Flight Canceled

Today was a relatively relaxing day until it went sideways. Our national hosts picked us up midmorning and we drove to their church where there were about 25 people seated on the floor for a prayer service. They use a rented room in a school at the edge of the shantytown where they live.

Pastor Idrissa introduced us, Nathan shared briefly with them, and then they prayed for us before we left to go shopping.The market was very busy, swarming with bodies, with vendors of all types selling all types of goods. Would you like a bucket or pail? There’s a specialist for you!

We stopped at a cultural center where there were vendors in individual huts selling their goods.

There were even outdoor toilets in case you felt it was too much work to go inside.

Eddie bought some baskets and the. We went coffee shopping. Our hosts were determined to find good coffee for us so they took us to a grocery store and then to a large distribution facility where Alice had interned many years ago.

It was closed because it was Saturday – I thought it would be a great automotive service center. We returned to our hotel to finish packing and headed to the airport.

Our flight was late arriving and when we were pretty certain that we were likely going to miss our next flight they notified us that the flight had been canceled. Apparently there is some damage to the airplane.

They offloaded all of our bags from the airplane and we had to collect our baggage and there was chaos throughout the airport because they are completely disorganized and have no protocol for handling this type of the situation. Everyone was crowding around the airline staff to get answers that the staff had no answers for. We waited patiently off to the side where they asked us to wait until finally we realize that everyone was being exited from the airport but they had not come and told us what was happening (big surprise).

We went outside with everyone else and one of the hotel staff loaded the five of us into a small Toyota crossover. We thought there was no way we would all get in there but the driver had Nathan sit in the back seat and he piled bags on top of Nathan and filled the rest of the back cargo area and we all managed to pile in.

They put us up in a very nice hotel for the night and now we are waiting to hear from the airline with an updated itinerary.

I was very pleased to find a jewelry transport case in my room to make it easier for a thief to find everything at once.

At this point, 9:00 PM, we don’t know when we are leaving. We just hope it will be tomorrow.

Please be praying.

Meet with The Big Man

Today started with an interesting run. After saying good morning to the laundry man I found someone to unlock the gate so I could leave the hotel campus.

About 1/2 mile from the hotel there was suddenly no traffic on the main road. I thought to myself “I swear there were a lot of people out here just a minute ago”. There was no traffic and no pedestrians. As I ran another half block there were two armed police officers/military personnel with automatic weapons standing in the intersection and they stopped me and told me to leave the road. They pointed me off to the side of the road where I found a group of people and cars, all of them waiting for something to happen. I then realized there must be a presidential motorcade coming through. I saw a pickup truck with a bunch of military personnel speeding by and then the road was empty again. About two minutes later, coming from the opposite direction, were two pick-ups with military personnel followed shortly behind by a motorcade of several cars and then more military personnel behind them.

As soon as they passed the road was once again packed with traffic and pedestrians. It was a little bit later of a run than I have done the rest of the week so it was considerably warmer as the sun had already risen.

I found my old friend and took a photo with him and then returned to the hotel, fighting traffic on the sidewalk as cars and motorcycles were driving up the sidewalk to avoid the backed up traffic. This is not unusual to find people avoiding the traffic jam by just going around it – and nobody seems to care.

The traffic was almost more of a hazard than the razor wire coiled up in the middle of the sidewalk. Don’t run in the dark, this would be an ugly thing to trip on.

If you’re reading this so are your customers. You could be advertising here

Alice and Severin took us to meet the senior official in charge of the prisons for the entire country of Burundi.

He is a Christian man who was very welcoming and was very pleased that we were here in the country doing the work that we are doing.

He knows Alice and is very familiar with the work that she has been doing in the prisons for many years

Nathan spoke for a few minutes to explain to him in more detail who we are and what we do, and then he presented gifts to him.

We prayed for him and he welcomed us to come back anytime we wish.

At the end of the dirt road of our hotel is a fast food take-out restaurant. We stopped here for lunch but as we walked in it appeared that they do not cook food here because there was no kitchen visible. As we looked further we saw that there was a small hole behind the counter about 2 ft. square at the floor level, and behind that hole was an area behind the restaurant where they do all the cooking.

2,130 fr = $1.00

The food was fast and fresh and hot and it fed eight of us for $9.50, including beverages.

We returned to the hotel were Eddie and Dan rested for a few hours while Nathan and I conducted a performance audit with Alice. Tom sat in to learn.

It’s always good to sit down with the nationals and learn more intimately about their lives, their ministry, their families, their needs and their goals. This is also a time when we set goals and expectations for them and review with them what benchmarks they have hit or have not achieved.

We had gifts for each of our nationals as we always do.

After the audit we all went out for our final goodbye dinner. We had hoped to leave early and be at the restaurant by five or six o’clock but we didn’t get out of the hotel until about 6:30. On the way to the restaurant we hit heavy traffic and a public van/bus took the mirror off our van. Our driver and Alice got out to haggle with him and we got underway again after about 20 minutes.

Alice and the nationals had a hard time finding the restaurant where they wanted to take us so we drove around for about 45 minutes before they settled on a hotel restaurant near the lake.

We waited more than an hour for our food and we were eating at about 9 o’clock. We were not back to the hotel till almost 10:30pm for another late night.

Every day has been gruelingly long, starting early in the morning and never getting home until late evening.

The Title Can’t Be Rumonge

Jet lag is just kicking me hard on this trip. I can’t seem to get a full night sleep, waking up at three or 4 o’clock in the morning every day. It wouldn’t be so bad except that our days are very long and we are not getting to bed until after 10 o’clock each night. As I write this it is 4 o’clock Friday morning and I’ve been awake for an hour.

Thursday was a very tough day physically. We traveled 49 miles to the prison but it took more than three hours. The first 10 miles was through the city so it went smoothly, but the last 30 miles were an extremely destroyed Lakeside Road full of enormous potholes and very brief sections of remaining pavement. We left the hotel an hour and a half late, at 9:30 AM, and returned home just after 9:30 PM.

I remember the road to Rumonge Prison, a beautiful drive along the lake shore through massive palm tree plantations and palm oil extracting “factories” along the roadside. I read my notes from my 2012 journal and recalled that the roads were just as bad at that time.

Buildings all along the side of the road have red Xs on them. They have marked all of the buildings that will be destroyed when the French build a new road. Hundreds and hundreds of homes will be removed and I can’t help but wonder if any of these people will receive compensation and be relocated.

It was a beautiful drive and quite warm and we arrived at the prison at about 1 o’clock.

I don’t have an actual count but there are roughly 1000 inmates in this prison. As we entered, I didn’t immediately recognize the institution. It wasn’t until we went to the courtyard and I saw the covered open-air building that it became familiar to me again.

We met with the second in command and he greeted us warmly, as usual, and he gave us permission to do anything we would like while we were there.

We went to the covered area in the courtyard where the prison church was already there awaiting our arrival.

As we walked through the courtyard I waved at other inmates and motioned to them to follow us, to come join us.

As soon as we arrived to the church they began worshiping and dancing.

Dan couldn’t resist and had to jump up and start dancing with them, with Eddie very soon to follow.

They sang about four long songs before Alice stood to greet them and welcome us.

Tom gave the IGL message today and Dan served as the MC. Nathan gave his testimony, followed by Eddie giving a short sermon about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and then Tom gave the long sermon about Jesus being Lord of the Sabbath, followed by me giving the altar call.

Dan prayed privately with the inmate church leaders while the church sang.

Nathan gave the gifts to the inmates and we closed by teaching them our handshake.

We asked the women that were in the service to leave and go to the women’s section of the prison and we followed them there to distribute the feminine products.

They were a little more than 30 women there and four or five children. We distributed baby hats, diapers, and Johnson’s baby soap to the babies.

Each woman received a days for girls feminine napkin package. I wish I could explain the looks on their faces when we give these to them. It is such a blessing to them and to receive something brand-new, especially something so soft and pretty and usable, brings such joy to their faces.

It was now 3:30 PM and we had a 3 1/2 hour drive to get back to Bujumbura so we had to leave quickly. On the way out, seated in the entrance area of the prison, were many women visiting their inmate spouses or family members. Several of them had little children or babies and I had some of the female packages remaining so I asked Alice to explain them to them and we gave away the rest that we had brought with us to this institution.

The drive home was long and rough and we got back to Bujumbura at about 7:00 PM. We stopped at a restaurant for dinner where they told us it would take 15 minutes to get food. As expected it took more than an hour. They did have a good variety of food so Eddie got what he thought was going to be fish and chips but it was a whole fried fish that was quite dry and some French fries. After two bites he gave the rest of the fish to Jean-Claude. The rest of the nationals nibbled every last piece of meat from the bones, one of them eating even the head and leaving nothing but skeleton behind.

Our driver had also ordered dinner but was not part of our party. Eddie invited him to join us and we offered to pay for his meal. I explained to him why we were going to the prisons and shared the gospel with him just before our food came. Being a Roman Catholic he believes that he is fine because he confesses his sins to the priest. I explained to him the Christ is the only one that can forgive our sins and that he is the only mediator between God and man.

Arriving home at the hotel at 9:45 we all immediately went to bed.

Breakfast tomorrow will be at 8:00 AM as we don’t have an early morning planned. We have no more prisons to visit this week and Friday we will be visiting with some government officials, the head of the prison system, and then we have our audit with Alice in the afternoon followed by our goodbye dinner.

It’s been difficult to build strong relationships on this trip because of the strong language barrier. Often times, I think we fail to exert enough effort to overcome that barrier, something I personally need to work on.

Babies and Bubanza

I ordered coffee but they brought me breakfast.

Coffee came 45 minutes later along with everyone else’s breakfast. Nathan held devotions this morning and we were ready to hit the road at 8:00 AM.

We’ve had some problems with communication and finances the past couple days and, unfortunately, it’s been causing some ill feelings. I recognized this and determined that Nathan and I needed to speak with Alice and Idrisra. We all came to a full understanding and it relieved some tension that had unfortunately developed. I think it brought great joy to each of us and was one of the roses for the day.

We have a new van today. The van from yesterday is being repaired so we have a monster. It was quite comfortable but all good things must come to an end. Tomorrow we will be traveling some very tight roads so we will get our old van back after it has been repaired.

We traveled out of Bujumbura, passing by a lot of small industrial stores and individual roadside booths of vendors. We then came to lots of rice patties and farmland. We learned that they have three growing seasons in Bujumbura. The climate is wonderful for growing food and the soil is rich. Severino, our interpreter, told us that food is in abundance and not a problem for anyone, but money is difficult to come by. Burundi is the poorest country in the world per capita.

90 minutes after leaving the hotel we reached the prison at 10:30 AM. I have been to this prison before, I remember it well. It is a small institution but, as usual, is very overcrowded. The conditions are poor, very dirty and cramped. We could hear the men and women worshiping inside the prison when we arrived.

We met with the officer in charge, a very skinny man, and very kind. He welcomed us with joy and told us we could go anywhere and do anything while in the prison.

Nathan presented gifts to him and then Tom and Eddie took pictures with him and then we prayed for him and went into the prison.

As we entered the prison the courtyard was to the left but we went to the right into a courtyard outside of the women’s cell. It appears that this is the courtyard for the women. The church was worshiping as we entered, approximately 150 men and women packed into a small area. They had a table and chairs set up for us so we were seated against the wall in front of everyone.

They sang several songs and danced and then we began our service. Dan served as the IGL and then passed the baton to Tom who served as the MC. Each of these men did a great job in the position that I have not seen them fill before. Dan then gave his testimony and then Tom introduced Eddie who gave a sermon on Jesus turning water into wine. He does a great job getting the inmates engaged. Tom then introduced me and I preached a sermon about the rich young ruler and then Nathan nailed it with the altar call. I don’t have an accurate count now but there were roughly 30 hands that went up during the altar call in a group of men and women that clearly was the church in this prison.

People very often don’t have a clear understanding of the gospel and believe they are fine because they’re in the church, but until you hear the truth, believe in the risen Lord, and repent of your sin you are not saved.

Dan then prayed for any inmates that needed healing and Tom prayed for the inmate church leaders as we all gathered around and laid hands on them. Nathan then gave the gifts to the inmates and we closed our service.

We had enough feminine napkins for every woman in the prison so we left the courtyard and went into the women’s holding cell. There were 20 women and, I believe, five children.

There was one baby sleeping on the floor to the left of the entry door and the rest of the ladies were gathered in a group on the floor before us. They all smiled and were happy to see us. Many of them were in the service but a few of them had not come out to be with us.

The room was much larger in comparison to the men’s cells for the number of women that were there. There are no mattresses, only blankets on the floor. We showed them the days for girls pads and explained to them how to use them and I distributed one to each of them.

Alice then gave them some baby diapers and some other products for them. As we were ready to leave one of the officers came in and told one lady she was being released. She gathered her things and walked out as all the women cheered for her.

As we left the prison we stopped in the infirmary and met with the nurse. Tom presented her with all of the medical supplies that we had brought from the US.

It was a long ride back to Bujumbura, and quite hot, too. As we reached the city we were about 30 minutes early for the conference so we stopped at a very nice area where there is a restaurant and some pedestrian docks over the water for hippo viewing. The water is very discolored right now in the lake because of all the silts running off the mountains because it has been the rainy season. This lake is enormous, spanning all the way south to Zambia. We walked around for about 20 minutes and then returned to the van to go to the conference.

When we arrived there at 4 o’clock we were the only ones there. A few more leaders showed up very shortly afterward.

Nathan opened the conference with a welcome and then Dan spoke about our prison adoption model, teaching about churches adopting prisons so that the inmates can be visited and discipled regularly. Eddie then taught about church planting inside the prison and Tom spoke about forming an advisory Council. I then taught a module on fundraising and then Nathan led a brainstorming session for all of the nationals to work together to determine what problems they are facing and some solutions for those problems. All of this training is far beyond what any of them have had before and, as we discussed after the conference, we don’t feel that most of these people have an understanding of how to problem solve. I think problem-solving would be a good module to teach in the future.

I was not feeling well partway through the day today. My stomach was upset and I wondered if I was getting sick. I was concerned but by God’s grace I started feeling better shortly afterward. My upset stomach returned to me later in the afternoon and by dinnertime I just was not feeling well.

I was exhausted at dinner time. My steak was like a piece of leather and I couldn’t eat it but I didn’t need it so I ate some French Fries and went to bed.

I don’t think my head was on the pillow more than 60 seconds before I was out for the night.

Muramvya Prison – Nov 5

It was an easy and beautiful drive up and over the mountains two Muramvya prison. The temperature dropped about 10° by the time we reached the peak of the pass at 4,500 feet. It is a lush green, tropical climate, thick with vegetation and quite clean. I am very impressed with the beauty of this country and the lack of litter on the ground.

We arrived at the prison late, however, because Alice and her husband were stuck in traffic and arrived at the hotel 45 minutes late. By the time we had everything loaded into the van we were an hour late leaving Bujumbura.

At our 7 o’clock breakfast Dan led our devotional time, speaking from the text in Ezekiel 37 on the valley of dry bones. We have found it easiest to order our breakfast the night before so that it can be ready on time. Meals take about an hour and a half to prepare after being ordered if we are at the hotel so each morning we are eating the same thing. It is a far better breakfast than we often have on our overseas prison ministry campaigns. We have an omelette (an egg with two tomato slices), a large selection of delicious fresh fruit, rich coffee and bread. Dan asked for butter this morning and we watched the hotel employee go to the till to get cash and come back 10 minutes later with a fresh tub of margarine-he had run to the store to get it. We joked that this might be the same tub that we see if we come back in another two years.

As we arrived at the prison we met with a security guard and the officer in charge. They immediately invited us into the prison but I asked if we could meet the OC in his office for a few minutes before we go in.

I explained to him who we are is a ministry and told him many of the places we have been and the purpose for our visit.

I then presented him with gifts for his children, which are four years old and one year old, some gifts for his wife and some for him. I explained to him that we are sent here by our family and friends and that we would like some photographs, if possible, to share with them. He told me that it was forbidden so we left our phones in the car.

We took a quick team photo with the humanitarian aid and then entered the prison.

This was Eddie’s first time in any prison. As we walked in we stepped down the stairs into the prison yard which was small, very congested and quite dirty. There were about 100 inmates lingering around the area and about 100 more seated under a white tarp that was stretched out to serve as a canopy for programs, a sort of a stage.

There were men and women in this group and they were worshiping as we arrived. We all sang a couple songs and then we began our service. As I started the service I walked out into the courtyard and hollered to everyone that was not in attendance and summoned them to come and be with us for an hour.

Nathan introduced the team as our emcee and then Eddie did a great job ad-libbing his testimony. Later in the evening, at dinner, he told us that that was his highlight of the day. He had prepared his testimony but when we were in the prison he presented it completely differently than he had intended. He did a great job.

Tom then gave a short sermon about the paralytic man that was lowered through the roof to see Jesus and then Dan gave a long sermon about the parable of the lost sheep. I rounded out the preaching with the altar call and about 130 men raised their hands to receive Christ.

Tom then offered a healing prayer for anyone that had physical needs and then Nathan prayed for the inmate church leaders, of which there were two.

Dan presented the gifts to the inmates-blankets, soap, rice, Bibles, medical supplies and Ibuprofen, and the soccer ball. We then taught them our Prisoners for Christ handshake and then Alice closed the service, her husband offering a prayer.

We told all the ladies that we had some special gifts for them so we followed them into the women’s portion of the prison.

We had to wait about five minutes while they unlocked the gate to the women’s prison, and I suspect that the women were preparing somewhat for us to come in.

We walked through a dark and dank short hallway and down some stairs to the gate and into a small courtyard that was approximately 30 x 50′ with a concrete floor and a deep trough through the center of it that serves as a drain. To one side was a 5′ x 10′ area where they cook their meals. At the far end were two latrines. At the other end, behind us, was a cell about 12′ x 30′. Along two perpendicular walls were two elevated beds. These beds are mounted to the wall and are about six or 7 feet deep and span the length of the wall. One is just above ground level and the other above it serving as a bunk. All of the ladies’ belongings are on these beds or hanging from the wall and it is obvious that all 47 of the ladies lie together on these bunks side-by-side.

These 47 women and nine children live in this very confined area 24 hours a day. One of the children was a boy approximately 9 or 10 years old. At dinner in the evening, as we did an exercise called Thorns and Roses, several of us said that the thorn of our day was to see in the ladies in this prison and the condition in which they are living. We all generally agreed that as men when we see other men in the prison we say “that sucks” but we have an innate sense that this is not right for the women and we feel a deeper compassion for them. Nathan states, and I agree, that as men we feel the need to protect the women.

We gave them the reusable, washable feminine napkins that my mother makes. Of the 47 women I will assume that the 40 napkins that we brought will be sufficient so that each woman who is of the age that she needs one will get one.

There was a young lady, probably not more than 20 years old, with a brand-new infant that had been born in the prison one week prior. We couldn’t help but think that this infant will likely not receive the medical care that it should have.

It certainly made me reflect upon the miracle of life and the value that God places on each one of us.

We left the prison at about 1:30 PM and our conference was supposed to start at 2:30 PM. There was no way we were going to make it there on time. As we descended the mountain the temperature increased by probably 20° and as we entered Bujumbura it felt like it was at least 85°.

It turns out that the conference time had been changed to 4 o’clock but we had not been notified. There were 12 people in attendance, including Alice and her husband when we got started just before 4:30.

We taught about Biblical examples of good leaders and bad leaders, Biblical Leadership Principles, Delegation and the Five Levels of Leadership. There was a break for snacks consisting of sandwiches, tea, and coffee that was as thick as mud and, as usual, everything was devoured (even though it was far more food than was necessary).

After the conference we went to the Hotel Martha for dinner. We had hoped to go to a restaurant but Alice took us to the hotel and, as usual, hotel restaurants take 60 to 90 minutes to prepare the meal. We returned to the hotel at about 9:30 and all of us immediately retired to our rooms, completely exhausted from the day.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, we have another prison crusade and our second leadership conference. It will be another long day and I am sure that we are all excited about it.