Visits to halls and congregations

Trip Start Feb 13, 2011
Trip End Mar 14, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hotel Dolce Vita Resort

Flag of Burundi  , Bujumbura Mairie,
Monday, February 28, 2011

As agreed last night, I was ready to go at 07:30 this morning feeling not entirely rested. We had decided to leave at 7:30 or 8:00 at the latest if anyone had something unexpected come up. I ordered a Spanish omelet for breakfast, and to my surprise found it contained only potatoes and peas. Perhaps Spain has changed a great deal of late….

Mo´se and Nathan arrived just before 8:30 and we got in the car and started north. The roads out of Bujumbura had not improved since my last visit, and I the road north to Cibitoke has gotten even worse than it was.

We slalomed around potholes, accelerated briskly and felt the brakes applied suddenly – sometimes for no obvious reason and I tried to adjust to East-African driving, which does not take into account either the comfort or the preferences of passengers. It seems to be understood that if one accepts to get in the vehicle, he is turning his fate and future over to the driver to do with as he sees fit. This is not meant in an aggressive or dominant way, it's just a sort of fatalism which, in my opinion, envelops much of the continent. "Insha’Allah" as the common phrase goes here [“as God (Allah) wills.”] One can tell we’re on a continent where Islam is important.

I gave advice to Mo´se as he drove, and sometimes he took it and sometimes he didn’t. No lack of respect was intended on either side.

We passed the usual unusual sites (that’s not an oxymoron here) on the road: amazing piles of paraphernalia on the heads of women walking on the road, bicycles holding precarious towers of jerry cans or greenery or wood or sacks of vegetables or other undecipherable masses, sometimes even other bicycles. Herds of cows and wandering goats impeded traffic. Periodic soldiers nonchalantly carrying AK-47s kept the peace at checkpoints. And trucks and vans and 4x4s and light cars like ours wove a swift, sometimes threatening ballet around and over and through potholes as everyone we saw appeared to be attempting to go somewhere else.

We arrived in Buseruko, in the township of Mugina, at 10:00 to meet the church members and have a modified church service, even though it was Monday. As we drove in, they greeted us warmly and we shook hands with many. We were seated at the front of the mud and wattle hall. A local leader in the congregation led several hymns (in Kirundi/Kinyarwanda – they’re very close) from the church hymnal which we’ve been using for years and which they’ve been enthusiastically learning. James Sibobugingo (that may not actually be his surname, but I’ll follow the European custom for simplicity and use the same one his father has) had come down a few weeks back and stayed with them several days for the express purpose of teaching them the melodies of the hymns.

The melodies were recognizable, but there were variations too. It’s probably the best we can do for the time being.

Nathan gave a formal welcome to me on my visit and made some announcements while Mo´se translated for me. The chorale sang several pieces of special music: one about God giving Israel water from a dessert rock, and one about the prophecies of Matthew 24. The latter sounded peaceful and upbeat, so I’m not sure how the words went exactly, but no doubt there is faith in the final happy ended that underlies the optimism. The hymns and the special music were accompanied by an old electric piano functioning on a long and tenuous extension cord run from a neighbor’s house (in exchange for a fee).

Then I was invited to speak. I gave greetings which they very much appreciated. When I told them that my wife and sent her greetings, wished she could be with me and hoped to come in the future, they broke out into spontaneous applause. I passed along greeting from other African countries and the US and others too. The response was very happy and excited.

In the “sermon,” we studied what the Bible says about the Church, its purpose, and the blessings it provides members.

Afterwards we took photos and then lunch was served to those of us who had travelled: rice, beans, cabbage, potatoes, half a chicken (for the 3 of us), a hot-spicy sauce, and a Fanta. I skipped the chicken, and mostly ate rice and beans and then sparingly. They need it much more than I do, and I’ve found it’s best for me not to eat too heartily off the beaten track. After lunch we waved our goodbyes to everyone and drove farther out into the bush to Rusiba, which is way up on a rural mountain top. Mo´se and Nathan wanted to show me the church hall under construction. The road up was truly horrible, but at least it was dry. I’m been stuck here before!

We parked and then walked up a steep hillside for 15 minutes to reach the hall. I was happy to see how far along they were. It’s done in sun-dried mud brick, thick with clay. This can last a long time with proper maintenance and that’s always the challenge in Africa. It still needs more finishing work (shutters and doors for example) and some more funds supplied to do it, but it will hold as is until we can get things moving for them down the road a ways.

There was a group of local ladies and children waiting. The men were working in the fields (it’s planting time). We made a few formal comments of greeting, sang some hymns together and I gave my news and announcements. Their small chorale sang about the story of Samson and the joy of the coming wedding supper of the Lamb. We again took photos before leaving. It was a short visit, but it allowed me to see the progress on the hall, and to show, simply by my coming, that the larger group was still supporting them and interested in them. It means a very great deal to have a visitor, even one who is spread very thinly and can’t stay long.

We hiked down and I took a photo of some rambunctious village boys who had been horsing around a little aggressively, but who calmed right down when I offered to take their photo. They were stunned and fascinated when I turned the camera around and showed them the photo I had taken of them. It was probably the first time most of them had seen a photo, even a screen shot, of themselves.

We drove on toward our third meeting, this time in Masango. It took about 30 minutes to drive and then another 20 minutes to walk to this site. We walked uphill through bush and bamboo forest and crossed a narrow plank footbridge over a stream fairly far below (imagine walking the plank in rural Africa…). This hall was built of fired brick, the best material, and was quite large. Again it was mostly women and children who were free to come, but they had wanted to welcome me. We again gave formal greetings and sang hymns and the local leader expressed his hope for further assistance for doors and windows and a retaining wall to help prevent erosion. The whole region is so hilly that almost every structure is built on a terrace and this hall is no exception.

  We took our leave and walked back to the car. It was 15:00. Before getting into the care I took a photo I liked of a young local girl who had already been made responsible for a baby and was carrying it on her back which is very common here.

We drove the same bad road back to Bujumbura, passing some gorgeous contryside along the way: mountains and fields of grain and rice. Near Bujumbura, we stopped so Mo´se could check on one of his pharmacies and a clinic as well. I was eager to get back to the hotel so I could call my daughter Tatiana on Skype and wish her well on a university interview she had. We were able to connect just before she went it to the meeting. I wish I could have driven over with her, that’s one of the downsides of my travels, but I know she’ll do really well, and she sounded confident as usual!

We heard from Mr. Mundeli that he was well on his way from Kigali, so we expect him to be ready to go with us tomorrow back north for a day of leadership seminars north of Cibitoke.
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Jack Hendren on

Hello Joel,
Catching up on your travels. I always enjoy and learn from your updates.

All the best,

mary hendren on

Hi Joel,
Wow, three strenuous visits in one day, but the brethren there seem so appreciative of your efforts. The photos are exceptional, and it's encouraging to see three halls and the progress being made. What a lovely picture of the little girl entrusted with the baby. The overview of the rice fields is lovely. We pray for your meetings and your continued strength to serve those who so eagerly want contact.


Ted Franek on

Mr Meeker,
Thanks for the daily update of your visits, especially with all the pictures. Wow,traveling in Africa is very much like the pioneers who took the challange to go west. I hope and pray the rest of your travels go smoothly with continued encouragement for all the brethren there.

Rosie Seltzer on

I agree, you made exceptional progress today, visiting three different groups! How wonderful, and the pictures really help us to connect with our extended family in Africa. Thanks for all you do.

Judy Dane on

Thank you again so much for introducing us to our brethren. I am enjoying your trip and the change to meet them and pray for their needs.

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