Yesterday there was a Christmas Party in Matara! All the Community of Faith / Communities of Hope staff traveled to Matara to celebrate together with the families there the good news of Jesus coming and bringing peace.
Fanta was flowing, donuts for children of every age, drumming, dancing, speeches, singing and praying included everyone, guest and Matara residents alike. Our friends were eager to give a tour to COH friends, since it was the first visit for some of the new staff working in the city. When our team gets together, it is always a time filled with fun and rejoicing in how God provides and how He brings true transformation to entire communities.
The families Matara know the Christmas message from the inside out – the advent of Jesus means good news for the poor, a chance to start life anew and hope for a transformed tomorrow. They know that Jesus is a new kind of king who makes a new kind of life, one rooted in love, possible. They have demonstrated that love in Matara and blessed the entire region, making enemies neighbors, making strangers friends and showcasing God’s goodness for all.
Here are a few impromptu snapshots from the party…
So Merry Christmas from Matara… where the good news of Jesus abounds! May you know His peace this Christmas!
The women pushed in close for the picture with their ink-stained fingers, clutching their blue cards. Smiles were hard to contain – and why should they even try? This was a day to celebrate because the tide was beginning to turn for the Batwa of Bubanza. As of today no one could ignore them or deny their existence any longer.
For generations the Batwa survived on the edge of society, consigned to live out of sight on inhospitable land. They did not hold the deed to any land, they did not even hold an identity card in their hand. As far as the world was concerned, they did not exist. With no official record of their existence they could claim no rights, no representation, no residence or real home. For all intents and purposes they were invisible…exiles in their own land living in the shadows of Burundian society.
But that is not how we are created to live. God calls us out…literally. In Isaiah 49 God speaks to his servant, telling him that there is work to do in the margins – where people have been pushed off their land and out of society’s sight. God instructs his servant to begin reestablishing these exiled people in their homeland. But it begins with the call to the people to ‘Come forward! Appear!’ Come forward – you are authorized to leave the bad situation of the past, you are invited to move forward toward the new season about to break open. Appear – it is your time to be seen, to be visible. God desires to see people rooted in their homeland and able to be visible and full participants in community life.
This week we took a big step in the direction God points to through Isaiah… the first batch of identity cards were delivered to Bubanza!
There are over 1000 adults in Bubanza and most do not have identity cards. Getting one is not an easy process – you must offer proof of birth and have local authorities verify your residence. This is hard to do when you live off the grid – who can represent you? Since none of them were born in hospitals (so no birth certificates), there is no proof of birth in the country. This is where we come in and do the necessary work of advocacy. Over the past set of weeks Little Claude made a list of all the adults residing in the community and worked to certify that list through local channels. He and Claude escorted the government representative to Bubanza, showing him the community and allowing them to verify that these families do, in fact, live on the land in this province. There was more paperwork to complete, pictures to take, fees to pay… but the good news came that the first group of 120 people could get their identity cards!Our team decided to make the women a priority – so the first group to receive their cards were women. Last week the government official came and set up a tent in Bubanza and issued all the cards. The women came, one at a time, and were finger-printed. Then their identity cards were stamped… and they became official residents of Bubanza, citizens of Burundi!These little blue cards represent true membership – visibility that cannot be denied. Possession of an identity card means that these women are now full members of their society. They can vote, their children are now eligible for birth certificates, they can go to a hospital, they are protected from unlawful arrest and their local leaders must represent their voice. This card also shows their address, for the first time, they are residents of Bubanza. They have a place. This is a great start to claiming basic human rights and moving toward land rights.For us, this is a realization of God’s dream! God wants theses families to come forward, to appear – to be visible members of their community with a voice that can be heard. This week the step from the shadows into the light of full visibility is starting… the first 120 have identity cards. (Now we just have about another 900 to go… one week at a time!)