Some years ago a Congolese member of my former congregation came to me with the news that her eight siblings, whom she thought had been killed along with her mother, had been found alive and living as refugees in Burundi.
Concerned for their wellbeing, I rang Glenice Hartwich at LCA International Mission and she gave me the contact details for Pastor Emile Nkurunziza, whom she met years earlier and whom the LCA had supported in his theological studies.
At the time Burundi was engulfed in civil conflict and the streets of the capital were blockaded, with the wounded left to die where they lay. Upon receiving my request to help, Pastor Emile ventured out into the conflict to find the children, demanding to be let through a checkpoint, declaring himself to be a ‘soldier of Christ’. He gathered up the children, took them into his home and cared for them in the years ahead as we worked to bring them to Australia.
At the time I wasn’t to know that Pastor Emile would become a dear friend and that I would have the privilege of teaching in his church. Nor did I know that I would follow Glenice upon her retirement and be privileged to continue to support pastoral training in this tiny Lutheran church through an annual gift of $5000 dollars.
Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church of Burundi was founded by a returning refugee who had heard Lutherans preach in Tanzania when he sought refuge there during the genocidal violence of the 1990s. Having his eyes opened to the gospel for the first time, this former Roman Catholic couldn’t help but share the unconditional love and mercy of God in Christ with his neighbours and so the church grew. For years they were content worshipping in schools, under tarps or wherever they could find space to gather. But then the government decreed that all churches must have a permanent place of worship and they were at a loss as to how that would happen.
A Burundian refugee by the name of Sifa Mireye, an LCA member in Shepparton, heard of their situation and started fundraising to help her ‘family’ back home. Once land was purchased and the structure started to rise from the ground, the congregation began worshipping in the construction site to fulfil the government’s order. By God’s grace and the generosity of his saints, the building will be completed by the end of the year.
The biggest challenge the congregation now faces is that it is growing so fast, the church will be overflowing with people as soon as the building opens! As members continue to reach out with the gospel, Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church is being overwhelmed wherever it plants congregations. Their prayer – and ours – is that some day these new communities will be able to worship under permanent roofs as well.
It is incredibly humbling that at its recent AGM, Hope formally acknowledged the LCA as its ‘best friend’ as a result of the very small annual assistance we provide them to train pastors each year. May God continue to multiply our meagre offerings to the blessing of many in Burundi.
You can help support the training of pastors in Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church by donating to LCA International Mission online or phone 08 8267 7300 for details to make an electronic funds transfer.
This story is from the December edition of LCA International Mission’s magazine Border Crossings. Click here to read the December and earlier editions.