A reflection on 2020: The Kingdom of God, Suffering, and He is making all things NEW!


Me thinking to myself: “Jenn, what are three big topics you’ve thought about in 2020?” 

Your kingdom come
He is making all things new

What do these sentences have in common?  Well, the first and last go somewhat hand-in-hand, but are dissimilar enough they warrant separation. 
I realized that not only have I thought a lot about these ideas/topics, they also have helped me answer my own question: “why should we practice and teach medicine in Burundi?”

In March 2019, a dear older friend sent me a link to listen to a message/lecture given by Eric Mclaughlin about "Medicine and the Kingdom of God."  (**Let's note that I didn't know Eric at this point and had NO idea that he would end up being our team leader after deciding to move to Burundi!!)  I listened and appreciated the insight Eric brought to the topic of medical missions. 

During his talk, he references Mark 1:14 "...Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."  What is God's kingdom? Arguably it is "all of life under the gracious rule of God."   If you are in the kingdom, you are in the domain of the King. 
Little did I know at the time, but these words would be so helpful as I experienced (not personally, but rather witnessed) so much suffering this past year.  What a huge swing in worldview I’ve had after moving from one of the wealthiest countries in the world (in which we were extremely comfortable) to one of the poorest.  Living in a country where people who are wondering where their food will come from, living off of less than a dollar a day (for those who actually have employment), and most living without running water or electricity can lead one to feel and think many different things. Initially, it was overwhelming, and to be honest, many days I still am overwhelmed by the sadness and hardships by which I am surrounded. This is baseline, let alone what people go through when they or their children are ill and in need of hospitalization.  A child is born in Atlanta, GA with some sort of cyanotic (causing baby to be blue and hypoxic) congenital heart disease deadly in the first few months of life if not corrected; child receives surgery and lives an (almost) completely normal life – minus checkups, possible mild sequelae, etc.)  A child is born in Kibuye with same defect – there is no one here to fix this. And there is no way the family could ever afford to travel to the capital, let alone Kenya where there is possibly someone who could fix this.  I know this baby will die. Sometimes it’s worse knowing what could be if this child were born somewhere else.  Suffering. Injustice.  Knowing that children here suffer and die from congenital diseases/malformations that are easily treated and corrected in developed countries is a daily mental battle which all but forces me to long for the kingdom which is yet to come.  I have always believed that my hope is in the Lord, but in this past year that truth has become solidified in my daily thoughts and actions.  My hope rests on his faithfulness, His promises, His never-ending love, and the promise that one day Jesus will return and He will make all things new. 

Where am I going with this?  Honestly, I'm still working through the ability to articulate exactly what I've been processing since our arrival last January.   I'll take a few points straight from Eric's talk because he has stated them in a straightforward way, and also let's not reinvent the wheel...

  • Medicine is a tangible way to testify that God cares about the sick and suffering.  
  • By allowing God to use me and my skills to help treat those who are ill shows a little bit what life is like under God's rule.  
  • Disease and sickness are being taken away and when Jesus comes back again, will be banished for good.  

So while we are not personally capable of bringing God's kingdom to earth, I am able to pray – 
"God, your kingdom come.  May I surrender to your leadership and not lose sight of whose kingdom I am working for.  Forgive me for the times where I am working for my interests, my ‘kingdom’.  Help me to see the injustice and pain that is happening around me as part of the ‘not-yet’ kingdom as I long for your kingdom to fully come at which point all pain and suffering and death will be wiped away. I ask that the Holy Spirit would work through me to bring your kingdom to earth until that day when Jesus returns and all is made new.”


COTW: It takes a village (or the world) to treat derm.

 (by Eric)

One of the groups of friends that we've made in Burundi over the years is called The Cries of a Child.  This group was founded by an American family a few hours from us, and they were among our first friends upon arriving in Burundi.  Among the different roles they play is running a clinic.  Among the professionals at that clinic is a French nurse named Lydie.  From time to time, Lydie finds some kind of extraordinary problem and sends pictures and questions to us at Kibuye.

One such instance was last October, when she send me the following picture:

This young guy is 22 years old and has been suffering from the skin disease you can see since he was 12.  He'd tried everything he could find at different clinics but no luck, so he came to their clinic.  His eyes were also deeply affected by the same, and so Lydie was talking to John as well.

Given this severe and puzzling disease, as well as the long duration and failure in the face of every medicine we normally use, I decided to phone a friend.  Technically, I used Facebook Messenger, but I got in contact with an old med school friend who is a super smart dermatologist, Diana.  She has been gracious enough to field questions for me from time to time, and dermatology is thankfully the epitome of "a picture is worth a thousand words", or as a dermatology told me once: "My patients wear their pathology on the outside."

So I sent Diana this picture with a small summary and a "please help" message.  Her reply was "my first thought is chromoblastomycosis."  To which I thought "yeah, me too."  I would have if I knew an insane amount of dermatology.  I have since learned that this chronic and deep fungal infection needs really long term treatment, which could explain why he hadn't gotten any better.  Diana sent me a link, and I could also see the resemblance between the pictures and our patient.  

So, Lydie started him on treatment, and today she sent me a picture four months later:  
For some people, this may not look that great, and yes, he does have a long way to go.  But he hasn't looked this good in 10 years, and more importantly, for someone responding well to chromoblastomycosis treatment, this is exactly what you'd expect.  In other words, we're on the right track, and we have lots of reasons to keep hoping.

I really loved the dynamic of this case.  Small things lining up perfectly.  Other than perhaps Diana's extreme derm knowledge, there was nothing extraordinary.  It's friends from all over the world talking to each other, including some that I've known for almost 20 years.  It's realizing that a simple treatment taken (a lot) longer was the crux of what was lacking.  It's using the internet for good instead of evil.  It's a bunch of pretty small things that are perfectly arranged to make a huge difference in someone's life. 

"Who dares despise the day of small things?"  Zechariah 4:10


Unlikely Missionaries?

by Mary 

I still remember that Sunday at Knox Church several years ago when the "McCropders" (McLaughlin, Cropsey, and Fader families) announced their intention to settle in Burundi and develop the tiny hospital in Kibuye into a training facility for local doctors and nurses. The photos of Kibuye, the statistics on poverty, and the dearth of modern resources and conveniences left me wondering why anyone would sacrifice the Land of Opportunity to minister in a place of such great need. 

View of Kibuye Hope Hospital from "Kibuye Rock", April 2019

My husband Steve and I were enjoying full lives in the Ann Arbor area, complete with 3 (now adult) children, a comfortable home, meaningful work, and a vibrant faith community. Steve grew up in inner city Detroit and was living out his passion and calling for local missions work, with no sense of calling at that time for serving internationally. By natural temperament, Steve was also a reluctant traveler. 

So what does God do with 2 people who are comfortably settled into their local routines yet seeking to maintain willing hearts in the spirit of Isaiah 6:8? He calls them to Burundi, of course!
Steve and Mary in downtown Kibuye, May 2019

Our first unlikely trip came in the spring of 2019 when the Cropseys invited Pastor Tom and Ruth Ann plus one additional couple to bring the "Heart and Soul of a Real Marriage" class to the Serge Kibuye team, to encourage them in their marriage and team relationships. Although Steve and I were the newbies to the teaching team, the other 3 couples who were each invited had scheduling conflicts, so that lot fell to us. Just a year before, Steve and I had taken our first international trip together -- to Israel to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. God's timing is perfect, as that trip greased the wheel of international travel (especially for the reluctant traveler in our marriage). And, although we were new to the Heart and Soul teaching team, both of us had decades of teaching and counseling experience from our various work and ministries back home that could be value-added. The resultant time with the team was such a blessing, and we developed a deep love for them and their work here, along with the country and its people. The longing to return was firmly planted.
"Heart and Soul" team with Serge Kibuye team, 2019

The second, perhaps less unlikely trip, came 9 months later to deliver the remainder of the Heart and Soul class. Having made valuable connections with the team members on our first trip, it was a natural fit for us to return with Tom and Ruth Ann to complete the curriculum. We enjoyed a rich time of teaching, serving, praying and worshipping together, and growing deeper in relationship with the team members and their children. A mixture of joy and sadness accompanied our return home, as we praised God for the opportunities to serve yet wondered if it would be our last team visit.
Returning to chilly Ann Arbor after our second trip, February 2020

But God wasn't finished with us yet. Shortly after our return home, Covid-19 hit hard, and most of our work and livelihood went online. Having more time at home, we completed the years-long task of downsizing our possessions. We put our house on the market and it sold with the first showing, well before we were able to secure another living situation. And the Kibuye team still needed teachers for their children for the imminent school year. It was Steve - the homebody - who messaged me with the link to their plea for teachers! 

As you can imagine, everything moved quickly from there. The team's gracious enthusiasm to welcome us back, combined with our remaining belongings being in storage, our other work now "portable", and the prayer and financial support of so many back home, all converged to bring us back yet a third time to serve in a setting and with people who have captured our hearts. 

This time, our primary duties are to the children. We serve daily at Kibuye Hope Academy where our 50-something year-old selves are daily challenged to keep up with the vibrant and energetic 2nd-6th graders! Classes in Bible, Language Arts, Science, Art, and Physical Education are part of our weekly regimen, and it has been exhausting and wonderful.
"Star Wars Day" during Spirit Week at Kibuye Hope Academy, 2021 

We also seek to be in tune with the needs of families and adults and minister where God leads. In addition, Steve has begun to work with the hospital chaplains, to better equip them for their ministry work at Kibuye Hope Hospital. 

Who would have known that our combined life experiences would bring us to such a place as this...a place where poverty remains the norm, modern conveniences are elusive, and our families are oceans away? God knew, of course. And in the orchestrating, He has blessed us with a new sense of calling, meaningful work each day, rich relationships, and multiple opportunities to respond to His calling and go where He sends. To God be the glory! 

  "Also, I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'
Then I said, 'Here am I! send me.'"
Isaiah 6:8


How the body suffers.

The other day I started getting lower back pain after a fairly hard run through the hills (OK - hard for me...not the barefoot 6-year-old's running alongside me).  My lower back hurts because I've pulled a muscle in my hip. It seems like it got out of sorts after my left knee started hurting.  My left knee hurts because my left quad is tight. My leg is tight because there is scar tissue from our attack last year. 

As I was limping through the last few kilometers (of a total of maybe 8....let's not be too impressed) I started reflecting on the words of Paul, when he echoes Jesus teaching about the body of Christ

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. I Cor 12:12

I think my whole life I have interpreted that passage as a reminder to me that all are important. That janitors are no less important than research virologist. That a young girl who stutters is no less capable of spreading God's message than a pastor full of charisma with a huge following (OK - I personally am more likely to have to  be reminded that a lot of the mega-church pastors ARE capable of spreading a message of unselfish love)

And that message is there, as Paul continues: 

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so, the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,  while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other."

It shows us that we each have a role to play, that all parts are required, that some we think are less important are in fact really important. 

If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts

We all have a job to do, we all do different things, and love ('the greater gift') is the thing that we should really all aim for (as Paul leads up to the next chapter, 1 Cor 13 - which has to be the most widely cited chapter on love in the whole Bible)

But as I was running, I realized something else. 

In the verses above- I omitted one small phrase that lands in the middle of this section, the first half of verse 26:

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it

It's not just that we should avoid thinking more highly of one part. I think my individualistic western mind has always gone to that part and ignored the communally oriented parts THAT ARE RIGHT THERE.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

I no longer think "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it"  is prescriptive, telling us what to do (if someone suffers, you ought to feel bad, or you should try to feel empathy).

 I now see it as descriptive, telling us what does happen (if someone else suffers you WILL suffer, you DO suffer).

If all followers of Jesus are as connected as interrelated parts of a single body (and Paul just said we are...so if you have issues, I guess take them up with him) then it's not possible that one part is hurting and it doesn't eventually affect the rest.

Maybe there is a clever insight here that in the same way my back doesn't hurt until I run,  the body of Christ may not feel the pain of a certain part that suffers unless it's active and doing something. 

I guess the reality is if one part is suffering, it IS making the rest suffer. The question is are we attuned to that. Are we paying attention? 

Most days, after I run I can feel stiffness in my left hip/back/leg/knee if I'm sitting and pay attention. Or I can ignore it and push through. 

Either I can realize that one part is suffering, and if I pay attention, and give it what it requires (a bit more stretching, etc) then it can return (hopefully) to its normal functioning state, and the body overall will not suffer in the same way. (but...let's be honest...I'm 46.  Running on these uneven dirt paths up and down rolling hills is always going to cause some discomfort)

Maybe this means we need to sometimes just sit, be quiet, be still, and listen. Pay attention to the other parts of the body. Pay attention to those parts that may be suffering that we 'can' ignore if we want. Pay attention to our brothers and sisters who have suffered, been hurt, and continue to be neglected (by us).

If the body is to work well, it needs every part. Not just because it's a nice sentiment about community and inclusivity, but because the reality is we NEED each part to work. If some parts suffer - we need to pay attention.


The Patience-Producing Publishing Process


by Carlan

Our team has been blessed with the opportunity to share some of our reflections, observations, and developments with others. Some of us have recorded music (Michelle still gets royalty checks from time to time). Some of us have published whole books (Eric’s book). Many of us have participated in the process of scientific-medical research and journal publication. All of us have posted on this blog and everyone in the whole world has shared something on social media.*

As a physician I have been fielding lots of questions from friends about different preventative measures, vaccines, medications, and treatments for COVID-19 over the past year, a year in which I have been getting more personal experience with the process of publishing research studies. I wanted to share some observations from my own heart as well as elucidate a bit more of why the process is so slow. I hope that the reader will thus understand why controversies over specific treatments or the impacts of preventative measures continue.

Publishing in a peer-reviewed journal starts with a question. It could be a very general question like, “how do I treat malaria if we run out of our usual medication?” or a very specific question like, “is it safe to perform a lumbar puncture on an AIDS patient with a CD4 count <200 in the setting of behavioral changes?” Then you look for evidence published by others that can answer your question. In the case of the first question, the Burundian Ministry of Health has a whole treatment protocol dedicated to malaria and it includes first- and second-line treatment regimens. In the case of the second question, there are related guidelines from many institutional and professional bodies which don’t specifically address the behavior changes as well as some peripheral data from journals about the eventual diagnosis in such patients with those behavior changes.

Occasionally, you pose a question that is not yet directly addressed in the published evidence AND is amenable to you studying it. This happened with one of my students in 2018. We wanted to know if the surface area of a Burundian’s hand was really about 1% of their total body surface area. You see, we use the surface of the patient’s hand to estimate how extensive a burn is, especially when it is large and irregular in coverage (like a splash burn from a pot of boiling beans). There were some studies in other populations that showed it was variable, but almost no one had ever looked at Africans.

So in 2018 and 2019 we traced the hands of hundreds of patients and collected data about their age, gender, height, and weight that would allow us to estimate their total body surface area (TBSA). We plugged in the formulae and compared the measured surface of their hands with 1% of their TBSA. Lo and behold, it was significantly different. Now I felt an ethical obligation to share this finding with the broader community. You see, overestimating the extent of a burn might lead the clinician to give too much fluid in resuscitation. Especially in kids and especially in settings where malnutrition is a consideration, overly aggressive rehydration can lead to swelling of the brain and fluid on the lungs…neither of which is benign.

So my colleague and I (he had graduated med school in the meantime) wrote up our results as a paper. We triple-checked all the figures. I spent hours reading formatting guides for various journals. We looked at similar types of articles to get a sense for how verbose or succinct we needed to be. I had Randy Bond look over the draft of the paper and made corrections based on his feedback.
These med students solve other challenges to writing in Kibuye.

When everyone had signed off, I went through the somewhat convoluted process of breaking the paper into its constituent parts and submitting them separately so that the online submission tool could build them back together as a PDF. Then I waited for a bit over a month. Two out of three reviewers had asked for “major” corrections, so I redid all the figures, added another table of data, and resubmitted. Then I waited for a bit over a month. The rebuilt PDF was formatted incorrectly. So I broke it back into its constituent parts and resubmitted everything. Then I waited.

That is where I am today, waiting for a decision from the journal editors as to whether or not my revisions pass muster and to know if they have a spot to publish our findings. What started as a question and some data in 2018 is still unpublished in early 2021. I need also to say that ours was not a complex study. The data set was relatively small (~350 patients). The math was pretty straightforward (multiplication, averages, Student’s t-test). In all, it took about 3 pages to report everything.

We might get accepted by this journal. We might have to start the process over at a different journal. (You are not allowed to submit to multiple journals simultaneously, so rejection results in lengthy delays.) Yet I find in this process that God is teaching me some valuable lessonslessons that I should have learned by now but that show His incredibly patient love towards me. 

First, to be hurried is to be harried. A friend of mine told me recently that he doesnt read newspaper websites anymore because they are too slow. He gets his news exclusively from Twitter. I understand that instinct, to want to be on the cutting edge, to hear in real time what is happening in the world. But at some fundamental level, God did not design me (or you, I would contend) to be au courant of everything all the time. Eternal omniscience is distinctive to God. When I submit to that, I feel more relaxed and at peace.
One of my favorite musicians/authors.

Second, God wants us to be subject to process. Think of it, God invented time. He Himself was not subject to process. There is no necessary order of operations or steps 1, 2, and 3 for God. As He is He thinks and He does. The theological term for this is Godsimplicity and I cant stop thinking about it. There is no space or delay between Gods character, Person, will, and action. This makes it all the more remarkable that Jesus came down as a baby and grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52). Furthermore, God established some processes. A sabbath takes 24 hrs because it is a day. You cant hustle a sabbath. A gestation takes 9 months. You dont want to accelerate a pregnancy. From digestion to development, from germination to glorification, life requires process.

So as I hit refresh once again to see if that paper has been accepted for publication, I call to mind Gods gift of process. As I sit typing in California instead of treating and training in Kibuye, I remember that God has chosen a slower pace for my sanctification than I thought best. And as you navigate your social media feeds and the rancorous debates about the science of vaccines, masks, school reopenings, and repurposed pharmaceuticals, I hope you are able to appreciate a little more why good answers in a complex world come slowly.

The greatest encouragement to publish our data.
*I realize that there are some folks alive who have not actually posted on social media…it just feels like all eight billion people are using some form of it these days.


The Hardest Thing

 by Jess Cropsey

Our life in Kibuye is pretty comfortable. We have a nice house with appliances, indoor plumbing, and tile floors, all luxuries that most Burundians don’t have. We (now) have relatively reliable power, water, and internet. So when people ask me, “What’s the hardest thing about living in Burundi?”, my answer has always been pretty immediate — being away from family. Yes, for sure there are a host of other challenges including cultural and language barriers, limited resources, and conflict. But the hardest for me has always been missing out on time with family and sharing special events like birthdays, holidays, and family vacation. We’ve had nieces and nephews that we never got to hold as babies. While I appreciate how travel and communication are much easier than they once were, that separation has always felt like the biggest sacrifice, only now the scope has widened.

Last weekend, 3 Kibuye families dropped off their kids at Rift Valley Academy (RVA) in Kenya, a boarding school for missionary kids. The Watts were the first brave souls from our team to embark on this venture. Faders and Sunds sent their oldest girls there last year. This year, it was our turn too. For 4 years, I have watched these parents grieve sending their kids away and navigate parenting from afar. I’ve listened to their pain and watched them weep. I don’t know why it surprised me how incredibly hard it was to leave our daughter Elise (8th grade) last Friday. 

Of course it didn’t help that we faltered on our final decision multiple times in the days leading up to travel due to a rapidly changing situation with new information from the school about online options, rising covid numbers in Burundi & Kenya, land borders closing in Burundi, changing test requirements for travel, and increased mandated quarantine times, all of which made us second guess this decision.

And yet as our family considered the situation, we remained convinced this was the right choice for Elise. In her 7 academic years in Burundi, she’s had an age mate twice for less than a total of 1-½ years and both were boys. Over the last few years, one after the other of the older kids she was grouped with have gone away to RVA. She’s longing for friendship with others her age in her heart language and we can’t provide that for her here in Kibuye. She needs discipleship, social interaction, extra-curricular opportunities, and a larger community.

Elise with new classmates

RVA is an amazing place with staff who are dedicated to loving and serving students and their families in a wholistic way. Yet as a parent, it feels like such a big loss to send her out of the nest 5 years earlier than most people have to. The cost feels immense and I’m so jealous that other people are going to be the ones to hug her when she’s sad, to make her birthday cake, to help her with a problem, to answer her questions about homework, to make special memories with her, etc. 

Elise's dorm parents who, I hear from many people, are amazing!

Elise's dorm, complete with a really nice yard and beautiful view of the valley

Getting settled in her new room

I know the time always comes when parents relinquish those roles, but it just feels too soon right now. And while I know in my head that RVA is a good place for her, my heart is broken and so very sad. I now really understand the feelings that my teammates have shared over the years.

Getting some final snuggles in during orientation

Lord willing, tomorrow I’ll be getting my 4th covid test in 12 days (technically 5 since one guy decided to give me both throat & nose tests in the same sitting) and after a negative result the following day, will be released from a 7-day quarantine at a hotel in the capital city. I’m looking forward to seeing John and the boys again but I know that grief will linger as I walk by Elise’s empty (and now always clean!) bedroom, set 4 plates on the table for meals instead of 5, or realize that I don’t need to order as much produce each week or do as much laundry. 

Please pray for Matea (11th), Anna (10th), Micah (9th), and Elise (8th) as they transition to a new year at RVA (and the Sund kids too). While Micah & Elise are the new ones this year, even returning students have adjustments to make as school is so different with masks and social distancing. Pray that they would grow academically, socially, spiritually, and emotionally. And don’t forget to pray for their parents too.

(left to right) Anna, Matea, Piper, Elise, Ella, & Micah, 
all current or former Kibuye Kids now attending RVA


Still Learning

by Rachel

As for many people this year, we've had to be quite flexible to figure out a way forward with school in the Covid era.  We are very thankful that we've had the capacity to continue with in-classroom schooling!  And as most of you know, our teachers arrived, safe and sound, in early December so since Christmas Break we've been "back to normal" around here.  One thing that we've done in previous years that we've been able to continue this year is one of the kids' favorites, Learning Experience Day.  Once a month we take a break from regular school in order to focus on one specific subject, learning through nature walks, videos, games, and projects.  In past years we've explored everything from construction and solar panels to chickens and germs.  I thought I'd give everyone a brief recap of our themes from this year so far.  Enjoy...we sure did!

September: Owls and Raptors.  A throwback to a similar day from 2017, we were able to observe both a barn owl and several local hawks, in addition to learning about bird beak adaptations, dissect owl pellets, and sew cute baby owls from socks!

can you spot the hawk?

owl pellets

Bird "beaks"

October: Rocks.  While unable to actually tour our local quarry due to safety restrictions, we hiked to an overlook to observe heavy machinery mining and making gravel for the road.  We also had fun categorizing and observing rocks and minerals, and wrapped up by creating artwork and stories from rocks.

the quarry is behind us in this picture...dust from the gravel creation
A little mascot we picked up on our rock walk

Some story/rock art

November: Cows (and Cheese/Dairy): We spent some time learning about cows, dairy farms, and properties of milk before trying our hand at cheese making! (moderately successful, at least) In the afternoon, we got a tour of our friend Fidele's farm across the street from the hospital, where the kids got to see pigs, guinea fowl, chickens, and cows.  A worker even showed them how the cows get milked.

cow getting milked

January: Kingdom Fungi: With the arrival of new teachers, we didn't know we were also getting mushroom experts!  Steve and Mary took us on a mushroom hunt where we found a TON of different varieties growing around Kibuye.  We learned about fungus, yeasts, and molds (plenty of that in our wet and warm environment here), did some science experiments and observations, and made some spore print artwork.

look at the variety of specimens collected!!

spore prints

mushroom art!


2020 in Kibuye: A journey towards flourishing?

(by Matt)

If you have ever been to Kibuye and attended family worship on Saturday evening, you have probably said the following words as part of the liturgy: “Thank you (Lord) for leading our steps even when we do not understand.” Lately, every time I read and speak these words they resonate with me a lot. I guess it is because there is a lot I do not understand about life in Burundi, the world, 2020 and its series of crises.

The year 2020 has been a very challenging year. It has showcased the vulnerability of mankind, our exposure to risks and the possibility to lose the things that give us a sense of security and safety such as democracy, economic stability, health, freedom, and fellowship with others…

While the impact of these challenges has been gentle in Burundi this year, I am still struggling with the sense of vulnerability that this uncertainty has revealed. I would like to shield myself against the possibility of losing anything I possess.

My work in Kibuye as the construction manager generally puts me in a position of authority. By default I am called to take actions and to make decisions that are executed immediately by those who are under my authority. My natural tendency in this position is to suppress any kind of vulnerability. But as Andy Crouch puts it in his book Strong and Weak, whenever authority and vulnerability are not held together, the result is withdrawal (no authority and no vulnerability), exploitation (authority without vulnerability) and suffering (vulnerability without authority).

I do not understand everything about 2020, but in my role as construction manager I have been learning that it is good to embrace both authority and vulnerability, because that is the way to flourishing. Here are some examples of how this principle has played out in my work:
  1. When the temptation is to withdraw, remember you are part of the body. I have been learning that I am not a mercenary or expert sent to save/help Kibuye but rather part of the body of Christ sent to be with my brothers and sisters in Burundi so that together we can serve and take care of the part of the body that is hurting or needs my gifts. Being then doing. Being for me has come with personal and emotional involvement; I have been trying to be more deeply embedded in relationship and mutual dependence with the construction crew which makes me vulnerable in a way. For this reason the team has welcomed me as one of them but also as their leader. They started trusting me more than they did before.
    When we were finishing the kindergarten building, the director of the school approached me and told me that the school had decided to paint all exterior beams and columns of the kindergarten in a cream color. He did not expect any pushback from me but compliance. It was a simple request from the director who runs the school, a request that had no structural implication I needed to be worried about. It would have been easy to just paint the building and move on. But that would have been withdrawal. As a member of the community I was aware of the challenges we had with maintenance because of the lack of training, human resources and funds. It was my responsibility as an architect and a member of the community with authority to deliver a building that will serve the school and the community for years to come. I told the director that we were not going to paint exterior beams and columns because it would require regular maintenance, which the school could not afford. Instead I had designed it to be aesthetically pleasing and low maintenance. He was very disappointed in me but I thought it was worth pushing for. Now after two months of rain and mud the building still looks clean

    Kindergarten building

    View from the access road

  2. When the temptation is to act without vulnerability (exploit), find ways to stay in relationships. Dependence on my team exposes me to the risk of failure and disappointment but it also empowers my team with the authority to take actions that could affect me directly. At times the authority given is misused, but most of the time it is used in a meaningful way. If my team or the project fails, I fail; if they succeed, their success is also mine. I do not always like this kind of vulnerability but God has been teaching me to embrace it.
    A few weeks ago, I had to get 4 self-contained rooms at the Octaplex ready for 4 new doctors to move in. I relied on and trusted a local contractor to make all the furniture for the rooms but in the end, they let me down because they couldn’t meet our deadline. I felt vulnerable and suffered because of their actions. If I had not trusted them in the first place maybe I would not have felt disappointed and hurt, but I would have reinforced a negative bias about Burundian culture and contractors. Maybe I trusted them because I started to learn the meaning of being, accepting the other who is different as my brother or sister; or maybe I was learning that change, transformation and healing come when we are together in a relationship. We trust and get hurt but we also use the authority we do have (authority is our “capacity for meaningful action” according to Crouch) to try again; and we hope that the power of love that comes from being together will change the other and us. Although I ended up doing the work with my team to meet the deadline, we kept the relationship with the local contractor and contracted him for other work hoping that they will be more reliable in the future.

    The Octaplex

  3. When the temptation is to suffer out of fear of shame, take action together. I am learning that to be culturally appropriate does not mean to withdraw from taking meaningful action in order to avoid the possibility of loss or hurt. Instead, I think it means to communicate clearly in a respectful manner about the action that needs to be taken, while acknowledging that something valuable might be lost in the process.
    Last year, concrete test results for the paediatric building ramp were very bad. As a consequence, part of the ramp had to be demolished and recast. This was a very sensitive matter for leaders and members of the construction team. In this context, to demolish part of the ramp meant to accuse someone publicly of being incompetent at his or her work, a shameful rebuke in a shame-honour culture. I remember being asked several times if there was another course of action that would not require any demolition, but there was none. We had to demolish the ramp but we also were exposed to the possibility of hurt and a broken relationship with some leaders and members of the construction team. We decided to wait and demolish at a later date when everyone had come to peace with the decision. It was clear that no one wanted the ramp to endanger people’s lives by not taking care of the issue. Instead of using culture as an obstacle to good decision making and an excuse for inaction, we took action together and overcame shame and potential suffering.

    Paediatric Ward with the whole team

    View of the ramp

Now that I am at the end of my time in Kibuye as construction manager I can say thank you Lord for leading my steps to places of vulnerability where your spirit empowers me to take action in community and flourish.

I hope that in my journey I will gain more understanding of these words “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for (the body of) Christ. For when I am vulnerable, then I am strong,” 2 Corinthians 12:10


Ordinary Miracles (and more on snacks)

 (from Eric)


And it came to pass, in the year of our Lord 2020, that, due to sundry obstacles, most notably the extended closure of national borders, that the venerated traditional Christmas Eve snacks of Triscuits, cheddar, and summer sausage were naught to be found.  Through months of advanced planning, such adversity had been averted in years past, but in 2020, December loomed with no prospects.

Then behold! As the Watts family prepared to return to Kibuye, a small offering of luggage space made it possible for the provision of a box of Triscuits.  Weeks later, as Rachel and I gazed at this precious box of rosemary and olive oil flavored woven wheat crackers, we smiled.  We could make do with local cheese and some leftover ham from Thanksgiving.

One week before Christmas, Erica surprised us with three (!) blocks of cheddar that she had brought from the United States as a Christmas gift for our family.  And then, the very day before this traditional Christmas triumvirate were slated to take center stage, our team gathered for another holiday tradition, the White Elephant gift exchange.  Skipping to the end, Rachel pried from the tragic hands of John Cropsey a solid log of Italian salami.

And so it was that the festal table in the McLaughlin household of Christmas Eve 2020 contained not only the unanticipated traditional family foods, but with a significant upgrade on the sausage front.


The italics and mildly absurdly elegant language above actually has a point.  We are in desperate need (always, but perhaps especially in 2020) to believe that God is at work in the world around us.  We are disheartened by the brokenness of things, and we ask God what could he possibly be doing.  Then something goes well, as we immediately attribute it to coincidence, or worse, to our own brilliance and diligence.  What we need is gratitude, but we find that it is a trait that does not come easily to our hearts.

"But the snacks?  Really?  I mean, I'm thrilled that you got some comfort foods, but this is no miracle."

Maybe not.  But who I am to say that so definitively?  It seems that, in the end, the degree of wonder that we see in the world around us has some irreducible degree of choice to it.  I can choose to minimize the wonder of everything I see, or I can choose to believe in it.  Either way, I have to choose.  I'm not talking about blind faith, or something uninformed, but rather a choice that is intrinsic to the patent fact that we are just not 100% sure what is really going on.  So I want to choose gratitude.  Out of the desperate need in my heart, I will look for God at work in the world around us.

As to the ordinariness of the snacks, I will plead Christmas.  I will plead the God of the universe as a baby.  I will plead a government census that brings a carpenter to his ancestral town.  I will plead the shepherds and whatever animals ate the hay in that manger.  I will plead "God with Us."  If a miracle is defined simply as "God at work", then it seems that "ordinary miracles" would be the norm.


Three weeks ago, Erica Ause and Steve and Mary Wiland arrived in Burundi.  They had been trying to get here since August.  They are now working in our kids' school and in other domains of Kibuye life.  A week later, the Watts arrived, finishing their quarantine with just enough time to take up their annual roles as hosts of the White Elephant exchange prior to Christmas.

Their arrivals seem like Christmas miracles.  We could still be waiting for them, but we're not.  They have come.  The long string of obstacles seemed like it might never ease up, but here they are.  Their arrivals were due to mammoth efforts by many people, but those efforts were bearing no fruit - until they did.

I'm thankful that they are here.  I'm thankful that they and we are well.  I'm thankful that, for reasons unknown, the Covid pandemic continues to largely spare Burundi.  I'm thankful for my children's growth and for being married to Rachel for 15 years.  I'm thankful for the hundreds of doctors that Hope Africa University has graduated.  I'm thankful for salami and cheddar on a Triscuit for Christmas Eve.  I'm thankful that God is with us.

Merry Christmas.