Beautiful Burundi

(from Eric, with help from everyone)

Burundi, like anywhere else, is a mixture of brokenness and beauty, of glory and shadow.  And this blog has told its share of tragedies.  Today, however, we'd like to honor the goodness and the wonder that is around us in Burundi, country of a thousand hills, country that reflects the glory of its Maker.

So here's a feast of photos that we've collected over the years.  There are two focal points here.  The first is the beautiful green landscape.  The second is the beautiful people of Burundi.  Over the years that we have been here, the people of Burundi have been examples to us of joy, love, enduring forgiveness, hard work, undying hope, intelligence, and great kindness.  We have seen faith and self-sacrifice that we pray that God will enable us to emulate.

Voilà!  Beautiful Burundi:


Heroes Come In All Sizes, or, How Guinea Pigs Exemplify Christ

by Carlan

[Trigger warning: this post involves a story about experimentation using animals. To skip to the spiritual lessons learned, skip down to "Heroines #1".]

Sherlock Holmes statue in London (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
I read the adventures and further adventures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character when I was in elementary school. If I learned one thing from Sherlock Holmes it was to be observant. So when we lost three patients in two days, only one of which I expected to die, I wanted to know why. Often we do not have enough information to accurately diagnose our patients' diseases and causes of death are no different. These cases were no exception. One presented very late with miliary tuberculosis (pretty sure of that diagnosis based on the X-ray), one had terminal renal failure and heart failure, and another had passed out after drinking too much on Christmas and started complaining of back and abdominal pain. Disparate cases, to be sure. But all had received Ceftriaxone within 6 hrs of dying (for concurrent pneumonia, urinary tract infection, and febrile diarrhea in the setting of leukopenia, respectively).

Could the Ceftriaxone injections be implicated in the timing of these patient deaths? A bad batch? A problem of labelling in the factory? Some toxic transformation while in transit or sitting on our pharmacy shelves? The imagination can run wild, but we needed data. One cannot make bricks without clay.

At my hospital in California, I could talk to the pharmacy committee and we might send a sample to be confirmed in a reference lab with mass spectroscopy and other advanced chemistry. In a land where 90% of the population farms without tractors or plows, that won't work. What would Sherlock Holmes do?

We could inject a healthy volunteer with Ceftriaxone and watch what happens. I could never ask a patient or colleague to consent to this, given that there is a risk that the Ceftriaxone was contaminated with a fatal poison, so I would need to be the volunteer. But wait...could a goat stand in the place of the volunteer? I would ask Silas, our chaplain who is also a veterinarian and pig farmer.

An experiment must have documentation.
Silas recommended we choose a more diminutive species. Could we find some "cobayes" to use? I did not know that word in French, so I asked about rabbits while looking it up in my dictionary. We have some rabbits on campus. That would be OK, according to my friend Silas, but we could probably find some cobayes even in the community around Kibuye. Alors! I found that word in the dictionary: guinea pigs. We have guinea pigs on campus too. I would need the permission from some kids before using their pets as guinea pigs for a science experiment.

Our multi-talented chaplain, missionary kid, and guinea pig "volunteers."
Heroines #1: our team kids. With a healthy amount of trepidation, a surgeon's daughter agreed that she could furnish three guinea pigs for this experiment knowing that it could save patients' lives. This pre-adolescent girl already had internalized the central ethical tenet that allows me to support animal research for healthcare - human life, as bearing the image of God, is more precious than animal life.

Heroines #2: those guinea pigs. As I was talking with this heroine, we both realized the connection between Christmas and these research subjects. They were risking their lives to save others. It might be a stretch to say that the guinea pigs were willing to die to save others, but they were standing in the place of myself and my patients so that we would not be exposed to a certain risk.

In any case, I'm glad to report that all three guinea pigs came through the process fine and dandy. Eliminating the impossible, I'm concluding that these patients died of their diseases and not our treatments. Thanks guinea pigs! Thanks intrepid missionary kids! But most of all, thank you Jesus, for absorbing not only risk, but wrath rightly deserved, for me and so many of our patients and colleagues.
Alive and well after 100 mg/kg of Ceftriaxone. Yay for guinea pigs!


The McCropders Officially Turn 10!

By John Cropsey
The day the McCropders officially decided to become a team!
Global Missions Health Conference, Louisville, KY 2007
Before the year 2017 comes to a close, I felt I needed to make an important observation: 
Our team turned 10 years old in 2017!!! 
Baby McCropders on first arrival in Africa.  Can you guess who they are? 
Here's a hint, each kid is being held by their McCropder mommy? 

We've been through a lot since first meeting in 2002, be it the rigors of medical school and residency, the steep learning curve on arrival in Africa as part of World Medical Mission's Post-Residency Program, or the lows of becoming like pre-schoolers again as language learners not once, but twice, in France and again in Burundi.  

John and Eric along with friends at Christmas from medical school in 2002
before they knew their lives would become inextricably inter-twined over the next 15 years! 
We've lived together through attempted coups, counter coups, fuel shortages, flash floods, relentless bed bug epidemics, multiple mass guinea pig atrocities from plague and predator alike, Banga's green soup, countless tragedies and triumphs at the hospital and the list goes on and on.
Great memories like John and Jason's epic adventure "conquering" the Chepkulo on old inner-tubes. 
We've also witnessed scores of young, bright doctors graduate from medical school and tens of thousands of patients treated.  We've made friendships with people from all over the world and we've built a community amongst ourselves like few on this earth will ever be privileged to experience.
Some of our proud medical school Grads!  
N.B. - Africans typically don't smile for formal pictures like this, but trust me, they really are happy:)
Children playing together after being treated for the potentially deadly eye cancer, retinoblastoma
The highs have been high, and the lows have been low, but we've done it all together.  It has been special.  I couldn't imagine doing life with a more talented, wonderful group of friends, mentors and colleagues.  

Here's to each of you, my incredible teammates!  A special thanks to the McLaughlins for being the life blood behind this blog and helping us all tell our story so thoughtfully for the past 10 years.

We give God the glory for all of this.  We certainly couldn't do this work on our own without our Heavenly Father giving us an amazing support team from all over the globe, giving us strength when we feel we can go no further and giving us grace upon grace to live with each other so closely. 

Thanks for following along on our journey.  If you've been following our team from the very beginning, we'd love for you to send us a "Happy Birthday" comment on the blog.  We'd love to hear who you are and how this blog has impacted you.

Wishing you and yours all the best in 2018!


Kibuye Christmas Pageant (video)

By Logan

Twice a week, over 150 chronically malnourished children, along with their mothers and perhaps a couple brothers and sisters, make the long walk to Kibuye to receive a cup of warm fortified porridge called Busoma and a small sack of the nutritious flour to take back home with them. 

Last week, they also received something else -- a special performance of the Christmas story by the kids of Kibuye Hope Academy. The children have been working very hard on this Christmas pageant for several weeks now — rehearsing during music class, as well as in French and Kirundi classes, and even working on their singing, dancing, or speaking lines after school let out. 

Under Julie’s direction, and with the added musical talents of Michelle Wendler, the kids sang songs, danced, and shared the message of the hope of Christmas with over 500 people at the hospital on Friday. Ella Sund told the story in French, and Anna Fader spoke in Kirundi. 

They first performed at the outpatient malnutrition Busoma program, then performed a second time in a courtyard adjacent to the hospital. I was rounding in the Pediatrics ward at the time that they were setting up for the second performance, and there was a rustle of excitement that went through the hospital. Everyone that was healthy enough went outside to see what was going on. Most of the patients on my ward (and therefore, my rounding team as well) decided to take a break from rounding and went outside so we could all watch the show. 

Here is a video I took of the second performance. Julie introduces the group and describes what they are going to present. Silas, one of the hospital chaplains, translates into Kirundi for her. After it is finished, she also shares the gospel in a simple way and invites anyone who wants to know more to speak with the chaplains. I am so proud of the work that the kids and teachers put into sharing the love and hope of Jesus’ coming with the hospital community. They scheduled two more performances this holiday season: one yesterday at the local elementary school (pic below), and finally at our local Kibuye church service on Christmas Eve. 

Here are a few pictures of the first performance at Busoma, and some of the second as well.  While I thought that they all did a great job, I was surprised to also find myself impacted emotionally as I watched first the angels, then the shepherds, and then the wise men, all bowing down before the newborn king of kings. Especially as they sang “Noel, Noel” in three different languages.  I thought about how we will one day bow before the throne, along with people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. 

And at the local elementary school yesterday...


Community (Kibuye-style)

There are probably many things that make living here a fairly unique experience for our team. Living in arguably the worlds poorest, hungriest, least medically served country will do that. The water, power, internet, and fuel shortages all can have a major impact on our lives. Learning to live as a visible minority where it seems not only culturally acceptable but expected, for people to shout at you as you walk past  - is something most of us did not grow up knowing. Living in a ’town’ that has no stores, where the two dining options are the canteen at the hospital (which serves rice & beans) and the guy across the dirt road who hangs up a goat in the morning and slices off chunks for his ‘house specialty’ (AKA: only thing he makes) of goat kabobs, does take some getting used to.

But in some ways that is all the context for our lives here - what is more impactful is the day-to-day living, the reality of the mundane, every-day, normal-life stuff. What is in many ways so unique about being a part of this work, of this team, is how the things like going to work, kids going to school, having neighbours, driving to the store are all so massively impacted by one overarching reality - we live as a very tight-knit community. 
The kids (and a few adults) on Haloween

Before our family moved up here to join the Kibuye team, I had a different understanding of community. Our family has known neighbourhoods with a very strong sense of belonging, and community, with block parties, and community gardens, and neighbours who all know each other. We’ve know ex-pat communities where you spend incredible amounts of time together. We have strong extended family bonds. We have great groups of friends. We’ve known work colleagues that became so much more than just that. And then -  there is the community that is rural, mission compound living. 

Eric once told me that one time when he was back in the US, someone was describing how Amish life is different than the society around them. Most people in the West tend to have a circle of friends, a circle of people you work with, a circle of people from church, the circle of the people who live next to you, the circle of people whose kids go to school with your kids etc etc etc  - and some of those circles overlap to some degree with others.  For the Amish, the Venn Diagram of those circles is basically one perfect circle. It dawned on him that that’s essentially life here for our team in Kibuye.

For security there is now a fence/wall around our living space here -  which is totally normal for Burundi, every house in any city or town has a wall around it, and even out here many mud-brick houses have some kind of fence or wall around them. This, unfortunately, does give a bit of an in/out, us/them divide, that is hard to ignore and overcome. However, within this living space are our missionary families, most of our Burundian doctors, and a couple of other Burundian hospital employees. This gives us a strong sense of living truly together, in the same place, sharing common space, with yards that all run together and no clear delimitations inside. I feel like there are almost as many times that I have shared files with my teammates by physically carrying a USB drive to their house as I have to attach it to an email - which is a testament to not only to the close proximity of our houses but also the slow and unreliable internet connection. We can hear the kids in school from our house when something really funny happens (or when a bird or some other creature gets in) because the school is literally 20m from our front door in the middle of our shared living space.

Sometimes the ‘rural’ part of ‘rural, mission compound’ feel like it sticks out a bit more than others - like when you see a pregnant mom giving her sons a ride on a motorbike, or when the kids have rabbit races for a birthday party game, or when kids come in from playing in mud and have to have the egg-sacs of jiggers removed from inside their feet. (Pro-Tip: if you have a weak stomach, probably don’t Google “jiggers”). There is non-stop tree climbing, fort-making, running around, bike riding, and a lot of kids who think the rule ‘wear shoes to walk to school’ is an unacceptable imposition on their personal freedom. However, the thing that really sets this life apart from what we’ve known before however is the tight-knit community. 

Yes, we have a grassy area around our house that one could consider “our yard” but more often than not there are a bunch of kids playing there and none of them are our kids. There are 14 kids here who call us ‘Aunt' & ‘Uncle’ and about 18 adults our kids refer to as the same - not to belittle the relationship we have with our biological nephews and nieces - but because the relationship between the kids and the adults here is so close that using any title that doesn’t connote a true family tie feels strange and artificially distant. 

Yes, the people who live in the house next to us are our ‘neighbours’ -  but they are also our co-workers, team leaders, friends, our kids teachers, our bible study group, the parents of our kids friends, our students, our worship community, and people we share vehicles with, our exercise group, that friend who will fix your car, and so much more. It means we all gather together on Christmas Eve for a service of carols & readings, we share communion together, we are together for birthdays - it's not uncommon that groups of us go on vacations together, and it's every single able-bodied person on-deck  for unloading the 40' containers of medical supplies and personal goods when they arrive. 

It means that there are impromptu games of capture the flag, or ultimate frisbee including everyone on the compound who’s interested. 

That means our kids think that some Sunday afternoon having essentially all the adults playing with them is a normal activity.  

Kids as young as 4 or 5 playing with the big kids, their own parents, the Burundian docs, their Aunts & Uncles - all running around together in a giant game where teammates are frequently shouting to each other in one of three languages. It's the kind of inter-generational, inter-cultural dynamic that honestly is pretty rare to see.

Obviously, there are sacrifices that everyone has to make in order for this kind of community life to work.  You wouldn’t be able to survive very well here with the standard western mindset that I think to some degree we all were raised with of “but I have the right to…”  We all have to give up certain freedoms  - for the sake of families with kids at different ages, or no kids, for our Burundian neighbours, for those whose family patterns and schedules may look a bit different than ours, and more.

We come to agreements on things that seem to be best for the common good: don’t knock on other people’s doors at 6.30am, no toy guns, all kids go home at 6.00pm when it gets dark (and the mosquitos come out!), a group of guys run early mornings - so girls can run afternoons, let people know when you’re going to the city so they can put in orders for ‘the grocery store’, if you borrow tools - put them back, try to remember to sign out cars on the schedule. It means we all have to come to common agreements on things that we have different opinions on like how much diesel we’re willing to burn to keep the generator running when there is no electricity and a diesel shortage, family pets, and who gets to use the vehicles to go where during the kids' school holidays.

Honestly, I can’t think of another situation where our family would ever have this kind of close-knit community living.  If you were to attempt something like this in North America you’d clearly be some kind of nouveau-hippy commune. It’s hard to imagine a group of eight or so families deciding to buy vehicles together instead of each having their own, to share an internet connection, to build houses together on the same plot of land, to build a small school that’s essentially a home-schooling co-op lead by the teachers in the group, so that one (or both) adults in the families can work together at a small hospital. But that’s essentially what we have. It’s what we do. I must admit it all kind of snuck up on me - we moved up here from Bujumbura, and I didn’t really notice it until we were here a while. (OK - well that perhaps sounds a little cult-like…)

But this is our life now. To be perfectly honest I’m not sure it’s something that I would have chosen, but not only is it the only way we survive here, it's the only chance we have to thrive here, and it’s also a pretty special way to share life. Clearly this type of community drastically affects each of us, but I think for the kids on the team, it’s giving them a sense of what it can mean when you intentionally give up individual rights for the sake of others - and I hope that’s an embodiment of the gospel that has a lasting effect on how they chose to invest their time, abilities, and resources for years to come.  


Childhood Vignettes

We all have vignettes of childhood that stick with us into adulthood. They make us feel happy or sad. We may or may not completely understand them. But no matter the feelings attached to them or our understanding of them, they often define our adult outlook on what is normal.

As we raise or help to raise children in this culture so different from our own, we try to insert “normalcy” into family, team, and school life. And yet, we know that our children will grow into adults who remember very different vignettes from the ones that shaped us.

As you enjoy the following stories of childhood here in Kibuye, I hope you laugh as we do but also use it as an opportunity to get to know these Kibuye Kids and their normal lives.

Vignette #1: A child excitedly emerges from the bathroom proclaiming, “The toilet is making noises, Mommy. I think the water just came back on.”

Vignette #2: With a puzzled look, Girl asked, “Americans wear shoes inside their house?” After learning that this was in fact sometimes true, there was a pause for processing, and then, “Very….silly.”

Vignette #3: As one child watched another walk down the hall with a long piece of thin white paper draped over her head and down her back: “You look like a bride. All you need is one of those mosquito nets that brides wear.”

Vignette #4: Upon returning to school from lunch break, one of the children put one arm into a sweatshirt while engaged in conversation. As she put the other arm in, she jumped and checked her shoulder. “Oh,” she said, “I thought I still had my chameleon on my shoulder. He was there all through lunch.

Vignette #5: After her mother had chosen some solid colored fabric (something difficult to find in Burundi) and her grandmother worked hard to recover their family’s couch cushions, Child (who is used to all the bright Burundian prints) grumbled that the furniture was so boring now.

Vignette #6: While writing a blog about guinea pigs together, the students wanted to describe the cages. One mentioned that he put containers in his guinea pigs cage so that they could play or hide. Another student promptly raised her hand to volunteer her concern that container wasn’t an accurate word and might give people the wrong impression. After all, to her the word container was associated with 40’ shipping containers instead of something that once held margarine.

Vignette #7: Many families enjoy homemade pizza and a special drink on the weekend. Thus, nine out of 10 Kibuye kids agree that a square is the normal shape of pizza, and they all enjoy Fanta Citron (said in great French accents) or BOOM Juice.

*Since these stories belong to the children and not me, I decided not to include any names.


Kibuye Kids Clubs

by Julie

We teachers and parents work together daily to do our best to bring our children a good education, making sure they stay current with their core subjects.  But, as we all experienced growing up, school is much more than reading, writing and arithmetic.  

For our children, French and Kirundi are daily classes, as they are growing up in a tri-lingual community.  Burundi doesn’t have theatres or museums for fieldtrips, so we have added a “composers” class as well as an “artist” class to expand their knowledge and interaction with the arts. 

But what about extra-curricular activities?   Clubs?  Lindsay and Scott Nimmon (our teachers) had a great idea to add a few Clubs to our school program this year and opened it up to any adult team member who wanted to offer a club to our kids.  This provides the children an opportunity to explore something they may not normally focus on, as well as an opportunity to interact with other adults on the team. 

I saw this as an opportunity to offer Ballet to the younger girls.  While I am far from Prima Ballerina, it is something I have loved all my life.  Many good life lessons rest in ballet: self-control, self-awareness, poise, grace, and patience.  Plus, little girls just love to dance!  

We don’t have a studio, mirrors, or a ballet bar of course, but missionary kids are raised to be flexible… so we make do with what we have!

Another club offered this year is Chess Club.  Logan takes a little time away from the busyness of the hospital a few times a month to spend quality time with the kids who are interested in chess.  

Chess is a wonderful game that can be enjoyed by the amateur who has merely learned how each piece moves, or the experienced player who has studied the masters.  Logan does a great job of challenging each student on his or her own level.  

He creates puzzles for them to solve, lends his chess books to those that are interested, shares his unique collection of chess pieces, and reinforces the hard-to-learn lesson of winning and losing well.

Scott Nimmon is offering a Logic Club to those who are looking to challenge themselves mentally.   They explore the mind and how each person receives information and perceptions that follow.  

They make observations, tackle problems, and ask questions.  Good thinking skills will definitely benefit these students in their future education, careers, and relationships.

The kids are having a great time with their clubs and are already buzzing with ideas for clubs next semester.  These children are blessed to be surrounded by adults who have such diverse interests, experiences, and talents.  

Stay tuned for what clubs will be offered next semester… Gardening? Running? Film-making? Choir? Woodworking? Baking? Mechanics?  Just a few ideas being tossed around…we will see!