Plant With Purpose works with some remarkable and dedicated local leaders. I met one of these recently on my trip to Burundi. Pastor Damien is the founder of the Horeb Church on the outskirts of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.
Damien, at right, with Plant With Purpose board member J.K. Shea and Burundi Director Lazare Sebereko
Pastor Damien has a lot of be thankful for these days, with a thriving church of 150 people, a village savings and loan (VSLA) group of 25 people that meets in the church. In addition, the church grows and sells disease-resistant banana plants for $1.00 each and has already sold almost 300. Recently even the president of Burundi visited the church and, to show his appreciation, Damien gave the president a gift of 40 banana seedlings from the church’s nursery.
Plant With Purpose has supported all these aspects of Damien’s work, including helping build the tree nursery, providing banana cuttings and supporting and training the VSLA group. The church also hosts a Theology of Work group, which is training church and community leaders, many of whom have spent years languishing on refugees camps, on the importance of productive work.
Speaking with Damien, one might never guess all the difficulties that he has been through. In fact, his church was founded out of his experience of a serious illness, followed by his near-execution by a local militia. He explains, “I was not a believer in God and had become very sick; I spent six months in bed and lost my sight. At that time I had a vision of a church surrounded by a banana field, and God restored my sight. It truly was a miracle.”
But he still had more suffering ahead of him. As a member of the Hutu tribe with a Tutsi wife, Damien was targeted by extremist Hutu militias, who kidnapped him and took him to the jungle to be executed. As he was about to be killed, he asked his kidnappers, “Am I the only one here with a wife from another tribe? If there are others, why not kill all of us, rather than just me?” To his surprise the guerilla leader asked for a show of hands of who else had a wife from another tribe. The crisis became a moment of conviction for the group, who realized the mistake that they were making, and he was released. Even more remarkably, the guerilla leader and Damien became friends. Damien became the pastor the church, and the other man became the current President of Burundi.
As we talked Damien showed us the banana field that had been his vision. It had been a garbage dump and hostile local authorities dumped even more garbage on it when they learned of his plans to build a church there. His friendship with the president paid off and he was able to overcome their opposition. Now he has good relationships with all his neighbors, who are participating in the VSLA group and buying banana seedlings from the church. The old hatreds between Hutu and Tutsi are continuing to fall away, as both groups work together to seek a more peaceful and prosperous future.
At Plant With Purpose we are often asked how it is that we are able to combine economic, agricultural and spiritual development. Pastor Damien embodies this three-fold emphasis as he seeks to serve the many needs of his community. It was a privilege to meet him, and a great encouragement to know that he is just one of many men and women who are fulfilling similar roles.