Perhaps it was the first weekend in December, it was Advent, anyway. Dublin had been filled with Christmas decorations, the shops stocked to overflowing.
Dublin was a long way away. In Burundi, probably the poorest nation on Earth, it was a day like any other. A day when the relentless, grinding poverty just ground its way onward.
The church service was to take place in a community that lay between Bujumbura, the chaotic capital city, and the Congolese border. To have travelled over the border, into the Democratic Republic of Congo would have to have arrived in a place of dystopian anarchy.
There was no church building. A ragged tarpaulin stretched between trees provided shade from the late morning tropical sunshine. In a country where people rose at 4 am and where the sun rose at 6 am every day, why were church services at the sort of hour at which they would have taken place in Europe?
About one hundred and fifty people had gathered. They were poor people, poor even by Burundian standards. I sat at the front with the pastor and the church leaders on wooden chairs borrowed from a school. When the moment came, I was expected to preach to them.
Perhaps it was good that it was Advent, the Bible readings lent themselves to thoughts of hope, the people sitting in darkness seeing a great light, and similar ideas. But when I stood up to say my piece, with the pastor translating my words. I realised that what was most needed was just some encouragement.
“Burundi is a beautiful country,” I said, “it is blessed with beautiful people. It is blessed with people who are joyful, it is blessed with people who rejoice, it is blessed with people whose hearts are full of love.” The Advent themes of light and hope got a mention, but what I really wanted to do was to say something cheerful.
The singing was tremendous and afterwards there were smiles and laughter and embraces. They knew themselves to be among the poorest people on Earth, but what was the point in constantly dwelling on truths that could not be changed?
Do you know what the news media are doing? They are making us miserable. There is nothing that we can do to change the actions of others, the only people we can change are ourselves. Dwelling on immutable facts does no more than make us stressful. It is better to switch off the news.