Today's UPI column. This story is a conflation of several days and events. But it is all true.

So There I Was
Bujumbura, Burundi

Bc: January 9, 2006


Under my mosquito net listening to the call to prayer from the mosque a couple of blocks away. The neighborhood dogs are all very religious as they howl along. It is four a.m. and the darkness is still thick. The sun will rise at an equatorially predictable six, as it will set at six each evening. The birds start their morning worship at five.

I am normally a late sleeper, but here in Burundi I take coffee at first light, sitting on my second story porch which overlooks the rooftops to a turquoise Lake Tanganyika.

We have trees in our yard that only Dr. Suess could have drawn. There is a huge crane that looks disturbingly pterodactyl as he swoops by. Yesterday he dropped a large fish on the tin roof over my bedroom. The fish flopped about noisily until the crows came and finished him off. The racket that crows make on a tin roof eating a live fish is unbelievable. The crows wear formal attire, white shirts and collars under black jackets – very Burundian – dress-up very every occasion. The bug du jour is a six inch dragon fly which swarms by the hundreds. It is quite a breakfast show.

It is Sunday and soon we are all washed and coiffed and dressed in our finest to attend Kamenge Friends Church. There are nine of us in the six seat car – room to pick up a traveler or two. The neighborhood of Kamenge is the poorest in a country that is one of the poorest on Earth. Kamenge Friends is a church of 800, and my friend is the pastor. They have a rather unQuakerly eight choirs. Worship is loud and long. Old George Fox might recognize the long, but probably not the loud. But it would not matter because Jesus hangs out at Kamenge Friends, and anybody can recognize that guy.

The pastor arrives fashionably late and makes an entrance with his entourage. The American visitor makes the entourage more interesting.

There is a commotion at the back of the church. The pastor has been called. A group of men surround a man writhing on the ground. He has been bound hand and foot and beaten. Perhaps a thief has been caught. Now the pastor waves the men back and squats down and speaks slowly and gently to the bound fellow. Then he commands the ropes which have cut into the man’s flesh to be untied. He puts his hands on the man and calls for water. He speaks quietly to the man for several minutes and then gives a long set of instructions to the others. The injured man is taken up and away. Much more gently that he arrived.

I am told that he was agitated and found to be conversing with people that no one else could see. Demon possession, of course. Beat it out of him. If that doesn’t work, drag him to the church for prayer and beating. I am told that sometimes hot sticks are put into the ears to stop the voices of the demons. This fellow was lucky. The pastor they hauled him to was not only compassionate, but a mental health professional. Sucks to be schizophrenic in Africa.

Jesus said that His mission, and so ours, is to preach good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, and to set captives free. At Kamenge, this work is done quite literally.
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