Important discussions in Mugina

Trip Start Apr 02, 2014
Trip End May 07, 2014

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Flag of Burundi  , Bujumbura Mairie,
Friday, April 18, 2014

Today Daniel and I were ready for breakfast at 6:30 so we could leave at 07:00 as planned. Unfortunately the breakfast buffet didn't open until 07:00. We piecemealed it (literally), as various items arrived in the buffet. Coffee first, glorious! Then fresh sweet pineapple, mango, and local cheese. We ate heartily not knowing what if anything would happen for lunch. At it happened Mo´se didn’t arrive until nearly 8:00 so we needn’t have rushed. We loaded up and started north, stopping to buy bottled water, one of the most important commodities with which to travel.

We left Bujumbura under a steady rain and tackled the terrible road toward Cibitoke. It’s worst when it’s raining since the potholes fill with water and one can’t tell how deep they are. We slalomed back and forth, jockeying and negotiating with drivers of other vehicles, small to huge. Many men were out on their bicycles under the rain, transporting, fruit, milk, furniture, and a host of other wares. After an hour we finally hit the good pavement, the section of road through Cibitoke Province that has recently been resurfaced by, I believe, the European Union; the difference is enormous.

We cruised the last 20 or so kms north to Rugombo then turned east for the last 7 or 8 kms to Mugina. The last stretch of dirt road, was in the worst shape I had ever seen it. We would not have passed it without a 4WD. Finally pulling in at the new church building a little before 10:00 we greeted everyone and shook hands. I was especially happy to see Nathan who gave me the grand tour of the new building, and explained what needed yet to be done. They have two exterior metal doors which a ready to be installed, the windows will come next.

People interested in baptism were trickling in from Massango and Ruziba, still under the rain. I was introduced to a delegation of four people representing a little congregation on the south side of Bujumbura. This group of 20 or 30 is interested in the Church which they discovered through a personal contact. They have come for the weekend to meet with us and ask questions, to which I look forward.

Settling in, we began the baptismal counseling. I made sure I had a list of their first and last names and birth years correct, (most of them don’t know the day or month). Nathan had already been working with them for months, helping them understand the baptismal commitment, so this was a sort of double-check. I have a simple check-list to see how much each person understood or has fulfilled:
  • The meaning of the baptism ceremony, and Christ’s sacrifice
  • What repentance is
  • What sin is and if they have truly repented, including the concept of the spirit of the law as well as the letter. Are their "fruits?"
  • What faith is, and do they have faith in God
  • What the gospel of the Kingdom of God is, and if they believe it
  • If they believe God is always good (very important element of faith in times of trial)
  • The no-return commitment of the baptism covenant.  
If all of those were positive to the best I could discern, then I would agree to baptize them. Other concepts would be helpful in preparing for baptism, but for people with little formal education who are mostly illiterate, realism requires we stick to the trunk-of-the-tree basics,required by the Bible..

It took five hours to get through the list of 14 people. I was very touched when discussing baptism with a man born the same year as me. When I explained the verses that say baptism is a life-long commitment and that we can’t change our minds or turn back, he said "at my age that is not a problem, I’m already turning my thoughts toward leaving this world." Many estimates state that life expectancy at birth in Burundi is around 50 years, and while the average has been improving lately, subsistence farmers in far-flung rural areas are on the low end. He knew how long men in his village live on average, and knew he probably didn’t have too much time left. I’m his age and because of where I was born, I’m supposed to have about 30 more years left, on average. How easy it is to take for granted blessings we may not even know we have.

I felt one, a 15-year-old was too young, and three others were missing some key concepts. We encouraged them not to give up and reminded them that it was a question of time and preparation, and that God willing I would be back in a few months and would be happy to talk to them again. They were still very sad. Even if they didn’t fully understand what the commitment meant, they deeply desired to please God.

When I told one lady, she needed to prepare some more and gave her some “homework”, tears welled in her eyes and she asked through the interpreter, “could we start the questions and discussion over again?” I explained again as I did at the start that we weren’t looking for “magic words” or special terms, but an understanding of concepts and evidence of having fulfilled them. But she was still very sad. Nathan will continue working with her and encouraging her.

By the time we finished the counseling it was a little before 3:00 pm. Nathan invited us to his house nearby for a late lunch prepared by his wife: rice, peas and carrots, green beans, spinach, onions, tomato sauce, home-made unleavened bread, and a Fanta.

We ate and talked, catching up on news and fellowshipping, and finally said goodbye for the day a little before 4:00 pm.  Mo´se drove us back to Rugombo when I asked for brief stop so Daniel could see the little German military cemetery for the days when this was a German colony, in the early 1900s. Several unknown askaris (African troops) are buried there along with several German troops killed in WWI. It’s a dusty, forlorn little place in the middle of nowhere.

We drove on back to Bujumbura heading into a heavy rain once again as we neared the city. Mo´se dropped us about 5:30 and we almost immediately headed to the Cercle Nautique, a down at heals place with rickety terraces on and over the water where one can have a beer and/or dinner and watch the sunset over Lake Tanganyika. Daniel and I had a beer and watched the sky darken quickly dramatically and beautifully. The weather-beaten platform on which we sat was full of aid workers of different ages and from several different projects. Overhearing their conversations and accents from half a dozen European and more African countries was quite interesting.

We took a taxi back to the hotel and walked around the corner to a little restaurant where I had Mukeke and Daniel had Sangala, a huge fish similar to the Nile Perch. Both were very good and provided a nice ending to a full and encouraging day.

We’ll make it an early night since we need to start early and will have a full day again tomorrow.
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Karen Meeker on

We can only pray that those who are growing in understanding will be totally convicted and committed when the time comes for their baptism. Life seems like more of a vapor for some than for others. Either way, it is finite, and every moment should be treasured and spent wisely. Thank you for the reminder and for sharing these inspiring vignettes. Be safe.

Tess Washington on

Glad to read about these group of people who desire to get baptized! Thank you for reminding us the commitment that's needed for this way of life and the no-return commitment! It's the best for it brings you hope and peace due to the knowledge and the truths that God reveals to each one of us! Good to read that you and Mr. Harper had done what you set out to do in Burundi! That mukeke on your plate looks long...I'm not sure if I would like to eat such a long fish even though it's considered clean...just one of my finicky taste...

Lenna Slaughter on

Thank you for your very interesting travel logs. It is important for us to see into the lives of God's people there. I'm glad that you are able to spend a few minutes along the way seeing some of the historical sites. I noticed that in the German cemetery, even though it’s a dusty, forlorn little place in the middle of nowhere, someone obviously takes the time to tend it. Imagine how many people there are whose bodies are in places known only to God and He will one day soon resurrect them. Praying for you to have safe travels.

mary on

Thank you, Joel, for another inspiring commentary. How touching to see that baptism means so much to the men and women there, and I hope that those deferred will be ready at your next visit. The gentleman who had "already turned his thoughts toward leaving the world" humbles us who have many things and many years.

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