Interesting Cultural Facts and Observations from Living Abroad

(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. 


The Power of Testimony

by Julie

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!


Sharing in the Joys

 by Rachel

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. 

Goodbyes to some Stage Professionals:

Thesis defense and medical school graduation:

Kessia's baptism and party:


New Chaplains and New Chapels

 (from Eric)

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.

Ever since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been a challenge to decide how to handle the long-standing practice of daily times of morning prayer/singing/devotions from 7:30 to 8:00 each morning.  After trying a number of different models, the hospital leadership restarted this practice a couple months ago.  The response from students and staff has been encouraging with an enthusiastic participation.

The chaplains' response to this was to reflect on how best to use this reinstated time to engage well those that are involved.  They are planning a number of different activities, but one of them is to dedicate one week per month to a thematic message.  The idea is, instead of a different speaker and theme each day, there will be one speaker on a chosen theme who will give four different messages from Monday to Thursday, and then Friday will be dedicated to Q&A.

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.


Enduring Hard Times

 By Alyssa 

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


Three Proverbs

By Alyssa 

 1. Haraka haraka haina baraka. Pole pole ni mwenda. (Swahili: Quickly, quickly brings no blessing. Slowly, slowly is better.) 
2. Petit à petit l’oiseau fait son nid. (French: Little by little the bird makes her nest.) 
3. Buke buke ni rwo rugendo. (Kirundi: Slowly, slowly goes the journey.) 

 Proverbs are frequently used in Burundi to indirectly express important truths. Many of them are too complicated and sophisticated for me to understand with my direct American cultural framework (even when translated into English)! But I frequently reflect on these three similar proverbs which I learned when living in Kenya, France, and Burundi as I find their message quite relevant in my daily life. 

Practically speaking, I recite these proverbs to myself when I’m overwhelmed by the task at hand - packing or unpacking for cross-continental journeys, catching up on dozens of emails after vacation, rounding on dozens of pediatric patients, facing a to-do list that seems like it will never be completed. Little by little, slowly slowly, one thing at a time. Take a deep breath and be a faithful little bird in taking each next step rather than stressing about all that is still unfinished. 

 These proverbs are also relevant from a big picture perspective on our team’s life and work in Burundi. Our team recently returned from the Serge mission-wide conference which included over 600 people! The last conference was 6 years ago as it has been delayed the past 2 years due to the pandemic. One of my favorite parts of the conference are the prayer times where each team shares joys, struggles, and prayer needs. Since I hadn’t seen some of these colleagues for 6 years, it was so encouraging to realize all that God has done around the world since the last conference: new churches planted and growing even during the pandemic, new businesses thriving as means of Gospel-transformation, new teams getting started in new countries, children we prayed for who are now 6 years older and doing well, outreach to new people groups, etc. Our team also remembered how much the hospital has grown since the last conference, how God has sustained our team through lots of transition, and how Burundi has developed and stabilized in encouraging ways. 

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

 Looking back at how far God has brought us in 6 years is encouraging, but often in the present we experience hard times and don’t know how they will turn out. We also heard much during the conference prayer times about present difficulties, concerns, and heartaches. In the day to day struggles it can be hard to see the hand of God and the arc of redemption of all things. These proverbs remind me of the importance of daily faithfulness in small things as we slowly do the work before us one patient at a time, one email at a time, one complicated interpersonal interaction at a time. I believe that 6 years from now, we will look back and be amazed at God’s care for us and for Burundi through all the ups and downs of the slow journey. But today I am encouraged by the missionaries who have been serving for many more years than us and who continue day by day in the small unglamorous work of language learning, making friends, supporting teammates, managing finances, caring for their families, and answering email - for the world’s good and God’s glory.


A Semester in the Life of a Teacher

By: Erica Ause

Teaching anywhere is never the same from one day to the next. And here it is no different. With smaller classes and an interesting environment, there are many ways to keep class lively! Next year I will be teaching mainly math and science for grades 2-8, as well as PE. The T-shirt pictured above is my Math Test Day Shirt, and I hope it will give the kids something to laugh about on otherwise stressful days!
This semester in writing the students learned how to write essays, as well as fictional stories. For their writers celebration, they read aloud the work they had done and then displayed the long and hard process they took to get from their first idea to their final draft. The whole team was invited, and everyone was really impressed by all their hard work!
Science was filled with experiments, presentations, and STEM activities. The students melted chocolate in a self-made a solar oven, discovered what material was the best type of insulation, shared presentations on Archimedes, explored how light reflects, and saw first hand magnetism caused by electricity (seen in the video above).
We had a special guest come to class to take apart my broken cell phone. He is the brother of a team member who was visiting for a couple weeks, and blew the children away with all that was hiding inside the little thing. It was sad to see my phone taken apart, but we did it for science!
They really got moving this term in PE with Zumba classes from a visiting doctor, and dance lessons from three of our teammates. They learned line dancing, and a whole hip hop choreography that they will present on the last day of school. They worked really hard, and loved every minute of it!
Gymnastics was another fan favorite of this year. They practiced balance and team work while making really cool poses and routines. They are not as easy as they look.
I'm not sure if this is because I am the PE teacher, or because my class is all boys, but breaks are usually spent getting some extra time at the gym. It's fun to teach them new ways to get stronger, and to watch them enjoy exercising.
One of the unique parts about this school is that we have something called Learning Experience Days. These are when we spend the day learning about something outside of curriculum. This semester, we explored outer space, the eye, and milk. A doctor who is here for a few months has his masters in space studies, so we felt very fortunate to learn about it from an expert! The first three pictures are from this day. We saw a student in a makeshift astronaut uniform (helmet is Tupperware), and how big the solar system is on a smaller scale, amoung other things. The picture on the top right is the day when we learned about the eye. The same doctor who studied space, is... you guessed it... an ophthalmologist. So, he also taught us about the parts and the function of the eye. The picture here is of a student dissecting one of the many goat eyes he was able to buy. Some of the kids really got into that one! The last five pictures are of our milk day. We went to the home of a hospital employee who has many animals and saw how cows are milked, fed and taken care of. It was a beautiful farm and helped us understand the difference between how we get the raw milk we drink here, and the milk we drink in the Western World.
And of course there are many ways that school spills over into my every day life. From having students help me organize the PE materials, waking up early to put fake snow out to announce the "snow day", celebrating my birthday with a cucumber and carrot snack (in the shape of a flower), and reading to the young ones who will be in school in just a few years. There are so many ways that being a teacher impacts my life outside of the classroom, and that I wouldn't any of it!


Seven Soekens in Burundi

Hi! We are the Soeken family! There are seven of us. Tim (dad), Rachel (mom), Timothy (13), Stephen (9), Carey (7), Joseph (5), and Samantha (2). We have temporarily joined the Kibuye team for the period of February – May, 2022. We are loving it! Since you may have seen us in random photos or heard mention of us, we were invited to write a short introduction to our family.

Tim (dad) is a US Air Force ophthalmologist. This academic year Tim is completing a Global Ophthalmology fellowship for the Air Force via the University of Michigan. This year has included trips to Kenya, India, time in in Michigan, and now almost 5 months at Kibuye. After we complete our time here in mid May, Tim will return to active duty and will help lead all the humanitarian ophthalmology mission trips on behalf of the US military.

Rachel (mom) stays home with the kids. This spring Rachel is doing part time home school, learning a little bit of French, and trying to keep the family running on all cylinders. She is helping to teach elementary Art once a week at KHA. That has been so fun for her to be involved in the school in this way. She also loves going up to hold babies in the NICU. The hospital is an amazing place for sure! 

Our kids are Timothy-7th grade, Stephen-3rd grade, Carey-1st grade, Joseph- 5 years old and Samantha-2. All the kids are LOVING Kibuye life. The older three kids attend KHA for about half their subjects and stay at home for math and reading. The two littlest just enjoy playing at home. Each of our kids have asked at different times if we can stay forever! They have loved being outside and making new friends. One of their favorite new things about Burundi is the wild chameleons. We have a new one in the house about once a week! They like to keep them for a couple days and then let them go. They are so cool! 


What does Tim do while he is in Kibuye for this Global Ophthalmology fellowship? Tim works with 2 ophthalmologists and 2 ophthalmic clinical officers. You may have seen them over time. From left to right, there is Dr. Leopold (ophthalmologist), Emmanuel (OCO), Herve (OCO) and Dr. Jean Claude (retina specialist). Tim has previously completed a cornea fellowship so he spends some of his time teaching best practices for cornea here and some of his time is spent learning how to practice ophthalmology in a low resource setting. Tim thinks the world of each of these four men and would happily work with them for a lifetime if he could! They are all incredible clinicians, surgeons, mentors and friends. 


Below are a few of Tim’s favorite stories from work here in Burundi. This is Saleche. This is a great visual example of the bilateral blinding cataracts that we see here every day. He walked in guided by a caretaker because he could only see light. After the patch was removed on post-op day 1, he could see again from his new left eye! The funny side note here is that he was so excited to walk around the clinic by himself, since he could finally see from his left eye, that he walked his right shoulder into the door quite dramatically. He hopes to return to have his right cataract removed soon!

This is the BEST story! Isaac is a 10 year old boy that I met early last week. He presented

one week after he was hit in the eye. He had what we call a hyphema. Initially it was not

concerning, so we just treated him medically. However, within 2 days his eye pressure sky

rocketed and we increased medical therapy and recommended that he have a “washout” of the

blood the following morning. Unfortunately, Isaac did not show up the next morning. He did

not return for a whole week. And, when he did his eye pressure was even higher and he was

100% BLIND in that eye. I was devastated. And to make it worse, he father had just paid for the

surgery. I was very conflicted but agreed to still perform the surgery. I honestly do not think

that the boy or his father understood the situation. I told Rachel about the situation, and told

her of my total hopeless outlook. But, Rachel being Rachel said, “OK, I will pray for him.” I

thanked her for her kind gesture, but I still expected only a depressing outcome. I went and did

the surgery. Nothing unexpected happened during the surgery. The boy went to sleep. I

prepped the eye, washed out blood, removed a large blood clot, and sutured the single small

incision. The eye was patched and the boy awoken and taken to recover overnight. The next

day I was seeing the usual flow of post-ops and I was handed his chart. On the place for vision

for his right eye I saw “6/24”. I expected “NPL” (no light perception, how we write total

blindness). I asked someone to verify, I said they probably checked the wrong eye, it should say

“NPL”. But, I was wrong. Isaac could see! What a happy surprise! I was totally wrong! God is


Kibuye has really become a home away from home! We love it here! The community has been so welcoming and we know we have made friends for life. What a joy and blessing it has been to our family to be here for this short time! 


A Reflection on Psalm 46

By Glory Guy Psalm 46 – God is Our Fortress “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the Earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Psalm 46:1-3 If you know me, you know that I don’t do boats. As a little kid, I loved being on the water, and as an adult I still love being IN the water, but boats of most varieties are not my thing (kayaks are fine, but that’s a different story). I have a sensitive stomach, so I don’t like the feeling of constant motion that comes with the rocking of a boat on the water. The feeling of going up and down, the swaying associated with sea legs is not my cup of tea, so if I can avoid the feeling of being on a boat, I do. A few weeks ago, I flew 16,000 miles in a week, for a quick trip from Kibuye to the United States to sign some papers for graduate school, and over the course of this trip I acquired a severe bout of vertigo. Not an episode of vertigo that lasts a couple hours and is relieved by a combination of medication and lying down in a dark room, but a full on twenty-four days of non-stop vertigo, and honestly it is still not totally gone. This was a nightmare for me, I was bedridden whenever I wasn’t standing in front of a classroom, and I spent most of my time in the classroom with my head on my desk trying to make the world stop spinning. In a particularly bad moment, I fell down flight of tile hotel stairs because I just wasn’t able to get my footing. The medication that is usually given for vertigo made my condition worse, like standing up and immediately toppling over, worse. After several other trial medications and no results, we decided to see what a steroid dose would do to my system. Through all of this, my frustration with the Lord was through the roof. A lot of my prayer looked like, “Lord, what are you doing? Why is this happening? I feel like a shell of a human, make it stop, I can’t do this anymore, please.” No change, world spinning. During week three in anger, “Are you even here?” Sometimes a question, sometimes a challenge. Everyday check ins from neighbors and friends in the States, “any better?’ The only way I could describe it to those around me was to say I felt like I was on a boat. Flipping through the Scriptures, I landed on Psalm 46, one of my favorites. A Psalm that proclaims hope in all circumstances, one that remembers the power and the presence of our Father on high with great conviction. Reading through the words that I had prayed through many times, I found myself with a new perspective on verse 2 “Therefore we will not fear though the Earth gives way.” Sometimes, a misalignment of the inner ear convinces my finite body that the Earth is giving way, that there is motion where there is none. The lack of control that comes with earthquakes is mimicked by my inner ear, along with the fear, the physical imbalance, and the wonder at what the Lord is doing. Astounded by and jealous of the Scripture writer’s ability to believe and proclaim the promises of the Lord, I found myself asking “Is God actually my fortress? Is He actually a present help in my trouble?” It certainly didn’t feel like it. When Sunday morning rolled around, I realized it was Easter. This changed everything. The existence of this day means that regardless of how many times I cry out to the Lord saying “are you even here?” the answer will always be yes. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, He took the separation that I deserve. So, even when it doesn’t feel like it, I know, with complete certainty, that the Lord is with me. He promised, and in Jesus’s death He keeps His ultimate promise, His great rescue of His people. Jesus cried “It is finished” on the cross for me, so that the girl face down in her bed in the dark at 3 pm knows that she is not alone. The world is spinning, but Jesus is on that boat with her. He was alone so I would never be. Maybe the Psalm 46 psalmist was also struggling to believe what is true, and the words are not written in shouted confidence on the spiritual mountain top, but from the pit, in the dark, promises whispered and preached over himself. A promise foretold, words spoken and written in hopes that they would be believed. The prayer of a weary and feeble heart like mine, reminding themselves of the goodness of God in the truth of His presence, repeated in verses 7 and 11, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” My fortress, my stabilizer, the one who is with me in the boat, whether literal or caused by the disruption of the inner ear. The words whispered in truth, we have nothing to fear, because He is with us, our safe place to hide.


Resurrection Hope

 by Rachel

Happy Easter from the Serge Kibuye team!  We spent the day together as a team, as we always do, feasting at a brunch potluck with our Burundian neighbors, worshipping together, and finally hunting for Easter eggs.  I love these small and large team traditions, and the passing of Good Friday death into Easter Sunday resurrection in community.

The events of the weekend gave me a chance to think about resurrection…about Jesus’ resurrection and our hope, as Christians, of eternal life.  But also about all the small moments of resurrection and redemption that we see around us all the time, if we have eyes to see.  I was reflecting mainly on a special story that I got the privilege to be a part of last month.  Eric and I shared part of this story doing our time in the US in 2018, so if you got the chance to be at one of our presentations, the story might sound familiar to you, too.

Triphonie first came to see me at the end of her fourth pregnancy, about seven years ago now.  Her baby had died before being born, and upon investigating a bit more, I found out that she had no living children.  All of her first four pregnancies had resulted either in the baby dying before labor (in the last 1-2 months of pregnancy), or stillbirth, where the baby died during or shortly after labor.  It was devastating for her, and difficult for us as the medical team to be a part of as well.  I asked her to come and see me during her fifth pregnancy in hopes that it would end differently.  Many times in Burundian medicine, we are shooting in the dark, without tests and labs to guide us, unsure of a diagnosis, trying treatments that aren’t necessarily proven to be of strong benefit.  This was the case with Triphonie.  But we did simple interventions: a monthly ultrasound, aspirin and vitamin tablets, steroids to help the baby’s lungs mature, and ultimately a Cesarean delivery a month before her due date.  And miraculously, her baby was born alive, a little girl weighing just four pounds, who spent several weeks in our neonatal unit and went home healthy.  I would see Triphonie and her daughter from time to time around Kibuye, her daugh
ter usually wearing an amazingly frilly party dress, both with big smiles on their faces.  Do I remember all of my patients and their stories?  Honestly, no, but Triphonie’s face and her story are indelibly burned in my memory.  

Now, fast forward five years.  It was just another OR day for me that Thursday morning in March…I had a list of C-sections to do that had been scheduled by my generalist colleagues.  And I walked into the OR, and there was Triphonie getting her spinal anesthesia and smiling at me.  She had come for her 6th pregnancy, a repeat C-section, and I was able to deliver her second living, healthy baby girl (full term this time).  I asked my intern, who was doing the C-section with me, to translate to Triphonie how excited I was to be here, how thankful I was that she had two babies now, and that I still remembered all of her story.  My intern, Patricia, said to me, “I remember her too.  I was the medical student who cared for her baby in the NICU.”  

It’s hard to explain how profound and impactful this is for me, on so many levels.  First of all, this is a lady whose losses were incredible, and yet here at Kibuye, she received hope and ultimately new life in the form of her two daughters.  She persevered, she tried again, and God put us in the right place at the right time to be able to participate in that gift of resurrection and redemption.  In those moments when we’re stuck on that fourth pregnancy, the loss and the death and the brokenness (not unlike Good Friday), I have a story to cling to now to remember that this is not the end.  Not for Triphonie, not for me.  Sometimes we get to see the curtain pulled back and witness the NEXT pregnancy, the success, the miracle.  The Easter Sunday.  Sometimes we don’t see it, but it’s always going to come in some form or another.  And this story helps me remember that.

Secondly, we’ve been in Burundi for nine years now.  We came in with so many dreams and ideas and plans.  Things have been infinitely harder than anticipated, or things have been harder in unexpected ways.  Things haven’t always looked how we thought they would.  But still, nine years later, our team is still here.  And that nine years of constant presence and partnership with our Burundian colleagues means that sometimes we can look back and see how changes have come, slowly by slowly.  Sometimes I can be part of someone’s story in a way that I couldn’t have been in we had only stayed a year or two.  For Triphonie, I’ve had the chance to treat her during three different pregnancies over 7 years.  That continuity is amazing to me.  Or in another aspect, there was no NICU when we arrived nine years ago…there were cardboard boxes at the foot of the mom’s bed for the preterm babies.  Triphonie’s baby is alive because of care provided by our competent NICU staff and locally made equipment like incubators.

Finally, perhaps my favorite part of the story was Patricia’s involvement.  Not only did I have continuity with Triphonie, but Patricia had gotten to know her five years earlier as a medical student, and now here she was doing a C-section as one of our stage professional interns.  Our team has been able to teach and train now hundreds of students at multiple and progressive levels, impacting health care throughout the entire region.  All the stories that have impacted me….have also impacted other Burundian doctors as well.  They remember these stories of hope and resurrection and redemption, too.  

So on we go, in this Easter world where there is a promise of already and challenge of not yet.  I am so grateful for the chance to reflect back on these stories, which give me hope for the road ahead.  The tomb is empty.  Death has been defeated.  We wait with expectation.