Saturday, June 13, 2009

Burundi, the First Two Days

After 14 hours of transit from Johannesburg, the "team" arrived in Bujumbura, Burundi around 3:30am early Saturday morning. Traveling along with Claude, Kelley, and the other Burundians who attended the Amahoro conference were Thomas and Robert from the Dominican Republic and Sydneyanne and David from Los Angeles. Sydneyanne and David are hosting the large group from a church in Texas who are coming in on Monday to celebrate their partnership with the Batwa people. Robert and Thomas have joined the celebration through their friendship with all of the above and also can relate based on similar work they are doing with indiginous tribes in the DR.

After a good sleep-in on Saturday, Claude and Kelley took us all to a restaurant called Bora Bora, right on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. After a busy week in the cold, it was a refreshing retreat! Here's a few photos:

View as you walk in the front door of Bora Bora.

Opposite View (looking back at the front door).

Click here to view more photos of day one in Burundi

This morning we went to church in Bujumbura (the pastor is a friend of Claude's). We arrived at 9:30am, after they'd already been singing for an hour. I don't think the sermon began until about 10:30, and it ended just after noon. It was a long service, and a bit much for us "muzungus" (westerners), but was a great experience. We were welcomed by the pastor on the pulpit, and each were provided a translator for the service. Now, I go to church back home but not avidly by any means. Apparently they sang a lot of common church songs (but in Kirundi), and my translator seemed slightly appalled that I didn't know most of them (I got 'How Great Thou Art' once they got to the chorus).

I was surprised by how familiar the church service was. Here I am in Africa, in the 3rd poorest country of the world, and the service I witnessed today could have been anywhere back home. The music sounded the same, the agenda was the same (shake hands with your neighbor, visitors please fill out our guest card in your program and drop it in the offering basket, etc.). To be completely honest (and that's what I'm trying to be), I was kind of disappointed and, in some ways, it made me sad. I can't help but wonder if there's a sacred culture that's been lost in such a westernized service. That, of course, is based on my limited to zero knowledge of Burundian culture, so maybe I'm completely off base. I think I'm still feeling sensitive to "Christianizing" natives being such a strong part of colonialism across the globe, and I felt like I was witnessing its residual affects. I think this also hits a sore spot for me because, personally, the traditional church service has never really done anything for me. I find the mainstream church approach fits too neatly in a routine, and lacks a personal and relational aspect that holds more meaning for me.

However, I don't want to disregard the true and great intentions of the church. I also don't want to disregard the fact that this type of worship really works for other fact, most Christians. During lunch today with Pastor Mark and his wife, he explained to us how they planted their church right in the middle of a needy community and are known to welcome people of all kinds into their church (open door being an understatement, as you'll see from the photos). I love the community aspect, and that they really have a heart for serving the poor. From a purely personal perspective, I could just do without the hubbub.

What I loved about this morning was the sermon. Robert (from the Dominican Republic) was the guest pastor, his sermon translated into Kirundi. I loved his message, and related to it deeply. He spoke about Jesus in the light of a call to serve the poor and find justice for the oppressed. He charged the congregation to engage in their faith outside the walls (or lack thereof) of the church, and beyond the singing and praising and exclamation of "hallelujah!" I relate to this because I've been convicted in the same way.

One thing that I can say was different was the energy in the audience...there was no holding back here!

The Church

The Congregation

Worship leader (left), Pastor Mark (right)

Us out-of-towners invited on stage (yes, I was tacky and photographing as they were introducing me as a professional photographer)

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