Coming Home (through & to war zones)

Walking with Batwa of Burundi // Photo Credit: Tina Francis
Walking with Batwa of Burundi // Photo Credit: Tina Francis

Two weeks ago I was in transit from Burundi (East Africa) to the United States. The news flashing across multiple media outlets – CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC – highlighted the Israeli incursion into Gaza, the advancing of ISIS in Iraq, the confusion around the downed Malaysian airline in Ukraine and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

I boarded my plane aware of other passengers, hoping none were travelers from West Africa. I reminded my daughter to keep her hands to herself, the transmission of Ebola on my mind. As I watched the interactive map in flight, I prayed about the outbreak of violence in Libya and Gaza while we split the difference and flew through Egyptian airspace. I moved through the skies with awareness we dodged war zones on our way home after our Burundian summer.

I’d only be home for a set of days before I’d be reminded of the systemic injustice and racism that still resides in my homeland. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer sparked cries for justice and showcased the community’s sense of marginalization. In my own country I witnessed nightly broadcasts of protests, militarized police in riot gear, tear gassed crowds and looting on American streets. Another war zone, it seemed.

What stood out in my mind with clarity – there is deep injustice here and there, at home and abroad. No place is exempt from oppression, disenfranchisement, tribalism or the need to cry out for justice on behalf of the dispossessed.

As people who travel to help others, who move across borders to defend the weak and champion justice overseas there remains the challenge to see and stand for justice at home. If we are blind to our own inequities, our dulled discernment diminishes our capacity to advocate for justice elsewhere. If we cannot stand alongside the vulnerable in our own neighborhoods then our work abroad reveals us to be altruistic adventures and not consistent peacemakers.

My personal challenge as a community development practitioner in Burundi is to bring the same eyes, the same ears, and the same commitment to justice back home with me. Yes, I see the vulnerable in Burundi, the Batwa people pushed off their land and living without protection. I hear the cries of those impoverished and homeless, as their homes were washed away with unexpected flooding one rain-soaked night. I watch with great concern as another election approaches and the majority maneuver to keep power. But when I return home I must work to bring those same sensibilities home with me and not allow my advocacy to go on furlough.

(Am I the only one who sees this as a challenge for practitioners who reside abroad and move in and out of our home country?)

Coming home has reminded me, I always travel with the prophets and their imperatives to pursue justice. Wherever I am, I’m called to stand alongside the brokenhearted. I am invited to walk with the oppressed and work for liberation. I’m exhorted to work for economic justice and equity for all and to embody God’s reconciliation wherever I am, at home or abroad.

Isaiah’s words ring in my ears: “You will be called repairers of the streets where people live…” I pray this is the testimony of my life whether I am in Burundi or the United States or anywhere in between. I hope I will have eyes to see injustice and ears to hear the cries of the vulnerable wherever I reside, always ready to do the work of emancipation. Justice knows no geographic boundaries.

Wherever we are, at home or abroad, let’s run hard after justice.


Do you see injustice as easily in your home country as abroad?

Is there the temptation among us to allow our advocacy work to ‘go on furlough’ when we are stateside?

What is your most unexpected re-entry struggle or observation?

Kelley Nikondeha |  community practitioner in Burundi

blog  |   Twitter  |  @knikondeha

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