It’s been almost a year since we left Canada. It’s hard to even imagine what it was like, and harder still to imagine what it will be like when it’s time to go back. Impossible actually, I can’t even picture it.
I’m supposed to be writing our “We wish you a Merry Christmas” blog post, but I’m not really sure how to do that right now.
At the beginning of the month, I was the photographer for a friend’s wedding here in Burundi. Don’t ask me how it happened, just know that I don’t plan on making a habit out of it. It was an enjoyable day, but it came with its challenges, both anticipated and unexpected. We can just throw that one in the “cultural experiences I never thought I’d go through” column. It was funny how throughout the day, I was told repeatedly by everyone how fantastic a photographer I was. I just told everyone to hold off on the compliments until they saw the finished product! I could have not shot a single frame, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been buttered up like that before! At the end of the day, I did what I could, and our friends were thrilled with the results. “The best pictures in all of Burundi.” Ha, that’s probably the highest praise I’ll ever receive in my life! How many of you have ever been the “best” in anything in the whole of a country? I’ll try not to let it get to my head.
It’s all a part of the typical stuff that gets said this time of year, how busy the month of December can be, how it “doesn’t feel like Christmas,” etc. A little different out here though, that’s for sure.
Today, Christmas Eve, I went to a funeral. Again, something unanticipated. Shocker. I should have learned by now, not to be surprised by the unexpected. A friend’s father passed away unexpectedly over the weekend, dropped dead from a heart attack. You know, it’s incredible, how short-sighted we are back home. I’m speaking of myself here as well! Did you know that poverty makes you more susceptible to food-related illnesses like diabetes, high cholesterol, etc.? I was shocked last year to find out that diabetes is one of the most significant causes of illness and death here in Burundi. So, a man’s life is cut short and my friend’s father is gone. It’s tough but oh so important to put faces behind the statistics that we read in WHO and UN reports.
So, I didn’t picture my Christmas Eve sweating through my clothes in a crowd of dozens of Africans while a man’s grave stone is built and tiled before my very eyes. Don’t feel like it’s Christmas? Yeah, me too.
And then we have a precious little girl, 5 years old, named Anick. She likes the colour pink. She lives in Muramvya. She has a mother, and a father who likes the bottle a little too much. She lost one of her siblings to a pedestrian vehicle collision last year.
Now she has a couple skull fractures, a number of nasty cuts to accompany them, and a shattered femur, with a lengthly hospital stay ahead of her.
We know all of this about little Anick because when we were travelling down to Bujumbura this past Saturday afternoon, she ran out of the bush and onto the road I was driving on, and I hit her with our Toyota Hilux traveling roughly 65km/h.
You know I still don’t know how to process it. Nadine and two of our friends were in the vehicle, and everyone, including the Burundian bystanders, said there was nothing that could be done. I’m not “guilty.” That doesn’t really impact reality though, does it?
The girl’s uncle gathered her crumpled body, and we took her, along with many of the girl’s family, to the closest hospital. We have God to thank that the community did not turn violent against us, but they instead showed compassion towards us. There was a police officer present at the scene. Once we arrived at the hospital, guardian angels were sent to help us. Friends soon arrived that had been summoned on our behalf, to assist with translation and to ensure that rules and regulations were followed.
We were reminded of the terrible standards of healthcare in this country. Poor Anick laid on a stretcher, surrounded by “medical professionals” that didn’t even lay a hand on her for almost half an hour. After initially being allowed to assist after I explained who I was and what I do, I was kicked out of the room by the charge nurse. Anger and frustration seem like just words that can’t begin to express the depth of my feelings at that moment.
What followed was 8 hours of prayer, tears, fear, police interrogation, report writing, medical bill payments, and times where Anick seemed to be on death’s door.
How it ended could only be God’s intervention. Our night finished around 11pm, when the family approached me and asked me if we could pray over the little girl. Having counselled her father on the next steps needed for her care, including surgery for her left leg, and then arranging for her transfer to another facility and payment for her treatment, they spoke to me and said “We know you are a servant (a missionary). Please, can you pray for the girl?”
I know that Satan himself meant for this to be far worse. He had designs for Anick’s death, I’m sure he envisioned us being hurt by an angry mob, and I know he wants to sow fear and death into our lives here in Burundi.
What began as a tragedy turned into a tiny miracle. Before we left to find a hotel, I prayed for Anick’s life with Nadine and over a dozen members of Anick’s family, crammed into her tiny room in the hospital. As we went on our way, each family member came to us offering a hug, a handshake, and their thanks.
So, almost four days and about ten hours of sleep later, I’m still trying to “feel like it’s Christmas.”
Maybe that’s okay though. Maybe that’s just how it is. Life out here is challenging, and the very nature of the work we are doing means that we will constantly be under threat of attack from Satan himself. He doesn’t want us here, he doesn’t want the Shammah Health Center to open. In fact, the closer we come to our intended opening, the more vicious and personal these experiences have been for us. While I’ve been writing this blog, I just found out that Nadine and the girls were involved in an accident here in Bujumbura, with a driver who was trying to illegally pass them. They’re safe but shaken, by a horrible man who tried to pry his way into their vehicle to steal away the keys. Again, friends came rushing to their aid.
What was supposed to be an afternoon of rest for us all has again turned into unrest and fear.
Merry Christmas, right?
So it doesn’t feel like it. There’s no snow, there is certainly a lack of “xbox one”s that I’ve noticed, no christmas tree in our house, and not a ton of holiday cheer to be passed around.
But I thank God that just like the accident, my feelings don’t change the reality of the situation.
The reality that God sent his son Jesus Christ to die on a cross for my sins. He was humbly born on a dirt floor to a carpenter. He grew up sinless and chose to sacrifice Himself so that my debt could be paid in full.
I cling to that reality more now than ever. Does it bring me “christmas joy?” No. Does it make me excited that my birthday is tomorrow? Not at all. But it gives me peace. And at times like this, there could be no greater gift to receive.
Nadine and I miss you all, and we pray God’s mighty, powerful, all-encompassing peace into your lives in the coming days. Thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting us.
Oh, and Merry Christmas from the bottom of our hearts.