South of Rwanda is Burundi. The two countries make out a Salvation Army Command. We travelled from Kigali to Bujumbura by car. A journey that took us about seven hours and we were not bored a bit. The Rwandan mountains turned into Burundians while the slopes were filled with tea and coffee bushes, banana palm trees, maize etc. There is a constant traffic on the road and an amazing amount of bicycles. They carry incredible high, heavy and wide loads and go down the hills at a terrible speed – with no feet on the pedals. Or, there are cyclists hanging on to the back of trucks, mile after mile.
The capital is situated by Lake Tanganyika. We were warmly received at the house and office of the Burundi section officers, majors Moureen and Japheth Agusiomah. The corps meetings are also held here. The “hall” is under a roof in the garden.
Soon after our arrival the meeting started. And what a meeting. Salvationists and friends had arrived from the two corps and some outposts. Singing, greetings, more singing, testimonies. And before I shared the Bible message the women’s choir sang. And that song to the Lord opened the Highway of the Holy Spirit to Heaven, as we know it happens sometimes. We got a holy moment with God.
The next day in Bujumbura we had time to find out more through a well prepared brief and conversation with the majors. Who, by the way, are officers from Kenya West and arrived here last August.
The Salvation Army started only five years ago. There is now 296 soldiers, 151 junior soldiers, 100 recruits and 315 adherents. All belonging to two corps and four outposts. There are a total of four officers.
We also learned that 80% of the population in Burundi lives in poverty, i.e. has less than 1$/day to live on. Unemployment is high and many are HIV/AIDS infected. Actually most of the soldiers have HIV/AIDS. They do not come to the Salvation Army because we can help them with basic needs. There are no social programs. They come because Jesus gives them hope and a new life.
We learned that women with low education had been through a successful vocational training program. They were taught to do professional cleaning work in hotels. All of them were employed. Some got curious that a church did this and also, eventually, became soldiers. To develop vocational training was high on the list when the leaders talked to the project people. Quite urgent was to get money for a car, since the motorbike had been stolen and there was now difficulties visiting the outposts.
On Saturday morning, after the roads had opened after compulsory community work, we went to Gatumba outpost. They meet in the school building. All ages were present both inside and outside the schoolroom. They come her although neighbours mock them for not going to a proper church.
On our way back to Rwanda we stopped at Kamenge corps at the outskirts of Bujumbura. The home for the officers is a newly built house and the first one the Salvation Army own in Burundi. Some of the corps people had come, with their newly appointed lieutenants, and we prayed for them. Also here the “hall” is just a roof in the garden and they look forward to build a proper meeting place.
Travelling back with my Swedish colleagues, majors Robert and Anna-Maria Tuftström, presently serving in Rwanda, I also learned that we from North Europe have a lot of learning to do from our Burundian colleagues about relevant Salvation Army ministry.
Photos below: A Groups singing in the meeting in Bujumbura corps./ The new building in Kamenge with some corps people/ At the border crossing. The diligent Swedish Project coordinator Hanna Brandvik and Project Administrator Francois Nsengimana