When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee… ~ Isaiah 43:1

“They came to kill me at my home.”

He says this around a bite of banana stew.

His name is Simeon. Dressed in a purple shirt with a priest’s collar and wearing a thick gold cross, he’s a church planter, and the father of our Lulu Tree Director of Finance, Steve.

He’s referring to one of three tribes here in Burundi, because tribal tension here is strong.

We’re seated on the wharf, at a restaurant in Bujumbura. The waters of Lake Tanganyika sound like thirsty tongues.

We’re here after five days of meeting pastors and driving up-country. We’re here after seeing the place where Steve grew up, where his dad planted the first of 60 churches. We’re here after standing on the hill where five-year-old Steve ran from the militia in 1993.

“I got to the river and I couldn’t cross, because I was scared of the water,” Steve says. He’d been separated from his family in the chaos. He remembers being all alone, on the banks of the river, the militia closing in. Someone picked him up and carried him across the river. They brought him to his family.

“I was so scared for him,” his mom, Marie, says. “I didn’t sleep all night.”

A civil war ensued, and Steve’s family moved to a refugee camp in Kenya. From there, Steve and his sisters went to school in the US.

In 2011, his parents returned home to Burundi. Steve went home six years later to visit. But he’s the same boy he was when he was young.

“He was always gone,” Marie says. “When he got home, we would ask him where he’d been. He would say, ‘I was measuring the roads.’”

The roads have taken Steve and his wife, Alicia, to North India, where they serve the unreached. They’ve also brought him back to Africa through The Lulu Tree. Since 2021, Steve has traveled with me, leading financial trainings in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, South Sudan, and Uganda.

We’re in Burundi, now, because just one in 10 pastors here has formal training. We’re here because it’s the poorest country in the world. But mostly we’re here because God loves Burundi.

Our first night in Burundi, Steve’s dad gathered the regional pastors in his living room. He opened a bottle of red wine, and I introduced The Lulu Tree, how we’re looking for serious men, faithful men, to train. Men who will do as Paul urges Timothy and carry the Word to other reliable leaders.

Steve’s mom leaned forward and nodded eagerly. She told of one pastor who chose one verse and read and re-read it throughout the entire service, simply changing the words around, because he didn’t know what else to preach.

The Spirit, and the wine, lifted the pastors’ tattered souls and they stood and sang. They sang and they clapped and we worshiped together.

“Africa doesn’t have much,” Simeon said, “but it has singing.”

I gave them Audio Bibles in their native tongue, Kirundi, donated by InTouch Ministries. Steve’s dad topped up the wine glasses, and they resumed singing and dancing. Then his mom read from Romans 7.

I prayed a blessing over them before we parted. It was a night of communion.

In the days following, Steve and I visited a village church where I told them I loved them and they cheered and cheered. Verbal affirmation, here, is scarce. Rarely does someone say, “I love you.”

Then we visited a farm Steve owns with his brother. They decided to donate pigs and land to The Lulu Tree.

We will start there. It is our hope that one day this farm will sustain Harvestime training and community projects across Burundi.

We don’t know the way across the river. Poverty and lack chase us — disunity plagues the churches and homeless children roam the streets.

But we have Someone who carries us. And we have the sound of Africa singing as we go.

(post by Emily)