20.6.17

Internet: The Hardest Part of My Job?

(from Eric)

We've never explicitly blogged about the work that has gone into enabling us to blog from rural Burundi.  Maintaining "reasonable" internet access has been quite a journey since 2013, and though we've made a lot of progress, I'm sure it will continue to be a big issue in years to come.  Given the distance between us and many of the people that know and support us and our work, internet has been an essential tool.

I'm only half joking when I refer to it as "the hardest part of my job".  Comparing to some of the dramatic hospital experiences we have, it may not seem like much.  However, I have felt so ill-prepared to try and handle this technical area that it has, at times, been a primary source of stress for me.  My team has always been gracious towards my insufficiencies, but it has been an ongoing struggle for me not to feel their frustrations with our internet as personal failings.  But enough about that.

2013:  When we first arrived, we hoped to be able to use USB flash modems to connect to the internet via the mobile network.  Everyone in the city thought this should be doable, and we talked to several people in the mobile world here to inquire about it.  However, as it happened, Kibuye campus was uniquely located in the shadow of a hall that lay between it and the nearest mobile towers.  Thus, the signal was limited, and no mobile company seemed to do anything about it.  So, the first few months were characterized by long periods of waiting on this little modem to download emails.  If you gave it about 15 minutes, it might have loaded a web page.  But usually not.
USB flash modem
2014:  After several months, we came to grips with the idea that the best option for us was a satellite modem (VSAT), which was reliable, but quite expensive for what you get.  We were obviously bandwidth limited (mostly 512 kbps) and most of the next several years, we were also data limited (each family usually got about 3GB/month).  I won't tell you how much we paid for it.  =)  It was an essential service, and usually worked pretty well when the power was on.  However, it developed a bad habit of getting fried by lightning, and the modem had to be replaced several times.
Our VSAT with nearby lightning rod
 2017:  After 3 years of VSAT usage, one of our Burundian friends helped us get connected to a mobile company, who was willing to run a fiber-optic line to Kibuye, which increased our bandwidth about 10 fold.  It was several months in the installation, but a beautiful day when the fiber (seen here on a "natural pole") arrived on campus.  We have noted that, even with the increased power outages (currently often less than 4 hours of power per day), we have enjoyed an improved ability to communicate with the rest of the world.<4 able="" and="" been="" better="" communicate="" day="" electricity="" frequently="" have="" hours="" more="" of="" outside="" p="" per="" still="" the="" to="" we="" with="" world.="">
Fiber optic cable looped over the last tree
How does a signal get from this single point to the rest of the campus?  That question has been a saga in and of itself, which many chapters and lots of help from many people.  Suffice to say that the current set-up has some kind of connection in every home, though we have all spent many hours sitting outside the "internet cafe" at the container-plex (our central hub for internet) during various phases of these connections breaking down.

Homes are connected via a combination of directional antennas, CAT-5 cable, coaxial cable, and a cool new unit from Ubiquiti called the AirMax Rocket.  They all come together in one of our old container crates, that has been converted into our internet hub: a combination a wires, switches, and multiple layers of electrical protection.
A converted container crate, now our internet box
How does a doctor learn how to do all this stuff?  He doesn't.  I still feel like I don't have any idea what I'm doing oftentimes.  However, we have been blessed with much great advice and help, most notably from Shawn Quinn and his friends at MoxieGroup.  He has been out here twice, most recently brought his family.  Thanks to all!
The Beloved Quinn family with their Knox teammates

11.6.17

Top 10 Things I'll Miss About Burundi

(from Audrey)  

A week from today, I’ll be flying back to the states after nearly ten months here in Kibuye. In honor of those ten months, I’d love to share ten things I know I’ll miss about Burundi:

1. The night sky. Besides charcoal fires, the mountain air in Kibuye is the cleanest I’ll probably ever breathe. The pure atmosphere and the lack of electricity mean that nights are heart-stoppingly beautiful. During a new moon, the stars burn in a multi-colored display of inconceivable distances. You can even see another galaxy with your naked eye if you know where to look.

2. The weather. Crisp and chilly in the mornings, hot but breezy in the afternoons, and almost never humid, thanks to our 6,000 ft elevation. Windows are always open and there’s no need to heat or air conditioning. It’s lovely. Rainy season and dry season each have their own particular beauties.

3. Community living. The kind where you’re close enough that if you get horribly ill, your neighbors will probably know it before you even tell them and will ask if you need anything. 

4. “Miss Audrey, watch this!” “Miss Audrey! Come tell us a story!” “Miss Audrey, wanna play capture the flag?” “Miss Audrey, come see my guinea pig!” “Miss Audrey, come sit in this hammock!” I love all the kids on the compound and how they clamor for attention even if I just walk past them on my way to the hospital.

5. Hearing choir practice from all the churches dotted around the valleys. The choruses echo through the mountains like birdsong every Wednesday and Saturday in addition to Sundays. 

6. Fresh avocados and pineapples and oranges and lemons and passion fruits from the market each week. The avocados here are enormous, at least four times the size of American avocados, and incredibly cheap. I’m typing this while eating some freshly made guacamole I quickly whipped up in my kitchen. Mmmm.

7. Hikes up to Kibuye Rock, or the Far Kibuye Rock, or on the big 8-mile loop past the cell towers across the valley. (We’ve only got a few big landmarks.) 

8. Jeannine, my French language tutor, who is quiet but loves to laugh. She is so patient with me and I’ve loved learning new aspects of Burundian culture as we talk about food and education and work and family life. It’s also fun when she asks me questions about American culture (“How do American parents talk to their children about relationships and dating?”), which forces me to think about my own culture in a new way as I try to explain it—especially when I have to stumble around with broken French!

9. Seeing kids’ faces light up when they discover a new fun science fact or when we get to do an experiment. I’ll miss the way they all wanted to race me to the school when the bell rang and took pride in being THE VERY FIRST person in their seat for science class. I’ll miss the chorus of “Awwwwwww but that’s a cliffhanger!!” when we had to stop a read-aloud book in the middle of the chapter at the end of class.

10. Learning from the dedicated doctors here, both the Americans and their Burundian colleagues and students. The doctors here are great teachers and I’ve been able to absorb much more than most pre-medical students ever get the chance to observe! But I haven’t only learned about diagnosing sickle cell anemia or performing a c-section or interpreting ultrasounds. Beyond the medical, I’ve learned a lot about compassion and perseverance. 

The doctors here persevere even when they have to use headlamps for surgeries because the electricity keeps cutting out, and even when there’s no running water and the wards are hot and crowded and smelly, and even when they have 95 inpatients on their service (for something like 40 beds), and even when malaria medicine runs out. I’ve seen amazing abilities to keep a sense of humor and to creatively solve problems. I’ve seen rejoicing when a patient on the brink of death returns to health and grief when children die because they dared to be sick in the third-poorest country in the world. I’ve seen how medicine needs the soul and body of the doctor as well as the patient. 

I’m so thankful for my almost-year here in Kibuye, Burundi. It has confirmed my desire to become a doctor and to work in underserved areas. It has also taught me gratitude for the body of Christ as an active community, even if there’s conflict or lack of resources or homesickness. I look forward to flying back to America, but I’m guessing that I will soon miss my life in Burundi.    

6.6.17

Weddings, Funerals, and other General Confusions

by Rachel

There are days in this crazy life I’ve chosen where I totally feel like I’ve made it.  Meaning, communication seems clear, the system is understandable, my life is full of rhythm and routine and all is well.   I go grocery shopping without getting lost.  The milk I ordered actually shows up in the amount I ordered.  I can lecture in French and sit through a meeting and understand the ideas discussed, and once in awhile I can even say a few lines in Kirundi.  But, rest assured, those days are so not the norm!  Even after four years I still feel like I flounder through most of my days.  Easier than the beginning yes, but “arrived”?  Hardly.

I heard another missionary once say that every year he spends in his host culture he is able to understand another 1% of what’s going on.  So based on that, I should be understanding about 4% of what happens around me!  That might be underestimating, but in all honesty the longer I’m here, the more I realize I don’t know.

This “principle” can be illustrated by a couple of sort of humorous but definitely misunderstood events I’ve attended this last year.  My teammates and I are invited to a goodly number of weddings every year.  Social events like this are understood to be important for relationship building and community involvement, but they can also be decidedly uncomfortable...sometimes quite time consuming, definitely difficult in terms of communication, and awkward socially.  So we usually send a “team representative” and share the load.  Last August, Caleb and Krista and I decided to go to the wedding of  one of the hospital nurses.  Wedding invitations always include the location of the ceremony and reception, but not exactly an address.  More like the name of the church and the neighborhood it’s in (and we’re not really familiar with neighborhoods in Gitega).   So, off we went, dressed in our wedding finest.  The wedding was taking place at a Catholic church and after asking around we were told it was located on the far end of Gitega.  Easy enough, there’s a large Catholic church right on the road that we’ve passed many times.  We parked and went in to the huge sanctuary.  At the front were no fewer than 6 couples getting married at the same time!  We found a seat towards the back, as the service had already started.  But after a few minutes of searching, we all realized that 1-we didn’t recognize any of the guests, 2-we didn’t recognize any of the couples, and 3-this actually wasn’t the right church.  

Back to the car.  We followed some sketchy directions down a side road, and then multiple other side roads while getting directions from another half dozen passers-by.  We finally found the “paroisse Yoba”, probably a 10 minute walk from the last church, and walked in just in time to see the bride and groom walking out down the aisle (along with 3 other couples, must have been a very popular day to get married!).  On the upside, it was a very short time commitment. :)


On the other side of the spectrum, one of our long time hospital employees, Jean Dukundane, died a few weeks ago.  He has faithfully served in the surgical department since the 1980s, and his death is a significant loss to Kibuye.  Wanting to pay my respects, I paid close attention to the information of the service and burial.  It was to take place the day before Easter, in our local church, starting at 11am.  So, John and Caleb and I walked up around 11:15 and found a seat in the back.  The pastor spoke for a very long time in Kirundi, and we understood almost none of it.  The Bible passage was Matthew 27, Jesus’ crucifixion, so I spent some time pondering if this was either an appropriate passage for a funeral service or perhaps this wasn’t actually the funeral service.  After about an hour, I finally realized that 1-I didn’t recognize any of the hospital staff there, 2-there was no casket or photo or anything, and 3-I actually wasn’t in the right place (found out later it was jut a regular Easter Saturday church service).  I walked up to the hospital and found the “viewing” in our morning staff room, 1 1/2 hours after the event was supposed to begin.  From there, everyone DID go to our local church for the funeral service, which began around 1pm.  


We’re trying, we really are.  And in my better moments I laugh all of these things off.  It can be hard and frustrating and uncomfortable to try to participate in something without knowing any of the “rules” or instructions or social/societal cues.  But, we press on because we know it’s the right thing to do.  And every time gets a bit easier.  I went to a wedding in Gitega last weekend (at the “original” Catholic church from the first story) and we made it to the right place at the right time, and it was nice!  I take heart that maybe if I can understand just 1% more each year, by the time we’re done in Burundi maybe I’ll be getting close to understanding half of what takes place around me. :)  But it also helps to continue to enlarge my perception of the world, to see new ways and ideas of doing things, to realize that things aren’t always easy for the immigrants in MY home, and to remember that no matter where we are on this earth, we are foreigners in a foreign land, looking forward to a permanent home.


4.6.17

The People Behind the Scenes

by Jess Cropsey

We are privileged to work alongside some amazing people here in Burundi.  Behind every big "accomplishment" -- a new building, a new program, a special event -- there are dozens (or more) of Burundians who have made it all happen.  These people have graciously guided us as we have transitioned to life in this very different place.  They have endured our cultural blunders and language stumbles time and time again.  We could not be here and do what we do without them.      

Today, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine, Thérèse, and give you a small peek into her life.  She is a well-known figure in the Kibuye community.  As a teacher for the last 33 years, she has taught many of the adults & children in the area at some point in their lives.  She is a widow in her 50’s, with three grown children (one of whom is married to the head nurse in the eye clinic) and three grandchildren.  When her twins were 6 months old, her husband got sick and within 24 hours died of an unknown illness.  Being a widow in a paternalistic society like Burundi is incredibly difficult, yet somehow she has managed to flourish and thrive.  

Thérèse is one of the lucky ones because she actually has a job, though the pay is less than $50 a month.  While teaching is her “day job”, she stays busy with tending her fields, pastoring at her church, being involved in local community government, and starting or participating in various community organizations.  She maintains more than 10 fields scattered throughout the local area where she grows peanuts, peas, beans, corn, soy, wheat, and sorghum.
  

She is a Free Methodist pastor and is active in her local church where she preaches, sings, plays the drum, and assists those in the congregation with food & clothes.  Given that she is a widow herself, she has a special heart for these women and has been involved with an organization called Sister Connection that provides financial assistance and vocational training for widows.  She also organizes a day of prayer once a month with and for these women. 

Thérèse is incredibly industrious and knows how to make soap, soy & peanut milk, and avocado oil.  She shares this knowledge with others, particularly those who are too poor to buy oil in the market or to own a cow (for milk that children and pregnant women desperately need in this malnourished country).  [Interestingly, the avocado oil can be used for cooking, for lighting lamps, and as a hair product.]  In addition, she teaches basket-making, sewing, and cooking.  

She is also a representative for her local district in a health care association that assists its members with hospital bills (for a small membership fee of less than $10/year).  She also started a small association for widows at the local Kibuye church.  Every month, these women contribute 1,000 frambu each (about 50 cents) and save their money together until they have enough to buy something as a group (like a goat).  

You would think that all of these activities would keep her plenty busy, but she is also studying in a degree program designed for teachers to advance their training and provide an opportunity for further study in a university.


Despite the challenges that Thérèse sees in her community and experiences herself, she is full of joy.  She loves the Lord and takes great delight in teaching children.  She is incredibly patient and full of life.  It has been an honor to get to know her over the last few years and we have been blessed to have her as a Kirundi teacher for the missionary children at Kibuye.  Below is a photo from a visit we made to her home a few months ago.  
  

Always a teacher, she is constantly trying to help us learn Kirundi, with every greeting and every activity.  Below, the kids are removing corn kernels from the cob (which will later be taken to the mill to turn into flour).  All the while, she is patiently reviewing basic vocabulary with the kids.  


Here she is again in "teacher-mode" from a home visit two years ago, showing us how to cook a Burundian meal.




Learning how to make bricks...


This unexpected friendship with someone whose life is so different than mine has been a blessing to me.  She has taught me about contentment, perseverance, and patience and it has been a joy to share life with her.    


These photos are from the "putting the baby on the back ceremony" for her grandchild, which is basically the Burundian equivalent of a baby shower.    


29.5.17

Shame Resiliency

(by Greg)

Shame.  It is something we all experience.  It is something I have experienced in every significant relationship I have.  It is something I have experienced in every phase of my life, from childhood, to college and medical school, during our time raising support to return to Burundi and in every phase in between.

Last year I read (or rather, listened on audio) to a book called Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown.  Ms. Brown is a sociologist who spent years interviewing people and researching the subject of vulnerability and shame.  The results of her research are as follows:  We all experience shame.  It is unescapable in this life.  However, it is those people equipped with what she terms “shame resiliency” who are most successful in life, whether that be in their work, in their family or in any other domain of life.  It is those people who can experience shame and not become paralyzed by it, who are most likely to allow themselves to be vulnerable again and again and who will ultimately live the richest, fullest lives.  The title of the book is based on a quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”


I found her ideas compelling, and it has been during our year of language learning that I have seen these ideas play out in a fresh and surprising way.  When learning a new language, you are constantly confronted with opportunities to feel shame.  In the US, I like to think I can have a reasonably intelligent conversation with most people.  On the other hand, in France, every time I open my mouth, inevitably something comes out that I did not intend.  I make mistakes.  Many many mistakes.  And I often walk away from these conversations with the idea that I came across sounding like a moron.  I walk away feeling shame.  Among those who are studying a new language, I don’t think I am alone.  And so, I am confronted with a challenge.  Will I get out of bed today, and enter into the ring once more, allowing myself to experience shame again, or will I shrink back?  Will I keep my mouth shut, and will I avoid these situations.  In my head I know that the only way to progress, is to be vulnerable, to engage French speakers and to accept the fact that I am occasionally (or often) going to sound less than intelligent.  

What has intrigued me most about this subject, is watching the same ideas play out in the lives of our children.  Our daughters, who are 11 and 12, also experience this shame.  And as a result, they have done everything in their power to avoid speaking French to French people.  I believe that sadly, this has hindered their language learning.  They have made great progress with their French, but I know they could have made even more had they allowed themselves to better engage their French classmates.  However, there is one family member, who as far as I can tell, has been significantly less affected by shame.  This is our 8 year old son Biniyam.  Biniyam will happily launch himself into a conversation with anyone without appearing at all embarrassed or ashamed.  I have heard him talk to French kids in his class, stringing together what few French words he knows, and despite his errors, he usually gets his point across.  I don’t know how much of this is due to his younger age, and how much of it is due to his personality, but it seems to me that BIniyam is incredibly “shame resilient”.  And because of this, he takes risks, he is vulnerable and he is making incredible progress in French.  He is also forming great friendships with the kids at his school.  It is truly a beautiful thing to watch.  


As I process these thoughts it occurs to me that the most powerful response that we have to the challenge of shame is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He was the one who bore our shame, bearing it gladly, out of love for us.  He was the one who made Himself vulnerable and humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  And He did all of this for our sake, that we might be reconciled to the Father.  I truly believe that the more we see our identity in this light, and the more real our relationship with Christ becomes, the less we will experience shame, and the more we will allow ourselves to be vulnerable, out of love for our wives, our children, our friends and those who are hurting and suffering far away.  As we meditate on what Christ has done for us, the opinions of others fades into the background.  And we are finally free.  We are finally free to climb into the ring and to “dare greatly”.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1-2


22.5.17

The East African Community Conference on Health and Research

(By Logan)

Introduction
A couple of months after our family arrived at Kibuye last fall, the team received an important email from the rector of Hope Africa University. 

He informed us that there was going to be an international medical conference in the spring hosted by the East Africa Community Commission on Health and Research. This was apparently a large annual conference that was held in a different East African country each year (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan). This year was Burundi’s turn to host and the university wanted a strong showing at the conference.  If there was any way possible we should try to submit a proposal that we could present at the conference. There was only one problem: we found all this out only 2 days before the deadline for abstract submissions. 

However, it seemed like there was precious little time to dedicate to writing up abstract proposals for a medical conference that none of us were really familiar with. Everyone was engrossed in full-time work at the hospital. 

Everyone, that is, except me. 

I had not yet started full-time at the hospital, while I adjusted to life in Burundi and studied the local language of Kirundi. Of course, I had also not participated in any research whatsoever in Burundi. 

After letting the team know that I was willing to help expediently write some abstract proposals (OK, it’s possible I used the phrase “throw something together”), I learned that there were some possible submission ideas already on the team. Working feverishly, along with Eric and Alyssa, we submitted two applications, squeaking them in just under the deadline. 

With that off my plate, I promptly forgot all about it. 

For about the next 4 months that is. To be more precise: until 3 weeks prior to the conference. That is when I found out that our proposals had actually been accepted as poster presentations. That meant that I had less than 3 weeks to make all the arrangements to attend the conference in Bujumbura, turn the hastily prepared abstracts into professional appearing academic posters, and then figure out how to even get a poster made in rural Burundi. 

Methods
With a lot of help from Eric, Alyssa, and even a colleague from Cox FMR the posters came together. I found out that one of the lab techs at Kibuye Hope Hospital knew a guy who could make the poster in nearby Gitega. About a week before the conference, I entrusted to him the USB drive that contained pdf’s of the posters. And then I waited.

And waited.

Each day for that next week I would stop by the lab and check with him on how the posters were coming along. He assured me they were being made and I would have them before the conference. Finally, on the night before the conference, at 7:30pm, the posters arrived via motorcycle taxi. With fold-creases and just a little mud splashed on them, they certainly had the appearance that they had just arrived by motorcycle taxi. But with enough pressing and a warm wash cloth the wrinkles and mud stains came out.

Results
I made it to the conference and started to put up the posters in the poster area, which was actually an area outside under a breezeway by which people would pass during breaks. As I was working, I was standing on the carpet in the middle of the aisle, checking to make sure the poster was level, when an employee came over to me and said, “Excuse me, you can’t stand here, the President is walking here.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” I said, jumping back quickly and looking around. But then I got confused because there was literally no one around.


I looked back at the employee, trying to understand. “Ohhhh! I get it!” I thought out loud. “You mean, that, like, at some point in the future, the President WILL walk on this carpet, so I should get off of it now… Ummm.  Right!  Of course! No problem.”

The conference got underway, and the President did in fact walk on that carpet. There were many opening speeches by many dignitaries in the East African Community, including the U.S. Ambassador to Burundi as well as His Excellency the President himself. 


Alyssa and Sonia, one of our Burundian colleagues at Kibuye, were also able to come down to Bujumbura to attend the conference and present the new Kibuye NICU design as an example of low-tech and low-resource techniques to help decrease neonatal mortality.  



Discussion
The theme of the conference was “Outbreaks, Epidemics, and Antimicrobial Resistance”. There were some interesting presentations ranging from efforts to limit the purchase of over-the-counter antibiotics to the demonstration of antimicrobial resistance from cultures of hospital cockroaches. It was especially interesting to see the antibiotic sensitivities presented in regards to the common antibiotics that we use at Kibuye since we don’t actually have the ability to do microbiology cultures. But at the same time it was quite alarming, because we could see just how much resistance is developing to these common drugs, even though they are often the only option we have available.

Conclusion:
Overall, this was a good opportunity to share our work with the East African Community, as well as learn from and be inspired by what some of the larger hospitals and medical schools are doing in this part of Africa. I’m not sure where the conference will be held next year, but I think it would be worth attending again. As long as I’m not “pulling it together” at the eleventh hour.




(the cockroach abstract, for those interested...)



13.5.17

Lost at Home

(by Nicole)
I’m currently three weeks into my four-month long home assignment, so it seems like a good time to address the phenomenon of reverse culture shock while it’s fresh. Let’s take a brief look at where I’ve just come from:  I love the community living in Kibuye; we live together as a team with common purpose. I am constantly surrounded by people who know me and love me well, whom I have been intentionally doing life with for the last two years. We’ve had countless shared experiences and built a team culture that this blog can only provide glimpses of.

This is not the first time I’ve been back to the US since I arrived in Kibuye. In fact, I’ve been back twice in the last two years for special events. These visits were both very brief and didn’t require me to really enter back in to the culture. This time feels altogether different. I have four months. That’s enough time to get involved, to build routines, to invest. I didn’t expect to feel differently though, so the culture shock I’ve experienced really snuck up on me. I’ve felt a sense of social anxiety that I’ve never experienced before. I’ve found myself in tears even on my way to join my friends at bible study. My body has decided to find new ways to react to stress so I’ve found that I now start to get hot and sweat when I’m nervous (thanks for that, self). I’ve also noticed my hands shaking but, that could be because of the excessive amounts of coffee I’ve been consuming to fight the lethargy I’ve been feeling. I’ve never been good at dealing with large amounts of unstructured time; I like to have a plan and stick to it, yet here I am with four months of time and minimal structure other than my already scheduled speaking engagements. (This particular tension has eased a bit as I’ve gotten involved in a bible study, scheduled French tutoring, and added a few other regular commitments to my schedule – but initially it was a major cause of stress.) It’s just in the last few days that I’ve realized I’m enjoying driving again. I still feel isolated and lonely when I spend more than a couple of hours at home. I don’t like having to schedule time with people more than a week in advance, and then having to travel to see them. I miss walking out my front door and going to my neighbor’s house to have tea and talk about our days. In Kibuye I see the same people every day and they know pretty much everything happening with my life (I’m an extrovert and a verbal processor so the people around me tend to know just about everything about me.) I don’t like having to recount the last year to people instead of just the last few hours.


Even as I write and think back to how intensely I was feeling these emotions a week ago, I realize they are slowly fading away. I’m slowly finding my way back into American culture and have some great friends who listen and seek to understand what I’ve experienced. I’m thankful for the paradox of emotions I’m feeling because it means I am at home in both places. Even as I wrestle with the negative impact of reverse culture shock, I am elated to have the next few months to spend with family and friends and to invest in my home church which has invested so much in me. I praise God that in this season I have two places to call home. 

Kibuye, Burundi

Poughkeepsie, New York

12.5.17

Divine Love

(By Susan)

What i'm about to tell you is a love story.  This is one of the greatest love stories I've ever experienced.  It involves unconditional love, costly sacrifice, incredible patience and perseverance.  But this is not your usual love story.  This is the love story between a young a very  sick little girl and her older brother, and I have been deeply blessed to have seen this love story up close.

5 year old Divine came to our hospital at the end of December and was admitted for severe malnutrition. Really, really severe malnutrition. For weeks, she lay in bed, barely conscious and barely alive. Her mother was unable to stay at the hospital, and since our hospital requires each patient to always have a caregiver, her brother was given the job of caring for little Divine. From that point on, her 12 year old brother, Moise, was always at the side of her bed.





 He did jobs that I have never seen any 12 year old boy do before; change his sister, clean up diarrhea, wash and clean his sister, feed her, give medication, and sleep next to her (in the same bed, often with other patients) in a very crowded room filled with lots of fussy, malnourished babies and toddlers and their care-givers.

Weeks after she had been admitted,  I walked into the room one day and found her sitting up in bed.  I was shocked.  She still had a feeding tube in and was still on oxygen...but for the first time, I felt like she was going to make it.  For the first time she was interested in playing, and even though she was extremely weak, she was determined to pick up blocks and try to throw a toy at me.
Divine had a type of malnutrition that is a bit deceiving to those of us that don't have a medical background.  She actually looked a bit chubby.  Her body was puffy and swollen, due to a lack of protein.  As she was fed a high protein formula through her feeding tube over the next few days, her swollen body dramatically changed. She suddenly had a tiny little body that looked like pictures that I have only seen in my high school textbooks of holocaust victims.  Just looking at her tiny little skeletal frame, my throat would tighten and would get choked up.
 Divine is special.  She has some developmental delays, that mean that although she is 5 years old, she has never walked and has never clearly spoken.  I feel certain that if Divine had the help that we offer in Western countries;  therapy, special education, healthy food etc. that she could thrive.  However, there's not much aid for special kids like Divine here in Burundi, so I can only imagine that most days Divine sits on a mat in their mud hut, neglected, while her single mother is out working in fields, fighting to get enough food to feed her hungry kids. 

Almost every day for 4 months, I visited Divine and played with her.  Moise was never far from her bed.  Boys his age should be in school and outside playing soccer with their friends, but Moise patiently sat by her bed, tenderly caring for his weak sister. 

He was never embarrassed of his sister, but would clap and cheer and rejoice in her progress.  During those 4 months, we saw some amazing changes in Divine.  She grew stronger, was eating more, was more talkative, was working with our hospital's physiotherapist, and was actually able to start walking with the aid of a walker.




Of course, she had some setbacks, like coming down with malaria and another infection.  In spite of the tough times, it was exciting and rewarding to see her gain weight, strength, and see her play and smile every day. Moise became a strong voice and an advocate for his sister, pushing for his little sister to get more physiotherapy time, and be able to borrow a walker.   




On April 12th, after so many months in our malnutrition service, Divine was discharged and Moise carried her home...we would later learn just how far he had to carry her!  Both Dr. Alyssa (our paediatrician) and I never had the chance to say goodbye to them before they left, so the  following weekend, the two of us along with my 10 year old son Micah, set off to try to find Moise, Divine and their home.



 It took about an hour of driving, a few wrong turns, and then about another hour of hiking on little dirt trails following an old man with a machete before we found them. 

They were a little shocked - and honestly a bit scared - that a group of 3 bazungus (white people) just showed up at their home,  but after offering gifts of beans, rice, Busoma cereal and a soccer ball, they were much more receptive to us!


This family lives in unbelievably extreme poverty. Their house is made of home-made mud bricks, a grass roof, dirt floor, and that's about it. To a person walking by, you would say that they have nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I would have totally thought this had I not gotten to know Moise and Divine.  What I learned is that while they are the poorest people I have ever met, they are rich in other things.
If I'm honest, it's hard to imagine anything for Divine other than a dismal life filled with a lot of suffering, pain and hunger.  However, I have to remind myself that our Father loves Divine so much more than Moise or anyone else does or ever could.  That pain, sickness, and poverty don't get the last word. That the sacrificial love that Moise showed for his sister, is merely a poor reflection of the divine love God has for little Divine, and for every single person on this earth.
      This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers {and little sisters} 
1 John 3:16