Building the Road Together

This blog post is not my own reflections on scripture or life, but rather an opportunity for me to share something I read recently that I would really like to share with you all. Much of what follows is an excerpt from a book I have been reading entitled, Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha.  In her book Kelley describes her experiences as both a person who was adopted and a mother of two adopted children and how those experiences have brought to life many biblical and theological truths for her.  She also writes about her husband, Claude’s work in Burundi as he strives for reconciliation among the tribes there.  The following is a story about Claude’s work that she writes about in this book. 

“One June morning Claude stood among thirty Batwa families on the edge of a pristine plot. For landless people, this was like crossing into the Promised Land. But they had taken only a few steps into their new home when angry neighbors met them, vowing to run them out. The hostility was tribal, the Hutu and Tutsi neighbors saying that the Batwa would poison the land. 

The thirty Batwa families were determined to “embarrass the neighbors with their love,” as the Burundian adage says. When the Hutus falsely accused them of stealing cabbages, the families gave them twice as many cabbages in return. When the Tutsis stole their carrots out of the ground days before harvest, the families didn't seek revenge but gave them potatoes, too … Our Batwa families had a prime location: land right on the main road with easy access to the elementary school, local market, and the little health clinic run by the Catholic nuns. For their Hutu and Tutsi neighbors, the most direct route to these resources was a rutted footpath along the Batwa property line. The neighbors tried to avoid touching the Batwa land, which wasn't easy, given the logistics of the area. The Batwa noticed how hard the coming and going was for their neighbors…the Batwa leaders asked if they could gift the land on the periphery of their property line to the large community for the creation of a public road for their neighbors. This project would involve the Batwa ceding about 10% of their land for the welfare of their enemies. Their only stipulation? That their neighbors had to build to road with them. Over the next six months, Hutu, Tutsi, and Batwa neighbors worked together every Saturday morning to build a car-worthy road right to their doorstep. At first, the mornings were quiet. The neighbors needed the road but begrudged the givers and tried to keep to themselves. But over time the animosity began to unravel. The men came with their told and their sense of humor, they began laughing and working in mixed groups. Working together, they became friends. And when the road was finally done six months later, they walked it together in peace.”

            I was just so struck by this display of forgiveness and love, which follows so closely with how Christ calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies and how John the Baptist called people who have two coats to give one away.  I hope this story is as encouraging and challenging for you as it was for me when I read it this week.