Friday, January 30, 2009

Last Weekend

I had a busy couple of days last week, and I realized that the things which were occupying my time had not been properly represented on this blog. So, in an effort to keep you, my dear reader, abreast of my current activities, I shall give you the basic itinerary of my newfound responsibilities.

Thursday, 3:00pm – Worship Team Practice

A few weeks ago, I had a brief meeting with our dear pastor Emmanuel Ndikumana to discuss my future involvement with the worship team at PTI, our church. Motivated by our looming departure, he extended an invitation to take over the worship team for the remainder of our stay here in Bujumbura. In his words, his intention is to “squeeze me for all I’m worth.” What experience and knowledge I have accumulated from my years of leadership in music and worship, he wants the church to absorb and apply. Now, I was hesitant to agree, because it had been almost a year and a half since I had last led worship, and I was hesitant to impose my cultural tendencies onto this community. But this was during a week where Karri and I were asking God to reveal if He had work for us to do here for the next four months. This seemed to be an answer. And with Emmanuel’s assurances that my cultural tendencies were welcome, I agreed.

So last Thursday, I went in early to practice to meet with some members of the team and finish selecting our pieces for the gathering on Sunday. I then spent the afternoon hopping around like a lunatic, banging on the piano and waving my hands in the air. Let me tell you, it’s not easy leading a group of musicians through a language barrier. And when it comes time for you to rehearse the song with a Congolese beat and a Kirundi lyric while shouting directions in French, your brain tends to feel like it is being drawn and quartered. But I love these musicians. They’re eager to try new things. And as I always said back at FMC to my other beloved group of musicians, I’ll take a musician who’s willing to try something new and blow it over a musician who won’t try something new at all any day.

Friday, 8:00am – World Relief Devotions

On Thursday morning, I was approached by David, my colleague in Church Mobilization at World Relief. I had a feeling of what was coming. “Good morning, Jim. Are you ready for to bring us the preaching tomorrow?” The answer to that question, of course, was “No. Was I on the schedule?” Yes, I was. No one thought it prudent to inform me of this fact, however, and now I had an afternoon to assemble a teaching for the next morning. I cobbled together some thoughts from a lesson I shared with our youth group students a few days earlier about the Kingdom of God, about what it looks like and what it means to be priests of this Kingdom. The next morning, I arrived a bit late (because you can never really predict Bujumbura traffic.) No sooner had I found a chair on which to place my coffee cup than Sophonie, my supervisor, smiled and said, “Jim, are you ready to share with us?” I guess I had to be! “Good morning, and sorry to be late. Let’s open to Mark 1.”

At the end of my talk, (which included teaching the staff the Hebrew word T’shuvah, a word which was repeated to Karri and I for the rest of the day, regardless of context) Ngaira, the country director of World Relief and my other supervisor, gave the benediction. Included in that benediction was the announcement, prefaced by “I haven’t discussed this with Jim, but I’m sure it will be alright,” that I would be expanding this teaching as the main speaker of the four day retreat scheduled in two weeks. I guess I’ve got some more preparation to do.

Friday, 4:00pm - Music Workshop

I had been thinking for a while how to handle the increasing requests for music lessons I was receiving. My ideas came together in a music workshop, hosted by our church, PTI, and made available to any and all who would be interested in coming. I announced the class to the World Relief staff and our church family, and invited them to bring any and all who would be interested in learning more about music. I held an organizational meeting on the Friday previous, and I had twenty people there, eager to learn. This last Friday was the first class, all about music theory. I printed thirty worksheets and ran out quickly. I have no idea where many of these people came from. But they are hungry to learn. Well, maybe they aren’t so hungry to learn what the A major scale is as much as how to play the A major scale like Jimi Hendrix. But enthusiasm is enthusiasm, and I’m excited to teach what I can.

The experience ranges from complete beginner to experienced musician, but even the experienced musician has little to no knowledge of why music works the way it does. These people have tremendous ears, and can replicate many things, but they have no idea why what they are playing makes any sense. To see the lights turn on for someone is one of the more satisfying sensations you can have as a teacher, and I saw lots of lights turning on last Friday.

Sunday, 8:00am - Sermon at PTI

Not only did I get to lead the team in worship on Sunday morning, but I was also scheduled to give what is known to PTI as the exposition. What this meant was I stood in front of a mic singing for the first thirty minutes of the gathering, and then a different mic preaching for the next forty-five. I expressed my distaste for this to Emmanuel, but he simply laughed and told me not to worry about it. So I got myself good and sweaty playing guitar and piano in that frenetic way that you FMCers know so well, had a brief moment to compose myself, then took the pulpit.

We’re working through the book of Mark, and my text was where Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to be fishers of men. I walked through the relationship between a Rabbi and a disciple and gave the historic context to the story as best I could. I finished the talk with an invitation to be a disciple of Jesus and change the world. What’s great about PTI, though, is that once the sermon is through, the congregation is invited to ask the speaker any questions the talk may have raised right there on the spot. So once I had finished and Emmanuel had prayed a blessing, the mic went around the congregation and I fielded a few questions about the historical setting of the text. I’m realizing that this kind of understanding of the Bible is quite novel to most Christians here, and they are hungry for more. Emmanuel assured me that I would be back to teach again soon.

So, friends, if you've read this far, you can percieve that God has been bringing new opportunities to us in the last few days. We'll write a post about the sum of our prayers and conversations regarding our return date soon, but you can see that God is clearly continuing to demand our time and energy here. Hopefully that doesn't mean I'll have many more weekends like this one.

A Picture

This is what happens when someone who doesn't speak your language very well asks you to explain the US economic crisis.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Year Update

Friends –

Happy New Year! I hope this letter finds you all full of new dreams for your world and new visions for how to bring the light into the dark places you encounter each day. We are writing to you because we want to invite you into some tension we are feeling and some prayers we are praying. Our hope is that you would join us in this tension and pray with us through the upcoming days as we seek God’s good and perfect will for the remainder of our time here in Burundi. We hope you forgive the length of this letter, because we have much on our hearts we want to share with you.

We have been so excited to hear your stories from back home, pregnancies, weddings, good news of all kinds. We hope you know that we are celebrating with you. We wish we were there to jump around and shout and embrace you in these times, and we are definitely doing so in spirit. We are also hearing a great deal of bad news of late, relationships breaking, friends passing away, heartaches of all sorts. We hope you know that we are grieving with you. We wish we were there to sit beside you in these times and mourn, giving our support by our words or possibly our absence of words. We feel greatly connected to these stories, and they enrich our lives whenever we hear them, drawing us close to you, our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers.

But one story seems to be coming up over and over, and that story is shared by countless people across the country. We are steadily hearing how the economy is siphoning the jobs, indeed the hope and joy, away from so many of you. We are hearing about choices to go without, changes in living situations out of a lack of resources, the inability to provide necessary repairs or health care because of ever-tightening budgets. We are hearing about deficits in giving to churches all over, not just to Fellowship, our church home, and it is becoming clear that many of you are simply not in a position to give.

Firstly, we want to say how much we are hurting for you. These stories break our hearts, and we many times wish nothing more than to return home and shoulder these burdens with you. You are our family, our community, our fellow citizens in the New Jerusalem. We are bound together with you. Please know that we are interceding on your behalf at the throne and we believe that our God is a God who hears the cry, no matter how weak or small.

Secondly, we want to thank you. We want to thank you not just for giving to us and praying for us, those of you who have done so. We want to thank you for standing beside each other. I’m sure there are some of you familiar with the African concept of Ubuntu. This is a sense of interconnection to teach person. It is gratitude expressed on the behalf of humanity. It is seeing someone serve their brother and approaching them, despite the fact that you personally received nothing physical, and saying, “Thank you. You have helped put us back together by doing that.” So, in that spirit, we want to offer up gratitude to those of you who are giving generously in any way, especially to those who give even out of their lack. Like the widow of Jesus’ parable who gives her last, these are the sacrifices that stir the heart of the Father and the souls of each of us. We are so thankful, those of you in the FMC community who gave to the Christmas Eve offering for peacemaking in our neighbor Congo. You cannot know the light you shine by standing for peace when the conventional wisdom would simply chalk up another thousand marks under the cynical phrase uttered by many, “AWA,” meaning “Africa Wins Again.” You are part of a church, a body, a people who are standing up and saying, “There is already sufficient blood shed for all on a cross two thousand years ago. But if more blood is needed, you can have some of mine.” You are being broken open and poured out for these people who need your hope. We thank you for that.

Thirdly, we want to invite you into our tension. We are at a profound crossroad about how to approach our remaining time here in Burundi. Again, we are keenly aware of the struggles so many of you face financially to provide for yourselves, and we know that many others of you are giving more than ever because there are more needs around you than ever. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ask for support from you, our community, because our hearts are bent to give, not to receive. We wish nothing but restoration and wholeness for each of you, and we don’t wish to take anything from you that would diminish that.

The reality remains, however, that we are still badly behind in our support. At this point, we are already indebting ourselves to World Relief, who has generously given beyond our raised support to keep us here in Burundi, that we might continue the work God is doing through us. We have cut our proposed budget nearly in half, and still lack badly at the bottom line. Now, please hear us. We are not asking right now for belt-tightening or pocketbook-opening. We are asking you to pray with us. Our prayer is simply for the ability to discern the will of God for our time here. Our desire is to stay until the end of April. Prudence would be to leave at the end of February. Even in the latter case, we would still have an outstanding deficit with World Relief. However, we believe in the miraculous provision of God. We believe that if, indeed, God’s desire is for us to remain here for the entirety of our intended stay, God will provide in a way only God can ordain. If our work here is the best use of time, gifts, and resources for the Kingdom, we trust that God will make a way. But we need discernment to know if that, indeed, is the case. If we stay simply because it is what we want, we will lose much. If we leave early because we desire to stand beside you all in your struggles, and God still has work for us here, the Kingdom loses much. If we capitulate to fear and fail to trust in a God who sends enough for today and no more, we lack much faith.

We hope you hear our hearts in this. We could not simply ask for support again. We had to invite you all into this tension, because we believe that wisdom comes from the body as well as from the still, small voice of the Almighty. So please, pray with us and give us your discernment. We will join with you and together, we will find God’s good word for today and tomorrow. We will continue to share stories and pictures on the blog, and we cherish your comments, emails, prayers and ideas. Again, our contact list is only so long, so please share this letter and our story with anyone you feel might want to partner with us in prayer. We long to be with you all, and we carry you with us into the streets of Bujumbura every day. May the God of peace bring you your daily bread, and may you trust that He will do so again tomorrow.

Grace and peace,

Jim and Karri

Friday, January 2, 2009

a blog from the wife who never posts...

Jim and I tend to be a-typical in many situations. We’ve learned to both accept and value this as a unique aspect of ‘us.’ When we were warned of the ‘terrible’ first year of marriage, we had the most delightful first two years of our lives. Our cooking, cleaning and social habits have also proved a-typical, and again, we embrace it, in spite of advice that would presume otherwise.

When we arrived in Burundi we encountered new friends that were at a variety of places in their culture adjustments. Many love it here, some are frequently frustrated, and others are struggling to adjust – all perfectly normal emotions. And so, in our a-typical fashion we began wondering how we would adjust and find our own way here. When asked how we were doing two months in by an older woman, I replied that things were wonderful. To which she replied, “Enjoy it because it is the honeymoon phase. It will get a lot harder.” So, okay, I appreciate advice, especially from someone with experience. But that was not exactly constructive or encouraging. I suddenly felt like everyone was placing ‘bets’ on when we would crumple into a puddle of culture shock and despair. Yet things continued to be exciting for us and have become even more enthralling and enjoyable as we form new and deeper friendships with both Burundians and ex-pats from around the world.

So, if you couldn’t see it coming, I write all that to lead into, of course, our first real emotional struggle with the culture of Burundi. For the holidays we traveled with two friends to Uganda to both relax in a big city and also raft the Nile River. The trip was incredible. Not only were the adventures amazing (yes, I rode a motor bike taxi for the very first time – in a city with traffic that resembles Baltimore!) but we made amazing new friends with a young woman working with widows in North Uganda (where the LRA – Lords Resistance Army - has ravaged the people and stolen the children for years) and a guy drilling wells in South Sudan. There is nothing more thrilling that when you connect with someone’s spirit and passion whom you have only just met. The German woman whom we met on a bus who left her job for a year to travel Africa and work with street and orphan children also rocked my world.

However, this incredible trip ended with a bus ride from… well, you know where. Needless to say the 18 hours we spent on the bus – which did not get us all the way home – left something to be desired and brought up emotions in me I never thought existed. (Namely frustration, impatience, anger, judgment, ethnocentrism, capitalism… need I go on?) The bus trip, for us, ended with Jim, our friend Meg, and I, grabbing our things, jumping off the bus at its millionth stop for the drivers to do who knows what, and running to a taxi, desperate to see the bus disappear in our rear view mirror. The taxi ride, racing to get to Bujumbura city before the military roadblocks were erected at 5:30pm and forcing us to sleep in the taxi, proved to be a test of God. The neck-breaking speed and mountainous curves and passing semi trucks forced me to leave a permanent finger imprint on the back of the driver’s seat. We made it through the last check point, which was already up, with a few coy smiles and shouts of ‘Merry Christmas.’ Our delight to be ‘home,’ sleeping in our own beds and not on a bus with people that had driven us crazy, was paired with a deep sense of frustration towards the entire culture. We thought perhaps we could sleep it off. To no avail…

The holidays were quite enjoyable with friends and missionary families. However, this dark cloud of cultural resentment towards Burundi as a whole lingered throughout the next few days for all three of us. For me personally, little things like a small shop not having the product I wanted, a taxi driver trying to charge us too much for fare, children and adults alike staring and calling us ‘muzungus’ all left me brooding and resentful. Yet none of this was a new experience. A bus ride to the beach proved to set us all on edge again as the driver crammed 5 people into our 3-4 seat row. My mind raced to Uganda, which has tightened traffic laws. Buses can only fill the bus to its occupancy. If they attempt to slide an extra individual in, the passengers actually complain and retort that they paid for their ‘seat’ and are not going to share it. Suddenly I was comparing Burundian culture not only to the US but also to Uganda, finding it lacking on all counts.

I chastised myself for these thoughts but they were so deeply rooted in something I could not identify that I failed to shake them. And then, yesterday, New Years Day, Jim and I went to church. He preached there for the first time. But prior to his sermon, the senior pastor asked if anyone had a short testimony to share about God’s provision during the previous year. Everyone was silent and then a woman, clearly from a poor community on the edge of town, raised her hand. He called her to the stage. I faced the stage and waited, wondering how long this would take. And then the sharp, sweet joyful tone of her voice filled the church as she burst into a traditional song walking up to the stage. Traditional ‘praise’ music in Burundi is ‘call and response’. Jim and I have seen it in many contexts before but our church, usually translated in only French and English, does not reflect a ‘typical’ church. The congregants responded to her Kirundi song, softly at first, as if to say “Do we do this here?” and then with increasing volume. In that moment, when her song met my ears, I felt a complete release in my heart of all the tension I had been feeling towards Burundi. My heart seemed to whisper, ‘Ah yes, this is why I love Burundi.’ I had just finished praying during the worship time to be free of this new ‘culture shock’ I was experiencing and with one voice of a poor woman it was gone.

Her testimony touched my heart as well. She was grateful for healing and health in her family. Then she spoke of the recent storm that had just come through. My mind flashed back to Jim and I sitting on our second story porch watching it crackle and blow all around us, heavy cool rain pouring down. She said that they had been praying for rain for their crops. (It has been very dry this rainy season, hurting many subsistence farmers.) But then the storm was too strong and the metal corrugated roof of her house was lifted up by the wind. In that moment she cried out to God and asked that he not destroy her house, not now, not at the beginning of this New Year. And then, though already lifted from the house and ready to blow away, the wind released the roof back down in position. And she praised God.

Her story reminded me of my own small perspective on the world – both here and at home. To me, in my sturdy strong house with vegetables I bought at the market or store, a storm is just something of wonder, to watch and enjoy. Which it is. But for others it means food, it means another month without hunger. And still for others it threatens to destroy the only shelter they have for their family. It is capricious and could take all they have inside their mud brick walls at any minute. The woman said there was still other damage to her house after the storm but a friend quickly came by and offered to fix the home for her family.

And so, I left church yesterday different than when I came. And I praise God my battle with cultural resentments and culture shock and ethnocentric mentality was not an enduring phase. I learned from it though. I now understand that, though not the nightmare predicted by some who assume Jim and I to be ‘typical’, I am not above raw uncontrollable emotions that can judge another culture as ‘inferior’ because it is outside of my concepts of ‘logic’. Save for the grace of God, my heart is bent towards separateness, towards judgment and superiority. And yet I have been called to follow a Rabbi, the Savior, who implores me to love my neighbor as myself, to see Christ in the eyes of each that I meet, to live in the humility and knowledge that I live and breath and exist on the grace of God alone.

So, to the passengers on a bus that seem to have no concept of time, I must say grace and peace. To the man who puts 17 extra people in my seat so that his profit margins slightly increase, I must say grace and peace. To the grown men who think it appropriate to yell ‘white person’ at me everywhere I go, grace and peace. Because I serve a God who created us all, who calls us to live out a kingdom where we stand beside those with whom we think we have nothing in common and choose to love anyways. The upside down kingdom also appears ‘illogical’ to those outside it. I serve a God of grace and compassion who hears the cry of a poor woman and commands the wind to put back the roof of her home….a God who knows my arrogance and self-righteousness and continues to love me just the same.