I can think of a lot of places I could have spent my dwindling time in Burundi before a visit to the United States. I imagined I would be packing, cleaning, or something similar. A phone call came by a good friend Evariste that changed all the things I thought I would be doing. He invited me to come out to the village where he grew up. A place where he had been spending the last five years, investing in the lives of people through micro financing imported dairy cows and sharing the love of Christ. I had never been there before but it turned out to be the best project in Burundi I have never seen.
We traveled up into the mountains away from Bujumbura. The twisty, paved roads turned into twisty dirt roads, and then turned into trails. His car made it so far, and from there we started walking. He took me to the very top of the highest mountain in the area and shared where his life really began. He had hiked up to this very spot in 1993. Evariste told me at this time, he was praying in this place and God challenged him to take responsibility for all that he could see. He also said he knew God had asked him to go to Bujumbura, the capital city, at that time. So Evariste left his home and traveled to Bujumbura the very next day. Within a few hours of arriving to the capital city, war broke out across Burundi due to the assassination of the president. The village Evariste was from went to fight against another village of a different tribe, and most of his friends were killed. Evariste told me he praises God for his call to travel out of his village; if he had stayed he would have found himself in the midst of the killing. One who would have been killed or been a killer.
Evariste never forgot God telling him to be responsible for his country. Now, as we stood on top of this mountain peak, we began descending into the place he grew up. This place was the beginning of his ministry of microfinance and sharing the love of Christ. It had no signs telling about “PROJECT EVARISTE” or plaques for donor recognition. These people aren’t a project; they are people, relationships, and children of God.
Over the course of the next four or five hours we hiked through the rolling hills. We visited with many families who had received dairy cows. Unfortunately, the Burundian cows produce one or two liters of milk per day. The imported dairy cows produce ten or fifteen liters of milk per day! The milk is sold back to Evariste who then sells it in the capital. The local cows can be good for meat, but since they are a symbol of wealth, the cows are not butchered until they are old and very sick. The families with dairy cows had amazing crops, plentiful milk, children in school, food to feed the family, and more! This was a complete contrast to the families in the same area who had not accepted the assistance from Evariste or their neighbors. I don’t believe what Evariste is doing is the only answer. There could be someone else doing something similar that could be just as effective. Evariste, through the gifts God has given him, is simply the only one offering a change of hearts, minds, and values in this community.
I learned a few things visiting with these families all day. First, it is so good to have the humility to learn something different or counter-cultural. If these families had decided it was more important to purchase local cows that are a symbol of pride, but don’t produce much milk, they may be in the same place of poverty they were before. Second, poverty is so much more than about money. I have met some people that are living in grass roofed houses with so little that are genuinely rich and full of life. We don’t need things to make us happy or rich. Riches come through Christ who restores our identity, our relationship with our community, and our relationship to Himself.
If you have questions about what Evariste is doing or want more details about what God is doing through him in Burundi, let me know! It is an amazing work and the best “project” I have never seen.