[one_column]As I write this, our aircraft has just accelerated down the bumpy runway of Bujumbura airport, capital of Burundi, and lifted off into the night sky. We are heading for “New York”. That’s what people in Burundi call Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
It might be hard to believe that you would compare the capital of a country that has a per capita income of $650 a year per person to the shining lights of the Big Apple, but it gives you an idea of the depth of material poverty there is in this nation. It’s a beautiful country, full of natural resources and fertile land, but it’s also one of the poorest places in the world. Yesterday we passed villages and homes, many of them seemingly cobbled together from whatever was available, where it was plain the people were clinging on to the very edge of existence.
We also visited a school in Kibuye in the center of the country. It’s a place that Wellspring hopes to start working in soon, training teachers in how to provide children with a quality and Christian values-based education that will give them opportunities that will change their lives forever. If all goes to plan, we’ll be partnering with the mission hospital run by Hope Africa and working alongside the Free Methodist church as part of a wider work into the local community that we hope will bring true transformation in years to come.
During my visit there, I was surrounded by children who ran into the rough dirt field that passes for a playground to meet Jeff, my friend and Wellspring Burundi Country Director, and myself. We laughed and joked with them, took their pictures and watched them squeal with delight as they looked at their images on the screen. They didn’t have uniforms because they couldn’t afford them, they didn’t have text books because they weren’t available. And as for laptops and iPhones? Well that is an impossible dream.
Yet they were wonderful human beings, loved by God, full of joy, laughter and the mischievous grins that every child we meet here seems to have. Just like any child anywhere in the world really. These kids could be any kid you see at home, it’s just that they happened to be born here, into this existence.
It brought to mind the name that we have given to our “JustUs” project – a project developed in partnership with our friends at The Elevation Project. We chose this name because there is no other, there is just us. The “otherness” that exploded into an orgy of violence in 1994 just across the border in Rwanda and that spilled over into Burundi, where over 200,000 people died in the same ethnic conflict, allowed people to view those from different groups as “cockroaches” rather than human beings. The world looked on because it wasn’t happening in their backyard, it was happening to those “others” over there.
This is the same otherness that we may feel every time we see a homeless person, someone from a different country or tribe, or someone who doesn’t meet our social norms. Someone who is not the same. Someone who is less than ourselves.
Just because it’s a different degree of other thinking from that which causes genocide is no excuse. It’s all part of the same continuum. Every time we allow that otherness to infect us, we take away the dignity that God gives to every human being. We pronounce a judgment that is only available to Him. We damage not just those we should care for, but inject our own souls with toxicity. We can do better.
As we fly over the border, I look down, knowing that thousands of refugees have crossed from Burundi this week. The same otherness is rising here once again as ethnic and political divides rear their ugly heads in the run up to an election. The youth militias are marching again and the world is once more ignoring the danger. So please pray for Burundi. Pray that they will not stagger once more to the edge of the pit of hell, and will instead choose peace and reconciliation as their neighbours in Rwanda have done. Pray that they will know that there is no other, there is just us, loved together by a Holy God.
And pray for yourself today. That God would give you the ability to view everyone you meet with the vision that He has for them, no matter what your human self has been conditioned to think.
There is no other. There is Just us. And that is enough.