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Where There Was Hatred

Filed under: — jen d @ 4:50 pm

It is a bittersweet thing to say goodbye to any brother or sister in Christ. It is bitter because we love each other; it is sweet because we know that we will indeed see one another again, even if not in this life. Donatille has been with us at the International Baptist Church of Boston for almost a year while studying in the city. She will soon be returning to her homeland, Burundi, a country rocked by political upheaval and ethnic cleansing. The following is her testimony of God’s grace as He’s worked it out in her life through circumstances frightening beyond most of our imaginations. God’s grace has not only saved Donatille from the eternal consequences of her own sins, but has saved her physically from those who would kill her, as well as emotionally from what most of us would consider a natural response of hatred towards those who would delight to kill her people. Her broad smile and warm, transparent personality betray no lurking bitterness against life’s often cruel circumstances. She herself has said that “Where there was hatred, there is now an [opportunity to share God’s love].” As conditions in Burundi continue to move towards greater stability, Donatille has heard stories about small groups who have been able to communicate the gospel across the ethnic lines that would otherwise separate them most violently. We hope you are encouraged by her testimony of God’s great power in the midst of human conflict.

I was born in Burundi, a country where the Name of Jesus Christ is known and about 80% of the population call themselves Christians. But the Christian faith is mixed with traditional beliefs and practices including spirits, witchcraft and animism. My family belonged to a Methodist church.

The Bible was my first reading; I regularly attended church service, children’s Sunday school, and vacation Bible schools. Thus I knew very early that there was a Hell for sinners and Heaven for the righteous. I was totally convinced that I was a sinner, but did not know how to escape from the judgment. I was dreadfully frightened by thunder storms, since the scriptures say in Matthew 24:27, “…as a lightning comes from east and flashes to west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” My mind kept the lightening as a sign of the coming of that Very Day. But otherwise I did not know or practice much of the actual Christian life.

When I was 8 or 9 years old, there was a time of spiritual revival in the country. I publicly received Christ and confessed my sins during that period. I have realized very recently in hindsight that my fear of judgment vanished. But the jubilation and excitement of the first days passed, and, overall, my life didn’t change a lot.

In fact, following this revival period there was a political crisis in Burundi; missionaries were cast out of the country, many native church ministers died or fled, and any gathering of more than two persons was forbidden. Therefore, there was no follow-up for the newly-converted. So I went on my way and ended up with a very narrow conception of what sin is. In my mind, sin was limited to murder, idolatry (which I associated essentially with witchcraft), adultery and “big” theft. I underwent the sprinkling “baptism” at age 16, not by conviction about its meaning, but as fulfilling a church tradition.

When I entered the University at age 19, I even gave up attending church services. In 1993, another political crisis broke out in the country and things were falling apart. People were cruelly killing each other as if human life were meaningless. I thought of narrowing my definition of sin even more and thought about the fact that I might kill in order to survive, but, thanks to God, I realized that I was not able to go that far. I eventually wished that I could die. But instead of death, the Lord chose that very time in May of 1994 to give me His Life. The following events describe how the Lord worked in my life through those frightening and painful circumstances.

One day in March of 1994 my younger sister who lived in a neighboring country took our three kids with her for a visit. That same night the security situation in our neighborhood worsened and soon after we were forced to leave it under gunfire.

In April of 1994 our “quarter” (neighborhood) was circled and put under the threat of mortar attack. One could only get out through a very narrow path, ½ a mile long, which was guarded by armed troops ready to shoot anything that moved in the area. Death was everywhere. We (my brother-in-law, my cook, his sister and I) nevertheless chose to try the narrow path. On our way out, we met people who were frightened to death. They were on their way back from the path and told us it was impossible to pass. As we entered the dangerous zone, crawling, we proceeded for some feet. As no gunshot was heard, we fearfully stood up and, still hearing or seeing no direct threatening sign, we boldly stood up and ran. We made our way out alive; why? Because by the time we reached the zone, a rumor of bridge sabotage had drawn the armed troops away from the path.

In May of 1994 all our belongings had been destroyed with the house we lived in; our kids were abroad; my co-workers with whom I had so far lived in peace were openly showing me deep hatred, and I was earnestly calling on death. At that very time, the answer came clearly to my mind. A thought ran through my head and my heart so clearly that it was as if a voice were telling me–in French, my native tongue–what would really solve my problems: “Donatille, the solution is in the Word of God.” When I realized that I was being compelled to search for a solution and, therefore, to live in the Christian way, my ego resisted fiercely. To start with, I had read the whole Bible once, and some of the books more than once, but I had previously seemed to find in it no solution to my innumerable problems; moreover, those who really are Jesus’ witnesses are despised in my country and are thought of as being rather stupid, especially in the way in which they greet each other by hugging and saying, “Praise the Lord!” or “Praise Jesus!.” I could not imagine myself becoming one of them–me, a Doctor! Never! However, about a week later the Lord brought that same thought to my mind: “Donatille, the solution is in the Word of God.” This time I heeded it. At that time, however, it was not possible to attend church services due to security issues, and so I had to search in the Bible on my own. The Holy Spirit taught me that I needed to pray first for my reading, and every morning and night I did so. Gradually, life along with peace came back into my heart. I began to realize what my problems were, i.e. my sins, along with WHO HAS and IS the solution, i.e., Jesus Christ through the Word.

As the security seemed to improve, we got the kids back and returned to the neighborhood in November of 1994. But the truce was for a short time, and we had to flee soon after for the surrounding hills. This time we had the three kids with us and I was pregnant with another one. My kids did not know that I was making my way in the Christian life, but one day while we were fleeing, we had to leave behind us our four-year-old daughter, Gloria, with my house-girl in the very midst of a battle field. My two older daughters reminded me to pray that they would not be killed. And so we prayed while we were alternately running and creeping to safety. God saved their lives

In the hills, God led us to a Christian family in which family devotions were held every day, no matter what the circumstances were. And there, while beholding our house burning, I learned through the Word that judgment and vindication were God’s only, and not mine. And there our last kid’s name, “Mahoro Dan Freeman” takes its roots. Mahoro means peace; Dan has something to do with God’s judgment and reward (Genesis 30:6). *Note: In my culture, we don’t have family names. The newborn is given his name according to what his parents’ feelings or wishes about him are, or according to a prevailing situation at his birth.

In July of 1995 my husband was leaving for the country for his studies and security was not resuming. It became impossible for me to live in the city and I left with the kids for the countryside in the eastern province. I could attend church services and, after resisting for a while, I was “truly” baptized in the Methodist church of which my husband is a member.

What God has taught me through His Word and life events from that very moment in May of 1994, along with the blessings that He has poured upon me and the solutions that He has brought to my problems, can’t fit in a two-page paper. But I’d like to share with you five main things that have tremendously contributed to changing my life.

1) He has uprooted all hatred and replaced it with HIS LOVE and FORGIVENESS.
2) I abide in HIS PEACE which surpasses all understanding.
3) He has given me HIS JOY; in fact, before I took a step to live in His way I could seldom feel and never express joy. And it took a pretty long while before I could rediscover and express joy.
4) He has taught me to cast on Him all my worries in PRAYER, no matter how big or small they seem.
5) He has given me the vital assurance that He will never forsake me and that I will live with Jesus Christ forever!

To all the IBCB, let me tell you that you have been a blessing for me. Before coming, I had prayed asking God to lead me toward people who love Him and who are respectful of His Word, and He showed me His faithfulness by sending me towards the IBCB through the furniture give-away. I got the furniture, and even more: I found a family.

May God bless you and draw into the church more people to whom you will be a blessing and vice versa!

Donatille is returning to Burundi on March 10th, where she intends to resume service in her church family and serve the Lord as head of a ministry for the poor. Pray for her safe travel; her family’s spiritual growth and well-being; political peace in Burundi; and the furtherance of the gospel through the testimony of Donatille and others like her.

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