It seems like it has been a minute since I've posted anything regarding current construction efforts at Kibuye. In addition to one larger construction project we are doing a lot in the way of shoring up the basic infrastructure of power, water, and internet. So here is what's happening in my world:
Typically medical students at Hope Africa University spend their first three years in Bujumbura in the classroom. They then move up to Kibuye for their next three years doing their clinical rotations in addition to taking various courses taught by Serge faculty and others. Many of these students come from Bujumbura and find that life can be a bit slow up here in our rural setting.
A few years ago, Matt Lembelembe (an eMi architect) was here filling in for me while my family was on home assignment. He was asked to design a student center that would house three main functions: a cafeteria, a library, and a place to relax and hangout. Matt came up with a wonderful design and thanks to funding from AMH we are a few short weeks away from completing the construction. I have no doubt that the students will really enjoy this space for years to come.
|The library will be on the first level and an upper terrace will allow the students to take in the beautiful view of the Burundian countryside. |
|The building has 3 levels. On the right will be the hangout area with couches, pingpong, foosball, and other necessities. The middle section will be where food will be served. And to the left will be the library and upper terrace.|
|The middle section where the students will be served daily meals.|
|Matt incorporated some interesting architectural features like the way the roof is hidden behind a parapet and the fun stone work at the ends of the building.|
|Our masons getting the alignment of one of the support legs just right.|
|The future site of the expanded solar field.|
|A view from across the valley of the new solar site as well as the new pediatric building and maintenance area.|
|The site of the new water reservoirs leveled and cleared and ready for construction.|
|Micheal and his eager assistants.|
- As one about to teach Pediatrics in Burundi, I took everything I ever learned in my Peds training and put it into a context of a developing country with low resources with diseases not commonly found in the United States.
- I started making powerpoints that fit the needs of what I needed to teach each week.
- Little by little, I translated powerpoints into French. (because honestly my medical French was not that great. "Blueprints" is in English, and I needed to know how to say many of these things in our "work language" - French.)
- I gave a 1-hour lecture per week for 3 months on 12 important Pediatric topics.
- After giving lectures for a few months, I realized that maybe I added too much of what I shouldn't have (minutiae regarding specialty labs, MRIs, etc which are difficult to find in our context), and not enough of what I should have (more on physical exam, treatments that are available here, etc).
- Re-vamped lectures.
- I gave these lectures weekly over 2 years during our first term. I made small adjustments after each lecture, trying to taylor the learning time to fit the needs of the learners. I added in French articles from time to time on difficult subjects.
(by Michelle Wendler)
So after living on three different continents over the last few years and traveling pretty extensively, here are some observations.
1) Beauty is culture-specific. For example, here in Burundi, being heavy (fat, overweight) is considered beautiful. To compliment someone you tell them how fat they have gotten and describe the body parts that appear especially fat. To tell someone they are thin is a huge insult! (don’t ask me how I know this…)
2) Sealed off houses and climate control is more of an American thing. So far I haven’t stayed in one international house (hotels are different) that has climate control (like whole house heating and air conditioning). People open windows, use fans, or fire places (or portable heaters). This has very real implications in Burundi at elevation (brrrr. lately it's been getting down into the 50's F in our bedrooms at night) and in France when a heat wave strikes (sweltering).
3) Cold cereal options outside of America are: Corn flakes, and cocoa clams / flakes / balls. Basically I haven’t found many options outside of this in Europe or Africa, except Muesli, which is oatmeal with raisins or seeds mixed in.
4) Carpet is an American thing.
5) Wearing shoes inside a house is a big no no internationally. We have gotten so used to taking our shoes off when we go inside that when we were reading a book to Gabrielle the other day and it showed kids inside at the dinner table wearing shoes she couldn’t stop commenting that "they are wearing their shoes inside!“
6) Drinking a lot of water (like during meals, and carrying a water bottle or thermos around with you) is really an American thing. Here in Africa I hardly ever see people drink water…I mean I know they do….but I never ever see it. And at meals if I offer it, they will only drink after the meal is completely over but never during. In France, if you carry a water bottle around with you as you go shopping or walking you may get snide remarks like “are you a dog that needs to drink water all the time?” Oh and I should also mention that ice isn’t a European or African thing. They think it’s really unhealthy to drink something cold.
7) Sleeping with head out of the covers (even babies and children) is not a Burundian habit. They think it’s so weird that we don’t sleep with our head under the covers. It makes since though…because that keeps them protected from mosquitos and other things that may be crawling inside the house at night.
8) And finally, certain colors aren’t considered gender specific here in Africa. Pink, purple, red…flowers etc…men and women can wear these no problem. The brighter the better.
Luke 15:7 …there will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Our testimonies can be a very powerful tool that God can use to strengthen believers, and to call non-believers into Himself. Over the course of the summer I have found myself sharing my testimony perhaps dozens of times. I’ve shared a couple times in front of groups of people...
But mostly I have shared my story on long car rides, or across the dinner table. I’ve spoken recently with maybe a dozen parents who have adult children who are currently living in darkness, away from the Lord. This is an all-too common story that breaks my heart, but at the same time, I know the saving power of Jesus Christ.
You see, I was an adult who had turned my back from God, from my parents, my church, and pretty much anything that had to do with Jesus. I was living my life for myself. I thought I was seeking freedom, but what I found was bondage. My sin was tangled around every part of my life, pulling me further and further into a pit of darkness. I was such a mess and was at the end of my rope financially, emotionally, spiritually, and every other –ly word you can use to describe your life! I was completely lost.
Even though I refused to have a relationship with my family, they prayed. They prayed and prayed. And I’m not talking about sweet bedtime prayers. I’m talking about battling in prayer. They knew that they were fighting a spiritual battle and that God heard their prayers.
Finally one night…August 21, 2004… I was completely gripped with anxiety and couldn’t sleep. I had had enough. I had been trying to do it on my own for so long, but I just wanted to get out of the messy life I had gotten myself into. Somehow or another I knew the answer was Jesus. But, what would I even say to Him? What could I say? Do I have the right to pray after everything I have done? I hadn’t prayed in years!
I simply said, “Save me.” I whispered it again. “Save me.” I began to sob. My shoulders shook as I repeated this very simple prayer, “Save me.”
In that moment I was changed. I was pure. I was forgiven. I was loved. I was a new woman. Praise the Lord. It felt as if Jesus came into my life and completely swept away the mess I had made of my life. I was completely clean inside. My stomach untangled. I could finally… breathe. I was free.
This is a real-life image of what Jesus did in the temple as recorded multiple times in the New Testament.
Matthew 21:12-13 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said, “’My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
He turned over every table. He chased out every corrupt act from His temple. This is what He did for me. He cleansed me! Why? Because we are His temple.
1 Corinthians 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are that temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you?
Every time I share how Christ saved me, the worst of sinners, I am once again reminded that Jesus continues to forgive me everyday. He loves us so much. I know that I was finally open to that love and was showered with grace because of my family’s prayers. Prayer works. God hears you. Keep praying.
So, what does this story have to do with Burundi? Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with it. Or maybe it has everything to do with it. I am telling you, if some people who knew me 18 years ago found out that I was a Missionary today, they would laugh, or maybe not even believe you. Take courage that no matter where you have been, no matter what you have done - God’s grace is bigger. The blood of Jesus washes away all sin. Every single sin. And God has a plan for your life. You are never too far gone. Your son or daughter is not too far gone.
“Jesus, I pray that You storm into my life, Your temple. Turn over any table that shouldn’t be there. Chase out any unclean thing from my heart. Cleanse me, purify me like only you can. I want to live for You with all that I have.”
You see, the Gospel is not a story that you only need to hear once. I know I need to be reminded that Christ died for my sins and that He continues to forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.
I was recently asked to speak at a village church not far away from Kibuye. After reflecting on these very thoughts, I shared my testimony with them and told them how much Jesus loves them. The altars flooded with people repenting and asking God to cleanse them. At least one young woman came to Christ for the first time, Hallelujah! Heaven surely rejoiced.
So if you’re reading this and you are a follower of Christ, let me encourage you to share your testimony with someone! Redemption is a powerful thing, and maybe someone needs to hear your story of how Jesus redeemed you. And then pray. Pray for us living at what feels like the “frayed edges” of the world. Pray for Burundi. And pray for salvation across the globe.
If you’re reading this and you don’t know the Lord, or have not ever had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ, let us know and we will pray for you and with you. God loves you and has a plan for your life. Trust me, God's plans are always much more exciting than any plans we could make for our own life!
If you're reading this as a parent much in prayer for your son or daughter, be encouraged. Your child's story is not finished, this is just where you are in the story right now. But keep praying. If you would like to hear a little bit more of my story, you can watch this testimony video that my home church put together a few years ago. Reach out to us and we will pray with you. And just like Heaven rejoiced when I surrendered my life to Jesus, and just like they rejoiced a couple weeks ago for the woman at this village church who made a decision to follow Christ, we will pray for a day of rejoicing the day your child accepts Jesus as her Lord and Savior! Who knows, maybe she will become a missionary one day sharing her testimony of how God didn't give up on her. Praise the Lord!
Last night we had the new HAU medical school dean and his family over for dinner. It was a fun evening to get to know some new friends and continue to practice my social French! As typical of such evenings, the conversation eventually turned to differences between American and Burundian cultures. Our friends were going to their family home upcountry to present their six month old son to the family and give everyone a chance to meet the baby. He remarked that Burundians have many different celebrations, and we agreed...and mentioned that, in fact, most of those celebrations are totally different than ones we celebrate in America. I was reflecting on all the opportunities that we've been given these past nine years to enter in to the lives of our friends, colleagues, and employees here--we are definitely the strange and the strangers here and to be invited in to these (typically) family parties has been a privilege and unique cultural window that we are very grateful for. And, Burundians are very good at celebrating! The parties are quite different than American parties (normally there is a lot of sitting and drinking Fantas, then speeches and prayers, followed by an occasional meal), and involve some waiting (we are always "early"), a lot of minimal understanding of what is going on (Kirundi), but at the end a general sense of happiness that we were able to participate in these special moments.
|Peace and Alain's new baby, Nineza (it is good)|
For example, one unique ceremony that almost everyone celebrates here in Burundi is the "Baby on the Back" ceremony. When a newborn baby is old enough, typically around one month of age, the new parents will invite their families and friends to a party where, after the eating and drinking and speeches and prayer, the family will place the baby on the new mom's back for the first time. Burundian moms almost always carry their babies on their backs, leaving their hands and heads free for other work and transport, and are practically wizards at using a towel or blanket to secure their baby well. I tried it once with rather poor results...thankfully I caught Toby before he hit the ground! We were able to attend a ceremony like that last weekend, in fact, and my favorite part was watching the joyful singing and parading around the pavilion once the baby was successfully well secured on the mom's back. A celebration of life, to be sure.
Another ceremony that many of us have attended is something called a "dote." Weddings are commonplace and easy to understand for us, but the dote is something different. It's classically more of an engagement party in which the family of the bride to be and the family of the groom to be meet, sometimes months before and sometimes days before the wedding, and agree on the dowry or bride price to be paid. I have heard that by the time of the dote these details have all been decided upon ahead of time, and everyone is going through the motions in a good natured "haggling" sort of way, until finally the bride is ushered in and presented to there groom and his family. Also in years past, there were actual cows exchanged, but now apparently you can just provide a monetary equivalent to the value of the cows. The last dote I attended was a little over a year ago, and it was a joy for me to celebrate the upcoming wedding of one of my amazing and talented generalist physicians at Kibuye.
|Christiane and Methode|
Finally, to complete the circle of life, the last unique ceremony that we've been able to be a part of is something called the "Levée de Deuil". Literally translated, this is the "end of mourning." After someone dies, there is a funeral and a period of mourning, sometimes a few days and sometimes a few weeks, depending on factors like the age of the person. At the end of that mourning period, family and friends gather to celebrate the life of the person who died as a sense of closure and remembrance. Eric actually attended one the first few months we were here in Kibuye, and wrote a blog about it here. I think it's a really sweet sentiment actually, and our friends were particularly surprised to hear that nothing like this is celebrated in American culture.
In addition to the above three, there are many other opportunities to celebrate together with our Burundian friends. Sometimes it's as simple as saying goodbye to a colleague who's leaving the hospital for more training, and we share drinks and prayers. Sometimes it's a medical school graduation or a thesis project finally completed; a new doctor launched into society. Last year we were able to attend the baptism of our former nanny's daughter, which was very special. In all these things, we remember the value of sharing these times together in community, like the verse in Romans 12: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Again, we are grateful to be included in these moments, and have learned much from our Burundian brothers and sisters.
When our team returned from the Serge conference last month, we found a new face leading morning chapels at the hospital. Last year, after decades of faithful service, Pastor Pascal Nyawenda retired from his role as a Kibuye Hospital chaplain. Now, Pastor Mélance has arrived to fill that void, joining Pastor Silas and Madame Pascaline on the chaplain service dedicated to spiritual care at the hospital. It has been a joy to see the enthusiasm and energy that a new person has added to the team's work. We see them praying with inpatients and outpatients, and if you take the time to ask them, they will enthusiastically share stories of healing, repentance, conversion, consolation and faithful presence.
|Pastor Mélance, Pastor Silas, and Madame Pascaline|
One of the things that I love about our chaplains is that they embrace not only the spiritual care of patients and their family members here at Kibuye, but also the employees and the numerous students that pass through the hospital at different stages of training.
I had the honor of being the inaugural speaker for a theme week, the chaplains asking me to speak on "Walking with Those who Suffer". On Monday, I spoke on suffering according to the Bible. On Tuesday, I spoke on the significance of a God who has suffered and died. On Wednesday, we talked about consoling the sufferer, and on Thursday, we talked about Finding Hope. Even this week, it seems that these messages have changed the tenor of some of our conversations about our work in ways that I think are positive and authentic.
I wasn't sure what to expect in the Friday Q&A. I appreciated what the chaplains were doing by leaving that time for more interactions, but I wasn't sure how people would respond. After an initial long silence, the questions started to come and had no difficulty filling the time. They asked about God's redemption of evil and the presence of temptations in their lives. They asked why prayer matters if God is sovereign. They asked about the difficulties of caring for the whole person when the work is voluminous and overwhelming, as well as the proper way to talk about the offer of eternal hope with someone who has just receiving hope-shattering news. In other words, they didn't pull any punches!
Pray for these chaplains in the months to come and for the patients and staff and students that they will impact.
As part of the Serge conference, Rose Marie Miller asked me to share a brief testimony about how I endure hard times. How do I persevere through all the challenges of the last few years? Rose Marie is quite a testimony to endurance herself. She and her husband Jack started Serge (World Harvest Mission) 40 years ago and now, at age 97, she is still serving and sharing the gospel with Asian communities in London. She reminded us of the importance of being "anchored in the Word of God," learning to pray in our weakness and helplessness (Rom 8:26), and inviting others to pray with us and for us. She also invited two couples to share powerful testimonies of how God has sustained them through the past two decades of service in Ireland and Uganda/Kenya through many hardships. I'm earlier on in my journey and know there will be many unseen curves ahead and ups and downs, but I thought I would share an excerpt of what I shared at the conference here in the hopes that it would encourage our blog readers who have also endured with our team over many years!
From Spain talk June 2022:
...I really appreciated the thoughts Rose Marie shared about the God of first causes - that we can believe that God is indeed sovereign and loving in every event - whether joyful or sorrowful - in our lives. He doesn’t usually take away the hard times but he does bring Himself - His loving, good, and comforting self - which enables us to endure.
...There have been many hard times over the last couple years for me and our team: pandemic, hard goodbyes, armed robbery at Kibuye, major team transition, Jennifer Myhre’s accident, conflict, and personal struggles. There are days when I think about how much easier it is to treat malaria or parasites than it is to deal with complicated relational dynamics and cross-cultural communication. If only a given situation had a clear diagnosis and treatment, a beginning and an end! So what does endurance look like? As I’ve been reflecting on this and looking up verses on endurance, I think it begins with lament in the present - in community. From there it moves to remembering the past with gratitude and looking to the future with hope.
1) Lament. So this first step is actually the hardest one for me as it means I actually have to admit that life is hard and painful at times. As a thinker, my M.O is generally to ignore or deny my feelings. If I can think myself out of a situation, I will give that my best shot! It sometimes takes me a long time to even be aware of my feelings - and then I usually want to hide them from others even if I acknowledge them to myself and to God. But of course this only works temporarily and does not lead to long-term endurance of hard times. Lament means bringing to God my feelings, thoughts, and experiences in all their raw intensity. It means acknowledging and grieving losses and struggles. As we read in Romans 8, the creation groans as it waits for glory; we groan as we await redemption of our weak bodies; and the Spirit groans as he intercedes for us. And groaning or lamenting in community takes courage - especially for those of us who don’t have a natural “debriefer" in a spouse. But lament is not complaining or griping but following Jesus’ example who ran to His Father when his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow and courageously asked his friends to pray with him. And I have found that thankfully my friends and teammates are better at listening empathetically and praying with me than the disciples were at that moment in the garden!
2) Remember the past with gratitude. In the midst of present hard times, I find it helpful to look back and remember God’s faithfulness in the past and how He has brought me this far. I think about how He gradually and gently called me to this life and work and how he has been with me and our team through all the ups and downs along the way. And I think back even farther to being a 10-year-old kid alone and paralyzed in an ICU bed. I had an illness called transverse myelitis which meant that I just woke up one July morning unable to walk or feel anything from my chest down. This was obviously quite a traumatic experience for me and my family. But God did indeed answer the prayers of His people and do a mighty work in my life during those two years of relearning how to walk and run again. My favorite verses became Isaiah 40: 30-31: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Most people with transverse myelitis end up with significant long-term impairments, but God provided the miracle of near-complete healing for me. And He also taught me about perseverance in hard times, about giving Him glory for healing, and He affirmed my interest in medicine which had already been developing for several years. Looking at the past with gratitude for me is sometimes as simple as being aware of the amazing fact that I can put one foot in front of the other and walk and seeing that as evidence of God’s hand on my life for so many years.
3) Finally we look to the future with hope. Hebrews 12:1-3: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” We are surrounded by a community of witnesses to the goodness of God and this enables us to courageously repent of sin and scorn shame - including the shame that comes from human frailty and hindrances and not always getting it right. There is joy set before us just as there was before Jesus. And He is the one who is perfecting us and walking with us during hard times. As I said before and as Paul Miller writes, the J-curve always curves back up eventually to full redemption of everything broken in us and in the world around us - God making all things new. In view of that hope we can endure. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4 that looking ahead to the eternal weight of glory enables us to not lose heart in the present. Our current afflictions even prepare us for this eternal glory! When I’m discouraged by the magnitude of malnutrition in Burundi or the children who die from illnesses that are treatable elsewhere in the world or the students who struggle to learn or apply critical thinking or communication and trust struggles or differing opinions and conflict, I remember that it won’t always be this way. I can’t fix these problems, but I can look to my Savior who will one day usher in eternal glory so much greater than anything I can imagine.
So that’s my encouragement to all of us jars of clay today who feel fragile and who are sometimes overwhelmed by the sufferings and trials of life. Lament in community. Remember with gratitude. Look forward with hope.
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5
|Medical missionaries at the conference|
|Serge East Africa missionaries|
|Our team sharing prayer requests|
|Some of the current and former Kibuye team members who were at the conference|