much about it as possible. It was originally in the plan to perform EMDR on the counselors in order to give them hands on experience with what their clients will be feeling when they administer the therapy. Day one, our team discovered that the counselors are traumatized to such a degree that EMDR is too intense and won’t accomplish anything without groundwork. It’s all so pervasive that they are unable to compartmentalize the trauma, which is a necessity to the EMDR process. It’s safe, then, to assume that the general population of Burundi will be in the same situation, so our team has pivoted and is instead going over the groundwork necessary to prepare someone in this situation for an intense treatment like EMDR. This is in addition to how EMDR itself works. The Barundi counselors will be here both weeks we’re in Gitega (whereas there will be a new batch of pastors this Monday), which will allow for the teaching of a sizeable amount of information. It’s a vast undertaking, but on day two, our team could already see the counselors getting it. They still need the information, of course, but the key moment was when they acknowledged the fact that both EMDR and traditional therapy have their benefits and drawbacks. I’m quite excited to see how everything pans out with them, and whether or not our team feels as though the amount they wind up covering reaches their amended goals.
Those of you following along know that there’s a third area the team is focusing our attention: youth (a hearty welcome to those that are new here!). Our original vision was of two groups: one of older kids (14-21) and another (much larger) group of children younger than that. The plan was to spend the mornings with the older group, teaching them about leadership and then ease them into leading the activities in the afternoon with the larger, younger group. We did wind up with two groups, and the morning group is older than the afternoon group. However, the ages in that morning group range from twenty-one at the youngest to thirty(!) at the upper end. We started teaching them before we knew this, but their responses were pretty much like we expected. Our morning material has not changed super drastically; it’s afternoon activities that have changed. Rather than easing them into leading the youngers, on day one we taught them a game and then had them teach it to the little ones. They loved imbata, imbata, inkoko (duck, duck, chicken—there’s no geese in Burundi), but inevitably began to lose interest after a while. It was at this point that the magic happened: our older group seamlessly began new circle games, successfully drawing children that had wandered away back into the circles.
Now, the plan is to crank up the leadership training and practice beyond where we thought we’d be able to reach with a younger group. They’re doing well so far, and we’ve got another whole week to go. However, they’re not the only ones we’re training to lead youth. Patience, a member of the THARS staff, has been tasked with setting up a lasting youth outreach program. He’s the real project here. Not to undersell the importance of the people we’re working directly with, but Patience is the key to a lasting impact on the young people of this country. The good news is that he too has already shown signs of having learned some very useful things from us, with another week to go.
This article is getting a bit lengthy, so next time, I’ll discuss all the ways that I can see that our previous trips have made a difference—and there are truly palpable ways. Also, as our running theme is flexibility, I have a little object lesson for you. I was quite excited to see the old, old Ethiopian churches at the end of this trip, but a logistical miscommunication means that instead we’re visiting the supposed resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the Queen of Sheba’s Palace. On the bright side, you can also look forward to a post about how we spent our time in Bujumbura, though I don’t foresee having the time here to write that up—let alone the Wi-Fi.
We’re having a great time out here, but your thoughts, prayers, and good vibes are always welcome. You can expect two more posts before we come back on the 18th, though as we’ve seen, plans can change rather quickly in Africa.