Dear Friends and Family,
If you grew up in church, at some point you probably sang the words to Louisa M. R. Steads classic hymn “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” The chorus of the song concludes with the lyric “Oh for grace to trust Him more.” We have needed grace to trust Him more today.
A CALM, PREDICTABLE START
We began our journey to Burundi this morning very early. In fact, the gentleman at our guest house who begins sweeping the concrete every morning right outside our window at 4:00am had just begun his hours long ritual when we were walking out the door and heading to catch our ride to the airport.
In the pre-dawn morning, the Nairobi streets are calm and quiet, a rather stark contrast to the snarled traffic, chaos, and cacophony of gritty African urban life that arises with the sun. Having arrived at the airport, checked our luggage, and eaten a quick breakfast, we were at our gate and ready to meet our Central African coordinators in Burundi.
Burundi is a landlocked country located in the Great Rift Valley where the African Great Lakes region converges with East Africa. An interesting tidbit of history on Burundi is that it is one of the few African countries whose borders were not determined by colonial rulers. Unfortunately, Burundi is also one of the least developed countries in the world. More than 40% of the population are facing chronic food insecurity. Nevertheless, Burundi is stunningly beautiful with its gentle rolling mountains covered with lush greenery and dotted with towns and villages.
GENERAL HURDLES WHEN TRAVELING
As you know by now, planning the logistics for this trip has been a nightmare. The presence of the Omicron variant has only added to the layers of complexity, confusion, and frustration when it comes to travel. One of the primary problems is the multiplication of documentation needed for entry. Not only do you have to have a negative COVID test, but it must be a specific kind of negative test, a PCR test. Then you need not only to have the test, but you must also download the test onto a national website that generates a QR Code. But don’t forget your receipt for the test because even though it doesn’t say so on the state department or country’s website, you will need that receipt for entry. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a hard copy of the test results because even if you have a QR Code, you still need to produce the hard copy as well.
But that’s not all. Add in a health surveillance form, which must also be downloaded and from which a QR Code must be generated and a QR Code for an appointment to take another COVID test when you arrive at the airport, and soon you are so confused and overwhelmed with documentation you don’t know which end is up.
Welcome to our arrival at the Bujumbura Airport. We were certain we had crossed all our T’s and dotted our I’s, but alas we were wrong. We had been told that since our stay in Burundi is going to be only two days, the COVID test at the airport would suffice for departure and entry back into Kenya. The most surprising thing is we believed it! Even though we were only going to be in Burundi two days, we are still required to have a test on arrival (charge $100) and before departure at a government approved site (charge $30).
REPEAT COVID TEST
After receiving our COVID test at the airport and grumbling about the absurdity of it all, we departed and met Boniface Okalo our coordinator for Burundi. Having checked into the hotel, we knew we needed to go immediately to have yet another COVID test to give enough time for the results to come back so we can depart on Sunday morning. Here’s where things degenerated.
We discovered on arrival that you can’t just go in and get a test. Believe it or not, another QR Code was required to register for the test. Of course, there was no one stationed at the entrance to the clinic to give us any information. No signs posted on the walls. No information given on the website. Pretty much everyone spoke French so we were strangers in a strange land and couldn’t even ask how to go about the process. Finally, after about an hour of frantically trying to figure out the process, we hit the wall. Have you ever been there? When your last nerve is frayed and, in the words of Popeye, you “have had all you can stands, and you can’t stands jt no more?” Oh, for grace to trust Him more.
After a few minutes of grumbling about the injustice of it all and calling down curses on the clinic, a good Samaritan finally gave us the right information and we were able to generate the appropriate QR Code. Having received the test from a rather surly and unhelpful staff, we finally exited the clinic and grumbled all the way to lunch. Oh, for grace to trust Him more.
(NOTE: To travel, you need a PCR test, which has always been done by swabbing the nose. In both cases today, they did the exact same thing just 2-3 hours apart. They did a throat swab. Now we are wondering if either was actually a travel-required PCR test. We are supposed to get our report Saturday before leaving Sunday morning for Kenya.)
WHAT MATTERS MOST
Fortunately, our time with Boniface and Joel Mananga, our DRC assistant coordinator, redeemed the day. Hearing the exciting reports on ITEM’s work in Burundi and the DRC reminded us that God is always at work growing His kingdom despite human weakness and inability. Even in the foaming waves of human chaos and confusion, God is at work redeeming and renewing. Oh, for grace to trust Him more!
Tomorrow, Saturday, we have invited the Burundi team to join us so that I can get to know them and them me.
Pray that the test results get to us tomorrow, a promised.
Most importantly, pray that the test result is negative and qualifies as the necessary PCR test.
Pray also for out time with the Burundi team that it will be a time of encouragement for them.
Your Partner in the gospel,
Chris (ITEM VP)