I am writing this on the first of many flights that will take me home. We take off in bright sunshine straight into the wind, out over Lake Tanganyika, Congo on the right, the city of Bujumbura on the left with the hills and mountains of Burundi in the background.
Just two days before, on Pentecost Sunday, I was in those hills, preaching at the invitation of Bishop Seth at the Cathedral in Matana. The Cathedral was packed and overflowing as choirs and congregations from all the parishes in the diocese gather together for the major festival. Thankfully Matana was both sunny and blissfully cool after the heat and humidity of the city. There was all the usual joyful singing and dancing that people would expect from an African service. For all that joy, for all that Bishop Seth, a man who clearly loves the people in his care and is loved by them, dances in the midst of the congregation, I felt a restraint, an unwillingness to let go entirely. Burundi has suffered violence and division for many years and has yet to fully recover from the trauma. The last paroxysm of violence was less than ten years ago. Letting go is a difficult and fearful thing.
Like any country with a dark past, Burundi needs to make a long journey of reconciliation and a willingness to come to terms with the past. If this is not done the past will all too easily become the present. Yet coming to terms with the past is horrifically painful, and I have heard the stories and caught a glimpse of the pain of those who have counted the dry bones of their friends and family members in what remains of their home villages, after the genocide. Healing can only come from God, but it needs those willing to face their own pain and work to bring it to birth, to help people to encounter the Christ broken and forsaken upon the cross, crying out in his pain.
That’s where what I have been doing over last few weeks comes in. I have been working with the young men and women who will be the next generation of leaders in the Anglican Church of Burundi. I won’t say I have been working wonders of transformation, but the Church is in desperate need of those who have themselves been touched by God and formed through rigorous training. Bujumbura Christian University, where I have been working, plays a crucial role in that process, and as it grows and matures, will play an even more central role in the development of the Church and of the country, a role which will include the courage to face pain and bring healing of God to birth.