Dr. Randy Bond serves with Serge as the Dean of the School of Medicine at Hope Africa University in Burundi, Central Africa. His wife Carolyn serves by teaching English as a second language to students. We spoke to Randy recently to talk about “peace” as a fruit of the spirit, and what it looks like to be an emissary of the gospel of peace in a land that has been troubled throughout its history by a legacy of conflict.
Serge: So, I know Burundi has experienced some conflict lately. Could you give us some context?
Randy: Burundi is, by many accounts, one of the five poorest countries in the world by income per capita, and it may be the hungriest nation in the world by calories per person. So, it’s an incredibly poor place. It has been stable since the civil war ended in 2003, and there was an election in 2005. But in 2015 the president declared his intention to run for a third term, which was controversial with regard to the constitution and the Arusha peace accords. As a result there began a prolonged period of protests, a coup d’etat, a counter coup d’etat the next day, and then continued periods of violence, including political assassinations and killings in certain neighborhoods.
Serge: Wow, so how did you experience all that unrest?
Randy: The university where we work is located physically between two of the neighborhoods that experienced the most violence. So, during the protests before the coup, I was going to work and my students weren’t coming because it was too dangerous. Fewer people were at the hospital, I was making rounds and, at times, I had to show my stethoscope to pass through barricades.
There was a car near the hospital that was torched as part of threats against going to work by people who were trying to shut the city down. It was a tough time. It became the norm to hear gunshots and grenades at school, and many nights we heard distant gunfire at our home. We didn’t go out at night for more than a year. That was just the nature of the city.
The student body fell from about 5,600 to about 800. It just collapsed. But since then we’ve graduated a lot of students and it’s come back some – about 1,300 now. One of the biggest things for me was to try and make sure that our 300 medical students continued to get their education.
Serge: It seems like so many people would have just given up, or given into fear in that situation.
Randy: Well, it was a challenge for us to be here and I did feel afraid at times at work – not a constant fear, but there was real reason to have fear. There were days that my African colleagues didn’t go to the hospital because it was unsafe. I was the only pediatrician at the hospital at times. So, it is real danger. But we were members of an American church plant in St. Louis back in the ‘80s that was located in a rough part of town, so it’s not like we’ve never had gunshots outside our house before! Maybe it is a bit easier for me because I’m 62 years old and don’t have any small children.
So, there’s the political tension, but also – it’s just a sea of chaos to make things happen here. Culture clash is also part of the peace issue.
For example, we’ve had students who had been really receptive to living out the gospel as servants in Africa–students we worked with and poured the gospel into–but ones with whom, for political reasons, we’ve been told to cease all contact. I had to “un-hire” one. That has really hurt. That’s where our peace has been challenged–because we had really begun to see some fruit.
My biggest failure has been not experiencing peace when things are going wrong, giving in to frustration and anger when there are challenges, particularly challenges to my core cultural values. But, we’re still here. We haven’t given up. We think this is worthwhile and we pray that we will be able to show grace and be submissive.
Serge: So then how do you experience peace, and be an emissary of the gospel of peace, in the midst of all that conflict?
Randy: Well, it’s not like anybody’s ever said I’m peaceful. They’ve said I’ve been effective. They’ve said that I’ve been able to accomplish things in spite of problems. I guess longsuffering would be a better word. And I guess that Christ in me is what allows me to continue to do it and not just throw up my hands and walk away, or say: “this is too much.”
Serge: What is it about the gospel of Jesus that keeps you showing up every day?
Randy: I look at the Word of God and I see that the people of God frequently experience discomfort, not because they’re being punished but because there is opposition to the gospel. If you follow 1 Peter, it tells you to expect trials, expect persecution and suffering. It’s not like I’m seeking suffering, but I’m not going to say: ‘Oh, my life isn’t easy. I shouldn’t be here.’”
Carolyn and I can look back at our whole life – how things that looked bad have been ok; how we’ve been guided – so we have confidence in who God is, who He has been to us. We trust Him.
The Word tells us that life doesn’t have to be easy, and experience tells us that God is with us. So we have the capacity to make the choice to stay and engage.
Serge: That sounds so much deeper and richer than just being tough enough to gut it out in a conflict zone, you know?
Randy: Burundi is one thing, but for us, for me, the decision at age 58 to stop working in America and to stop preparing financially for retirement was an even bigger threat to our sense of security and control. My experience serving on the board of Serge, visiting missionaries who were way behind me in that retirement preparation process, and yet serving, really humbled me. They have peace.
This came about over time as the spirit worked in me using many things—Sonship, my sin, and God’s grace, as well as the concept of “disordered loves.” That’s Augustine’s concept I think, but it came to me through Tim Keller’s sermons. Before we made a decision to serve in Burundi I had to face down some of the things that were the sources of my security and identity. In other words, my disordered loves: work, my role as a doctor and professor, security in my income and money–and decide to choose this life instead.
The peace to walk through troubles in Burundi is just an extension of that experience of grace.
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