Happy 53rd Independence Day, Burundi!

By Alyssa

Yesterday marked 53 years of independence for the countries of Burundi and Rwanda from Belgium. Burundi remained a monarchy for the first four years of independence and then was declared a republic on Nov 28, 1966. A rocky history since then has been marked by coups d'état, assassinations, ethnic tension, and civil war. But life has been relatively peaceful for the last ten years, and, in our team's almost two years here, we've seen hope and courage in the faces of our Burundian students, colleagues, and patients even as they face African realities. Unfortunately, though, the last two months have been difficult for everyone as Burundi succumbs again to political tension and crisis. So it was a joy yesterday to see Burundians at Kibuye celebrating independence together - smiling and laughing and enjoying the day regardless of tribal or political affiliations. The future remains uncertain for this beautiful country, but we are thankful to be here and a part of this community even at such a time as this.

Jason with surgical interns 
Aerial view of Kibuye - blue and red roofs in the center
Primary school boys practicing for their performance at the Independence Day festival

Primary school drummers in their uniforms on Independence Day

"Independence" of two pediatric patients after long hospital stays! Cedric (above) recovered from meningitis and malaria. 
Pascal finally went home after 49 days in the hospital miraculously improved from severe acute malnutrition. We considered sending him home with palliative care at one point but then (thanks to Dr. Randy Bond and to Jason) we discovered he had a large congenital pancreatic cyst which was contributing to his severe malnutrition. After the operation he continued to be extremely sick with various complications, but last week he finally began improving. He started to shake our hands and take the therapeutic milk and Plumpy Nut (high calorie peanut butter). He stopped crying all the time and began to play. The students, nurses, and I were thrilled to see him finally recover and begin to act like a healthy three year old. 

Both of the above patients come from extremely impoverished families and thus their bills were paid by the Needy Patient Fund. Thank you to all those who contribute to that! 

Grandmothers and mothers with premature infants in the NICU with new hats donated by friends in the US
Hospital staff enjoying the festive atmosphere of Independence Day

Secondary school drummers in patriotic costumes
Missionary kids enjoying Independence Day in "Bananaville" (their fort which is frequently undergoing creative renovations)

Burundi flag with the Morning Report building
And no celebration is complete without a sunset game of football! 

ISAIAH 58: 6-9 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I."


Rural Burundian Cuisine

Burundi has been called the hungriest nation on earth.  Studies by the IFPRI in 2013 and 2014 determined the GHI (Global Hunger Index) for 120 countries, and Burundi scored the most hungry.  One study concluded that 73% of the population of Burundi is undernourished. 

So what do people in rural Burundi eat?  Well, mostly what they can grow.  The vast majority of rural Burundians are subsistence farmers, eating from their own gardens.  Most can not afford to eat prepackaged foods that are sold in the cities.  Especially not these days, as prices for imported and packaged goods are rising.

This spring we took a field trip to see how a Burundian friend prepares her meals.  This is what we learned.

It is no surprise that Burundian women work very hard to prepare food for their families.  Here are some pictures of working hard in action.  After hoeing and cultivating, women harvest food from their gardens.  Here our friend Thérèse harvests manioc, which is like a starchy bland potato.  

Then the women chop firewood

and carry water from the well 

so that they can cook their manioc and pumpkins

or beans.

Another common dish is peas with chopped pumpkin leaves.

The stems of the leaves are peeled like this 

and then boiled using wood-burning brick ovens like this one.

After a whole lot of work to prepare it, the finished product tastes good and is filling.  With no added sugar, preservatives, colors, or flavorings.   Unfortunately this local diet, while high in organic fresh produce, does not contain high levels of protein, calcium, or calories.  More protein-rich foods such as meat, milk, and even eggs are too expensive for the majority of our patients at Kibuye.  In fact, UNICEF reports that 58% of children in Burundi are chronically malnourished.  Stay tuned for another blog post highlighting one of the ways that Kibuye Hospital helps to improve nutrition in our area.

Despite widespread hunger, Burundian people are hospitable and eager to share what they have with guests.  We are grateful for friends in this community like Madame Thérèse with whom we can share food and time together.



by Rachel

I think these past months are possibly the longest time in the history of our blog (which began in 2008) that I have not shared a post or two with our readers.  It's difficult for me to elucidate why.  We are not too busy with our lives in the US; it seems more of a sense of not knowing what to say.  For the first time ever we're not getting ready for something, or doing the work we set out to do.  To be clear, Serge asks their missionaries to spend about 80% of their time in the field (Burundi) and 20% of their time in their home culture (US).  Eric and the kids and I have been back in the US since April and our trip had nothing to do with upcoming elections or potential violence.  It was just our turn to go, and we will be here through January of 2016 at which time we have every intention of heading back to Kibuye.

It's been an interesting several months here in America and several times I have sat down to write a blog and come up empty.  There's all the talk of reverse culture shock, but others have written excellent posts about that already, many of which I have read on Facebook.  Perhaps you have, too, or perhaps I just see a lot because I have a lot of missionary friends. :)  They detail everything from the overwhelming cereal aisle in the grocery store to the uncomfortable feeling of never being able to "go home."  I don't really feel like I have anything else to say on the subject.  Eric and I were prepared for most of these feelings already and the only irrational urge I got those first few weeks was to stand in the middle of the Super WalMart store and yell at the top of my lungs, "People, you have no idea!"  There's just So. Much. Stuff.  And so many choices and options and alternatives and products that you didn't even know existed but now can't live without.

Then there's been everything going on in Burundi, which feels to us like the elephant in the room every time someone or no one writes a blog post.  We have always striven to remain politically neutral on our blog and so many times it seems best to not say anything at all, and just pray instead of write.  When the coup went down, now 6 wks ago, those 36 hours seemed to stretch on for weeks for me.  I thought about Burundi and its people and our team and all the implications almost constantly.  And many said to me, "I'll bet you're so glad not to be there right now."  It was difficult to try to explain that in fact in so many ways I DID want to be there right then.  Burundi has become my home.  My team is there, my friends are there, my work is there, even my house and my stuff are there.  And while I didn't relish the idea of making a decision to stay or go, I wanted to be in the midst of it all.

So, now our family is in Michigan until December.  We enjoyed 2 months with Eric's family in Nashville.  We're settling in to our little place in Ann Arbor.  Eric and I are working several days a week, the kids are going to VBS at Knox, and we're looking forward to putting Maggie and Ben in school this fall.  It's been awesome to be present for birthdays and births, to see old friends and supporters, to connect in new and different ways, to revisit what it means to live an American life.  We own a mini van and 2 smart phones, and I go to the grocery store 3 times a week and watch videos on Amazon Prime.  It's been fun, but even life here in America has become cross cultural to us.  I am a westerner who lives in an African country, and many of the cultural practices in America have become foreign.  There are days when I love being here, and days when I miss the purpose of being in Burundi.  I had figured out how to live in Burundi; now, I need to figure out how to live in America again.  I need to figure out, in a world where everything is available and possible, what is worth spending my time and money on.  And how to stay connected to Burundi, and keep my kids connected.  I'm sure we'll get there, or get closer, as the months go by, just in time to return to Kibuye in January!

There's really nothing profound here, but hopefully this helps people know what's floating around in my head when you see me and ask how we're "transitioning."  And I hope it helps me transition into writing about our American experiences more on the blog.  We hope to see many of you in the months to come!  Drop us a line if you want to come visit us in Ann Arbor this summer/fall.


Prayer and David Crowder Promises

(from Eric)

I really like David Crowder.  For one, if he hadn't created the genre of bluegrass-techno, I'm not at all convinced that someone else would have done so.  And we are certainly better off for it.  Plus, his giant beard was way ahead of its time.

But today, listening to his music, I realized what I like the most.  Promises.  He sings about God's promises, and the bigger and brasher the better.  The promise that I, personally and individually, will be saved is a glorious one, far more glorious than I could ever hope to merit.

"Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can't heal."

Now, that's a promise on a whole different scale.  I want to believe it.  And then I think of friends struggling with the same old thing for the 4th decade.  I think of patients cut down with some awful diagnosis way too early in life.  And, most significantly these days, I think of the lovely land of Burundi, and the wonderful people there whose pains and uncertainties and fears stretch back generations.

"Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can't heal."

That's nice, but let's get practical.

"Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save."

That sounds like the same thing, but that's no bearded songster with an affection for banjos.  That's Isaiah 59.  That's why David Crowder can sing what he does.  Seven or eight years ago, he sang another one:  

"Everything will change.  Things will never be the same."

And yet sometimes it feels like nothing substantial will ever change, and that basically, things will always be the same.  The fears and the doubts will still be there.

"I am making all things new."

"All things," Jesus says.  Could there be any promise bolder than that?  Can we believe that?  Yes.  Sort of.  A little bit.  Sometimes.  In those rare moments when everything is lining up really well.

And that's the point of a promise.  To give us an anchor.  Something to hold onto while storms rage.  When we are filled with doubts.  Somewhere in the Sonship course, the comment was made that sometimes you have to start singing the song to really believe it.  Sometimes, when we embrace something, when we step out on it, we find that we understand it a bit more deeply than we did before.  It's maybe the difference between knowing about something, and knowing something by experiencing it.  And something like that is what Christians are called to do when they are called to be people of "faith".

Prayer is helplessness.  (according to O. Hallesby)  We come to God over and over again with all the things that we cannot do.  With the problems that don't go away, within us, without us, among us.  Everywhere.  We lay them at his feet.  We commit them to him.  We don't have solutions.  But if we are coming, then we are, in a sense, holding to the promises.  We are people of faith.  Maybe not always faith that things will go a certain way.  But faith that the promise-maker is strong.  He is sure. And he is loving.  He has shown us that, once and for all, in the life and work of Jesus.  So, let us sing the song.


Song: Ubuntu bg' Imana

Several years ago, I was given a book by Chuck Jacob which was based on a Burundian hymn (of all things).  The hymn was written in the early 20th century in Kirundi by a man named Emmanuel Sibomana.  An Anglican missionary translated it into English, and this was used as the structure for this book on the subject of the grace of God.  I enjoyed the text and the meter, but not knowing the tune, I wrote one for it (posted here back in 2012).

We've sung it as a team from time to time in worship, and when we got to Burundi, we procured a few Burundian songbooks.  As soon as I learned a bit of vocabulary, I found a hymn entitled "Ubuntu bg' Imana" ('the grace of God') which had the right number of stanzas.

Later on, at Kibuye, I asked some of the med students at our bible study if they knew the tune.  Several did, and they agreed to let me record them one night after bible study.

Then, this past month at home in Nashville, my brother-in-law Jonathan and I did a recording of it, first in English, with several stanzas of the med students singing the original in Kirundi at the end.  

Click here to download and play.  (Sorry, I can't seem to find a reliable online player)

O how the grace of God amazes me
It loosed me from my bonds and set me free
What made it happen so?
His own will, this much I know,
Set me, as now I show
At liberty.

My God has chosen me, though one of nought,
to sit beside my King in heaven's court.
Hear what my Lord has done
O, the love that made him run
to meet his erring son!
This God has wrought.

Not for my righteousness, for I have none.
But for his mercy's sake, Jesus, God's Son,
suffered on Calvary's tree-
Crucified with thieves was he-
Great was his grace to me,
His wayward one.

And when I think of how, at Calvary,
He bore sin's penalty instead of me.
Amazed, I wonder why
He, the sinless One, should die
For one so vile as I;
My Saviour he!

Now all my heart's desire is to abide
In him, my Saviour dear, in him to hide.
My shield and buckler he
Covering and protecting me;
From Satan's darts I'll be
safe at his side

Lord Jesus, hear my prayer, your grace impart;
When evil thoughts arise through Satan's art,
O, drive them all away
And do you, from day to day,
keep me beneath your sway,
King of my heart.

Come now, the whole of me, eyes, ears, and voice
Join me, creation all with joyful noise:
Praise him who broke the chain
Holding me in sin's domain
And set me free again
Sing and rejoice...



by Jason

Here is another Case of the Week.  Actually, new BBFFs have come in every week lately.  In January an orthopedic surgeon and friend of ours came to visit for a couple of weeks.  During that time he showed me how to fix Both Bone Forearm Fractures (BBFFs) with plates and screws.  Until that time I was casting them, which gives far inferior results, such as the two forearm bones fusing together and severely limiting rotation of the forearm.

The orthopedic surgeon also helped me dig through years of old ortho equipment that had accumulated in the hospital, some of which we were able to re-purpose.  For example, we sawed off the corner of some old hip plates, and now I can use them in patients like this 10 year old boy who had a femur fracture.

For the forearm fractures we found a number of plates and screws that have been working well.  Unfortunately, I have been running out of the right sizes of hardware, and so sometimes the night before the operation, I have to go to the shop and cut some screws/plates to the right size in anticipation of the next day's surgery.

Despite the lack of good hardware, by God's grace the patients have always had fine results.  That being said, if you have any extra plates or screws lying around, let me know :)


KHA Year 2

by Heather

Kibuye Hope Academy has adjourned its second year of classes.  We hope that these 8 students will treasure as many happy memories of this year as we teachers will.  Memories like kid-organized parties in the guava tree fort during recess time.

And kindergarten science experiments.

Field trips

And everyday moments like math class.

Abraham's creative phys ed classes, usually held outside except during rainy season downpours.

The year-end Festival of Cultures celebration, at which the adult guests could identify very few of the flags that the kids can identify.

The girls will likely not forget Abraham's art class including this Michelangelo simulation.

Nor the chicken coop that he helped them build for their chicks as an extra-curricular wood shop learning opportunity. 

We hope the kids will remember some of the Kirundi that they have learned from our Kirundi teacher.

And they should certainly remember loads of laughter

and some silliness

and lots of love.

We are thankful for the joy of teaching and learning with these kids, even when their energy far exceeded ours.  
We are also very grateful that our fabulous primary teacher plans to return for another year here at KHA. We are blessed.


Coup Contrecoup

By John Cropsey

Where to start?

As of the last post, we had no idea who was going to be running this country.  Well, the dust has settled a bit and President Nkurunziza has successfully out-maneuvered the putschists.  Most have already been tried and imprisoned except for the head general who remains at large for the moment.  The President is now "tiding-up" his government as we speak.  Jess and I will not soon forget our 15th wedding anniversary that coincided with the coup, that is for sure.   

That same day (before the coup attempt), one of the new families on our sister team in Bujumbura decided they had had enough of weeks of protests, cancelled classes, and gunfire.  They packed-up their Landcruiser and four kids and headed our way.  Little did they know along their 2.5 hour track through the mountains that a coup had occurred.  Per Murphy's Law, we were unable to reach them by phone to warn them, so we were all holding our breath for an hour plus until they blissfully unaware, meandered into Kibuye.  They were wondering what all the police and army activity was along the way.  We were thanking God.

From there on, my days have been full of talking with my national friends, phone calls, emails, fact finding, team meetings, BBC/Reuters, social media feeds (thanks Joel and Jessica), prayer, and nightly Serge security committee meetings made up of individuals living in 5 different countries.  All borders and the airport were closed for a few days.  So, that made decision making easy.  Sit tight and wait things out.

The day after the "coup" was the Battle for Bujumbura between the putschists and the loyalists.  Key targets to capture:  Presidential Palace, International Airport, Party Headquarters and the granddaddy of them all, the National Radio Station.  They got started early around 4 am followed by a day of contradicting info flowing out of Buja, "so and so has captured this, no they didn't, we have no idea...."  What we do know is that the next day, our ranks surged with expat refugees.  Our numbers maxed out at 44 expats at Kibuye this weekend.  

In honor of coup - contrecoup day, the US kids faced off against the visiting Canadian kids for a riveting game of capture the flag at Kibuye.  I'm sad to report, our peace-loving Mennonite Canadian friends came out on top.  To top off the refugee experience, two of the Canadian families picked-up lice in their previous temporary "shelter" on their way to us, so that added to the effect.  Greg tossed in a UNHCR bucket laying around his place to capture the spirit a bit more.

The next day, we drastically reduced our numbers as Sunday was "departure day" for half of our team.  I'll spare the details for security reasons.  Deciding who goes and who stays is an arduous process requiring tons of input from all constituents (the missionary, spouse, team leader, mission, parents, in-laws, national partners, embassies...).  

We are very thankful for our security committee at Serge.  It is made up of folks who understand real risk on the ground:  an Ebola doc who's served in not one, but two outbreaks; others who have lived through African coups, rebel attacks and medivacs;  another did covert kingdom work behind the Iron Curtain back in the day...  Yet, they are outside of our situation and thus a bit more objective then those of us in the mix. 

I like how one member of the committee put it:  "The voice of caution will most often be from those outside the situation - informed, clear headed, spirit-led.  The voice of risk comes from those in the midst - passionate, focused, spirit-led.  Both need to be heard and both need to be spoken in faith, trusting God's lead.  The former is what we add to what you have, with Jesus leading the way."

We are feeling a bit of the post-coup bleus and the void left by "departure day".  My wife and kids are gone, the Sund house is empty, the quad-plex Canadians' camp numbers are dwindling....  But, we continue to ask God for wisdom, guidance and joy and for Him to use us to be salt and light in the midst of a sea of fear and the unknown.

As I wrap up this beast of a blog post, I want to acknowledge a couple of things.  First, I am so proud of this team (and our refugees) who have not let fear rule.  They have looked to God and kept their confidence in Him.  There has been calm and peace in the midst of the storm.  Second, I have added a bit of humor into this blog, mostly as a coping mechanism, I'm sure.  This is no joke.  Many of my Burundian friends are deathly afraid as they re-live some of the darkest trauma this planet has to offer.  My heart aches for them.  I am begging God to bring a glimpse of his everlasting peace to this people, here and now.  As I write, 110,000 Burundians are huddled together, exposed to the elements in refugee camps in Rwanda, DRC and Tanzania with cholera already ripping through a large camp in the latter.  

Pray for God to intervene.  Ask God for the seemingly impossible.  Pray for men to humbly put their brothers and sisters above their desire for power and self-protection.  Pray that God's people will shine bright as members of different political parties and tribes.  May they show a nation how to love, dialogue, and find true peace.     


Coup d'État

by John Cropsey

Dear Family and Friends,

We want to give you a brief update from Burundi.  Yesterday, May 13th, from the best we can understand, a coalition of generals committed a “coup d’état” while the president was attending an East African heads of state meeting in Tanzania concerning the current political crisis in Burundi.  The generals have closed all borders and the international airport, partly in an attempt to keep the president from returning to the country.  The president is stating the “coup” has failed.  It is unclear who holds what amount of power at this time.  

In Bujumbura, there was much celebration where the heart of the opposition to the president is mainly based.  In our area, reactions were reserved and all remains calm for the moment, but the president has much broader support “up-country” where we are.  The coming days will tell us much about where this country is headed.  A counter-coup attempt could ignite broader violence.

So, we ask for your prayers:
  • May peace and justice reign in this place so long ravaged by war and injustice.
  • May the church lead by example, loving even their “enemies” in times of tension and fear.
  • May leaders respond wisely to the quickly changing situation.
  • May God give us, our national partners and our mission wisdom in making decisions about our team.
We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.  At this point, we are not getting much more information than what is already available on international news.  

Thanks for your prayers for us and the people of Burundi. 


More Adventures in the Primary School

by Jess Cropsey

As some of you faithful readers may remember, I wrote about Ecole Primaire de Kibuye (the local primary school) a few months ago.  There have been some exciting developments lately, and I wanted to share those with you.

1.)  Four of the team kids are now students at EPK!  A few weeks ago, Elise & Anna started attending French twice a week with one of the classes that I teach English to.  During that time, I take Micah & Sam to the pre-school class.  For the most part, they’ve all done a great job and it’s gone relatively smoothly.  Please pray that this will allow them to develop more relationships with Burundian children and acquire more language skills.  Pray for wisdom for Heather and I as we consider increasing the amount of time they spend there next school year.

2.)  The new classroom for the 8th year students is well on its way to completion.  The parents raised the money to get the basic structure up (bricks, roof), but lacked sufficient funds to add the finishing touches — door, windows, sidewalk around the classroom, concrete floor inside, blackboard, student desks, etc.  Thanks to one of our donors, the classroom will be ready for next year’s class! 

3.)  A new principal has recently been added to the school to work with the existing principal and supervise the older grades (7th-9th).  She seems really great.  Please pray for her as she transitions into her new role.

4.)  A parent meeting was convened a few weeks ago to discuss the construction project at the school and to think about ways that the parents can be involved in the school.  During the meeting it was decided that groups of parents would come once a month for a work day.  The first one was today and there were probably at least 100 parents outside working on the grounds. 

5.)  Our partner at Kibuye, the Free Methodist Church, is exploring a possible partnership with an educational organization that has a lot of experience working with schools in Rwanda.  They are wanting to expand to Burundi.  I’ve heard a lot of great things about this organization and I think they could be a huge resource for teacher training and curriculum development.  Please pray for God’s clear guidance as to whether this would be a beneficial partnership for the school.  

6.)  Over the last few months, I’ve been working on gathering supplies for next year.  Thanks to those of you who are participating in the “Adopt a Teacher” project (an Operation-Christmas-Child-type box for the teachers here).  I have also gathered enough supplies (I hope!) to provide each of the 1,000 students with a small bag of basic school supplies.  These items will be sent out on a shipping container from Michigan in August.  If you’d like to participate, I have some ideas of other ways to help out, so let me know (jesscropsey@yahoo.com).   

7.)  In February, the team kids started a Kirundi class twice a week with Madame Thérèse, the pre-school teacher at the primary school.  We had a great field trip to her house on Friday.  Blog soon to follow with more on that adventure!   

I don’t need to tell you how important education is, but it is particularly critical to Burundi’s future.  Since Burundi is the second most densely populated country in Africa, people struggle to have enough food for themselves, let alone have anything leftover to sell.  As families continue to grow (the average woman has 5-6 children) and land gets divided up into even smaller pieces, it will be impossible for farming to continue as the primary source of food and income.  This is one of the many reasons why education is so important here.  The next generation needs other ways to make a living.

So please join me in praying for this school and its teachers, administrators, and students.  And for each of us as we interact with the school in a culture and language very different than our own.  I hope and pray that we will be a blessing to each other in different ways.