Finishing Strong: Burundi 2019

**PSA: if you haven’t read my first Burundi post, you should start there.  In order to keep this relatively concise, I wrote this article assuming you’d read that one.**

It’s amazing to me how quickly two weeks goes by when every possible moment is filled with something.  Be that teaching, community mealtime, playing with a hundred energetic children, or trying desperately to wring whatever relaxation you can out of the evening before you inevitably pass out, I haven’t been bored since the plane landed in Bujumbura.

I’d like to start with a bit of correction.  In my first post, I mistakenly conveyed that our counselors’ plans had to be pushed back or even changed completely, in addition to conflating a couple of things.  Originally, group protocol EMDR sessions were planned for each group of pastors—one a week—but a research survey conducted on the first Monday was so triggering (and took so long) that everyone involved on our end decided it wasn’t worth putting the pastors through the struggle again.  The Barundi counselors also took the survey, and practice EMDR sessions are a part of their education, so the planned exit survey took place as planned.  The data will help DRI show in grant proposals the need for this kind of education, as well as illustrate EMDR’s ability to be an effective tool for accomplishing what Burundi so desperately needs.

The counselors I interviewed certainly believe that EMDR is going to be a huge boon in healing this country.  Alexis, the first counselor I spoke to, called the psychologists in Burundi “wounded healers,” referring to the fact that even those working to heal the systemic trauma are traumatized.  THARS has listening rooms throughout Burundi, where volunteers go and, well, listen to anybody who wants to come and talk through their trauma.  Talking through it is known to help get it behind you, but when the person who’s supposed to be keeping you grounded through the process (as getting triggered and dissociating gets you nowhere) is getting triggered and dissociating, the listening room’s effectiveness suffers.  Alexis made sure to tell me that, because EMDR works on groups and patients can show improvement after a single session, they were going to be sure to get those volunteers into a group protocol as soon as possible.

Alexis isn’t the only one up in Bwenge Hall singing the praises of EMDR.  It’s not just because it’s a treatment method that seems to work faster.  Because part of healing from trauma is allowing yourself to feel the emotions that your brain has repressed, part of EMDR’s process is ingraining the idea that even though it hurts right now, it’s not going to hurt forever if I allow myself to stay the course.  This concept, once accepted by the patient, doesn’t just help them deal with past traumas.  In the event of a future trauma, these techniques help the victim bounce back quicker than they would have normally; it has to do with EMDR rebuilding neural pathways so that they’re less vulnerable in the future.

When it’s healthy, Christianity is a belief system that emphasizes love above all else.  When asked what the most important rule is in the Old Testament, Jesus said (in Mark 12:30-31) “…love the Lord your God with all your heart… The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”  I mentioned in my last article that the locals I’ve seen in church really throw themselves into praise and worship.  It’s difficult to deny the benefit of a system of beliefs preaching love in a place that desperately needs its people to love their neighbors, especially when most of those people are already invested in those beliefs.  Where we come in is in training the pastors of Burundi to follow Christ’s example; drilling into them that He was a servant leader who came to serve, not to be served.

I interviewed one of the interpreters working with the pastors to get a feel for how things are going in that group.  He’s not a pastor himself, but his job is similar: his mission is to “help people find their God-given purpose.”  Leadership training is a big piece of what he does, and there are churches that ask him to speak intermittently.  He teaches seminars in leadership—currently only in Bujumbura, where he’s based, but with plans to go throughout the country.  I asked him if it seems like the pastors are going to take anything away from this training, and he said he sure thinks so.  He could see literally everyone in the training “getting it.”  He also said something delightfully similar to Alexis:  the things being taught here are the things Burundi needs to hear.  He said “we have a big opportunity in Burundi: people attend churches.  They have a hunger for God.  If their lives are to be transformed, it needs to come from the leadership.”  Our pastors taught exactly that, and they’re confident that the teachings really stuck.

I mentioned kind of in passing that our real goal here is not the young people we’re working with, it’s a member of THARS.  Patience Nziza is one of the main managers of the Gubganeza complex (where this has all happened), and he’s also involved with a couple youth football (soccer) teams in the area, so he was already tapped into the youth leadership thing.  David wants that aspect of THARS to get kicked up a notch, so Patience has spent these weeks (mostly) with us.  We’ve been teaching our older group songs and games (they’ve taught us a few, too), which they’ve then been teaching the younger group, and it’s going really well.  At the celebration at the end of the week, our older group will lead the youngers through a dance and a song they’ve been taught over the last couple of weeks.  The older group has also been exposed to each of our (youth) team’s leadership testimonies, and the discussions afterward really show that they’re learning.

Patience is really learning, too.  Today, he announced to the youth leaders his plan to facilitate their continued contact by running an English club.  He cited the entrance of so many non-Kirundi languages into Barundi consciousness as one of the things erecting walls between the people of this country, and this is just one more way THARS will continue to break those walls down.  It’s amazing to know that our efforts here are only the beginning, even though we’re coming to the end of our trip.

And I can’t believe it’s over.  All the prep, planning, vaccinating, for two weeks of intense work.  Going back to the U.S. is always a struggle in ways I can’t fully foresee. I bet you’ll be getting a shorter article on it, but we’ll have to see what life holds when we get there.  I’ll never stop thinking about the people here, and I hope you don’t either.  They need all the prayer and good vibes we can send them, not to mention support for another trip, should they invite us back.  Until then, though, don’t forget to look closer at labeled maps of Africa; see if you can spot the tiny country at its center where big things are happening.

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