Stories That Bring People Together
In January 2012, I was asked to document a Mission and Service Trip from Trinity Church in New York City to Burundi in central Africa. Below is a sample blog entry and some of the photographs I took.
Trinity is a historic Episcopal church at the head of Wall Street. Founded in 1697, it has served New York City as a vibrant downtown parish. It also maintains partnerships with Episcopal and Anglican churches and organizations around the world. Burundi is a small country, bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that suffered through a war similar to Rwanda's. Burundi is now stable and attempting to build peace and reconciliation.
By taking trips to visit partners in their own cities and villages, members of Trinity's congregation and staff learn about different cultures and customs, share stories and experiences, and trade skills and expertise. The trips bring people from very different worlds together for long-lasting friendships.
How To Build a Church: Stone by Stone
Our next day started by meeting with the Archbishop and his staff to debrief on our trip so far and to hear more about their goals and priorities.
As the Rev. Matthew Heyd said in one of our pre-trip meetings before we left New York, the old way of doing mission work was to go and tell people what they should believe and what they should be doing. But the more effective way, the way Trinity intends to do its mission work, is to go and make partnerships and to listen to the stories that partners have to tell. They have a rich history and know best about what they need, and if you listen carefully, you will find out how you can help.
Of the many things that came up during the meeting, one was an opportunity for some new buildings. This fit together quite nicely for what was in store for us. After the meeting, we were to drive an hour to another small town called Rutana where we would be helping to build a new church. On the way, we stopped at the Source du Nil, purported to be the Source of the Nile.
And then it was on to Rutana where we were greeted by the leader of Rutana’s Anglican Church, Archdeacon Pontien Ribakare. The next morning, we met Archdeacon Pontien at the work site. His parish is in the initial stages of building a new church. All of the workers on the site, referred to as Christians, were volunteers. We would be working alongside them.
What we saw and experienced was incredible.
Some background for comparison: Trinity’s offices overlook the World Trade Center site, where construction is ongoing on several new skyscrapers. Every day, trucks are parked on the streets outside Trinity’s offices waiting to deliver steel and other materials to the site. Lines of dump trucks cart material away. Tall cranes loom over the site, hoisting material to higher and higher heights. And occasionally you hear the boom of explosives used for excavation work. In general, there is a constant din that indicates the ongoing work.
But at the site in Rutana, everything is done by hand with simple tools. There are no cranes, no bulldozers, no dump trucks. Rock that needs to be excavated for the foundation is broken by hand with a sledgehammer, extremely tiring and difficult work. And in fact, one of our first tasks on the site was to move some of the broken rock out of the site. There were no wheelbarrows. We simply followed what everyone else was doing. We bent down, picked up as much rock as we could, and deposited it on a rock pile at the side of the site. We also helped move concrete from a pit where they mixed the dry concrete with water and stones. Some young men formed the steel rebar by hand to help reinforce the concrete posts.
One image that stayed with us was two women with babies on their backs working alongside everyone else.