Saturday night the students invited us to their home one last time. This was their final night of the school year, and they wanted to commemorate the occasion together. The next morning they would all return to their villages up country for the summer months.
Claude, J.J. and I drove up the driveway and could see students sweeping and cleaning out their rooms. Liberate walked up the drive, dressed in a golden shimmering dress to honor this special night. As we entered the front room, which is the meeting room, we noticed all the students were in their finest clothes. All the men were wearing their new ties, looking so smart – and proud. Evariste and Diane ushered us to tables, indicating that we were considered the guests of honor. But in my mind, it was the students who were to be honored!
They had made it through their first full academic year in the Community For Burundi house. So this would be the final house meeting. Diane called the time to order and began by inviting the dancers to come. Always dancing… a sign of celebration, appreciation and accomplishment. Then Martin stood up to offer a word of gratitude on behalf of all the students. He recalled how many of them came last September from up country, from places that were so remote that they never had to cross streets with cars. Here, he said, we had to learn how to dodge the cars in the street to walk to school! He spoke of living in such a nice house, having three meals a day and all they needed for classes. He reported all they did – learning in school, studying at home, learning English, having weekly Bible studies and weekly cultural lessons. And while he confessed it was hard at times, he said that they were all so thankful for the year and all that they learned. ‘We learned to dance and pray and learned that we are smart!’ He, for the group, thanked Community For Burundi for making this all possible.
Then came two men to share a song they had written for this occasion. One had a guitar, the other the lyrics scribbled on a paper, both wearing blue baseball caps. He sang about coming from far off to live together in this house last September. He sang about learning to use computers and learning to dance the traditional dances. He sang about how, in June, friends from Texas came to visit us and show us that they loved us. And the chorus, in a whispered Batwa rap, was simply: Community For Burundi, we thank you repeated three times in heart-felt succession.
Then Liberate addressed the students, as a mentor and leader to these students. She reminded the students of where they were heading – back to the villages. She reminded them that in the villages they would likely eat only twice a week, unlike the three meals a day they enjoyed in the student house. And she admonished them not to complain, but to be leaders in their villages. She asked them to lead in attitude and in service this summer. She noted that as she looked at them tonight, all decked out in ties and dresses, they look like true leaders. So she encouraged them to be leaders even when the conditions are hard. But she also shared how proud she was of each of them. And, as she is want to do in recent days, she let streams of tears escape down her chocolate cheeks. She remains tender, she remains touched by all God has accomplished in this year.
Evariste offered more words of encouragement. He, too, old the students to not complain this summer when they are home. Instead, help and put your leadership skills to work for others. He recognized all the leaders in the community… which was every student. We learned that each student had responsibilities in the house during the academic year. There was the Minister of Culture, the Minister of Security (and several deputies), the Minister of Cleaning, the Minister of Food, the Minister of Prayer… everyone helped maintain the house and maintain the peace. And so they did all exercise leadership. Some did not ever have to do that before – but this year they learned that they can lead, this was especially good news to the women students! So they were thanked for helping making this home run well and making this first year a success.
There was more dancing – and I know that after we left there would be even more dancing. They had made it through the first year together. The 40 that started in September were the 40 we danced with in July. And, we pray, these will be the 40 that return in September.
Now I invite you to pray for our students. They are returning to their villages, some to Bubanza, Matara and places like Mikike. They will be reunited with their families and their homes. But they will miss each other, miss some of the comforts of the student house… it may not always be easy for them. Pray for them this summer as they are home. Pray that this time will deepen their connection to their communities and to the plight of the Batwa, that this summer will strengthen their resolve to become leaders of change for the Batwa in the years to come. May God’s work continue in them.