Magazine article Anglican Journal

Burundi's Servant Church: Anglicans Are Transforming Lives of Poor

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Burundi's Servant Church: Anglicans Are Transforming Lives of Poor

Article excerpt

Bujumbura

IT IS POSSIBLE for a family of five to live on 4,000 Burundian francs ($4) per day, according to Josephine Bigari. It would simply mean skipping breakfast, having no bread, no meat, and no milk for tea, she said. If you have no money to buy food, you depend on credit.

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Bigari, who handles the HIV-AIDS program of the diocese of Bujumbura, is aware that many Burundians are in this situation. "Many are in debt," she said.

Her three young children realize that they are luckier than most in that they're part of Burundi's tiny middle class; they're eager to help. Bisari recalled that, When the diocese distributed mosquito nets, Pamela, 15, asked if a classmate could have one. "She has also asked me what we could do to help her classmates who have no lunch."

Bigari points to the church's mission of "being there for others" as a huge influence.

Edmond Bayisabe was 15 when the civil war broke out in Burundi in 1993.

He recalls the highly-charged atmosphere in his high school in Matana. Hutu, Tutsi and Twa students eyed each other with suspicion, mirroring the volatile situation across Burundi.

The young Bayisabe was a "born-again Christian" in high school. Like a good born-again Christian, "I had to like and respect everybody and make friends from each ethnic group," he said. "This was a risky choice." In classrooms and dormitories "some students chose to sit together or to share the bedroom according to their ethnic groups, but the Christian community challenged the situation and acted differently."

Today, 16 years later, Bayisabe is still working for change as youth co-ordinator of the diocese of Bujumbura. During Burundi's civil war, from 1993 to 2005, many young people were mobilized and trained to fight. Today the church is retraining them for peace.

When the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Bujumbura in 2005, he marveled at the church's crucial work. In a commentary published by The Independent, he wrote, "The Mothers' Union is one of those Anglican agencies regarded with a rather patronizing affection by large sections of the British public--part of the warm beer, church bells and cricket-on-the-green image of a rather tired Englishness. This is an image that is ludicrously wide off the mark," he said. "In much of Africa, it is quite simply the most effective agency for the empowerment of women. Burundi is a majority Roman Catholic country, with international aid agencies at work; but the Mothers' Union remains an important player. Its creation of a network of literacy schemes, of programs for sex education and nutritional advice, of training in conflict resolution, of micro-finance projects and trading initiatives, all have immense potential."

He acknowledged that faith groups "are not problem-free"--in Africa they have sometimes been "slow to condemn the tribalism that scars so many societies; they have not been immune to corruption, and they have been defensive about outside challenges over transparency and accountability." Still, "they have credibility" and have access to more areas than most, he said.

The Paris Club of creditor nations recently cancelled US $134.3 million of debt owed by Burundi to its members, citing its "determination to implement a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy and an ambitious economic program."

But the fact remains that outside aid and investments hinge on Burundi's capacity to prove its stability.

Religious communities have been filling in the vacuum.

Burundi has four religious groups: Roman Catholics (62 per cent), Protestants (5 per cent), ancestral believers (23 per cent), and Muslims (10 per cent). …

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