Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Friendship Project

I didn't realize it this morning, but I had my doubts. 30 Texans arriving in Bujumbura, Burundi to build friendships and celebrate with 42 Batwa? I had my expectations...it would be a polite exchange of handshakes, awkward silence, forced smiles, and a culture shock made irreparable by a very wide language gap. In the end, it will be the Texas group living it up on the Beaches of Tanganyika and the Twa people trying to figure out what to do with themselves in a fancy hotel. Reflecting on the day's events, I have to confess that I assumed I already had it all figured out. This, to me, is what a missions trip looks like.

But at 1:00pm this afternoon, the 42 Twa people filed onto the patio adjacent to the beach, collecting their programs and nametags and looking sharp in their new business casual gettups with unmatching ties. The women arrived shortly thereafter, dressed in beautiful purple wraps as they walked humbly and timidly towards the crowd. Their faces were marked with anticipation and wonder...looking back I wonder if they had the same assumption I did.

But, one by one, the Texans approached the group with warmth, excitement, and authentic caring and compassion that is unlike anything I've experienced in any church. And, as they were approached, the Batwa's expressionless (and almost stern-looking) faces lit up with joy and they jumped and crowded each other to shake the hand of their new friend.

Friends? Batwa and Texans? Is that even possible? I am telling you, I witnessed it first hand, and it is indeed. Genuine caring, genuine respect and appreciation...genuine love.

And now I understand the context and the purpose for meeting in the spirit of Jesus. This was not a humanitarian project set out to provide aid in the form of money, supplies, food, or medical care. It is a friendship project, intended to empower and set free a tribe opressed in their own country by forging relationships that the Batwa never thought possible. This is so clearly evident...when an American approaches their eyes light up with an exclamation and almost puzzled wonder, as if to say "I matter?" And when they sense the genuinity...the authenticity...their faces soften and they reach to embrace their new friend with an empowered confidence that shouts "I matter!" That, my friends, is the love of Jesus. It is a love that reaches beyond the pocketbook or personal ideas or suggestions on the best way to live a "better" life. It is a love marked by compassion, grace, and unconditional acceptance. I've experienced that love through understanding Jesus, and today I witnessed the Kingdom of God at work right here on Earth.

And I am touched. Something is moving inside of me that I can't yet describe or explain, but I can tell you that I have immediately fallen in love with the Batwa. Not only that, I am overwhelmed by the grace and kindness of the group from Texas (Community of Faith Church). I've never experienced such authenticity (that's my new favorite word) in a church environment.

Last night, I had a long conversation with Etienne Ndayishimiye, who is a Batwa member of Parliament in Burundi. Etienne speaks very broken English (which is a struggle for someone who can't understand good English with an accent) but we managed to communicate as he unfolded his story and the connections made between Community of Faith and the Batwa over the past year. You can read of his experience coming to the U.S. in February on the Community For blog. I highly recommend it...it is an excellent read and provides a lot more detail about the friendships I witnessed today:

Nine Days I will Never Forget

There will be more to come, for sure, but I have much more to process about the day. Meanwhile, enjoy some photos (oh yeah, taking photos was totally kick ass as well! It's a freakin' photographer's dream!)


  1. I have enjoyed every word of your blogging (I still have more to catch up on), but I write to say I loved this post so much. You voice is so confident and hopeful. You are pocketing truths that will carry you through many future moments of uncertainty. And the images!Your photos really bring your experience to my doorstep. Thank you!

  2. J.J. - I am so appreciative of your honesty and detail of your experience. On a selfish note, it is really helping me to connect with what's going on among my friends...Claude, Kelley, David, Thomas, Robert, Etienne and the others. Wonderful people and you are in a unique space in your life right now. Keep letting it all swirl around!

  3. What? People are reading this? Looks like I may have to rewrite a few things...:-)

    In all seriously, you guys, thanks so much for checking in, and thank you for your continued prayers and encouragement. Know that YOU have also been heavily on MY thoughts and in my prayers! I can't wait to be with you again in just a few days!