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What’s your name? My “One-Story”

August 1, 2013

During the course of building a short film about our experience in Africa I asked each member of our team to submit a “one-story” – A short interview about one thing. Maybe a brief moment that involved a profound human connection that may have stood apart from all others. Here’s my “one-story”:

It was our 2nd day in the village of Bugenyuzi where we, along with a team from Harvest for Christ – Burundi, were assisting the Batwa people with some building and VBS type activities. The scene, from the time we arrived, was chaotic (in a loud/ fun/ adventurous way). From the moment we stepped off our small bus and started walking the trails into the mountainous village, there were people – crowds of people. Most seemed glad to see us, some were maybe just curious but everyone seemed very excited to have visitors. They followed us everywhere, closely. They wanted to touch our skin and shake our hands. Some would ask for food, or money or just find humor in the fact we didn’t understand their language. It was always a little noisy, lots of chatter, even singing and laughter! And everyone loved to have their picture taken and then gather around to look at the result. I believe that many of them have never seen their reflection or image before. As someone who was responsible for filming I always had a camera with me and usually a small group of people close by – always. The African culture seems to have a different understanding of “personal space” than we have in the west – and for good reasons.

As someone responsible for filming, I found myself often observing my surroundings thru the confines of the lens more than experiencing the journey. And in a way I guess it acted as shield or buffer sometimes. I think the camera often distracted me emotionally from the devastating poverty and pain that was just, well, – everywhere.

On this day, however I found myself a little restless. I’m the type of person who values solitude. Sometimes I just need to be alone and get quiet with my thoughts and feelings, to process, go for a walk and meet with God. It seemed quite selfish but, I found myself wanting to break away from the village and look at the countryside, and walk, and just think and be alone for a few minutes. But that probably wasn’t a very safe idea.

So in the afternoon I looked out across this open area and saw a large rock that was about as tall as I – maybe 50 yards out. I tucked my camera away in my bag and when things quieted down I slowly walked out to this rock. And amazingly no one followed me. I saw a few villagers along a nearby trail. I waved, smiled, and greeted them with “Amahoro” which means peace. They politely smiled, waved, replied the same and went about their daily activity.


I got to the rock, leaned back against it, and just gazed out at the mountainous horizon. It was beautiful. I then lost it a little, emotionally, as the harsh realities of my surroundings began to sink in a little deeper. I asked God what it was I was supposed to be learning here. Just then I glanced down to my left side and noticed a boy who looked to be about 8 years old, quietly standing next to me, his little hands tucked in his dirty pockets, just leaning back against the rock with me – quietly looking out at the mountains. And we just stood there, the two of us, taking in the mountains and the air.

After a minute or so, I again looked down and he looked up, smiled, and in simple English with a French accent he slowly said “what’s your name?”

I said “Gary”. And he carefully repeated “Gary” as if to make sure he had it right.
I then asked “what’s your name”? He said “Rafael”.
Struggling for something else to say, I asked if he was having fun building the house. (I don’t know if he understood but he smiled and looked over toward the construction site). Then, using the only other Kirundi words that I knew, I pointed toward the building where my son was working and said “Umwana Wanje” which loosely means child mine. And before I could finish my sentence he said “Zach”? He already knew who my son was and remembered his name!

Then within a few seconds an old villager approached and chased Rafael away. I don’t know if he thought the boy was bothering me or if he was looking out after the boy’s safety. Either way I never saw Rafael again and couldn’t pick him out of the large crowd that gathered as we left the next day. I desperately wanted to say goodbye, but I couldn’t.

This whole encounter at the rock seemed like it only lasted maybe 2-3 minutes but had a profound impact on me. There was a child who appeared to be searching for some solitude and just wanted to hang with me. It’s as though he got the whole Psalm 46:10 thing that says “be still and know that I am God”. There are times when we need to stop and just release things. “Be still” means to let go. Understand that God is God and I’m not. Find comfort in His care and oversight.

So I pray for Rafael. In my mind I think maybe he could someday become the “person of peace” of this village. That calm leader who listens for God’s voice and brings hope and healing to an otherwise hopeless situation. My prayer is that he grows up with a loving heart and a care and concern for his people – to lead them toward the God of the Bible and the love and grace found in Jesus Christ. Maybe that’s what this trip was about. Maybe this boy needed to see that some one cared enough to travel half way around the world to just listen and “be.”


From → burundi/ africa, life

One Comment
  1. I read your “one story” through tears, tears of being wrecked over people I’ll never know…except that you shared. You all shared and we are forever changed. I’m looking forward to other’s “one story.” May we never forget the Batwa people of Burundi.

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