Last Sunday (Palm Sunday) Jim and I were invited to two churches - in Kanyosha and Bubanza - by our friend Jean Baptist, so that we could share in worship with them and Jim could teach. The following are photos from our time in the afternoon with the Bubanza congregation.
Bubanza Landscape: The flat landscape is lush with vegetation and fertile for rice fields and other crops.
Driving into the dense vegetation far off of any 'main road' the taxi pulled up and parked in front of a small church and mud brick buildings. We were immediately greeted by the glowing faces of children anticipating our arrival.
This is a photo of the church congregation. However, before we were more than one song into worship, an incredible rainstorm came crashing down, suddenly ripping off the plastic tarp over the roof, washing down rivers of mud onto the congregation, covering Jim and Jean Baptist’s white shirted backs. Consequently, we were herded into a tiny room inside the mud brick building.
However, mud didn’t stop the worship. It continued outside in the rain by a few committed members and then was transported into the small room. At one point I stood in the doorway of the room, peering outside, until I realized the water dripping down on me at the entrance was actually mud. The small building was melting onto my skin and clothes because it was made from unfired mud bricks. I began to wonder how often they had to repair this home.
Once the rain stopped we returned outside. Everyone filed into the tightly cramped benches and listened as Jim began to teach, with our friend Jean Baptist translating at his side.
After the teaching they led Jim and I and Jean Baptist back into the small room, where they generously fed us the best of their veggies, potatoes and chicken.
The province of Bubanza was the hot bed of rebel fighting during the war. The evidence of this can be seen here, where the church has taken in over seventy orphans and has a congregation filled with widows struggling to care for their families. Following our food, they escorted in a large group of orphans and some widows. Suddenly we were standing face to face with a line of timid eyes looking back at us, none of us speaking. However, the tension was soon broken as we called them closer to us and they finally broke out in a call and response worship song, clapping and stomping their feet. Smiles were infectious.
Jim was asked to share a few words with them, which is again, a difficult request. We were slightly uncomfortable with the blatant characterization of these individuals as simply "orphans" and "widows" - seeming to reduce them to two dimensions. However, the compassion and commitment to the 'least of these' as demonstrated by this church and our friend Jean Baptist assuage any concern that they are treated less than creations of the Divine. Jim offered the best words he had - reminding them of how much they are each loved by God. After taking numerous photographs, I told them I would take their faces home with me to share with my mom, family and friends, praying for and remembering them.
Jim and I were both overwhelmed. We were overwhelmed with their joy, their worship, their compassionate and generous hearts, the struggles they face. I also found myself overwhelmed with the spirit of God - feeling in a very tangible way that these children were deeply loved and cherished by a God I understand more after having looked into their faces. You find that when you encounter the Divine you are often at a loss for words.
As we finally stood to leave, a young brave boy asked something of me in Kirundi. My poor Kirundi skills being what they are, I had no idea what he said. Finally JB said he was asking for a pen. I pulled one out of my purse and handed it over - to the slight panic of JB, who quickly led me out of the room before I was mobbed with pen requests. Ah, he only wanted a pen...
As we climbed back into the taxi, the smiles and waves swarmed us again, more brazen this time, full of energy and mischief and life.