For the past year, Wellspring has been considering whether we should begin work in the country of Burundi. It is a sister country to Rwanda but has largely been overlooked and forgotten, despite nearly twenty-five years of ethnic violence, instability, and civil war. Now there is a fragile peace and an opportunity to invest in Burundi’s children. A group of Wellspring leaders recently traveled to Burundi to listen, learn, and discern how we should respond. This is a reflection on that journey.

In front of us on the steep escarpment descending to Bujumbura were three young men perched sidesaddle on old Chinese bicycles as they clung to the back of a truck, balancing 50 kilo loads. We registered 60, 70, even 80 kilometers per hour on the speedometer and watched in fascinated horror as they weaved around corners and narrowly avoided the occasional pothole.

The escarpment finally met its destination, becoming a gentler slope where Burundi’s capital city meets the shores of Lake Tanganyika, one of the world’s deepest lakes. With its sandy beaches, palm trees, and mountainous backdrop, Bujumbura has potential to be one of the world’s stunning capitals. But years of war have deeply scarred its beautiful face, and once surrounded by dilapidated buildings, abandoned factories, and sprawling settlements, the newcomer must look up or out towards the hills or the lake to recognize its potential.

Our accommodation is a nicely renovated building in the downtown core that embodies Burundi’s history: A Tutsi King was once poisoned here. Next door and across the street are signs of life: a newly renovated theatre serves as Burundi’s first English-speaking church (Christian Life Ministries), and an empty field displays a sign promising a five-star hotel and shopping complex. A short walk through the downtown area feels like a step back to a time when African cities consisted of a few main streets with small shops and a marketplace. The marketplace, Burundi’s major trade hub, is a now a burnt-out shell and its vendors flood the streets and snarl traffic. After the relative cool of Burundi’s northern highlands, and its sister country Rwanda, Bujumbura heat is enough to chase the most intrepid entrepreneur to siesta at midday.

We are here to listen and learn. We have sensed a window of opportunity in Burundi’s fragile peace and want to hear from Burundians about the joys and challenges of their country. Our week consists of a forum with key leaders, school visits, a deep connection with a new English speaking church with a vision for education in Burundi, and individual meetings with key leaders who can help shape our perspective.

The economic situation, the desperate material poverty of a vast number of Burundi’s people, the challenges faced by government in bringing reform, and divisions within the church give us second thoughts. But the people draw us closer. For there are a group of God’s people—from Burundi and abroad—who have dedicated their lives to bring lasting transformation.

And there were those moments, in the midst of the challenging circumstances, when we just knew. They were different for each one of us. There was the dormitory in a boarding school in Northern Burundi, built to house 80 girls, and soon to accommodate 300. There was Discovery School, a quality Burundian Christian school offering an affordable education, and its dreams for a better future. There was the inspiring vision of newly planted Christian Life Ministries (CLM) for vocational training and a quality Christian school.

I left the room trying to grapple with a depth of emotion unlike I have had since the first time I set foot in a Rwandan church where 5000 people had died in a single day. Deep overwhelming emotion accompanied by a sense of calling.

But my moment was at a children’s home and primary school run by Burundi Youth for Christ in Gitega. That moment was made especially poignant because earlier in the week, two of us had a vision of Jesus speaking to Burundian children, and saying: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” It seemed like Jesus was saying that Burundi would change as its children learned how to love each other. Love for Who Remains.

The evening we arrived in Gitega, we entered into a simple common room where 53-orphaned children at the Homes of Hope gathered to greet us. We were immediately smothered with love and surrounded by hugs. Laughter and joy filled the room. No agenda. Just being together, playing together, enjoying their presence. My eye immediately caught a little girl, about eight years old. She had beautiful eyes, a shy smile, and the distant trace of a cleft palate surgery. I crouched down to catch her name and instantly found a new friend.

We made introductions and sang together—simple songs in English and Kirundi. And then one of the leaders asked us to gather so the children could pray for us. Burundian children, orphaned from an early age and growing up in a country with no immediate prospects; Burundian children with beautiful smiles and open hearts; Burundian children who gathered to pray for us.

And that was the moment when I saw it and the others did too: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” In the flesh, incarnational love. Children who should not have had hope responding to God’s love for them and loving each other.

And I wondered. What would happen to Burundi, to the region, if an entire generation of children truly learned how to love? Like these 53. And how could Wellspring be part of it? What is the unique role God would want us to have?

I left the room trying to grapple with a depth of emotion unlike I have had since the first time I set foot in a Rwandan church where 5000 people had died in a single day. Deep overwhelming emotion accompanied by a sense of calling.

I do not profess to know that answer to these questions. Or what will come next. But I sure want to find out. Even if it means many more rides behind crazy Burundian bikers on some of the World’s steepest hills.

Thank you to the following people and organizations for helping make this trip possible:

Simon Guillebaud: Great Lakes Outreach
Freddy Tuyizere: Burundi Youth for Christ
Evariste Habiyambere: Food for the Hungry Burundi
Elmer and Sherry Komant: CLM Bujumbura
Jeremy Wisdom: King’s Christian School
Jesse and Joy Johnson: Discovery School
Rev. Simeon Havyarimana (Legal Representative of Emmanuel Churches) and his wife Eodie (founder of HAWODI)
Sophonie Ngendakuriyo
Jonathan Nahimana