“God always gives me hope” – The Lutheran malaria program in Burundi

Posted on October 27, 2014 by Jessica Nipp Hacker
Jessica Nipp Hacker

Pastor Jon Macumi leads a two-point Lutheran parish in Mishiha, in the province of Cankuzo​, Burundi.

Pastor Jon Macumi for web

“I have been participating in malaria training through the Lutheran World Federation for a long time,” Pastor Jon relates. “Even in Tanzania [where I was a refugee for many years], I was in charge of teaching other people ways to fight malaria.  Here in Burundi, from the time this LWF program started, I have received [additional] training.  And since I was already familiar with malaria symptoms and how to prevent it, it was easy to keep talking about malaria.”

Pastor Jon preaches the Word of God from his pulpit, and he teaches about malaria too. “Sometimes a person has malaria and doesn’t realize it, but instead thinks it’s some other illness.  Then we advise them to go to the health center, because we know the symptoms of malaria.”

Even armed with this knowledge, Pastor Jon has not been immune to the effects of malaria in his own life. “When I got sick myself recently, I first experienced some fever, then I had a backache, followed by body aches. I went to the health center and they gave me medication. I feel better now, since I can get some work done.”

Through his experiences with the work of Lutheran World federation in two different countries, Pastor Jon has gained a deep appreciation of LWF’s ministry. “Lutheran World Federation does a lot of good things in this community,” he affirms.

“We used to experience hunger because of a disease that attacked cassava plants.  At that time, LWF did the best to help those who were hungry, first giving them food and then also helping us find ways to increase the yield of our cassava plants.  We uprooted all the plants that were affected by the disease.  All around us now, we are happy with the cassava plants. Nobody complains now,” he says with a big smile.

And that’s not all. “Second, LWF has taught us how to work in collectives so that people can come close to each other and work together.  These groups are doing well.  People formed associations: some loan cooperatives, some farming cooperatives, some trade cooperatives, such as opening restaurants and selling bread and other things.  All of that is a sign of improvement.  [Small enterprises] help individuals support themselves and their families.”

These relief and development programs (which were supported in part by ELCA World Hunger) paved the way for the more recent malaria program in Burundi.

“LWF now has trained us in ways of fighting malaria, which is a very serious illness,” Pastor Jon says. “When we advise patients to go the health center, they go and get medication, and they recover – because malaria is a curable illness.  Once they receive medication, they do recover and heal completely.”

In his parish work and in his malaria work, Pastor Jon encounters some challenges. Some people have difficulty affording medication for malaria or other illnesses. Occasionally the health center suffers a stock-out and cannot provide the medication that is needed.

Pastor Jon Macumi 2 for web

“When you go the health center and there is no medication for two to four days, those who are sick get worse. That’s something to pray for and to support,” Pastor Jon encourages. (LWF Burundi is working with local governments and health offices to advocate for adequate drug supplies.)

The Lutheran church in Burundi is quite new and still very small. Its pastors must work as volunteers. Pastor Jon commutes between his two parishes on foot, often walking all day. But he does not lose hope. “When I tell God about my own challenges and the challenges of others, God always gives me hope that our difficulties will end.”

Amidst the challenges, he finds joy in his vocation. “In my life, what makes me happy is praising God with all my heart.  What makes me the happiest is to work for my God.”

Pastor Jon offers this prayer for those who have supported the ELCA Malaria Campaign: “God, most respected, we pray for the ELCA so that you keep strengthening it, and give them blessings for the work we are planning to accomplish together in this region.  We thank you.  And when we meet again, may we be healthy so that we can be grateful.  In the name of Jesus Christ, our King. Amen.”

May it indeed be so!