Gordien* is easy to spot at the emergency feeding centre, as he’s the only man. There are pregnant women, new mums, grandmas, aunts and many, many children and babies… and there is Gordien. Sure, there are a couple of men observing from a distance, but Gordien is the only one taking part, with his little daughter, Donate*, in his arms.
All of my conversations so far about the current situation in Burundi – the deep, deadly hunger, the failing crops and the political turmoil – have been with women, so I’m keen to meet Gordien. He agrees.
As we prepare to sit down and talk, it starts pouring with rain. All of the covered spaces at this small, rural church are being used for the crucial purposes of the feeding centre, run by Tearfund’s church partner. So Gordien, Donate, the translator and I clamber into the back of an old 4x4. It’s the only dry place to go.
I ask Gordien why he’s here today, and he explains that Donate, the youngest of his four children, is dangerously malnourished. He carried Donate for an hour and a half, trekking along muddy hillsides, to reach the centre.
Gordien gestures towards Donate – ‘You can see for yourself, my child is sick,’ he says. And I can. I have a two-year-old at home, and she is nearly twice as big as Donate. My two-year-old is always on the go, whereas Donate lays still on her daddy’s lap the whole time we’re in the car.
‘Some days, we don’t eat at all,’ says Gordien. ‘When we have no food, we try to be patient, but it’s so hard when the children are suffering. I feel deep sorrow.’
Hunger is a massive problem in Burundi right now, with one in every six children suffering from malnutrition. Tearfund’s church partners, FECABU and the Diocese of Matana, are throwing everything into a response, running repeated eight-week feeding programmes in the most vulnerable communities. It feels like a David and Goliath kind of battle, but they’re not giving up.
Power in weakness
I ask Gordien about his family, and he tells me that his pregnant wife, Lydia, is at home sick. Gordien tells me that he came today because Donate needs food, but that it’s not the done thing for fathers here. Between them, he and the translator explain that the feeding of children and everything related to it is seen as a woman’s work. This is why you hardly ever see a dad at the feeding centre. It’s not that they don’t care, they’re just taught to step into a different role.
Gordien, however, is undeterred by cultural norms, able to see things differently. It takes a strong person to do that. ‘A child is a gift for both parents,’ he says gently. ‘This is why my wife and I are raising our children together. If one of us is unable, the other must help.’
I’m struck by Gordien’s willingness to look weak before the other men, and I’m reminded of the verse from 2 Corinthians 12:9: ‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”’
It’s all about the love
Before we leave the car, I ask Gordien what he enjoys in life, and he tells me it’s his church. ‘I feel loved when I’m at church, and love is the most important thing,’ says Gordien, beaming. ‘I want to get to know God more and grow in my relationship with him. The fellowship there is also valuable.’
‘This feeding centre is helping many people who are sick or who have sick children,’ Gordien continues. ‘This reinforces the work of churches here, because it is driven by the love of God. It is his love in action.’
Gordien is hungry and worn down with hardship, but he practically glows when he talks about love. It’s clear that this is his driving force, too, making him bold enough to step out of the role dictated to him by society, and into the feeding centre that day.
So let’s hear it for the dads – especially dads like Gordien, daring to be different for the good of their families. And let’s learn from him, putting love first even when it costs.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
- Pray for Gordien and his family, especially for Donate, that she will become stronger. Pray also that Gordien’s example will inspire other families to work together better.
- Gordien’s family is one of too many who are suffering in Burundi. Pray for an end to the current food crisis, and the instability making it difficult for people to get back on their feet. Pray for the lasting peace so desperately needed.
- Ask God to be close to the staff and volunteers from Tearfund’s partners responding to the food crisis – the Diocese of Matana, and FECABU – and enable them to reach those in most need.