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Taking care of the orphans

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WORLD Radio - Taking care of the orphans

Civil war in Burundi left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned


Photo courtesy of Jean Bosco Mutebutsi

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 20th.

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Helping orphans after tragedy strikes.

Burundi is a small country in central Africa. In the early 90s, ethnic tensions in the region hit a breaking point. Hutus and Tutsis had been at odds for decades and their conflict broke into war. Even as neighboring Rwanda devolved into genocide, the two groups fought for control of Burundi.

REICHARD: The civil war didn’t end until 2006. The violence left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned.

One man who survived the slaughter is working to help them. Here’s WORLD correspondent Grace Snell with his story.

GRACE SNELL, REPORTER: Trouble was brewing, and seven-year-old Jean Bosco Mutebutsi knew it. His parents knew it too.

It was 1993, and Burundi was on the verge of civil war. Warning signs were everywhere. One man from his ethnic group–the Tutsis–had already been murdered. Neighbors were cutting down trees and blocking roads so the army couldn’t intervene.

The family fled to a remote mountain region and took refuge with relatives for the next two weeks. But danger followed them.

BOSCO: So, after thirty or forty five minutes they had left, this is when we heard a mob, like so many people around the house that we were in. All of a sudden we heard throwing a huge stone on the front door and the door was, you know, wide open, so myself and other two cousins of mine we run through the back door…

A man Bosco knew shot an arrow after him. The shaft barely missed.

He hid in the bush for an hour before returning to the house. What he found haunted him.

BOSCO: So, I and my sister went back to the place, like to the house where we were and then we found many dead bodies, my mom included. So, you know, just really horrific stories. Maybe I thought I'm this little boy who could not do anything to help the mother and just to protect my loved ones, I was kind of having this clear objective in my mind that I want to grow up, join the army, and then get a gun and go after the person who killed my parents, that was really my clear aim.

Bosco and his sister escaped to a refugee camp for three months. They reunited with another sibling and moved to the city to weather the war.

Bosco started boarding school. But his mind wasn’t on his studies. Violent memories played over and over again in his head. A teacher noticed him sitting alone and started inviting him to her church. Eventually, he agreed to go.

BOSCO: So, I showed up and the pastor was preaching on John 15--the vine and the branches–and he was sharing how there's no way that branches can have fruit or can have life in them unless they’re connected to the vine. I had no life at all, because I would sometimes sit on my own and keep reflecting on what I saw during the civil war, then I decided, when he did an altar call, went in front, and then he prayed for us and all of a sudden I started to feel peace and joy and the Spirit of God getting into my heart and transformation was happening.

Bosco started attending church and a Bible study back at school. He joined Youth for Christ and traveled around telling others about Jesus.

But there was one question he couldn’t shake.

BOSCO: What would have happened to you if like during the civil war when you lost your parents and you had not got anybody to take care of you?

Bosco knew the war had left many others orphaned, widowed, or penniless. He prayed for a way to help, and felt God leading him to Bubanza—a forested western province devastated by rebel raids.

So, he offered help to a church in the region. But it was a terrifying step. Battle lines in Burundi had fallen along ethnic lines, and most of the people there were Hutus. Sometimes villagers killed outsiders who came to help them.

BOSCO: Most of the people who are in that village used to be in the rebel groups, so killing is just an instinct for them. But I believe that I was sent by God in that area, and I’m so thankful that He protected me all those years that I’ve been around.

A church leader introduced Bosco to a single orphan. From there, he befriended others who had lost one or both parents in the fighting. He held a Bible study for them in a borrowed classroom once a week.

BOSCO: I started to share with them the Word of God. I was always telling them, “Guys, there’s nothing else I have. All I have is the gospel.”

Most of the kids Bosco taught got baptized and joined the church. He started a discipleship program to help them grow in their new-found faith.

BOSCO: I can see most of them, they’re very responsive to the support, because we bring in the word of God and share that God is the father to the fatherless. The thing is we have so many people that don't have their parents.

One boy Bosco worked with never knew his father—a rebel who raped his mother when she was a young girl. Now, the boy calls Bosco his father.

BOSCO: When I was still young, I would hear children call their parents, like “Mum” or “My father.” Then it would come back to me. Then I was like, you know, “I don't have no one that I can call that.” So, I do understand when these kids, when they call me their father, they have this need in the back of mind that they want to call someone their father, but he's not there, so now I've become the father figure.

Now, Bosco and the church support 150 kids in the village. Some of them have single mothers widowed in the war. The church works with them too, and provides homes, garden plots, and school fees for the families.

BOSCO: We don't buy into the idea of having orphanages, because we think that orphanages takes people from their communities, and it's hard for them to reintegrate. They are in the community, they are being treated like other kids who have parents, and that way we believe it will be much easier for them to transition from our program and then become independent citizens.

Both Hutus and Tutsis work on Bosco’s team. They hope to prevent future ethnic conflict by showing the kids a better way.

BOSCO: Many people just go into killing one another because of manipulation from the politicians who have their own gains. Being a Tutsi, and I have served them, they get to understand that all Tutsis are not bad, and they get to understand, this is not a tribal issue, it’s just the devil that causes people to hate others.

Seven kids have now graduated from Bosco’s program. He believes they’re key to long term healing in the country.

BOSCO: We believe that then we are bringing in transformation for all Burundi because, we believe we are raising a generation that can think on its own. My dream is that they may not be stopped by the fact that they’ve lost both of their parents, but have another chance, or have another opportunity to be who God has designed them to be.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Grace Snell.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 20th.

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Helping orphans after tragedy strikes.

Burundi is a small country in central Africa. In the early 90s, ethnic tensions in the region hit a breaking point. Hutus and Tutsis had been at odds for decades and their conflict broke into war. Even as neighboring Rwanda devolved into genocide, the two groups fought for control of Burundi.

REICHARD: The civil war didn’t end until 2006. The violence left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned.

One man who survived the slaughter is working to help them. Here’s WORLD correspondent Grace Snell with his story.

GRACE SNELL, REPORTER: Trouble was brewing, and seven-year-old Jean Bosco Mutebutsi knew it. His parents knew it too.

It was 1993, and Burundi was on the verge of civil war. Warning signs were everywhere. One man from his ethnic group–the Tutsis–had already been murdered. Neighbors were cutting down trees and blocking roads so the army couldn’t intervene.

The family fled to a remote mountain region and took refuge with relatives for the next two weeks. But danger followed them.

BOSCO: So, after thirty or forty five minutes they had left, this is when we heard a mob, like so many people around the house that we were in. All of a sudden we heard throwing a huge stone on the front door and the door was, you know, wide open, so myself and other two cousins of mine we run through the back door…

A man Bosco knew shot an arrow after him. The shaft barely missed.

He hid in the bush for an hour before returning to the house. What he found haunted him.

BOSCO: So, I and my sister went back to the place, like to the house where we were and then we found many dead bodies, my mom included. So, you know, just really horrific stories. Maybe I thought I'm this little boy who could not do anything to help the mother and just to protect my loved ones, I was kind of having this clear objective in my mind that I want to grow up, join the army, and then get a gun and go after the person who killed my parents, that was really my clear aim.

Bosco and his sister escaped to a refugee camp for three months. They reunited with another sibling and moved to the city to weather the war.

Bosco started boarding school. But his mind wasn’t on his studies. Violent memories played over and over again in his head. A teacher noticed him sitting alone and started inviting him to her church. Eventually, he agreed to go.

BOSCO: So, I showed up and the pastor was preaching on John 15--the vine and the branches–and he was sharing how there's no way that branches can have fruit or can have life in them unless they’re connected to the vine. I had no life at all, because I would sometimes sit on my own and keep reflecting on what I saw during the civil war, then I decided, when he did an altar call, went in front, and then he prayed for us and all of a sudden I started to feel peace and joy and the Spirit of God getting into my heart and transformation was happening.

Bosco started attending church and a Bible study back at school. He joined Youth for Christ and traveled around telling others about Jesus.

But there was one question he couldn’t shake.

BOSCO: What would have happened to you if like during the civil war when you lost your parents and you had not got anybody to take care of you?

Bosco knew the war had left many others orphaned, widowed, or penniless. He prayed for a way to help, and felt God leading him to Bubanza—a forested western province devastated by rebel raids.

So, he offered help to a church in the region. But it was a terrifying step. Battle lines in Burundi had fallen along ethnic lines, and most of the people there were Hutus. Sometimes villagers killed outsiders who came to help them.

BOSCO: Most of the people who are in that village used to be in the rebel groups, so killing is just an instinct for them. But I believe that I was sent by God in that area, and I’m so thankful that He protected me all those years that I’ve been around.

A church leader introduced Bosco to a single orphan. From there, he befriended others who had lost one or both parents in the fighting. He held a Bible study for them in a borrowed classroom once a week.

BOSCO: I started to share with them the Word of God. I was always telling them, “Guys, there’s nothing else I have. All I have is the gospel.”

Most of the kids Bosco taught got baptized and joined the church. He started a discipleship program to help them grow in their new-found faith.

BOSCO: I can see most of them, they’re very responsive to the support, because we bring in the word of God and share that God is the father to the fatherless. The thing is we have so many people that don't have their parents.

One boy Bosco worked with never knew his father—a rebel who raped his mother when she was a young girl. Now, the boy calls Bosco his father.

BOSCO: When I was still young, I would hear children call their parents, like “Mum” or “My father.” Then it would come back to me. Then I was like, you know, “I don't have no one that I can call that.” So, I do understand when these kids, when they call me their father, they have this need in the back of mind that they want to call someone their father, but he's not there, so now I've become the father figure.

Now, Bosco and the church support 150 kids in the village. Some of them have single mothers widowed in the war. The church works with them too, and provides homes, garden plots, and school fees for the families.

BOSCO: We don't buy into the idea of having orphanages, because we think that orphanages takes people from their communities, and it's hard for them to reintegrate. They are in the community, they are being treated like other kids who have parents, and that way we believe it will be much easier for them to transition from our program and then become independent citizens.

Both Hutus and Tutsis work on Bosco’s team. They hope to prevent future ethnic conflict by showing the kids a better way.

BOSCO: Many people just go into killing one another because of manipulation from the politicians who have their own gains. Being a Tutsi, and I have served them, they get to understand that all Tutsis are not bad, and they get to understand, this is not a tribal issue, it’s just the devil that causes people to hate others.

Seven kids have now graduated from Bosco’s program. He believes they’re key to long term healing in the country.

BOSCO: We believe that then we are bringing in transformation for all Burundi because, we believe we are raising a generation that can think on its own. My dream is that they may not be stopped by the fact that they’ve lost both of their parents, but have another chance, or have another opportunity to be who God has designed them to be.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Grace Snell.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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