We recently went through the resident selection process. I am most very glad to announce that Boaz Niyinyumvu is our first resident. Here is his story.
My name is Boaz Niyinyumva. I am 31 years old. I am the fifth child in a family of seven, three girls and four boys. All my sisters are married. I am an uncle of seven children. My youngest brothers are still in high school. There is a difference of nine years between myself and my next youngest sibling. They were not expected to come. I was born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, in a small city called Kanyosha. I grew up in a Christian family with a normal middle-class life. I grew up with a Christian education. I loved going to school. When I was 3-5, I was following the older kids going to school, and I wanted to go, but they would always bring me back. I had to wait until I was 7 years old. According to my mother, I was an active boy, running everywhere, and according to my mother I was smart, asking questions of the old people. At 7 years I went to school and started primary school. So, I had a Christian education and went to Sunday school. I grew up with acknowledgement that there is a supreme God in heaven who cares about children but hates sin. I was told about Satan, the enemy of God’s people. I was taught that when you sin you go to hell, but if you don’t sin you inherit the Kingdom of God. I grew up with that. Also deep in my heart I felt a deep connection with God. I grew up as a normal child. In my classes, I was always first or second or third. I started serving God in Sunday school, participating in Sunday school choir, singing or doing outreach in the city to tell other children that God loved them, and inviting them to come to church.
Physically, intellectually, I was good and my family was providing what I needed and I grew up with this knowledge. I tried not to do evil and didn’t want to go to hell.
In 1991, I was 7 years old. I remember that there was a small crisis in Burundi but it didn’t last long. One night there was a rebel movement from DRC attacking Burundi. They said it was a Hutu movement fighting against Tutsi government. I was too young to know what was going on. In 1993, war broke out in Burundi while I was starting fourth year of primary school. That’s when things started to change in Burundi, my life, and my family. There were democratic elections and a Hutu president was elected. There was a coup in October which led to the death of that president by the military. The president was Hutu and at that time the military was about 99% Tutsi. So it became a war of Hutu against Tutsi. They were revenging against Tutsi, and the Tutsi said they were defending themselves. A Hutu would be killed here, and a Tutsi somewhere else. Tutsi would attack Hutus in their cities, and they would attack back. If a Hutu was living in a Tutsi city, he moved to a Hutu city. Hutu and Tutsi neighborhoods were separated. If you wanted to go to town and you were a Tutsi and had to pass through a Hutu area, you had to pray, and vice versa. They hunted each other. It started slowly and became worse.
In 1994, my father and other families decided to take us to DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) in Uvira, in south Kivu. Hutus and mixed Hutu and Tutsi went to Tanzania and Congo. Because there was war in Rwanda, some went to Western countries. We went to DRC with other Christians. There life changed for me from a normal boy who loved school to a refugee boy who stopped studying. As a refugee in DRC, you had no rights. Soldiers from Congo would take you to prison and require money to be given them, though you had done nothing. You had no right to run a business. Many soldiers were not good, but were jealous of Burundians being helped by UN organizations. So when we arrived in DRC, we were living like refugees but had money for a while and lived in a rented house. After five months, our money had run out and we started struggling. The government did something which led to the international community closing all borders. None could come from Burundi, to pressure Burundi to stop killing. No food could come to us. My father had stayed in Burundi and had been sending us food. Now no food could come. We were isolated and had nothing and began struggling. I was not going to school and was 10 years old. As a boy in Africa you have to make the family survive. My brother and I started a small business of selling plastic in the market. If we got money, we bought food for lunch. In evening, if sold enough, we bought food for evening food. At 6 PM, because there wasn’t much electricity, we sold evening petrol/oil for lamps. We would call out “petrol” in the streets. Whoever needed it would tell us to come. If they learned that we were refugees they wouldn’t buy or would laugh at us. Until nine we would go from road to road yelling “petrol.” From that we made our family survive that period of isolation away from Burundi in DRC. We were taken from the city and were isolated in a refugee camp. It was 175 km from the city and 70 km from the road. It was very far. We lived there for months. There were so many cases of diseases. Diarrhea, salmonella. People dying because we had little care and were far from the UN or MSF (Doctors Without Borders) doctors, who were not well equipped. I saw a lot. People dying. I sympathized and wondered what I could do. A voice came to me to do medicine so when I saw those things happening I could do something. It was like a voice, like a wish. Because life was hard, my family and others from the same city decided to go back to the city. It was far, and we were forbidden by camp rules to go back. We had to sell everything we had to get transport. We sold blankets, tent, pans, to get money for family. We left at night to sneak past guards, and when made it to the main road caught a bus back to the city.
When we arrived in the city, we went to Bethany church. We slept there and lived the same life, selling plastic and petrol. In 1995, after a year in DRC, we came back to Burundi. Things were worse in Burundi. Our house was destroyed to the foundation. They even removed the stones and took everything. We went to live in another refugee camp in Burundi, and it was the same. We saw a lot. Those diseases, cholera, malaria, dysentery, malnourished people, eating only maize and beans and not enough. There was so much killing that no one was cultivating and they were fully dependent on support. I was moved again to go into medicine.
Because there was so much killing between Hutu and Tutsi there were two Hutu rebel movements fighting against the Tutsi government after the coup. My father decided to take us back to DRC in 1996. After five months, war broke out in DRC. Rwanda was part of the war, as were Uganda and Burundi. Rwandese said they were chasing Hutu movement and accused them of committing genocide. When war broke out in DRC we had to flee from Uvira to another city by the lake called Mboko. When those soldiers came, they killed every Hutu they met on the way, accusing the Hutus of committing genocide. They invaded. I saw many people killed. If they found a person hiding in the bush, they burned the bush and killed the person.
We decided then to come back to Burundi. We thought, “If we have to die, let us die in Burundi.” There were rumors saying that if you were a boy over 18, the soldiers would give you poisoned food that would kill you after six months. So all Burundians were afraid of going back on the road. Those soldiers had been killing many people. Because we made a decision to go back to Burundi and our only way was by that road and the lake had been closed, we decided to do this: Ladies would go by the road and boys would go by the lake, though it was forbidden. The day came for us to leave. My mother and sisters and other ladies packed their things to go by road. My father and my brother went to the lake to look for a boat to take us at night. Four hours later, I was at home alone. A voice came to me and talked to me. It said, “Go into the house and take your bag and follow your mother.” Without hesitation I entered, took my bag, and followed the way my mother and sisters took. I asked people if they had seen my mother. I went until I reached a market with a big mango tree around 4PM, and I slept there near the road. While sleeping I heard voices say “That’s Boaz.” That was the group of Burundians including my mother. They gave me a fabric to dress in so I would look like a girl. So I went in the group of ladies and passed the station of soldiers without problem and reached Burundi. The same day I left, my father and brothers died. According to the witnesses, they went in 3 or 5 boats on the lakes and met the marines’ boat from Burundi. The Burundi marines tied them and threw them in the lake. They were unable to escape. But that is how I survived.
We reached Burundi and lived in the camp again for two weeks. The government and church sent people to take us from the camp. We started struggling for life. The head of our family was gone. It was difficult to make ends meet. My sisters stopped studying but went into small business. Before my father died, he and some of his friends had made an agreement that if one of them died the others would take care of the families. One of these friends came and told me and my sister we could go to school and he would provide school fees. In 1996, I went back to school. This friend of my father had a family with many children. He helped us and paid school fees not only for us but also for his family of 5 or 6 children. In afternoon I made money on a bicycle taxi. I did that for 3-4 months. One day I remember that I took a person from a Hutu area to Tutsi area late in the day. He gave me a lot of money for that. Once I arrived at a military post station. They told me that if I had a problem I was on my own. They took my money and my bike and they beat me. They wanted to kill me, but the chief of the station came and ordered them to give me back my money and bike. It was dark, around 7, and the chief told them to find me a place to sleep and bring me back alive in the morning. They gave me food and a place to sleep. They soldiers did those things and I was sent back home. Saved again.
Life was not easy. We had no money, and I asked myself how I would do medical studies. But if God has a plan, no matter what, it will happen. In those hard times of studying, I finished primary school with good grades. At the end of primary school there is a test to determine whether the student can go to secondary school. The test was very hard. Many people struggled and had to re-do the test many times. Two thirds of the 30 people in my class had already taken the test several times. When I took the test, three of us succeeded on the test and I was the only one who had taken it the first time. I got entered into secondary school with little school fees. God did that.
I went to public school. I succeeded in high school. After 4th year, there was another national test to decide whether the student does science or technical studies. I succeeded in the test and was given my choice. I chose my school.
When in high school, in second year, I gave my life to Jesus in a Bible study. I had grown up fearing God and punishment. But that year in 1998 in a Bible group, the preacher spoke of God reconciling himself with the world. Jesus reconciled God to His people, as our creator. That day, based on my experience, I told God I was his. I saw God changing my life in many ways. Because when I succeeded in that exam, my family and school were very far apart. Two buses every day both ways, which I couldn’t afford. How would I be going to that school? I had an aunt who lived near that school but in a Muslim family. It was hard for me to leave my home and live in that family where there were 19 children from one man and three wives. It was hard for me to go there but I went there and lived with them, which was difficult to do physically, mentally, spiritually. Very hard.
After the 4th year of high school, my pastor’s son asked me, “How do you live in a Muslim family?” The pastor’s son was little, maybe 12 years old. He went back to the family and told them about me, and that I was involved in kids’ ministry. He went and asked his family if they could let me live with them. The whole family accepted and in my fifth year, my pastor came and asked me, “Would you mind if you would leave where you are now and live with us?” I said I would ask my mother. My mother said to ask my current host. I did, and he didn’t mind. So I was taken from the Muslim quarter to the highest quarter of the city, calm and distinguished. In the Muslim quarter, I lived in a room with 5 or 6. But there, I got my own room. Life went on changing. I had been going to school on foot, but in my new home I was taken in a car. At 1 PM I was being picked up. They really did a great job with me and took good care of me. A sudden change. I studied and finished secondary school. Then I took the test that determines your future. If you do not pass it you are done with school. If you do well, you have a chance of doing university, for me medicine.
I was the second person at my school to succeed on that test. They gave us forms to fill for what we wanted to take. We had three choices. I put first and second choices medicine, third choice low. The first person also had asked for medicine. But she was not given medicine. She had higher marks than me. But I was given medicine. God did that, too. I had to wait one year because we were so many students waiting for university and there were many strikes. During that year of waiting I was deeply involved in VBS with children, working with Korean missionaries. One day after a session, a Korean missionary asked me about my studies. I told him what was going on. He asked how many universities we had. I told him which I wanted. He said they would be paying it for me. So my medical training was covered! But on the third year those missionaries had to go back, so that was a problem. How would I get fees to finish my training?
I was class representative for the first years of medical school. We were having difficulty finding a teacher for genetics. An American came to teach it. During class he stopped class and asked me if he could pray for me. In my heart I hesitated because everyone would know I had a problem. I wanted to refuse, but a voice told me “Why refuse?” So I allowed. He prayed for me. After praying, he said, “God told me to help you. How can I help you?” I told him. He said, “From now until you finish your medicine I will take over. I will give you medicine, pocket money, and will be helping your family.” At the same time, my pastor’s wife whom I consider as my other mother introduced my biological mother to a Christian NGO called SISTER CONECTION helping widows. So my mother was receiving financial support from the NGO which made my life comfortable. I had not been able to help my family much. My church at high level also joined in my education. So I was favored by God in many ways.
Thank you God; you have your ways. I never had a problem with school fees when I was at school. God made it possible what He told me in refugee camp. He helped me in all those tests when I was in difficult moments. When I ever had a problem He brought a solution to the problem. He made it possible for me to do medicine, even with solutions to every problem. When I was doing medical studies in internship, we had to go up-country. When up there, I met these people living in bad conditions. Very poor. Could not afford the least medical care, even paracetamol, less than a cent. They could not pay for a blood smear. My heart went to them. God told me, “This is where I want you to be, to walk with these people.” I felt I was part of them, it was part of me. I made a decision that’s where I belong. When I finished I went in January with a mission team in DRC. Where we went, we went to serve very poor people who cannot afford treatment of malaria, which was almost free. It was a calling for me. “This is what I want you to do.” This is the kind of place where things happen. Because I have lived in those conditions, I feel that I can do more. I left DRC with the heart of being a medical missionary. My background, internship, first visit as medical doctor were directing me where and what to do. I had a dream to do pediatrics. I love kids. So I wanted to be a pediatrician to do congenital heart defects. Maybe a pediatric cardiac surgeon. But God was directing me differently. The first Sunday back home in Burundi from DRC, I met a pastor from here in Kenya. They had a Christian NGO establishing contact with Burundian evangelical colleges. He spoke English and my pastor had told me to interpret for this pastor. I interpreted for him when he was preaching. Afterwards I said “Thank you for the sermon but my pastor asked me to stay with you for a short moment of his absence.” During that time, the visiting pastor wanted to know about me and I gave him a brief part of my story - I told him who I was. He asked if I wanted to do more studies. I said “Of course.” He asked if I could come tomorrow for an introduction. Next Monday I went to his hotel. I met Ted Burnett. He said he also wanted to know about me. We talked and he told me that his father was one of the doctors who started one of the missions hospitals here. I don’t remember which. So I gave my email. Two weeks after, I got an email from Bruce Dahlman telling me he got my email and asking if I was interested in Family Medicine. He gave me the name of someone who could help me understand. He gave me the email of a doctor in Burundi who was one of my teachers. Eric gave me a brief view of Family Medicine and what it is. I read about it and it was just who I am supposed to be and where I am supposed to go. It was like an answer. “This is what you have to be to go where you have to go.” And considering the mystery of how it came to be known to me is part of the answer. It is not chance. It is not just something that happens. “It is me sending to you.” So I applied. When I applied, I had only just worked for two months after medical school. I spoke of that to other people we were with in Congo and they decided to support me through the program. That family of American medical missionaries was ready to assist me. God has made it all possible. And here I am.
THIS IS MY SHORT STORY OF MY LONG LIFE.