Burundi missionary history

(By Alyssa)

Jess recently wrote a post about hidden talents from our visitors and how they encourage us. I'd like to add another visitor to that list. We recently welcomed a visitor who was born here in Burundi in 1948! We learned so much from her about Burundian missionary life decades ago. Here are some snippets of stories that might interest you, too:
  • Several of her missionary aunts and uncles attempted to come to Burundi in 1941 on a ship named the ZamZam. While crossing the Atlantic in the middle of WW2, however, the ship was bombed and sank. The missionaries were rescued and one of Faith's aunties even was able to rescue her typewriter! Here is the gravestone for one of her missionary aunts (about 2 hours away from us in Kibuye): 
  • World War II was still raging when Faith's parents came to Burundi in 1943, so they traveled through the South Atlantic instead. That meant taking a ship from California around the Southern coast of South America and on to Cape Town in South Africa. But unfortunately their passports arrived two days after the ship left California! Their colleagues went on the ship and her parents were able to arrange a flight from California to South America. Then they waited for a month in Uruguay before a freighter could take them across the South Atlantic to South Africa. From there they traveled north on trains and boats to Burundi. The entire journey took 6 months! 
  • Their first child died in Burundi in 1944. 
  • Faith was their third child and she was born at home in 1948, though a doctor from Kibuye Hospital came to stay with her mother for one week. 
  • Her father helped build and lead a church in a place called Kayero. The church is still being used - they were having a meeting there when we arrived! And they are building a new one, too, so the congregation seems to be thriving there.
    The church built by her father at Kayero
    The field where she used to play as a kid outside the church
    Her childhood home still being lived in by the current pastor's family
  • In those days, Burundi was called Ruanda-Urundi and was under Belgian rule (the Belgians had taken over from the Germans after WWI.) Faith remembers when the king of Belgium came to visit. A fellow missionary kid was asked to clean up the outhouse in case he should need to use it. In the process, the child lit a match which caused the outhouse to go up in flames just as the king arrived! (The child was ok.)  
  • Faith remembers being in 6th grade when Burundi gained their independence. 
    The scenery is gorgeous around Kayero
    This is called the German Cliffs - there is an old German outpost here from before WWI
    And Karera falls are not far from her childhood home 
  • She was in school in Mweya for several years (currently a Bible training college with the dorms still in use.) 
    Visiting Mweya (about 45 minutes from Kibuye)
    Barb and Wayne Vibbert, who currently live in Mweya, first arrived in Burundi in 1976, so they knew Faith's parents but she was already grown up by then
    Exploring Mweya
    Faith with her dorm in the background
    Faith's old classroom - she's pointing to where the class of students being actively taught sat while the others did work on their own (one room schoolhouse). As the oldest child in the school her 8th grade year, she was responsible for teaching the younger ones how to read! 
  • For 10th grade, Faith's family was in the US. Midway through her 11th grade year, her parents returned to Burundi. She didn't see them again until she was midway through college! 
  • Faith's parents retired from Burundi in 1979. 
  • Faith began working as a laboratory technician at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya nearly 40 years ago and she plans to retire in 2019, so she wanted to take this opportunity to see her childhood home for the first time since the 1970s! We first met her and Annette (Canadian respiratory therapist who traveled with Faith to Burundi) when we worked at Tenwek from 2009-2011. Both Faith and Annette offered helpful expertise and teaching to our staff and students in their respective areas. 
It's so interesting to me to learn about the Burundi of 70 years ago. But I'm thankful that it only takes me 24 hours or so to get to the US rather than 6 months! Burundi was as beautiful as Faith remembered. Some things are the same such as the colorful Burundian fabric and the traditional farming tools, but she noticed great improvements in education and healthcare from her day, so that's encouraging. I wonder what Burundi will be like 70 years from now when our missionary kids come back to visit! 


Cindy said...

Fabulous! These recollections are riveting. Such a sweet experience to get to spend time with her.

Rebekah said...

What a treat for you all to have Faith come to Kibuye!!

Jeff & Christine Stanfield said...

We are so glad Faith was able to experience Burundi again! How fun for you to be along on her journey down memory lane. Thank you for documenting it in word and picture! This is so fun!! Thank you for sharing!