we didn’t plan to talk about reconciliation. Reconciliation invited itself to our conference on mission.
Burundi is one of several countries in central Africa who share a long and complicated history of ethnic violence. Even today, various groups within the country fight for power, and underneath the efforts to bring peace there are deep wounds from the past.
In the midst of this, students in UGBB Burundi are struggling to find and bring healing. In 2008, 10 UGBB members met with 10 GBU Democratic Republic of Congo students and 10 UGBR Rwanda students for a mission conference. But things didn’t turn out quite as they had expected.
In the words of one Burundian participant, ‘We didn’t plan to talk about reconciliation. Reconciliation invited itself to our conference on mission. We came to realize that we cannot do mission together until we are reconciled, that the socio-political conflicts have considerably affected our faith and Christian life. We took courage in both hands, and began a journey without yet understanding how long and difficult it would be.’
Four years and two more conferences later, God is visibly at work in the lives of these and others students. Reconciliation is possible, they are discovering, but it will not happen in one day.
For many, the reconciliation begins with inner healing of deep wounds. Chadrack writes after attending the most recent conference, ‘There are many wounds in our country and the wounds are there for several reasons. Ultimately, the citizens of our countries need to reconcile. For me, I am challenged and even healed of some wounds.’
Emmanuel feels it’s important to be reconciled to one another before trying to work together to reach out to others. ‘Before working on international reconciliation (between countries), we have to work on national reconciliation (between those within the same country). The challenge is how to reconcile differences and prejudices in order to serve the same Lord with one heart.’
Roland, who sees ethnic divisions and hatred as the ‘gangrene’ of his society, is eager to educate others about both the problems and their solutions. ‘It is only in the Word that we find the strength and wisdom to stand up against this evil, led by God.’ Likewise Yves is encouraged that ‘with what God has revealed to us through the Bible as well as what we have learned in this conference, I want to help people who have wounds in my country.’
Armel concludes: ‘Sometimes we hide our faces from reality, not naming the situation that we are currently living in, so frustration continues to grow. For mission, it’s necessary first to heal these wounds and then to go forward with a healthy soul. Reconciliation is an obligation and not an option.’
Let’s give thanks with these students through central Africa that they are learning more and more how to apply God’s word to their personal wounds and to their wounded countries. Pray for healed lives to have a deep impact on those around them.
And let’s consider our own lives – are there areas where we need to understand more deeply how being reconciled to God through Christ might affect our relationships with others? As God broke down the ‘the dividing wall of hostility’ (Ephesians 2:14) between himself and us, between Jew and Gentile, may we learn to rely on him to break down barriers in all our relationships. It cost Jesus dearly to achieve this reconciliation, and it may also require great sacrifice for us to live this way. But let’s say with one student from Burundi, ‘I now understand the price of my calling. I can’t continue to underestimate things. I pray that the Lord helps me to be courageous and be able pay the price.’