The following is an excerpt of the account I wrote of our time serving in Bujumbura, Burundi during a time of civil war (1991-2000). The time was tense, but God’s Presence was there and in the middle of our weakness, He came through. Entering 2017, I’m remembering all of the times God came through for us time and again; He will always be faithful.
One of the things I value most in my relationship with my husband has been our agreement to obey God, to do His will, no matter where He took us. On very few occasions have we struggled with this commitment. During the time we were in Burundi, our determination to follow God’s plan for our lives was tested time and again. After the onset of the war in 1992/93, and the seemingly endless attacks on the capital (Bujumbura), where we lived, I grew weary of the battle. While my determination wavered, Jamie’s remained steadfast. I found obedience to be increasingly difficult – especially since we had small children in this city that had turned into a war zone.
War is strange. No straightforward rules govern its movement. Generally, when a country in enveloped in civil unrest or war, as Burundi was for so many years, the violence is not continuous in one part of the city or country; it moves from place to place. Gunfire, grenades, mortars, and even rockets being fired (as we had seen shot into the mountains not far from our house) generally occur in a random pattern which may or may not take place on any given day. This uncertainty is what bred so much fear in the city during the times we lived through civil unrest; this ambiguity is what made daily living so difficult. Simple decisions, such as whether to send the children to school on a given day, often became major prayer topics. We could not possibly know whether the violence would erupt near the school, church, market, or even near our home. Leaving the children at school was difficult beyond description and it was impossible to find anyone with whom we could confide such feelings. Everyone in the city seemed to be desperately holding on to the hope that normal life would one day return to our once-beautiful country.
My frustration and weariness with the situation often spilled over onto Jamie. I wanted to be as steadfast as he was, but in the face of war my determination had faltered. Many times I felt a physical pressure mounting within my chest as I struggled to maintain control of the turmoil brewing just beneath the surface. Each day when I left the house to work in the displaced persons camp to feed children (whose situations were much worse than ours) I would struggle with feelings of incompetence as I stared into their hungry faces. Who was I to complain when, at the very least, every night I slept in a house and on a bed, not to mention the fact that I had never seen my loved ones killed in civil war? As we taught and fed the children, I had to find a way to work through the conflicted feelings that waged war inside my heart.
One evening, after I had tucked our children in for the night, I cleaned the kitchen, cleared my desk of some necessary paperwork, and fell into bed. I hoped we would have a quiet night of uninterrupted sleep. We had experienced a particularly grueling week as we worked in the camps. Because no cooking facilities existed in the camps, every morning I transported the cooked food and feeding teams and supervised the feeding and teaching activities. We had nearly run out of food that week, so I scrambled to write letters to several NGOs for emergency assistance. In our state of things in Bujumbura, food prices fluctuated wildly. From one day to the next we had difficulty accurately estimating what food prices would be. Stress levels often ran high, as they did that week. By the time I collapsed into the bed, my energy and joy were spent. The night was unusually quiet – unusual but welcome.
Suddenly, in the midnight hours, I was awakened by what seemed to be singing – not any kind of singing I had heard before. I could not understand any of the words, nor was the melody familiar to me. I felt unusually calm and seemed to recognize that the singing was praise to God. Our bedroom was set at the end of a hallway, which had a door that led into our living room. I got up from the bed and somehow was able to observe myself as I walked down the short hallway to the door that led into the living room. As I approached the door, the singing grew louder. When I opened it, I was met by a cool breeze, which surprised me as it brushed across my face. The room was filled with light that was shining outside and radiating through our curtains. I remember wondering how such a wonderful breeze could be flowing through the living room with all the windows shut. My attention was inexplicably drawn to the curtains; I saw silhouettes of very tall, almost massive beings standing shoulder to shoulder outside the windows. I immediately understood they were angels. At that moment I not only saw them through the windows; I also saw them all around the perimeter of the house. Their arms were raised and outstretch to heaven – I wanted to get closer. Just as I got to the curtains to draw them back, I felt a Presence in the room with me. This made me fall to my knees. As I knelt, I felt some kind of material as smooth as silk brush the right side of my face and arm. At that moment I knew I was not alone. Great peace filled my heart; all the pressure and heaviness that had, for so long, plagued me just disappeared. The great mercy of God to answer me so profoundly was overwhelming. I realized then that God’s mercy towards me that night went far beyond anything I deserved. From that day to this, I am not afraid about the “what-if” scenarios of life. Serving God, being in His will, is the safest place on earth.
Psalm 37:4 “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.”