2016 Update Video

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

2016 Kibuye Update from Kibuye Hope on Vimeo.



by Carlan

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

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

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


Non-Academic Learning Assessment

by Heather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The End of an Era & Drumming Class

by Jess Cropsey

This past Friday (May 13th) was memorable in many ways.  It was Jason Fader's birthday (who is quickly approaching the other side of "the hill"), our 16th wedding anniversary, and also the one year "anniversary" of the coup d'état in Burundi.  It was also Kibuye Hope Academy's final academic day for the 2015-2016 school year.  While there was great rejoicing from both teachers and students, celebrations were somewhat dampened as we faced the reality that our wonderful teacher "Miss S" would be leaving us after 2 years here.  While I cannot show you a picture of her always-joyful face or tell you her real name (she has requested anonymity on the blog), you can see from the photo below that she was a well-loved teacher by her students.  She is an absolute gem, a one-of-a-kind person with a heart that deeply loves all those around her.  She was amazing with the kids, provided them with individualized instruction, hosted terrific parties (for any holiday imaginable), and thoughtfully sought out ways to support their unique life as third-culture kids.  She had a wonderful outreach to the Hope Africa medical students that came to Kibuye for rotations and she was clearly loved by the 9th grade students from her English class at the local school.  We said good-bye to her on Saturday and as we watched her drive away someone commented, "It's the end of an era."  Sad, but true.  To S_, we thank you so much for the ways you have served, blessed, and loved our community.  We wish you the best as you seek what God has next for you.

On a more cheerful note, we managed to squeeze in one new cultural event before the end of the year -- KHA's first official drumming class.  Drumming is a Burundian tradition and you can often watch them perform at important events, like the going-away party for Miss S at the local school a week ago.

Last Monday, the principal brought over the team of 5th/6th grade drummers to give our kids their very own Burundian drumming class lesson.  He did a great job patiently teaching the kids and the boys also were incredibly kind and encouraging in helping our kids.  It was such a fun experience.  We had a second class today and the kids are getting the hang of it!  Maybe someday soon we'll be able to post a video of a bazungu-barundi drumming performance.  Stay tuned....


Podcast: The Talking McLaughlins

Rachel and I were recently featured on the podcast "World to the Wise: Home of the Culturally Curious" in an interview that we recorded in January, just before leaving the US.  The proprietor of said podcast is a long-time friend, David Durham.

Our lives and work continue to intersect with David's in curious ways.  I grew up singing his songs at our mutual home church in Nashville.  I knew that he had invested many years working to write and produce worship music for the Francophone world.  When I moved to France, I found the local congregation singing his songs in French.  Even now, I'm assuming the Banks and Baskins (our teammates currently in language school in Albertville) have become familiar with his song "Mon Ancre et Ma Voile" (My Anchor and My Sail), among others.  David is perhaps the most prolific linguist I know, speaking seven languages.  While we lived in France, I would skype with him weekly, glad to have his help as my virtual language partner.  Top it all of with his son marrying my sister, and I guess you could call our paths inextricably woven.

As I listen to it, I think the podcast has turned out as a distinct way to share different facets of life here, unique from our writing on the blog.  David's focus being the crossings of cultures, there are some good opportunities to go beyond talking about mission and work, but also about cultures and cross-cultural family life.  Click here to listen.


Bursting At the Seams!

by Jess Cropsey

When we first arrived in Burundi in August 2013, there were 16 of us, including kids.  Now merely 2-1/2 years later, our team has more than tripled in size with 52 people officially approved for 2-year terms or longer (although not all on the ground yet).  It has been amazing to see how God has met all of our needs and brought people to us in some really unexpected ways.  

I’d like to introduce you to the newest additions:

Greg & Stephanie Sund came for a 9-month term in 2014-2015.  Greg is an anesthesiologist and Stephanie has a background in nursing.  We really enjoyed having their family with us and were thrilled that they decided to come back on a long-term basis.  Greg's skills are critical given the surgical volume at the hospital and he provided important training for Burundian anesthetists while he was here.  They are currently raising support and looking for folks to join their support team in the hopes of heading to French language school this August.    

Scott & Lindsay Nimmon:  Beginning in the Fall 2016, we will have 18 school-age kids here (24 in total).  With our current, amazing, going-to-miss-her-so-much teacher finishing her term and moving on to another ministry, we were desperately searching for other help with educating our kids.  Scott & Lindsay read about our need and decided to take the plunge!  We are excited to welcome them, a teacher-teacher couple with complementary expertise in social studies & language arts (to my & Heather’s backgrounds in math, science & foreign language).  Their daughter will join our class of six 2nd-graders!  They are raising support now and hope to join us by the beginning of the school year.  If you’d like to help them along their way, click here.  

George & Susan Watts:  George & Susan started their term with Serge one year ago, originally on the Bujumbura team.  George has a PhD in business and was working with the Master’s program in business at Hope Africa University.  Unfortunately, shortly after their arrival the political unrest in Burundi began and has come & gone in waves since then.  After sticking it out for quite some time (road barricades, routine explosions/grenades at night sometimes very close to their house, limited travel around the city, etc.), the Team Leaders in Bujumbura along with the Watts & the Serge Security Team thought it best to relocate their family here to Kibuye for the remainder of their 2-year term.  We are grateful to have them here.  George has many skills that are a huge asset to the hospital in the areas of business & administration.  Please pray that George’s role at the hospital would be clarified soon.  The hospital has recently created its own board and is working on restructuring, so pray for wisdom for the leadership in determining the best role for him.  Susan has dove into daily visits to the pediatric & malnutrition ward at the hospital to bring encouragement & hope to those kids & mamas.  She also recently started an English class for the Burundian doctors.  They have four kids (ages 4-14) who have adjusted well to their new life “up-country”.

Nicole Christenson:  We were the lucky recipients of Nicole from yet another Serge team (hopefully we’re not making too many enemies!).  Nicole was slated to join the South Sudan team, but they had to evacuate last year while she was still raising support and weren’t sure if/when they would be able to go back.  It came up in conversation at our Serge East Africa retreat last year that we were looking for a finance person, and the team leaders for South Sudan told us about Nicole.  Et voila! — She arrived in August and has been helping wade through the financial systems at the hospital and keeping track of lots of receipts for the many projects.  She also goes out of her way to host special events for our kids.  It’s been great to have her here!   (The photo below shows her in costume for Elise's "African Animal"-themed birthday party.)

Tony & Judith Sykes:  Tony and Judith are on loan to us from Engineering Ministries International.  Tony has been working tirelessly with Caleb Fader on the many building projects happening right now in Kibuye, particularly the new hospital surgical ward.  We really appreciate his many years of experience!  

Pray for our team as a whole as we continue to add new people - that we would remain unified in vision and purpose and be a light to this community in how we love each other. 


From Michigan to Burundi: Container #2

by Rachel

It doesn't seem that long ago that, several days before Christmas 2013, a big red 40 foot container made its way up Kibuye hill to deliver Christmas presents (and a variety of other household goods) to our families.  Well, several years and several new teammates later, we were ready to send container #2.  This container featured personal items for a few families, a lot of construction equipment (including a flatbed trailer and cement mixer), books and computers for a new medical library, power conditioners for our wildly surging electricity, classroom supplies for the local Kirundi primary school, boxes of medical equipment, and a variety of other sundry donations and goodies.  As before, the packing of the container required the assistance of many, many people.  Caleb, John, and Eric all supervised the loading of different portions.  Our home church, Knox, generously gave us space in their lower parking lot to park a beautiful to us, but potentially an eyesore of a mustard yellow metal box, for what turned out to be six months.  They also built us several storage sheds which we will be able to use as future container packing staging sites.  This is not even mentioning the generous financial donations from our church and others to purchase the majority of what went into the container.
Best seats in the house for watching container packing
John's solution for putting a 1,000 lb planer on the container: a pickup, some 2x4's, duct tape, and a ramp

Loading the packed container onto its semi trailer last December
On the front end, packing required ingenuity (mostly on John's part) and heavy lifting equipment.  Pickup trucks, forklifts, and flatbed trailers with lifts were all engaged to do the work.  And finally, after months of delay (some of which was due to our shipping agent waiting on a quote for rail transport for the container within Burundi...which we could have told him didn't exist), on an icy day in December, our container was launched.  It travelled overland to the East Coast and sailed to Oman.  There it was transferred to another ship which had to skirt the Somali coast and its pirates (see the movie "Captain Phillips" for details) and landed in Dar es Salaam.  After several days of overland journey through western Tanzania (where there aren't apparently paved roads), the box arrived in Buja, where it sat for several weeks clearing customs.  There were a few false starts and delays on its final leg of the journey up to Kibuye, but it finally arrived late last Sunday.

On the back end, unpacking required ingenuity (mostly on John's part), and heavy lifting equipment (i.e. 20-30 Burundian men).  It was amazing to watch these guys lifting and unloading what took forklifts to put on the container.  Thanks to dozens of people, what took months to pack was unloaded in just under a day, and the empty container was laid to rest in its new home in the new Busoma compound.  There were a lot of tired, but very happy, western missionaries on Monday night.  I would be lying to say we weren't happy in part because of the marshmallows we were eating. :)  So, thanks to everyone who helped make this possible.  The container's contents are and will be a blessing to many here as we seek to continue to serve.
"Heavy lifting equipment" = Burundian workers

Excited kids opening up container gifts


God's Calling and Faithfulness

(by Krista)

We are in Kijabe, Kenya at the moment, awaiting the arrival of our second born. I’m 39.5 weeks pregnant, so really- any day now. We are thankful for all of the prenatal care we received in Burundi by our excellent OB, Rachel, but due to limited medical resources available there in the case of an emergency, the team recommended, and we agreed, to go to Kenya for the birth. Not to mention, the same OB who delivered our first born, Liam, at Northwestern Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago - one of the most prestigious women’s hospitals in the world - is now practicing at Kijabe Medical Center in Kenya. And if all goes as planned, Dr Catherine Chen will hopefully be the one to deliver our second born as well. I know many women have had the privilege of having the same doctor deliver their children, but how many can say that they’ve had this privilege on two different continents?! It’s a pretty miraculous story that we wanted to share with you about God’s calling and faithfulness to each of us.

When I was pregnant with Liam, I was followed by an awesome group of Midwives through Northwestern. Liam must have known how brutally cold the Chicago winter was, and he refused to come out, so I was finally induced at 42 weeks on December 13, 2013. Towards the end of my 12-hour labor, there were some complications. So, right around change-of-shift, my midwives felt the need to recruit the on-call OB to perform a forceps delivery. Dr Chen instilled so much confidence in us when she walked into a somewhat crazy situation (for us), looked us in the eye, and told us exactly what we needed to do. By God’s grace, Liam was brought safely into this world with no further complications. A gift.

December 2013: Liam at one week old

My mom had flown in from Kenya for the birth and she came in to the room while Dr Chen was finishing up. Somehow the conversation unfolded about my parents living and working in Kenya. It turned out that the Chens had been praying about an opportunity to move to Kenya with AIM where Dr Chen could work at Kijabe Medical Center (KMC), but they had been questioning whether it would be the best move for their kids- especially in regards to their schooling. Caleb and I were able to reassure her of our wonderful experiences at Rift Valley Academy, the school where her children would attend if they moved. And Caleb was able to give some encouraging insight as the child of parents who lived and worked at KMC for 16 years. You can read Dr Chen’s side of the story about that memorable night here: Kenya: Exactly 4 months from now

A year later, as Caleb and I were pursuing our own calling of moving to Burundi and trying to make some family planning decisions (When would we want to have another child? Where would that child be born if we moved now? Etc…) I decided to see if the Chen’s plans to move to Kenya had progressed. Somehow, the thought of Dr Chen being in Africa, even if it didn’t logistically work out for her to deliver our next child, gave me peace. If God could bring this highly qualified OB from one of the top hospitals in Chicago to work in Kijabe, then surely He could provide all of the expertise and resources we needed for a safe delivery, anywhere in the world. Honestly, this fear of having a child overseas (after the complications with Liam’s delivery) was my biggest hurdle in moving forward with our plans. So, I scheduled a check-up appointment with Dr Chen who was still working at Northwestern at that time. What a gift it was to see her again and to hear that they were, indeed, moving to Kenya just a few months later!

I can’t help but feel that God used this divine meeting between two of his children, to grant each of us His peace moving forward in our individual callings and to reassure us of His faithfulness despite all the unknowns. This story will always remind me how God truly cares about our hearts and our fears. I know that it’s no guarantee that this baby, due any day now, will have no complications- but I can confidently say that we will walk this path in peace, knowing that our Father cares for us- deeply.


A cup of BUSOMA!

(By Caleb)

At the end of February we celebrated the opening of the new BUSOMA factory at Kibuye.  It turned out to be a lovely facility that we hope will serve the hospital, Church, and community for generations.  This factory has certainly been a product of teamwork starting back in the 1980s when Dr. Frank Ogden began researching a local solution for a high-protein flour to serve to malnourished patients.  Thus was born BUSOMA, a flour made of two parts corn, one part soy, and one part sorghum (BUrundi – SOrghum /SOy – MAise).  BUSOMA production has been a staple at Kibuye for over 25 years now.    

With the implementation of the Kibuye Hope Hospital Master Plan (our integrated plan for the next 20 years) we wanted to continue and even increase the production of BUSOMA.  The Friends of Hope Africa University pursued and obtained a grant opportunity through the Herman Miller Cares foundation for this new facility.  The grant also included funding to serve a cup of BUSOMA porridge each day to all the patients at the hospital and their caregivers, as well as all of the kids who come to our malnutrition clinic. 

The factory was designed around the process of making the BUSOMA flour.  Carlan Wendler sat down with Fidele, our BUSOMA manager, to figure out the details of the process in order to come up with an efficient design that will allow production to increase. The new facility also takes advantage of rain-water collection for grain washing, includes both covered and uncovered drying areas so grains can be dried in all weather, and greatly increases the sanitary conditions of the entire process. In mid-September, a few weeks after my family and I arrived in Burundi, I was given this design and construction began.  Through the efforts of our dedicated construction team, the factory was completed in less than 5 months.  It was a joy to be a part of something that has had such an impact at Kibuye and will continue to do so for years to come.    

Jason and our Medical Director, Dr. Wilson, cutting the ribbon

All were invited to tour the new facility

Dr. Gilbert offered a prayer of dedication and thanksgiving

In celebration all hospital employees and construction workers enjoyed a soda and a delicious meat-pie at the canteen!

In an effort to illustrate the process of Busoma production:

Grain is delivered by the trusty Busoma truck to the loading dock.

The grain is stored in tightly-sealed rooms to keep the vermin out!

The grain is sorted by hand to remove impurities.  Notice the rainwater collection tanks on the left and the Busoma truck in the loading dock on the right.  

John receiving careful instruction on how the grain is then washed with rainwater

The grain is then dried under the sun on nice days....

...and under a covered area on rainy days.

The grain is then roasted which produces a lovely aroma throughout the area.

The grains are mixed in the correct proportions and milled

The flour is then packed and sealed for distribution

The porridge being enjoyed by this young patient


New Album of Music for Free!

(from Eric)

It's been about a year in the making, but I finally finished a collection of Burundi-era songs.  I have shared a couple of them on the blog before, but there are a total of thirteen, now available for free download.

I hope these songs can give a few different glimpses into life here.  Today, I'll spotlight the first track, "Though the Mountains Give Way".  I wrote this song just weeks after arriving in Burundi, when we heard about the Westgate Mall terrorist attacks in Nairobi, where we had had lunch just six weeks prior.

At the time, we were living on that rural Banga hillside, where we spent three months getting an introduction to Burundian culture and Kirundi language.  I remember sitting on the veranda, looking across at the mountains on the other side of the valley.  I was reading Psalm 46.  "Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea."  The words came alive, and I trembled.  I could picture the distant mountain being uprooted, and felt the terror that accompanied the idea that the mountain where I'm sitting might be next.  "We will not fear?"

It came alive so vividly precisely because of the Westgate Mall attacks.  The revolutionary nature of faith.  The way that the reality of God so drastically changes our outlook on the world.

"I will not fear."  Mostly, I say it in order for it to be true, rather than because it already is.  But I do believe that there is good reason for it to be true, so I guess we will press always closer to the author and perfecter of such faith.

(Track #1.  Download it along with the others for free.)