Song For the Dry Season: Banga Hill

(from Eric)

The dry season is now fully advanced here at Kibuye.  The rains stopped sometime in late May, and have yet to restart.  The red dirt has become red dust.  The banana leaves next to the hospital road are colored copper by the powder tossed up by passing taxis.  The sky is hazy, and the leaves of the eucalyptus crackle like paper instead of their normal rustle.  

We wait for the rain.  We wait for green and growth.  We wait for the air to be washed out and the sky to return to its normal brilliant blue.  It should come within the next few weeks.  So I guess we'll just have to be patient and trust that maybe the dry season pushes the roots down deeper.  Maybe the foundation gets stronger.

We arrived in Burundi in August of 2013, and we moved to the hillside community of Banga, to study Kirundi for 3 months. It was dry then as well.  People told us stories about decades ago, during the war.  They told us that Banga had been hard hit, in a way that dovetailed with the end of the dry season, with the coming of cleansing rain.  I'm not in a position to verify their stories one way or another, but the imagery was striking, and so I wrote a song.

It's about rain washing the haze away.  It's about rain washing bloodstains away.  It's about the curious Christian truth that blood can actually wash stains away.  And through it all, we cry "Lord, send your rain."  It's been coming often to mind these last few weeks, as we wait for the rains to come.

Banga Hill
(click below then select track #9 to listen, download for free)

Here at the end of the dry season
I sit on the veranda and watch the sun
Sinking behind the hills ten miles away
as every tiny farm soaks up its rays
and when the rains come
they say I’ll see twice as far
as this dusty haze is washed away.

They say that it wasn’t so many years ago
the war came and cut the fleeing down
the hillside ran with blood for days and days
until the rain came and washed it away
Now they’re left with the pieces
of a life that’s left behind
a life maybe to somehow find.

Lord, send your rain, fall on all where we are
Though thirsty, we have run all from your well - on Banga Hill

It’s Friday morning and the people climb
up the hill into the church next door
A song is raised in beauty and in strength
the bread is broken and the cup is poured
it’s blood spilled out
that is somehow like the rain
it washes away all the stain

Bless the rain, falling on us now
the worst and the best, the hatred and love
on the old, and on the young
and let it fall on us, for we are all 
on Banga Hill

(5 Sept 2013 - Banga)


Gearing Up for School

by Jess Cropsey

I have been amazed to see on Facebook so many kids already going back to school!  As a teacher, I cringe at the thought of going back to school in early August, but I’m sure there are many happy parents.  :)  

Here at Kibuye, we have a particularly long summer.  We wrapped up in mid-May to send off our beloved teacher and get ready for a Serge Conference in Spain.  Despite our early finish, Kibuye Hope Academy’s 4th (can you believe it?!) school year won’t start until late September while we await the arrival of 3 new families (Banks, Baskins, Nimmons) and a new intern.    

One of my projects for the summer has been getting our new school ready to go.  This beautiful building was completed in late April and we finished off our final two weeks of last school year there, but it was a little chaotic.  We added quite a few new items with the arrival of the last container, so that all needed to be sorted.  I am pleased to write that it is pretty much ready to go!  

When our family was back in the USA for a few months last summer, we discovered that the school where John & I graduated from high school would be closing its doors after four decades.  Calvary Christian Academy was the place where our romance began many years ago and just for kicks I'll include a graduation photo. 

I was thrilled when they graciously offered for us to take anything we could use in Burundi before their sale opened to the general public.  We are really grateful for the beautiful desks, chairs, filing cabinets, tables, books, school supplies, and various other items that they donated to our little school.  They also sold us 3 really nice student desktops for a great price so that we can have one computer in each room.  Go Cougars!  We also gave some of their old jerseys to the local soccer team, so we often get to see a Burundian CCA Cougar running around Kibuye.  

I would also like to give a huge thanks to Caleb Fader & Tony Sykes (with EMI) for helping supervise this project and the many Burundian construction workers who did such a nice job.  And a shout-out to David, the architect with EMI, who gave some suggestions to improve our layout and make it a really wonderful space.  

The school building is set right in the middle of the large space where the majority of our residential homes are, so it’s a quick commute for everyone!  The Watts’ kids have already timed it — less than 10 seconds from their front door to the school (at a run, of course).  

Carlan designed our awesome school logo and he & Michelle painted a beautiful sign for our school when they were here for a brief visit in June, with space left on the book to later fill in with a school verse chosen by the kids themselves.  (Can you see the shape of Africa in the green part of the tree?) 

There is a wide hallway at the main entrance with little cubbies and coat hooks for each student (18 “enrolled” for next school year).  The belfry (which does not in fact house a bell) lets in a lot of natural light.  There has been some discussion about adding a rock climbing wall here, but I think the kids may meet some resistance to that idea.  Off the hallway, we have three classrooms, a bathroom, and a small storage room. 

This is the largest of the rooms and will be the main classroom for our 5 kindergarteners as well as larger combined classes like music, art, Kirundi, etc.  We included a sink here for science & art classes.   

In this same large room, we have an awesome reading loft in one corner, built by the multi-talented Dr. Jason Fader.  The kids LOVE this space!  We also have some bookshelves that function as the team library, with both adult & kids’ books available to be “checked out”.   

This classroom will be for our 6 second graders.  

The third classroom will be a combined classroom for six 4th-7th graders, who are together for all their classes except math.   

Because I like to organize things, I had to include this photo of our storage closet.  I know some of you will understand how beautiful this is.  A big thanks to teammate Nicole, a kindred spirit when it comes to organizing.  And I would be remiss to not also thank my husband for indulging my endless requests to build shelves (shown here) and hang chalkboards, bulletin boards, curtain rods, etc.     

We have a great schedule set up for our TCKs (third-culture kids) and are incredibly thankful that God provided Scott & Lindsay Nimmon to join our team to help lead the education of our kids.  Many of the moms are also heavily involved in the teaching schedule, so you can pray that we would work well together.  Scott & Lindsay are currently at a cross-cultural training course and have purchased tickets to arrive in Burundi on September 11th.  They still need an estimated $1800/month in financial support to serve here at Kibuye.  Please pray that God would supply the remainder of their support and if you would like to help, please click here

I'm super excited for a new school year to start!  
Go _______!  (school mascot yet to be determined...)



The Treasure Trove of Other People's Random Left-Behind Stuff

(from Eric, with multiple photo credits to George)

One of the lesser-known (but nonetheless reliable) aspects of rural missionary life is the vestiges of random stuff that has been left behind by other missionaries.  Seriously, you wouldn't believe the finds that are possible.  When we arrived at Kibuye, there had been no longterm western missionaries for several years.  Years later, we are still uncovering things left behind by uncertain characters from Kibuye's missionary past.

Why are there so many interesting finds?  I can think of several reasons:
1.  Missionaries have a tendency towards being conservationist/thrifty types, which translates sometimes into saving things to the point of hoarding.
2.  Getting rid of things is much harder than you would think.  There is no Goodwill to drop things off at.  In fact, if you drop things off at Goodwill and then they don't sell at the Goodwill store, it is entirely possible that they will end up in Burundi.  Yes, there is plenty of need, and we can give things away.  But personally giving all this stuff away takes enormous energy and it can be easier just to store it.
3.  Supply chains in Africa are very unpredictable.  Almost every food, commodity, and medicine runs out sooner or later.  So better store up just in case.
4.  Visitors bring things for "others" to use.  They are never the "others" that use them.  Kibuye was only visitors for several years before we came, so it was kind of a one-way valve.  We're happy to be the opening of the other side of that valve.

Here now some of the great finds of Kibuye's missionary past.  Where did these things come from?  We have no idea.  Who left them?  We can only guess.  We prefer to maintain the mystique a bit.

Category 1:  We Will Never Use This.

This "New Plastic Crystal Chandelier Lamp Fixture" dates from I don't know when.  Maybe 1960 guessing by the font, and the way "Plastic" seems to be the selling point more than "Crystal".  In the box are all the requisite pieces.  Never used.  Still "New", in fact.  Why was it never used?  Why will we never use such a treasure?  Because we already have it's twin, proudly hung in Chez Watts, with an LED bulb in the middle.  Truly, it is a treasure.

Category 2: We might just use this.  But...Wow.
George found this just a few months ago, hiding in a storage room.  Noting the 25 cent coupon is cool.  Noting the expiration date is even cooler.  Now, as far as we can tell, the house that the storage room belongs to was built around 1981.  This begs an interesting question.  Did it come from an older missionary house?  Did someone donate it years after the coupon's expiration?  Did someone donate it precisely because the coupon was expired?  Did someone ship it and it got lost in shipping for a long, long time?  We will never know.

Category 3: Oh yeah, we'll use this.
A spontaneous kids' dance party breaks out with a scenic backdrop.  Note the leopard (? I think) skin on the wall.  Where did that come from?  Was it legal?  When I was in college, my roommates and I hung a 1970's portrait of a middle-aged man with a combover on our living room wall, with a brass nameplate that read "Winston Porter".  It was not so much beautiful as it was thought-provoking and conversation-starting.  I think the parallel goes without saying.

The spear is cool, but only as an afterthought given its neighbors.  The ancient telephone has survived remodeling, as I think we can all agree that it should.  It is a curious device, going nowhere that we can tell.  It has an unexpected electric light on the bottom that serves the now-functional purpose of informing the inhabitants of the room whether the power is on or not.  Like the tinfoil, the phone serves as an internal anachronism.  It's a telephone circa what?  Maybe 1940?  The building is old but nowhere near that old.  So why was a 40-year old telephone installed into a new missionary house?  For precisely the same reason that it will stay.  Because it is awesome.

Category 4: I can't believe we get to use this!
And then sometimes you strike gold.  Just last month, in an effort to clean a storage area out totally in order to renovate it into a guest apartment, we found a large movie screen, totally new, presumably purchased decades ago for rural movie screenings.  We busted it out, ran some extension cords outside, and hosted a neighborhood movie night.  Quite the sight for our Burundian neighbors, as well as our kids.  We have since repeated it, and I'm sure it will be used again.


Child Life Specialists at Kibuye

By Alyssa

For the last few months we've averaged 60-70 kids on our pediatric service (including malnutrition and neonatology) and another 20+ kids on the surgery service on any given day. One thing I've lamented about the situation for these kids is that they didn't have any stimulating activities available to them. The kids with leg fractures, for example, stay in traction for 4-6 weeks. They feel pretty well but have nothing to do but lie in bed until their bones heal. And one consequence of severe malnutrition is apathy. The most malnourished kids just lie still with no interest or energy to interact with the world around them. Emotional and sensory stimulation (i.e. play therapy) is one of the necessary steps in the treatment plan for them recommended by the World Health Organization - arguably just as important as feeding them, keeping them warm, and treating their infections.

What I've always loved about children's hospitals is the way they go out of their way to make kids feel welcome and cared for. I remember being a 10 year old in the hospital myself and being amazed to find a playroom with so many crafts and toys and activities to help pass the long hours.

Well, I'm excited to announce that we now have Child Life at Kibuye!

Susan and Judith (in the above 2 pictures) visit the 6 different hospital rooms with pediatric patients every afternoon and spend hours going to each bedside to provide attention and care. They provide educational play for all ages, and the kids just light up when they enter the room. It's made my job easier as the patients are less afraid of foreigners now - even scary ones with stethoscopes! And the malnourished and orthopedic patients have especially benefitted from this special attention and love. 

So what is "Child Life?" I'm happy to report that this description from the Boston Children's Hospital webpage actually describes what Judith and Susan are doing with our patients here in Burundi:

Child Life Specialists enhance a patient's emotional, social and cognitive growth during a hospital stay, giving special consideration to each child's family, culture and stage of development.

Using developmental interventions and play, they help patients and families adjust to and understand the hospital and their medical situation. Child Life Specialists:
  • Help patients develop ways to cope with fear, anxiety, separation and adjustment to the hospital experience
  • Provide consultation to the health care team regarding developmental and psycho-social issues
  • Provide preparation and individualized support before and after medical procedures
  • Facilitate developmentally appropriate play, including medical play, at the bedside, in activity rooms and in clinic areas
  • Initiate tutoring services
 But, we have a special added component to our child life program that Boston Children's probably doesn't have. Because who understands child life better than children themselves?! The missionary kids regularly participate in coming to the hospital to play with the inpatients or give eggs to the kids in the outpatient malnutrition program. And of course all the patients and parents love to see them coming!

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14


Maracuja Madness!

by Rachel

Burundi is a country obviously known for its bananas (if by obviously I mean we mention it a lot to people).  We are also able to get pineapples, oranges, and mangoes in season.  Apples are available as expensive imports from Kenya, and occasionally we'll find a watermelon or some gooseberries as well.  It's not a huge variety (and boy do we miss berries of all sorts) but it's good.  One of the available fruits that I haven't yet mentioned is something I had never tried before our arrival in Burundi: the passion fruit.  It's also known locally as "maracuja."  The fruit is slightly larger than the size of a golf ball and when ripe has a deep purple exterior.  The inside is an orangish-yellow pulp with black seeds.  To eat them, we cut them in half and suck out the inside, or use a spoon to scoop it out.  It's a little bit tangy/tart and a little bit sweet, along the lines of citrus.
Ben demonstrating the inside of a passion fruit
 When we moved into our house, now just over 2 years ago, a number of plants were planted in our yard...mostly saplings, but some flowers and vines as well.  Passion fruit is a vine that tends to wrap around trees for growth.  We were hoping to get it (and some bougainvillea) to grow on the brick walls around the housing area, but so far it hasn't attached well.  It HAS flourished, however, propped up by sticks or attached to bushes.  We returned in January to find no fewer than 10 mature passion fruit vines around the edges of our yard, and they have really been producing.  It doesn't seem to be seasonal, and so most weeks we have a "harvest" of 20-40 ripe passion fruits.  You can see one of the vines below, which is actually growing on a loquat tree (apparently a fruit but not one that I've ever enjoyed).  All of the little green globes are passion fruits in progress.
How many passion fruits can you see here?  More than 15!
So, what do you do with passion fruits?  The kids love to eat them, but you can only eat so many, I suppose.  I have been scouring the internet for recipes and have found some winners so far.  I have made passion fruit sorbet in our ice cream maker, passion fruit cake w/ passion fruit icing for Ben's birthday party last March, and last week I stumbled upon a super yummy passion fruit curd (this might sound weird if you've never heard of lemon curd, but it's a sort of spread, like a cross between jam and pudding).  I feel like a passion fruit meringue pie should be possible, but haven't tried it yet.  We'll see what new creations reveal themselves in the weeks to come!  I read online that these fruits are hard to come by in the US, available only in specialty grocery stores and sometimes costing up to $3/apiece so you might have to come visit us if you want to try them. :)  If you find yourself with your own overabundance of passion fruit, drop me a note and I'll send you some recipes.
Passion fruit birthday cake


COTW: The Last Living Child

By Alyssa

Ten-year-old Claver was admitted to our pediatrics service 2 1/2 weeks ago as a last resort. He had been previously hospitalized elsewhere where he was treated for malaria, bacterial infection, and severe anemia. But despite 6 blood transfusions, he continued to be severely anemic. In fact he seemed to have worsened bloody urine after each blood transfusion. The situation was made more dire by the fact that he had 2 sisters who died with the same symptoms - one at age 5 and the other at age 11. His father also has had similar symptoms intermittently in life (and ended up being hospitalized at another hospital while Claver was at ours). And the family lost one baby at birth, so Claver is the only remaining child.

Our initial physical exam revealed a very sick boy with difficulty breathing, extreme pallor, a large spleen (see picture below), and fever. He was barely conscious on admission. His initial hemoglobin level was 2.6 (normal is 12-14).

We kept transfusing him and he kept bleeding. Thankfully we had blood in our blood bank at the time - not always a given here. After a transfusion when he was more conscious, he would cry out, "I'm dying! I'm dying!" His mother cried often, too, seeing her suffering son and knowing he would likely die like his siblings. We added steroids in hopes that that would stop his body from destroying the needed red blood cells. I consulted a pediatric hematologist friend in the US who kindly sent an email to all her colleagues for help with this challenging case. They of course were used to much more information (lab tests, etc.) being available for an ICU case like this, but they rose to the challenge and helped us consider possible diagnoses and treatments. And they even looked at his blood smear slide which we sent back to the US with a visitor. After 4 transfusions, he was still losing a lot of blood and at that point we could no longer get an IV in him despite many attempts. A visiting surgeon came to the rescue and placed a central IV line - something very rarely done here.

After the fifth blood transfusion (at our hospital, 11th in total), he started to turn the corner. He stopped calling out that he was dying and he stopped hiding under the covers. He no longer looked deathly pale. He began to eat a bit and after a couple days started to sit up. We continued his treatment for pneumonia but we no longer needed to give him any blood. And today he happily went home - see him and his joyful mother in the picture below. His father also recovered and came to pick him up. We still don't have a clear diagnosis (probably a familial hemolytic anemia of some sort) and it's possible he could become ill with the same symptoms again, but we'll celebrate the victory today. I really cringed every morning I came into the hospital those first few days expecting to hear he had died in the night. But God saved him. These are the miracles to remember - the glimpses of what will come one day fully when there is no more sickness or death.


Wedding Clothes: A Cultural Window

(from Eric)

One of the wonderful things about crossing cultures is the window it can provide into your existing world.  The world around us now can sometimes be different in just the right way for you to look at your home world with a new light.  Rachel wrote about this years ago in terms of reading the Bible in a foreign language.  A few days ago, in hospital devotions, I had a similar moment.

Pastor Luc was reading from Revelation 19:7-8.  It is a classic passage which describes the church, or the unified group of believers in Jesus, as a bride prepared for a wedding where Jesus (here referred to as "the Lamb") himself is the groom.  It reads:  

"Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to cloth herself with fine linen, bright and pure - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."

Pastor Luc then started to talk about traditional Burundian culture.  Though the tradition has been greatly modified for some of the more modern Burundians, it sounds like this practice is still the case in rural villages, and something like it survives even in the cities.  The wedding dress is picked out by the groom, sight unseen by the bride until the moment comes to put it on (right now, many western ladies are having panic attacks at the thought of their husband donning this responsibility).  In addition, at the time of the wedding, the groom gives his bride an entirely new wardrobe, and the bride gives all of her old clothes to other people.  From this moment on, she is clothed by her husband, with nothing remaining from her pre-married life.

I find this is a compelling image.  There is obviously a strong image of trust.  There is also an image of a shifting of one's identity, a belonging now to someone else.  From the husband's perspective, there is a very public image of his provision for his wife.

Pastor Luc was talking about the church, about us in our relation to God.  "the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."  A gift.  A gift that calls us to trust in the giver.  A gift that shifts our identity from being those who clothe themselves to those look to God for their provision.  I doubt I'll ever look at the Bible's use of wedding clothes the same again.  For that, I thank Burundi and the God who is work in their culture.


2016 Update Video

Thanks, Carlan, for putting together this awesome video for us!  All of the Serge teams presented a video on our work to share in group prayer sessions.  It was shown at our Spain conference last month.  We thought some of you might enjoy it as well.

2016 Kibuye Update from Kibuye Hope on Vimeo.



by Carlan

One of the encouraging and perhaps unanticipated blessings of God calling this team to Burundi is the incredible amount of musical talent present on our team. Readers of this blog will certainly be aware of Eric McLaughlin's guitar and vocal talents but Rachel plays piano and teaches music, John Cropsey has a saxophone in country and has played it for church, Jason Fader had led worship on the guitar to highlight only a few (and sorry to anyone I neglected).

But though she may not draw overly much attention to this, one of Michelle's greatest anticipated joys about moving to Burundi is participating in this musical milieu and partnering with Julie Banks to advance music literacy in all directions, most uniquely our appreciation of traditional Burundian music.

videoSo it is really no surprise that when we were in Bujumbura at the end of our recent trip to visit the folks of Kibuye that music just sprung up around Michelle. In my years of prior service and visitation in Burundi I had never seen such an instrument nor heard it played with such skill in a traditional folk tune. Part drum, violin and guitar, this unique instrument proved mildly difficult for Michelle and Eric to play, which I take as a good sign that it requires substantial practice. I hope you are duly impressed with the umutama (elder gentleman) who demonstrated it for us and sold Michelle the instrument on the spot. Enjoy!


Non-Academic Learning Assessment

by Heather

And another school year has ended.  It’s time to think back over what have we have learned this year.  The kids can tell you about historical events, about the solar system, about books and math and art projects and Kirundi field trips.  And they’ll tell you all about their classmates and their fabulous teacher.  It was an excellent academic year.  It was also an excellent year for non-academic learning and growth in these areas:

1.  Involving the whole family in hospital work:  Of course, our kids have always known that their part in the work here includes sharing (and missing) their dad when he is needed at the hospital all day and many evenings and weekends.  But this year, more than ever before, the girls have been able to participate in hospital ministry directly.  They bring things up to the hospital – like eggs and milk for patients or food for the OR staff when operations continue into the night.  They help with hospital errands, shaking many hands along the way.  They pray for Jason’s patients by name, and they attend hospital celebrations.  Anna loves going up to the hospital with Jason sometimes when he is called to see patients in the evenings.  In fact, she is currently considering a career in anesthesia so that she can work at the hospital with her dad forever. 

2.  Processing Life, Suffering,  and Death:  When our children go up to the hospital with us, there’s no glossing over the realities of suffering, and death.  A few weeks ago, the girls and I gathered some coloring pages and food to bring to a young patient who was recovering after surgery, but we couldn’t find her when we got to the ward where she had been.  A nurse broke the news that the little girl had died in the night.  Our 10-year-old began to cry right there in the hospital hallway.  So our children join us in processing life, suffering, death, and our faith that God will someday redeem all the wrongs of this world. 

3.  Playing Outside:  Lest anyone think that these kids contemplate the weight of misery all the time, let me clearly state that these kids can PLAY.  Every day of the year they romp around outside with the other kids.  They invent games and make up stories.  They play old favorites like capture the flag.  They disagree, and they learn to get along.  They plant seeds and spend a whole lot of time getting dirty.  They organize projects and build forts and create their own adventures. Like this, for example:

4.  Experiencing Pet Care and the Circle of Life:  These two lessons go hand in hand, for better or for worse.  Our girls have loved a lot of pets in the last year – at least 40 that we can remember by name.  Chicks and chickens, guinea pigs, a rabbit, and lots of chameleons (including 12 newborn babies, one of which (Roxy) you see here climbing on a tic tac).  Each pet had a name, each one received heaps of affection and care, and each one has moved on.  Some returned to their natural environments, some were given away as gifts, and some perished.  But no, none ended up on our plates, because it’s awfully hard to eat a pet, even the rooster whose name was Délicieux.

5.  Learning to Trust that God Provides:  Partly through all of these experiences this year, I have seen in new ways that God provides the grace that we need when we need it.  Up until a year ago, I seriously doubted that I could ever live and thrive in a place experiencing such difficult times as these.  Events during these last 12 months have shaken this country, but every single day since the attempted coup d’état last May, God has given grace and assurance of his call here.  We have been really glad to stay right here, and despite difficulties, it has been a wonderful year in many ways.

Thank you always for your prayers for us, for our community, and for this country.