“Heaven and earth, it seems, are different, radically different, but they are made for each other … and when they finally come together that will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is: a creational sign that God’s project is going forward, that love, and not hate, have the last word in the universe; that fruitfulness, and not sterility, is God’s will for creation.”
– NT Wright, Surprised by Hope
There is a little kingdom on earth, in East Africa, wrinkled with uncountable hills and shrouded in misty clouds, where heaven has at times felt impossibly distant.
This country has known colonization, injustice, slave raids, and genocide; has buried too many children and mothers giving birth, has raised too many men who felt powerless to protect their families.
And yet, when many ran for their lives over the last waves of violence in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s . . they did not lose sight of what could be.
Men who had watched their fathers murdered, or walked for days, or struggled to find their mothers and sisters; women who had carried mattresses and cooking pans and babies, regrouped in safer places.
Some found themselves in Kenya and audaciously founded their own Hope Africa University in 2000, which they transplanted a few years later back home to Bujumbura. In addition, they built a medical school and found partners.
One of these Burundians, named Bishop Eli, prayed for God to send a team of 20 doctors to his country – a country with one of the lowest doctor-to-population ratios on earth – to train up a new generation of doctors.
And in 2010, a group of young doctors working in Kenya with Samaritan’s Purse met with visionary Burundians from the Free Methodist Church, and we traveled there with three of them to lay the foundations for a new partnership.
This was the beginning of Serge’s presence in Burundi. And it all began with the prayers of a Burundian – not with our programs and plans.
This team of 6 doctors joined Serge and landed in Burundi in 2013.
Now seven and a half years later, what was a tiny provincial hospital in a rural village with about 100 beds has 350 beds including two massive new multi-story wards, a solar-powered electricity plant, and oxygen generation.
The hospital, which hardly had any doctors, now has 13 specialists and 20 Burundian doctors serving alongside international doctors, a feeding program that serves about 400 kids weekly, and a 50% increase in patient visits, hospitalizations, surgeries.
Kibuye Hope Hospital in 2013 when the Serge team first arrived to now. All of those new blue and red roofs represent growth in this community.
Together, they have…
- Trained 255 new national doctors who have spread out into every part of Burundi
- Started a rotating 12-month internship
- Sponsored numerous graduates in residencies (masters)
- Laid the preparations for new surgery and family medicine residency programs
I don’t even know how many blind have received sight, or how many lame now walk, but the visible evidence that Jesus pointed to of God’s Kingdom can be seen.
The stories sound glorious, because many of them are, and seeing this over less than a decade has been miraculous.
But just ask Jesus, miracles of resurrection often pass through crucifying loss. While this all might sound like a shining glory in the clouds – most of the clouds in Burundi are damp and obscure.
As Serge Area Directors, went recently went to Burundi to bear witness to our partner’s progress but also to their pain, to listen, pray, ask questions, repent, acknowledge shortcomings, point to truth.
This is the part of our job that has suffered the most in COVID.
It’s not like we thought to ourselves, mid-February just after re-closure of land borders and re-institution of a strict mandatory seven-day quarantine (in a pleasant guest house but under armed guard keeping us in our room) would be a great time to travel!
But 3 COVID tests later (pre-departure, arrival, and end-quarantine) we were released to begin the second week of visits and meetings.
Our partners planned a two-day summit with Six Burundian leaders and six of us from Serge to review and discuss our partnership.
Though multi-language cross-cultural communication is ALWAYS exhausting, we emerged from those meetings with greater empathy for the many ways this country has suffered and a rare opportunity to humbly repent for our part in the global injustice.
Serge HAU Partnership Meeting
At the summit, we affirmed our common vision for medical training, patient care for the poor in Burundi, DRC, and Tanzania, all in the name of Jesus.
We rejoiced in the projects completed and stated again the priorities yet to be realized.
We tried to clarify our own Serge structures and funding for transparency and to remind all that we are guests serving a local group and vision.
And we were very blessed to have the meetings end with the chair of the Hope Africa University board stating his approval and commitment in clear terms.
We were also blessed to have the opportunity to pray and talk with many of our team. We know that 2020 was rough.
The loss of much-needed help due to COVID, loss of travel for conferences and vacations, loss of hoped-for progress, have all taken a heavy toll.
We feel it too.
The leaders are amazingly resilient, hard-working, insightful people whom we love, so getting to be face to face as we supervise instead of calls and zoom was also a treat. We are glad we could visit and try to encourage.
Yes, the Kingdom comes.
There is a feast where we will dance with the survivors of genocide, and those who didn’t survive, in a New Heavens and New Earth.
Most days that promise feels quite dim. The glimpses are blurry and fleeting.
And yet, two weeks in Burundi gives us hope that the final fulfillment of all the resurrection set in motion will indeed be glorious.
Photos by Dr. Scott Myhre and Kibuye Team Members.