Long-Anticipated Arrivals

The number of North Americans at Kibuye has more than doubled after an influx of new and returning friends over the weekend.

The Cropsey family is back; praise the Lord!  And our teacher has returned; hooray!  We have missed them every single day this summer, and this picture shows how glad we are to have them back:

Arriving with the Cropseys, the Caleb and Krista Fader family is here to continue learning Kirundi before jumping into all the work ahead.  The urgent need for Caleb's engineering skills has been quite apparent, as their first 24 hours at Kibuye included about 20 hours with no electricity.  We hope that Caleb can facilitate getting a generator system in place later this year.  : )  In the meantime, we love having them here with their adorable 1-year-old, Liam.

Also, Nicole has come from New York to help in the business office, among other things, for which we are very grateful.  We really look forward to getting to know her.  Below you see her first experience in front of the church at Kibuye as she was introduced to her new community yesterday.

And pictured above on the left, the Jesh and Julie Thiessen family from Canada has arrived as well.  Jesh, a surgery resident, is here to operate and teach in the hospital for 10 weeks.  They have jumped right in, helping from the moment they arrived, and even before, as they brought all kinds of helpful items for us and for the hospital in their luggage.

We thank God for bringing each of these people here to Kibuye.  Please pray for them as they settle in.


Staring Into the Dark

(by Eric)

A few of us first met Travis in 2010.  He's a family medicine doc like me, and had just come to Uganda to lead Serge's team there.  He's instantly likable.  Intelligent and perceptive, with a heart that greatly loves God.  He's just a couple years older than me, with a wife and three young kids.

Travis has cancer.  A medical anomaly, he was found to have advanced colon cancer several years ago.  He had to leave the field and move back to the US.  He has been through chemo and surgery.  From what I can tell, God has drawn him more to himself during this process.  I'm sure it doesn't always feel that way for him.  And now the cancer is back.

I first met Sarah in 2004 in rural Honduras.  She was getting ready to start medical school, but was already repairing hernias.  She is only person I have ever met who fell asleep taking the MCAT and still got into medical school.  She came and spent time with us in Kenya.  Then she finished her surgery residency and became a post-resident in Zambia, where I had spent two months as a medical student.

Sarah is vibrant and sharp, with an infectious energy.  I was so excited when I learned she would be in Zambia, knowing that she would be a great blessing to the people there.

Now Sarah has stage IV breast cancer.  She might be younger than I am.  She has started chemo.  Surgery is not currently an option, given the spread of the disease.

God, how can you allow this to happen?  I get that nothing can separate them from your love.  I even get that you may heal their hearts and their relationships through the sickness in their bodies.  At least, I sort of get it.  But the question remains:  God, how can you let this happen?


Sunday morning at church.  We were singing.

Confession:  My mind wanders terribly during worship songs.  I know this is the case for everybody, but I'm fairly convinced it's more for me.  I analyze everything to death, and plus I'm a musician.  So, I guess I have a hard time not being distracted by the very things that help other people to focus.  

But we were singing about Christ our refuge.  We sang about weak being strong, and Christ being the Lord of all the storm.  About our hope being built on nothing besides Christ.

And praise was flowing from my heart.  Why?  Because of my friends with cancer.  Bad cancer.  Scary, life-threatening cancer.

Because I'm reminded that I need a refuge.  Because we are weak.  Because we are in a storm.  Because all our other hopes are failing us.


My teammates poke fun at my tendency to write in a melancholic tone.  And I can laugh along with them.  But I can't seem to stop writing that way.  Because Jesus is the light of the world.  If you stare into the dark, it ought to be transformed by his presence.  If it's not, then it's all for naught.

I can't always find his light.  But sometimes I can.  And that's usually enough for me to continue in the hope that, seen or unseen, his light is always there.  I can stare into the dark precisely because I have hope.

Much of the time, it doesn't feel that dark.  I don't really feel like I need a refuge.  I feel like I can hope in myself, and I'll probably be just fine.  I don't look for the light.  And so, I'm distracted by the chord changes, the timing of the powerpoint slide changes, and just about anything else.

And the point is this:  I'm wrong.  In moments like that, I need the Light of the world just as much, if not more for my self-deception.  Travis and Sarah can't hide it.  Much of the rest of the time, we think we can.  We cover it up, and we play a game to our detriment.  We miss out on praise.

What Travis and Sarah and their families are going through is, in many ways, unique from me.  In other ways, it is an unmasked form of something that is universal.

"Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known." - Luke 12:2

"the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." - 1 Corinthians 14:25

This is very good news.  This must be very good news.  Let us live in the light.


Going Home

by Jess Cropsey

In exactly one week, our family will be getting on an airplane to head back to Burundi.  We have had a wonderful couple months here in the United States, but all of us (even the kids) are excited to go back home.  We've had some discussions with the kids about the "yuck duck" and the "yeah duck" (modeled with two rubber ducks) that harkens back to our cross-cultural training in Colorado.  The "yuck ducks" are missing grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins.  The "yeah ducks" are being able to play with dear friends again, being in their own rooms and having their own toys.

And for me, it really does feel like going home this time.  In Kenya and France, it just wasn't quite the same feeling of being home.  We knew those places were temporary.  As I thought about this, I realized that this will be the first time that the kids & I have left the United States for a place that we've already been to before!  Our first three trans-Atlantic flights were all going to a new & unknown place (Kenya, France, Burundi).  This time, we know what we're in for and what to expect -- the grocery stores, the currency, the food & other items that are available, the roads, the people, the language (to some extent anyways), etc.  We have a beautiful home that we are going back to, a team that has become like another family, and Burundian colleagues who are dear friends and wonderful ministry partners.  

Please pray for us as we travel next week (Wednesday, August 26th - Friday, August 28th).  Several other teammates (new & old) as well as a visiting general surgeon & his family will be traveling at the same time.  It will be a time of transition at Kibuye as a large group of ex-patriates descend upon this rural place that has been relatively quiet for the last few months.  And pray for our new teammates in particular, Caleb & Krista Fader (engineer/nurse) and Nicole Christenson (finance) as they settle into life & ministry with our team.  

A few of the amazing people we've been able to spend time with this summer:


In Praise of American Seasons

(from Eric)

Well, our time in American is more than three months now, with more than that to come before we return to Burundi.  We are probably as settled as we are going to be, which is to say "sort of".

One of the questions we get from people is "what do you enjoy the most about being back in the US?"  This is a good question.  It's good, because it is likely to yield some interesting information for the question-asker, but it's also good because it pushes us, the missionaries in the US, to a useful type of reflection.

Because there are lots of really great things about being back in the US.  The top of that list is our family and friends.  We love being here because this is where so many people that we love and have missed live.   It is here that we get to be a part of birthday celebrations, attend graduations, and see new nieces when they are still newborns.

But we also enjoy ice cream.  We enjoy the quiet serenity of driving after dark on a well-lit road.  We enjoy frank communication styles.  We enjoy Trader Joe's and Target.  We enjoy the way that Americans take so much problem-solving initiative.

Yet I thought I'd mention here one of the things that I appreciate more and more as time goes on:  Seasons.  We've spend the better part of 5 years in the equatorial highlands of Africa.  Both in Kenya and in Burundi, we've lived above 6000 feet, and within 5 degrees of the equator.  (Kenya was less than a degree!)  People almost invariably assume that we live in a hot humid place, and almost all our visitors comment on how great the weather is at Kibuye.  And it's true.  Believe me, we don't take it for granted, since almost all our missionaries friends are sweating it out somewhere else!  At Kibuye, highs range from 60 to 80 degrees (depending mostly on the clouds and rain), and it can dip down into the high 40's at night.  At least, we think so.  No one has a thermometer, and there is no weather service, so we're just guessing.

And yes, it's perfect.  And there is some changing of the environment as the rainy and dry seasons alternately unfold.  But it feels the same.  And as the months go by, I miss the seasons.  I miss being cold, and I sort of even miss being hot (though we can visit Buja for that).

Because the seasons are beautiful.  Right now in Ann Arbor, everyone is outside, taking advantage of the few months of summer.  Fruit trees are producing.  Outdoor festivals are almost every weekend.  It's light until after 9 pm, which is just shocking.  On the equator, sundown is always between 6:15 and 6:30.  One African friend exclaimed that he can't eat dinner if it's still light outside, which is a thought that never would have occurred to me.  But now, we can sit outside after dinner and watch fireflies come out.  Bugs that light up!  Can you believe it!

Maggie understands the seasons.  Ben (who is 4) is a bit hazy on the details.  He gets the order mixed up.  Or he thinks that Fall is when things grow.  But then, the last time he saw the leaves all change color and fall off the trees, he was one.  So, this will be fun to watch.  Apples to pick, sweaters to don, leaves to rake (definitely a blessing and a curse, I know), football to watch.

I'm even glad that we're going to be here for part of the winter.  The burst of warmth when you walk out of a cold wintry day into a warm building is a beautiful thing.  For that matter, walking out into the cold isn't so bad for the first few moments.  Bare tree branches against a clear sky, and everyone sipping their warm beverages.

And the whole thing is such an amazing cycle.  Death, resurrection, death, resurrection.  I'm guessing that the dry and rainy seasons could create the same thing for Africa, but it doesn't hit me the same way (probably because I'm not farming.  And I'm an American).  But every spring feels like the first spring.  Like, even though the season has never failed to come, part of me didn't believe it would come this year.  That, this year, it would just stay gray and cold.  But it doesn't.  And so, if we're wise, we're continually celebrating the season that is before us, because it hasn't been here long, and it won't be long before it's gone again.

It's a beautiful image, both for what it is, and also for what it can teach us.

Happy Summer.


One World Futbol Story

One World Futbols are a huge hit here at Kibuye.  These ultra-durable soccer balls are made by a company with a mission to give them away in places like Kibuye.  A young patient of Jason's, pictured below after several operations on his left leg, is forever changed and thankful.  One World Futbol's website published the story. You can click here to see the short story of this remarkable boy's experience with Kibuye Hospital and a One World Futbol.


Teaching and Learning

(By Alyssa)

Sad to say goodbye to this great group of peds interns who have been working with me for the past 2 months. They have certainly made my job easier as they have worked hard, studied diligently, and cared for patients compassionately. And I was especially proud of them today as they rose to the challenge of teaching nutrition to our malnutrition service. Fifty to seventy patients continue to come to the hospital twice per week for our outpatient malnutrition program. These children suffer from hair loss, swelling, apathy, skin changes, and other evidence of both acute and chronic malnutrition. And in this country with extreme poverty and a falling economy due to the political situation, it’s hard to know how to teach the mothers about foods that are both nutritious and affordable. Most of the medical students grew up in the city in more affluent families, so it can sometimes be difficult for them to relate to our rural, impoverished patient population. But they related admirably today. They had previously researched what foods were available in the community and for what price and then they asked questions while they taught the mothers about the foods included in a balanced diet. Protein is the hardest food for these patients to find as was confirmed today. Only two or three mothers raised their hand when asked if they could buy eggs for their children (eggs cost 10 cents each) and few had access to milk. But many could buy the tiny salted fish that come from Lake Tanganyika, so that was helpful to discover. Peanuts are also readily available. The mothers asked questions as well such as whether to add salt during or after cooking or what kind of oil to use. It was great to see them engaged and responsive to the presentation. I do hope for more for these precious patients - more food, more education, more growth, more opportunities - but I’m thankful today for the hope for the future reflected in the medical students as they taught, learned, and cared thoughtfully in a challenging situation. 


Happy Wedding Day!

Saturday, July 18, marked a historic day for the McCropders.  For the first time ever, our team added a teammate through marriage!  (usually we just grow by having kids)  Carlan married Michelle Rose, a sweet piano teacher from southern California who had come out to visit us (him) at Kibuye last January.  We are all so excited for both of them.  Flying back to the US from Burundi for the wedding would have been rather cost prohibitive, but fortunately there were a number of us in the US on HMA or vacation, so there was a nice turnout at the wedding.  It was great to have a Burundi reunion with the Sunds, Bonds, Cropseys, McLaughlins, and Abraham.

Not to be outdone, the half of our team still at Kibuye sent their own greetings.  They posted a bunch of photos on Facebook of all the many Burundians and muzungu who held up a "congratulations" poster for Carlan and Michelle.  A collage of those photos was featured in the slide show playing behind the bride and groom's table.  

AND the Kibuye folks made their own "wedding cake" to celebrate! :)  They were probably eating it a few hours before the bride walked down the aisle.

We will miss Carlan (and Michelle) for these next months as they enjoy married life and reapply to Serge.  They will hopefully be joining us again at Kibuye, but not for awhile.  In the meantime, many prayers and blessings go out to the new couple!  


The Beauty of Africa

by Rachel

I think what surprises so many people when we talk about Burundi, or when they arrive at Kibuye after hours of travel to visit us, is how beautiful our home is.  Seventy degrees, almost all the time.  Green rolling hills, lush fields, banana trees, colorful flowers.  The people we live and work with are also beautiful.  Not just physical beauty, but the beauty of surviving and prevailing and finding joy in sometimes less than joyful circumstances.  The old lady who shows a smile with no teeth.  Shy, rag-clad children, giggling as they roll an old tire along the ground with a stick.  A church packed full of myriads of brightly colored dresses on its faithful attenders.

It's a balance for us, one we have tried hard to strike, between showing the immense poverty and sadness and need all around us, without giving a false impression that there is only tragedy, only grief, only darkness all around.  It's what is easier to write about, sometimes.  But I came across an article on Facebook the other day, how Africans are fighting back against the stereotypical image of Africa as a famine stricken desert full of empty eyed, gaunt orphans.  Real Africans from a variety of countries are sharing images of the Africa that they know, an Africa most are surprised to find exists. I can't recommend the website per se (so if you visit, know that there are some bizarro links along the top and sides) but the article is great.   Click here if you're interested.

May we never show poverty for shock value's sake.  May we remember each person whose story we share...a person who is not just sick or broken, but who is a child of God that usually has a family, friends, a home, a past, and a future.  Burundi is a beautiful place.  Complex, but beautiful, and in the midst of the elections and evacuations, deaths and sicknesses and hospital stories. we hope to continue to be able to share that with you.


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.