Article by: Pastor Michael Olmstead
We were picked up about 9:30 am to visit the Pygmies of Muyinga with the Guerison des Ames Church. Thanks to funds sent from America, the church had bought food, clothes and juice bottles for the Pygmies and refugees in a nearby camp. A team from the church had left earlier in the day and distributed the food and clothes. We went up into the mountains and saw rural Burundi. What a beautiful country, but what hardship and poverty. Many, many people walk along the side of the road going to or from Bujumbura with goods to sell. Bikes with young men on them, often laden with bananas, charcoal, fruits or vegetables labored up the mountain road or were flying down the hills at breakneck speed due to the weight of their freight! Women and children walked along the road and women with hoes, as well as children, were working the soil right next to the road. At certain points we got an excellent view of the valleys between the mountains and saw the hillsides and valleys full of fields of produce and banana groves and houses with paths connecting house to house. Fires burned with a blue smoke which is their recycling program. Weeds are burned, which explains all the smoke we saw when flying into the country.
It took three hours to get to Ngozi from Bujumbura. From there it was another hour to Muyinga. There we found 7,500 people living in a United Nations refugee camp. Almost all of them were from the Congo. The Pygmy village was right next to the Refugee settlement center and the Pygmies are at the bottom of the social/economic ladder in Africa. They are rejected by everyone. We were told that when the church tried to approach the Pygmies several years earlier, they ran away. They seemed to act like animals. They had no clothes and no food. The church began to leave little presents and slowly over time, the Pygmies started trusting them and letting them talk with them. The church has provided clothes for them and food over the past two years. They have planted a church next to the Refugee settlement site. .
When we arrived in the Pygmy village, we were immediately surrounded by people. Scores of them—young and old! They stood inches away from us and stared! We smiled and greeted them, shook hands with them, Anne took pictures of them and they loved seeing the picture of themselves on the screen of her digital camera! They are beautiful people—made in God’s image. We examined a Pygmy hut and one woman complained that her young daughter, about three or four years old, had accidently set their hut on fire. Their grass and stick/burlap sack house had burned to the ground and all the things the church had brought her had been lost. The pastor spoke with other men as well as he heard their version of the story. The children pressed in around us and a few tried to speak English. I was surprised and delighted!
Mimri, introduced himself. He was 26 years old and a teacher at the U.N. school next to the refugee camp. He teaches English. I commended him for helping others learn and improve themselves so they may get further education if they desire.
We visited the nearby church, which was in session. We were seated front and center behind the table with a white cloth. After singing, we were introduced. The pastor spoke and told why we were there and how, though we didn’t know them, we were concerned about them and how God used us to help them by buy land for the church in Bujumbura. Then I was asked to preach/speak. I didn’t know that I was expected to preach until we left that morning! I was talking to the Lord about this most of the way there, asking him for a text. The one that settled peacefully in my soul was John 14.6. And Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” The Lord helped me proclaim the gospel to them and Barbara translated my words into French and Pastor Ruben translated them into Kirundi. It was a privilege and an honor!
Barbara Appleby also spoke and she really connected with the people! Her French, her love for Africans, her relationship with many African refugees, including the younger sister of a woman on the front row! This younger sister is a heart friend of Barbara’s (Sophia) and Barbara was ecstatic that here in this place and on this day, at this time, was her older sister! This is a God occurrence! Barbara hugged and kissed her and the people’s eyes lit up with joy and expectation. It was beautiful to observe! Lord, you are so great and good!