“No kids died in any of our churches last month.”
JJ Ivaska polls the Religious Care Group, “Five years ago, how many children died every month?”
“Up to three children from each church.”
Women throughout Buraza Commune in Burundi, Africa, were gathering in Care Groups to learn hygiene, nutrition, well-baby practices, and malaria-prevention from World Relief promoters. At first the Religious Care Group—Anglican, Pentecostal, Catholic, Free Methodist, and local denominations’ leaders—learned the same material as the women. After that, they continued to meet to support and encourage one another.
“Before, we couldn’t even tell that children were in bad health,” reports one of the leaders. “Traditionally if a kid was sick, we thought it was a curse. Now we’ve changed our thinking and go to the hospital. Before, kids had worms. Now we’ve been told how to do treatment in our homes. Many kids had kwashiorkor. That has diminished. We used to think that to cure malnutrition, we had to find food from outside the country. Now we can feed ourselves local foods. Women’s awareness has been raised.
“We are servants of God in our churches. We teach the gospel, but we also bring the information that we get in the group.”
For five years, pastors and lay leaders from six denominations in Buraza Commune had met together weekly. World Relief gathered the 15 congregations for an initial retreat where they asked:
The group decided that their greatest resources were the time, effort and love each congregation could extend to its members and neighbors.
Each pastor mobilized one hundred volunteers. World Relief trained the volunteers. The churches chose a lay leader, a delegate to support the volunteers. Among the curricula being disseminated was “Families for Life,” a marriage and parenting study for couples.
“‘Families for Life’ has become like the Bible for many pastors,” laughs the delegate. “They’re preaching it in every sermon.”
For most of Burundi’s church history, there were twelve, geographically divided denominations. Now there are four hundred. In 1990, a law passed that gave people the freedom to start new churches. This liberty led to tensions inside existing churches and exacerbated the genocidal strain of the war.
“Our strategy is to empower churches across all denominations,” says Ivaska. “Education is the key to how World Relief works. We believe in transformation from the inside out. People have deep heart issues where we see sustainable change.”
“The church is a channel of influence,” add leaders in the circle. “It is an easy way to get the message to lots of people. Non-church-goers receive the messages because members spread them to neighbors. Kids in church spread the messages to other kids.
“Members in good health are good for the church. If they aren’t well, the church has no future. To support children is to support the work of God.”
Ivaska commends their work. “In Isaiah 65, God promises that a time is coming when no children will die. We are encouraged to see how God is making this true in each church. We are all praying and working for the day when it is true. Your commitment to know what God has promised will come to bear. This is an encouragement for us to serve our own churches.”
Colonial’s partnership with World Relief provides more than good social programming. It equips the church in Burundi to disciple her members and in turn, her members build up their churches.
What is God’s vision, his mission?
He says, “I am about to create a new earth. . . . No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days. . . . They shall not bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord” (Isa 65:17, 20, 23).
In Burundi, God is using the church to bring about his new earth. If that is what he’s doing in Burundi, what on earth is he doing in the Twin Cities with the resources we have at our disposal?