Goldmines and baptisms

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,
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

This morning the staff took a very long time to serve breakfast, so we didn't end up leaving the hotel until almost 8:00. As we drove out of Bujumbura on the now familiar road, there were noticeably more uniforms visible, especially military in dress uniforms. Mo´se told us that there was to be a special memorial service later in the day for 10 Burundian soldiers whose bodies were being repatriated from the fighting in Somalia. There are contingents from both Burundi and Uganda both under UN colors, supporting the government, such as it is, against Islamist rebels. Fighting was been intense lately and the 10 soldiers were killed in the course of a few days.

Mo´se went on to say that many soldiers were volunteering for duty, because they are paid a western wage during their service for the UN. He said they earned over 1000 dollars a month, a fortune in Burundi. Even men with cushy desk jobs are leaving those posts to volunteer for duty in Somalia, he said. "And" he said with some amazement “they even pay the family a lot of money if the solider gets killed!” Life insurance isn’t a common thing in this region, to put it mildly.

We arrived at the hall in Buseruko around 9:30, and prepared to continue counseling people who were preparing to be baptized. Nathan Mokeshimana hadn’t arrived yet, he was making logistical arrangements, but the hall was full, so I decided not to waste any time.

I conducted a Bible study on the subject of Romans chapter 6, specifically what it teaches about the meaning of baptism.  This took about 45 minutes, during which time Nathan arrived.

During previous trips here I had already held several sessions devoted to baptismal preparation, and had talked with a number of men more seriously. This day we had time for 6 personal counseling sessions, one right after the other. I conducted the first four to show how I handle them and then asked Mr. Mundeli to take the last two. He spoke in the local language and Mo´se translated for me into French, so I could follow and make suggestions as needed. This was a very good experience for Mr. Mundeli, he told me later, as I hoped it would be.  All six men showed a good understanding of repentance and faith, and showed fruits of those qualities in their lives. So I was happy to be able to agree to baptize them all.

All this took until about 14:00, at which time Mr. Mundeli and Mo´se and I along with Mrs. Mokeshimana got in the car and started down a poor dirt road that led out of the village. We drove around 2 km to where we could park in a sort of village. It wasn’t really a village, but I don’t know what else to call it. It was actually a small conglomeration of mud brick restaurants and bars where farmers and gold-miners could come to buy a meal or beer, or if they didn’t have money for commercially produced beer, could buy locally brewed banana beer. They were interested to see a Mzungu in their midst, and it was clear several of them had been drinking more than they should. Those situations can be touchy, they may resent foreigners or expect to be treated to another beer and so on, so I was reserved and polite and businesslike.

After parking, we walked another 500 meters to a place used for gold mining and baptisms. There were a number of men shoveling and panning for gold in holes that had been dug 3 or 4 meters deep. They had diverted some water from the nearby stream to run through a sluice in the middle of the installation. Just beyond the gold miners was a swiftly running stream, very swiftly running. It had been raining almost every day for the past several days, so the water was high and fast. I thought to myself that we’d have to be careful to keep our footing and keep a good hold on everyone so no one would be carried off.

The local members had constructed a booth of branches nearby, where we could change clothes. I got into my swim trunks and a T-shirt and slipped on some flip-flops they lent me. Mr. Mundeli did the same. Then we gathered at the stream. After a prayer we prepared to go down a steep little bank into the water. Nathan and Mo´se asked one man to go out first with a sort of staff to steady him and check the depth of the water and it’s current. Out toward the middle he had some trouble keeping his feet, but near the back there was a spot with some backwater, which would be suitable. Mr. Mundeli and I went out and found good footing facing the bank. We then had the men come done one after the other for the baptisms. It rained lightly while we did this.

The streambed was mud, and I sank down enough that I was worried about losing the flip flops, but with some patience and care we made it back out without loss. Mr. Mundeli and I performed the laying on of hands to complete the ceremony, and we shook hands with all our new brothers in the faith. We changed clothes again and headed back to the car. I ask a group of miners if I could take their photo and one of them said defiantly "no!" I asked the others who agreed, then asked me for some money. I told them I was a pastor and didn't have a lot of money, but I would "put in a good word for them." They were happy with that.

One of the fellows we had seen earlier hit me up for money for a beer. We didn’t have a common language but he made the international sign for drinking alcohol: a fist with one’s thumb sticking out, held up to the mouth while tilting the head back. I said with a friendly smile, “drinking too much beer is not good for you, you should drink more water.” When this was translated they all laughed. Then one of them said something to me that was translated “we have meat.” I think it was an invitation to have a meal with them, and pay for it….  In reply I said “bon appetite” which they understood and which made them laugh again, and provided a good time to exit, stage left.

We bumped and bounced back to the hall; where one final meal was provided for everyone. It included beef which, I was told, is their favorite food and rare. Mo´se said that many of them only eat meat about once a year on very special occasions, it was simply too expensive for them.

After the meal I took a photo of the newly baptized members and we started the drive back to Bujumbura arriving right at 18:00 and sunset. I settled accounts with Mo´se and Nathan, and with Mr. Mundeli, whom I thanked warmly for his willingness to come down and help. I will be leaving in the middle of the night to head to the airport, and I don’t want them to have to lose a good part of a night’s sleep due to my flight schedule. We said our goodbyes and took our leave.

I had a late dinner at the hotel and paid my room bill, not without some difficulty. I had said on arrival I would be paying with a credit card, and they indicated that was fine. When I pulled out the card however, a mild look of panic took over. They had to talk to the patronne. The receptionist came back to tell me that unfortunately the card machine was broken. I paid in US dollars and he asked me if I wanted change in dollars. I told him I did and he had to go see the patronne again. He came back and told me that unfortunately, all their dollars had already gone to the bank, so he needed to give me change in Francs. All right then.

I’ll try to get a few hours’ sleep before getting up around midnight to start the process of getting to the airport to start the long trip to my next destination.
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hervedubois on

Bonjour M. Meeker,
Extraordinaires nouvelles concernant le baptême des nouveaux membres. C'est toujours une joie de voir des nouveaux frères dans la foi. Les images du site du baptème sont impressionantes. Celles que j'avais présentées en 2010 avec un diaporama aux membres à Big Rapids pendant le club familial chrétien avaient beaucoup plu. Je suis heureux de voir aussi que beaucoup plus de frères et sœurs suivent les progrès de votre travail en Afrique.

Bien chaleureusement

Hervé & Helen

par2lalemonde on

Bonjour Joël,

Excellentes nouvelles du Burundi, heureux pour les nouveaux baptisés. Bon courage. Avec toute notre affection.


Bea Childs on

We are so enjoying reading about your travels among our brethren. (Congratulations to the newly baptised.) We're having a "potluck" after Sabbath Services this week and I am going to try my hand at "Jollof" which you spoke of earlier. I got a recipe online, though I have no way of checking it's authenticity. Wish me luck. And, God Be with You, Mr. Meeker. Love, B.

thefaiths on

So happy to hear of our newest brethren being baptized, more joy in heaven. Thanks for letting us share in your adventures during this trip. Our prayers continue for you and all our brethren there.

Lenna Nixon Slaughter on

It is astounding to consider the miracles God must perform to call someone into the truth in a place so remote. The things our brethren have to deal with on a daily basis would seem overwhelming to most of us. Thank you for laying down your life to serve our scattered brothers and sisters. Also, thanks to your family for the sacrifices they have made so you can do this. You are in my daily prayers.

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