6.7.20

Red, White and Blue!

A couple of days ago, there was a buzz around our homes. I think the kids were the first ones to pick up on the fact that this was no ordinary Saturday.

Keza was getting ready for the party in style!
Madelyn grabbed her own flag to wave and started dreaming of strawberries!
But before the picnic began, there were games to be enjoyed by all! Thanks to Jess and Lindsay for their organizing prowess.

American friends from around the country came to celebrate... and attempt to take down Scott in Can Jam.

Meanwhile, the grill master was hard at work.
Finally, the feast was ready to be enjoyed.
And there were smiles all around!
In addition to celebrating America's birthday, we celebrated Wayne and Barb Vibbert's decades of service in Burundi. They first arrived with their family in 1976. It was a treat to hear their stories in person before they return to the US later this year.

What would the Fourth of July be without sparklers?
These are actually birthday candles to put on cakes, though I think they are much safer to use outside!

Before leaving the next day, Barb Vibbert shared some words of wisdom with the next generation. It was a memorable weekend!

To all of our American friends, we hope you found a fun and safe way to celebrate Independence Day!

5.7.20

Lamenting and Rejoicing on the Hospital WhatsApp Group

(from Eric)

(Note for the Americans who may not know: WhatsApp is a mobile application used all over the world - except most of the US - for group texting and sharing)

This weekend been an emotional roller-coaster for the staff of Kibuye Hope Hospital.  Along with 64 others, I am on a WhatsApp group for hospital employees.  It's good for my Kirundi practice, and it keeps me in the know for a number of local and national happenings.  Additionally, it's an interesting study into the variable cultural uses of emojis and texting etiquette.

Friday morning I awake to about thirty new messages.  Our head cashier just had her first baby and posts a beautiful picture.  Sleeping newborn wrapped into a clean blue blanket featuring, of all things, American footballs.  Dozens of congratulations from her fellow hospital staff, most getting a "reply all" thanks for the congratulations.  Celebration is better in a group.

***

Friday at 3pm.  I'm sitting down at home to a Zoom call when I get an urgent text that Jean-Marie, one of our nurses, was found at home in a non-responsive coma.  Rush to the hospital, where I find him in a basically brain-dead state.  I had seen him two days before and we talked about treatment for some vague symptoms he'd had for a couple weeks.  He was to come back to see me that day, and was apparently doing better, until he suddenly collapsed.  What happened?

Discussions.  Tests.  ER Bed encircled by ardent prayers for healing.  Dread feeling in my stomach.  Afraid to hope.  Jean-Marie dies at 1:30 Saturday morning.  

After the sudden announcement on the WhatsApp group, the messages of grief pour in.  Prayers and expressions of shock.  Tearful eyes and stunned faces.  

The burial is Saturday afternoon.  We meet by the morgue and walk behind the hospital pick-up truck that carries the coffin to the nearby gravesite amidst the towering eucalyptus trees.  I can't catch all the Kirundi in the eulogy, so I quietly ask my friend for details.


Jean-Marie Hakizimana was 36 years old.  He was a local guy, from a nearby village within Kibuye district.  After going to the local high school, he went to teacher's college and taught school for several years.  Later, when he got the chance to go to nursing school, he took it.  He had been working at Kibuye for a year or two, and was universally known for his diligence and gentleness.  He often volunteered to preach at morning chapel.  Along with his wife, one son, and four daughters, he was building a house nearby, and in an amazingly tragic detail, he had planned to move into his new house on the very day that he was buried.

***

Walking back towards sunset, I can't sort out the tragedy, nor its juxtaposition with new life.  The group in front of me is talking pleasantly with each other, and even snatches of gentle laughter find their way back to me.  Strangely, it doesn't feel inappropriate or disrespectful.  It feels like hearts that have the capacity to absorb suffering together.  


A few months ago, I wrote about rejoicing and lamenting at the same time.  I wrote that we need to learn how to do this, and that the Bible is a great model.  Interestingly, I think my African brothers and sisters are also a great model.  This capacity seems to be born of suffering, something that is true of most biblical and most African cultures.  I'll quote Jerry Sittser once again:

"Sorrow is noble and gracious.  It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously, of feeling the world's pain and hoping for the world's healing at the same time."

As I watch my home country of the USA from afar - this troubled nation that doesn't know what WhatsApp is - it seems that people don't know whether to celebrate or to grieve.  Because the grief is real, we feel bad celebrating.  But the reasons for celebrating are also real, so what does that mean about the grief?

All around me here in Burundi, I see a world that seems to know better than I how to do both at the same time.  I am thankful for them.  I hope that I can learn this from them.

***

Today just before noon, the WhatsApp group rings off the hook again.  Our cashier's newborn baby has died.  I have no idea what happened.  The expressions of grief pour in again, mostly followed by the heartbreakingly gracious reply of "thanks".  Sorrow on sorrow.  Who can endure?

If it is suffering and sorrow that enlarge our hearts, then let's not kid ourselves.  There is nothing easy in being broken.  But "nothing easy" does not mean, and never will mean "nothing redemptive".

We lean on one another on this long, often difficult, and always beautiful road.

***

Though his tenure on the earth
is that of a blade of grass,
though his acquaintance among the dead
increases year by year
and, like many grown old
before, he lives from the loss
of one beloved companion
to the loss of yet another,
the old man prays to find,
at the end of his own leash,
his love for the world at hand,
his heart at rest in gratitude.

(Wendell Berry: Sabbath Poems, 2012/III)

1.7.20

In Everything, Give Thanks

by Carlan Wendler

“Why does God hate my family?” It was an earnest query by an exasperated black man.

“What do you mean? What is happening to your family?” was my reply.

The next half-hour was spent in a poignant conversation with this medical student who had seen multiple family members die in separate incidents, accidents, that felt like divine targeting of his family for punishment. He was in deep emotional distress, compounded by that kind of self-doubt that comes when you “know” you shouldn’t feel a certain way about God but nonetheless you do. He was looking to me as a missionary and mentor to help him sort through everything. I honestly did not know what to tell him in that moment. My mind raced to retrieve any information that could comfort his weary heart. I wanted to help him but could not settle on any counsel that would anchor his soul in his storm. As I often do in Burundi when faced with a situation that is completely out of my depth I sent up a flare prayer — “Jesus, help!”

The Spirit directed my mind to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

“OK Lord,” my heart whispered back. “It doesn’t seem like that will help but it is Your word, Your will.”

Our next hour was tremendously blessed as we talked about faith, taking God at His word, and choosing gratitude. We reviewed the Good News and spent some time in prayer together. We both left that conversation with more peace, hope, and joy than either had felt initially. I am forever grateful to that young father, for honoring me with his trial, and our Heavenly Father, for showing me again the power of trust and obedience in confusing times.

These have been trying times for everyone I know. Our community in Burundi has experienced the unexpected death of a well-loved president while while COVID-19 continues to afflict a population that does not have a lot of margin in health care or economics. Our community in the US continues to fight against the pandemic while conflicts over policing, racism, and inequality wreak havoc. My family is “stuck” in California while leaders in many nations decide when airports will reopen and what type of quarantine to require. Locusts and dust storms and earthquakes and sectarian violence touch other parts of our worldwide network of family and friends. It is enough to make my heart despair.

So what to do? Here's what I did this week.

-Sent up a flare prayer: “Jesus, help!”

-Remembered that it is always God’s will for His children to give thanks.

-Tried to chose gratitude.

(And since going to church is still restricted where we are, I got out into nature and into prayer. It is the next best thing for me. I can tell you from experience that it has been balm for my soul and rest for my heart to spend even 15-20 minutes in prayerful thanks.)


-Then I wrote a little poem:

Today I read
of fear and dread
of pestilence and pain.
I hung my head
and anxious fled
To Christ my soul’s sustain.

“What can be done?
We’re overrun —
by anger, pride, and greed.”


“Be still My son
and worry shun,
Your suffering is seed —

“Which Heaven sows,
My Spirit grows;
it burgeons forth in praise.
Its blossoms yield
and grace revealed
When humble thanks are raised.”

20.6.20

Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

(intro from Eric)

Today's post comes happily from the oft-underheard voices of a couple of our team teenagers.  I suppose one of the should-be-expected effects of having a team with multiple teenagers is that they grow in independence.  Meaning they are doing things which you're not even aware of (me being their teammate, not parent).  Like writing a blog.  Together.  Awesome.

Ella Sund and Matea Watts write together on "Our African Home", and we wanted to repost their recent post "Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly."  It's a joy to watch them wrestling with current events from their unique perspective as third-culture kids who have grown up in Africa.  Even more so, it's a joy to see them approaching these questions from the perspective as children of God, loved and adopted by "Data wa twese" (Kirundi for "the Father of us all").

On similar themes, Serge leadership has posted this blog on Seeking Justice Together.

***

(from Ella Sund and Matea Watts)

Black lives matter. They always have. They always will.

I wish that I could write a poem, something deep and profound that makes people long for change and justice. But as I’m sitting here now, I’m speechless over the brokenness of my country and the pain of my black brothers and sisters that has been going on for far too long. We know that this is a mess, and it is far from enough. But we cannot stay silent.

What did we do to be born with white skin? Nothing, we had no control. George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Amaud Arbery, and so, so many more had no control. Yet their lives were taken for it. They were given injustice while we were given privilege. And even though we did not ask for this privilege, we must use it for change. 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

In the community that we were raised in, we were surrounded by Black people. They were our neighbors, our classmates, our friends, our siblings. People we care for, people we love, and people that show the same Jesus-love back to us. It is earth-shattering to me that someone would ever think that they were less than ANYONE else. We are all created in God’s image. Everyone deserves the same respect, the same love, the same grace that we would want shown to us, because that’s what Jesus tells us to do. Jesus never once showed bias. He loved each of His children equally. 

Romans 2:11 – For God shows no partiality. 

God acted justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly. That is exactly what He calls us to do not just right now, but always.

I’ve felt so helpless these past few weeks. I’m a white, teenage female. What can I do?

I can listen. I can repent. I can educate myself. I can have tough conversations with my family and my friends. I can love. I can humble myself. I can stand firm in the truth. I can work to stand up against racism every day. I am young, but that gives me all the more time to make a difference.

Pray. It is so powerful, more than we know. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Pray for all the people that aren’t being shown love from others on this earth. Pray to be able to show love, and that one day, we would be seen as equal in this land, as we will be before the throne of God.

We will make mistakes. We will never truly understand.

But we stand with you, and we love you.

17.6.20

A Nation Mourns

by John Cropsey



Burundi is in mourning.  On Tuesday last week, the government announced that His Excellency President Pierre Nkurunziza died on Monday, June 8th from a cardiac arrest.  He was 55.

Agence France-Presse - Getty Images
In the eyes of many who suffered decades of brutal violence and oppression, he was a national hero who ushered the country into a time of relative peace after 12 years of civil war. The whole country is observing a week of mourning and the East African Community is flying flags at half-staff until his burial.

After 15 years in power, President Nkurunziza was in the process of stepping down, and we are very thankful for peaceful elections that took place last month.  Pray for Burundi's President-Elect, Evariste Ndayishimiye.  This week the Constitutional Court decided that he will be sworn in as soon as possible rather than await his planned inauguration in August.  This ceremony will take place tomorrow. Like all current world leaders, he faces unprecedented challenges in our time, so please remember him in prayer.

4.6.20

The Conference That Would Have Been

by Julie Banks

Now that we are back in the United States on Home Ministry Assignment (HMA), many conversations seem to start with “What we thought we were going to do…” or “Had COVID-19 not happened we would have…” or “Our plans originally were…” and so on.  The virus has completely changed so many of the world’s plans for this Spring. 

One of the biggest changes in our plans as Serge missionaries was the cancellation of our company-wide conference.  Once every four years, fellow workers from 25 countries around the world gather together to celebrate what God is doing in each of our fields.  It’s a cornerstone on our life calendar.  Many of us plan on it, look forward to it, and anticipate it for years.

That conference would have been happening this week.

Our first Serge conference was in 2016.  It was our first year being a part of the mission agency, but we had not yet arrived in Burundi because we were still in language school in France.  We knew a few of the 500+ people, but for the most part we were meeting new people the entire week. I watched others hug each other tightly, marvel at how each other’s kids had grown, and chuckle over inside jokes.  It was like a family reunion.  I remember thinking, “Next conference that will be me!”  I looked forward to being able to say, “It’s so good to see you again!” Instead of, “It’s so nice to meet you.”

The Serge conference lasts 2 weeks and is held at a beachside resort in Europe.  The first week provides a space for Team Leaders, Board Members, and Executive Leaders to have vital conversations and encourage each other as they lead hundreds of workers in a variety of different missions around the world. 

The second week of the conference is for all workers.  We worship together (in English!) and are treated to sermons and messages from some amazing speakers.  There are also breakout sessions for us on numerous topics such as finance, parenting, depression, and more. 

Wisdom from Debbie Harrell, Serge's Overseas Educational Advisor at the 2016 conference
Each of the 40 teams share with the entire group what they are doing and how we can pray for them.  In fact, I searched the Word and Deed archives and found the Serge Kibuye team’s update video from 2016!

It’s so faith-building to hear what God is doing all over the globe through Serge missionaries.  Serge is bringing new life to communities through visual, poetic, musical and other forms of art.  Serge is planting gospel-centered churches that are thriving with national pastors.  Serge is establishing businesses in order to support local livelihoods and develop thriving relationships – often in closed-access communities and countries.  And of course Serge has medical teams with which we are very well acquainted! 

But the week is not all about work.  There is time to rest by the pool and splash in the ocean.
Our family at the Serge Conference in 2016
Meal times are purposefully long, and evening chats last well into the night.  Serge’s Executive Director, Bob Osborne, heads up a famous bocce ball tournament every conference that remains a talking point for years!

The kids love the conference too.  Serge goes out of their way to love on our children. They do crafts, sing songs, and play sports.  They talk about the hard stuff like the struggles they face as TCKs (Third Culture Kids). But they also just have a blast!  Dance parties, glow sticks, and plenty of silliness. 

Our boys enjoying time with a fellow TCK in 2016
Today, Serge marked the “conference that would have been” with a huge video conference call.  We joined with over 200 little squares on our screen that represented over 200 families, over 200 praises for what God has done, and over 200 needs to lift up.  We waved at each other across the globe, prayed for each other, and had a few laughs.  God is at work.  In us and through us.  We are not alone.  It was still encouraging to be a part of what God is doing, even from our couch in Springfield, Missouri. 


Serge Conference 2020
But, we will all be together again soon!  We are hoping to have the conference again in person next year.  Get ready, Bob!  The Burundi bocce ball team will be ready!

28.5.20

Creative Kids Across Cultures

By Michelle Wendler


Back in February we left for California to get a medical test done for our daughter. We packed our bags expecting to only be gone for 3 weeks. Because of COVID, the airport in Burundi closed while we were gone, and remains so these many weeks later. While we bide our time, waiting to return to our team, church, community, and hospital, I’ve been impressed by seeing how the children in our neighborhood in California are finding creative ways to play. During our daily walks, which our daughter Gabrielle lives for, we’ve found all sorts of sidewalk chalk drawings and small little cities created in the dirt along the driveways and yards. 



These were found on and by the sidewalks in Pasadena
It has reminded me of how the kids in Burundi play, finding ways to be creative with what they have. Kids will be kids, whether in Africa or California. I thought I’d share some of the photos I’ve taken over the years of the different hand made toys that I’ve seen in our rural village in Kibuye.


Cardboard and bottle cap pull cars

This little guy was pretty proud of his creation :-)

...or sticks and bottle caps

Bucket lids and sticks make a great game. See how long you can keep the lid rolling!

So precious, both the handmade doll and the cute little girl

A soccer ball that will never deflate! 

Our walks have been such a source of refreshment during these days of lockdown. Even with physical (and geographical) distancing from the ones we love, getting outside, seeing the marks of their creativity somehow connects us to each other and to the God who created from nothing. I'll end with this photo of a little cross on the trail near Kibuye. During these difficult times, know that God knows your suffering. He is at work, both in Burundi and beyond. 





17.5.20

Kibuye during Covid-19

(from Jenn)

Can we talk about the "19" of Covid-19?  Doesn't 2019 seem soooooo long ago!?  Maybe we had problems in 2019, but as we look back we may wish we could have told our 2019-selves "buckle up, the world as you know it is about to change drastically."

Although we spent two months at Kibuye in the summer of 2019 (July-August), I'd say our true missionary career started here mid-January 2020.  It's been a bit bizarre living here these past four months as our world has changed due to the pandemic.   Our lives would look so different if we were in the States right now. As an outpatient pediatrician, I would probably be doing telemedicine there.  As a general surgeon, maybe Michael wouldn't be doing as many elective cases.  Here, it's (almost) life as usual. There have been no big changes mandated by the government except for the fact that the airport has been closed for almost two months and there was a mandatory 2-week quarantine for anyone who flew into Bujumbura. Schools are still running, churches are still gathering, and people are still working.

How do you stop work when a majority of the population earns their daily wage then goes to buy food for dinner? How do you stop schools when there is no online option? How do you tell people to stock up on food when only 9.3% of the population has access to electricity?

At Kibuye, of the remaining seven family-units, five of them contain doctors so most of us are leaving the compound and working at the hospital as per usual (plus face mask usage).  We still have family worship on Saturday afternoons, each family on a blanket on the floor of the outdoor pavilion. The remaining children are still attending school and because there are so few left, social distancing even in a classroom is possible.

We haven't seen a wave of patients severely ill with respiratory disease, at least on the adult side.  In Peds, it's "bronchiolitis season" and therefore we are seeing a lot of respiratory illness, and even subsequent death which unfortunately is not uncommon for this season.  Is it Covid-19? I don't know, and we probably never will because of the limitations in testing for the virus and because of the lack of specificity of symptoms for the disease.  We have heard of some people in Kibuye with anosmia, the loss of sense of smell, which is a more particular symptom.  As not many other things cause that symptom, it could cause one to assume that it is circulating here.  Thus far, however, we are thankful to have avoided any crisis.

This week is also a very big week in Burundi; May 20th is Election Day.  There have been multiple political rallies (even one just outside the hospital), which have been peaceful.  We hear campaign cars driving by at least 2-3 times day giving their information in Kirundi and playing music.   Please pray for peace leading up to and after Election Day.

11.5.20

Advocacy

By Alyssa 


COVID testing site for persons experiencing homelessness

On the day I was scheduled to fly back to Burundi after home assignment in the US (March 26), I wrote the blog post here about culture and coronavirus. Six weeks later I'm still here and there is still no word on when the Burundi airport might open up again. There have been ups and downs in the past six weeks, but mostly I have been thankful for God's provision. Several of us recently did a distance women's retreat for missionaries and the theme was from Habakkuk 3: Yet I will celebrate. Even though I'm not where I thought I would be at this time, even though the world has been turned upside down, even though I can't even spend extra time with family and friends while I wait due to social distancing, even though the pediatrics team in Burundi is significantly short-staffed..."yet I will celebrate in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of our salvation. The Lord my Lord is my strength. He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights." (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

One thing I have been celebrating is how God raises people up around the globe to advocate for those in need (which is all of us at times!) As I looked for ways to help with the COVID efforts as a physician, friends advocated for a position for me in the fray even though I have been out of US medicine for years. And ultimately God provided an ideal part time temporary position for me at the local health department working with vulnerable populations. After 10+ years in under-resourced places in Africa, I now have the opportunity to learn from advocates for the disadvantaged in my passport country. As I've spent many hours in (mostly virtual) meetings, I've been amazed by the enthusiasm and passion of these advocates as they seek to make a difference in their community. We've talked about how to make messages about COVID more accessible to people with hearing impairment and to non-English speakers. We've heard from pastors of congregations at significant risk due to systemic inequality, racism, and chronic health conditions. We've talked about how to test folks who don't have access to transportation and how to protect those in homeless shelters. We've discussed how to ensure access to care for people with mental health needs and disabilities. We've looked at how to address people experiencing new homelessness when the usual resources are unavailable due to shelter-in-place orders. During each discussion, there are people on the call who intimately understands the needs of the at-risk population - people willing to go out to the "highways and byways"and talk to the vulnerable about their needs, to distribute masks, to provide food, to staff crisis hotlines, to work tirelessly writing protocols and educational materials, and to speak up for those at risk of being marginalized and forgotten.

I have learned much from these advocates on how to persevere in both caring for people where they are and also appealing to authorities for change - even if things don't change immediately. The other day I wondered sadly, "What about those around the world who don't have an advocate - who live their lives unseen and who have significant need that no one is addressing?" I think of some of the Burundian mamas in our feeding program who Susan (an amazing advocate!) has discovered have no place to live and no way to earn income to feed or clothe their families. I think of orphans and widows and those with disabilities who don't live in countries with established advocacy organizations. I think of folks in every corner of the globe who have experienced serious trauma or adverse childhood experiences but do not have access to trauma counseling or other resources to help them begin to heal and learn to trust.

Thankfully, we do actually all have an advocate! "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1b) Jesus Himself is our advocate - for all eternity! And we identify with Him as we advocate for others, too - even when it's hard and there is no visible fruit. We await the ultimate new heavens and new earth with the redemption of all things, but in the meantime we see glimpses of new creation even in the unique passions God gives us for certain people who need advocates around us.

6.5.20

Rural Missionary Life As a DIY Experience

by Jess Cropsey

Living in a rural place with limited resources and personnel, we often find ourselves googling, “How do you…?” And this is not usually because we are trying to save some money or like the idea of figuring out something ourselves. It's because there is no other option.
  
As a simple example, what do you do when your oven's not working? Since the only appliance repair man that you know is almost 100 miles away, you start by trying to figure it out yourself. And what do you do when you discover that the problem is the result of a mouse that has made a home in your oven insulation? Call your neighbor for reinforcements. We have yet to solve the dilemma of getting replacement insulation. 


Want a date night with your spouse? Unless you make a special trip away, your options are the hospital canteen or plan it yourself! Thanks to the genius of a former teammate, some of us buy take-out from a nice Indian restaurant in Bujumbura and freeze it for an easy date night meal. Other teammates have other creative date night ideas (that might be helpful for those of you in quarantine right now!)

Need a haircut and don't have access to a stylist? Pay your stylist a little extra next time you're in the USA so that she can teach your husband how to cut your hair

Need to have a hospital machine fixed? Perhaps you’ll get lucky and there will be a handy visitor around with some free time. But most of the time, you’ll have to take care of it yourself. John spent several hours on Saturday morning trying to fix a microscope in the eye clinic.



Need some PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in the midst of a pandemic? Stephanie and Lindsay have been working hard to organize mask-making for our hospital employees and patients. Even the kids have participated in the efforts.



Rachel sporting her new mask in the OR

Meanwhile, Greg has been actively working to prepare the hospital for what may be coming. Dubbed, "Captain Covid", he recruited John to help him build a plexiglass intubation box to protect both patients and anesthetists during intubations when viruses can be aerosolized from the airway in large quantities. As you can see, John took this responsibility very seriously.



Greg trying out the finished product

More DIY PPE: 
John purchased transparency sheets in Bujumbura to use as face shields

While it can feel at times that there are too many problems to fix, that we're in way over our heads, or that there just isn't enough time in the day or energy in the body to figure out one more thing, the reality is that we are not alone and that it's not all up to us. We have national partners who are invested in this with us. We have access to a network of professionals, churches, organizations, and individuals from all over the world who are willing to give or offer support in any way they can. 

For example, just a few days ago, John was faced with a really complicated glaucoma case. He e-mailed several glaucoma specialists in the USA asking for advice and quickly received input from the top specialists in the field to help guide surgical care for his patient. 

Most importantly, we have a God who is walking with us every step of the way. We don't need to rely on our own intelligence, capabilities, energy, or ingenuity. He will give us what we need when we need it. And we're thankful for the reminders that He gives of His presence, like this beautiful double rainbow on Sunday.