Burundi is a small country in central Africa that’s shaped like a heart. Not the kind of heart you doodle on a page, but the kind of heart that thumps in your chest. The heartbeat of the capital, Bujumbura, is a rhythm of drums. It’s not unusual at any point of the day to hear the beated songs pulsing out across the city. Drums are the national instrument. I cannot imagine having as much rhythm sitting in my fingers as the drummers you could hear playing through the humidity.
Unfortunately drums aren’t always the only sounds you can hear. In the build up to elections in 2010 the sound of grenades going off ceased to be unusual, I would hear them ringing through the night as I was lying under my mosquito net. It was only the second free and democratic presidential elections the country had seen, and there was only one candidate after opposing parties withdrew over accusations of fraudulent polls. According to some reports, in the week leading up to elections there were sixty grenade attacks across the capital, in protest against the single-candidacy. The security level was deemed to be borderline level four, which translates as compulsory evacuation for all non-nationals…If you hit level five, the borders are sealed and no one goes in or out.
While I was there God challenged me about the power of prayer. I saw individuals’ circumstances utterly turned on their head by prayer, but I also believe God did some remarkable things in the political sphere as a result of prayer:
On the evening before Election Day, a huge group gathered and prayed through the night and the following day for the country. I have never seen people praying so passionately. Later that week we heard that various tribal and political groupings were said to have discussed and even presented detailed plans to attack Bujumbura during elections, and yet Election Day on June 28th passed peacefully, and instead of war, was promptly followed by peace talks with all major opposition parties. I really believe prayer dramatically turned around many things in the country that day.
Our Bibles instruct us in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, to present our requests to God (Phillippians 4.6). What would it look like if we began to see prayer as a really tangible response to problems in the world – not just as something abstract and full of good intentions, but as something that is an incredibly practical response to huge issues? To political tensions like in Burundi. Or to poverty, natural disasters, persecution, corruption or disease. Our God is a big God, and yet too often we manage to avoid taking the big issues of our world to him; or we get overwhelmed by the scale of the problems we see, and do not dare to pray for specifics….
Prayer changes things. Let’s find out what it looks like for our generation to take to our knees. We might just be surprised by the change we see.