Loving the Livestreaming

Here at Kibuye, most of our team sits about 8,000 miles from our families in North America.  Often this distance feels like eight million miles, especially when we are missing major events, such as weddings, funerals, holidays, and family reunions.  BUT this year, due to the Covid pandemic, many more events have been livestreamed on the Internet this year, which allows us to tune in from across the ocean.  Thus the world feels a little bit smaller. 

In the last year, we have enjoyed gathering to stream several weddings. Last weekend, Kibuye's beloved Aunt Kayla tied the knot. None of the team could be there in person, but we stayed up late here to celebrate the moment. Someone remarked that watching weddings online is even better than attending in person, because we don’t have to be quiet and because we can eat cake during the ceremony. 

Another newlywed KHA teacher has been dear to Kibuye hearts since 2014.  Some of her former students here even participated in her wedding by prerecording a video of the scripture reading, and then they watched themselves on the big screen during the wedding several weeks ago. In the picture below, ten of the bride's former students stood in her old house in Kibuye and watched while she walked down the aisle in Canada.

 Due to Covid-related restrictions on gatherings, some funerals in North America have been livestreamed this year as well, which has been a great blessing to us here, allowing us to "be there" through the Internet in real time.  It was a real gift to my heart to be able to grieve with our loved ones during two funerals this past year, one for a long-time friend from our Michigan small group who passed away much too young, and another funeral for a Grandpa figure whom I have loved for as long as I can remember.  

Family gatherings over Zoom seem to be more common across the globe this year, and for those of us who usually miss the in-person gatherings as well, Zoom family gatherings are uniquely inclusive.  Our family caught up with cousins from California to Canada to Chiang Mai via Zoom this year.  Loved it.   

Our increased online connections have not been limited to events.  Daily life and routine meetings have been more accessible for us, too.  Our church in Michigan has been streaming Sunday services due to the pandemic, so many Sundays at 3:30pm, we eagerly show up at the computer for another round of church.  In February an annual meeting was held via Zoom, so I attended for the first time in about 12 years.  Well, ok, it started at 11pm in this time zone, so I attended until my eyes couldn't stay open. 

Our same church in Michigan runs a women’s Bible study that I (Heather) have been missing for 12 years.  So this year when they opened a Zoom participation format, I signed right up.  Every Monday this year, I loved that study with sweet old friends and new friends several thousand miles away.

Thanks to Covid travel restrictions, some of us participated in international meetings from home, wearing scrubs, rather than having to fly to another country.  Jason even conveniently gave oral boards exams to South African surgery residents from the comfort of his office chair. 

The kids have connected via Zoom in new ways as well, as the Kibuye 6th graders attended Biniyam’s birthday party together… logging on from 4 different countries.

So while we all hope that the global pandemic ends soon and that all the in-person gatherings will safely resume, we are grateful for the ways that we have been able to participate in so many events from afar.  And maybe livestreamed events, classes, conferences, and celebrations will be here to stay?


Congratulations - you built a House!

{NOTE: This post is taken from a recent newsletter our family sent out to our supporters - but it applies equally to all of you who support this team in any way. If you'd like to receive Watts Family updates you can sign up HERE}

One of the true joys we get living and working here in rural Burundi is the opportunity to link your generosity with the deep needs of the people around us.

Mama Bella is a woman that Susan first met at the feeding program several years ago when she was bringing her extremely malnourished daughter Bella to get food. When Susan started to get to know the family she learned there was also a son with severe vision problems, as well three other children. The father has some significant cognitive disabilities needs surgery for a growth on his head, and was unable to work.

The family just barely survived. Just barely.

You can see their previous house. It was tiny, dark, leaky. The single room was almost always muddy, as the roof leaked so much.

It was pitch dark as the roof didn't keep out the rain, but only the sun. It had no door. No windows. Not even tall enough for an adult to stand up inside. The family ate and slept in that one small mud room that many rural Burundians up here would not use for their animals.

In a culture where social standing is clear and important, having one more strike against you (no proper house) is not just a physical burden, but also a social, emotional, and mental drain.

It's hard to get ahead when you spend so much time and effort just trying to keep your family dry & safe. Constantly having to reapply mud to the walls, and leaves and grass to the roof was a losing battle they had been fighting for years.

We talked with our Burundian colleagues and determined what this family needed was a helping hand. A leg up. They've been hit hard repeatedly, and need something to help give them hope.

We coordinated some of our construction workers who were between projects at the hospital to design and build them a new house.

Yesterday we drove out to visit the family and see the finished house. Actually, we took Mama and Bella back home as Bella was just released from the hospital for malaria. She's much healthier again and was really excited to get home.

Actually - she was also pretty thrilled to drive in the back of our Land Cruiser. As soon as we started driving away from the hospital, she started giggling to herself, and could barely contain her excitement of being in a car the whole way home.

Here is the family in front of their new house. It is spectacular so see this.

Their new house would not be considered fancy by western standards, but the upgrade is massive. They now have a tin roof, that will keep out the rain for years to come. The walls are solid brick, built on a proper stone foundation. They have wood doors and windows that can be closed and locked. The floor is cement. They have four rooms inside, and a small outdoor cooking spot out the back.

The difference is shocking.

We hired construction workers who live out near the family, or who owned bikes, to do the work. Our incredible construction supervisor oversaw the work and ensured it was done to the same quality as anything we build. Every guy on the team seemed to want to make sure this family (finally) got something nice.

The kitchen to me is extra special as it was done by our construction workers, but they weren't paid for it. There were some construction materials left over, so they guys used some, traded some with neighbors for what they needed, and volunteered their own labor to build it. It's just a small shed with a clay-tile roof, metal walls, and a simple door - but it's a clean, dry place for them to cook over an open fire so they can prepare food without filling their house with smoke.

These are workers who make a couple of dollars a day, who took an hour to get to the worksite, who have families of their own to support. They gave their time and expertise to provide a working kitchen for this family.

So now everything is great?
Not even close.

This family will still struggle to feed themselves, the father still has no work, the son still has vision problems. However, there is safety, stability, and dignity that comes from having a proper house. A roof that does not leak, a door that you can actually lock. Windows that can be closed. A floor that is not mud. They have a leg up now as a family that will make a difference from this day forward. They can spend less time gathering leaves to patch their roof, and more time tending crops. The kids should get sick less now that they won't be lying in the mud at night. They don't have to worry that any item they acquire - starting with a cooking pot - may get stolen.

It's a big deal for this family - and you made it possible.

The Bible tells us over and over that one of the fundamental ways we serve God and worship him is by taking care of the poor, the sick, the orphan, the widows. Those who have been beaten down by the powers of this world. In this case, we (you & us together) had an opportunity to do just that.

Your support and our construction team's talent came together to make this family a home.

And that is incredible.


Shipping Container Logistics

(By Caleb)

Recently we sent another container over to Kibuye full of medical equipment, educational material, books, essential spare parts, construction supplies, tools for repairing medical equipment, and of course creature comforts like extra crunchy JIF peanut butter and enough jelly beans for the next 5 Easters.   

Getting all of the needs and wants for about 15 families living in Burundi to one geographic location was a massive undertaking.  We had ‘Packing Buddies’ all over the mid-west who volunteered to receive 100s of Amazon packages on behalf of each family.   They would unbox and repack these items into specific black bins with yellow tops.  This was a massive effort and we are so thankful for these wonderful Packing Buddies!  Most of the bins arrived in West Michigan on March 20th where the empty container awaited.  

The empty container delivered on March 19th


With help from friends and family in Muskegon and the great gentlemen of JDB Carpentry we started packing the container using a method we’ve used in the past.  The black and yellow bins from Home Depot fit nicely together on the bottom and a false floor is built above to support items of every shape and size.

Lunch break!

My nephews hard at work building inside the container

Bins on the bottom, odd shaped items on top.  Trying to use every cubic inch.

The deliveries continue with lots of helping hands to unload.

All packed.  Only space left for M&Ms in the nooks and crannies.

A giant crane came on April 14th to load the container on a truck.  Unfortunately, we discovered that we were slightly (2,000 lbs.) over our 42,000 lbs. weight limit.  The crane operator was an extremely patient man and allowed us to quickly remove a full bunk of 2x4s before lifting it again to load on a truck chassis.  


Wow!  Big crane!

All loaded up on the truck...but without the 2x4s.  😧

The container then travelled by road to Chicago and by rail to New York City where it was loaded on to the Express Rome, a container ship capable of carrying thousands of containers or 10,114 TEU.  This is considerably smaller than the now famous Ever Given (20,124 TEU) which you may remember became stuck in the Suez Canal for a week back in March.  

The Express Rome


The Express Rome has completed its voyage across the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean Sea and is now scheduled to pass through the Suez Canal on May 18th which might just be the day you read this!!   I pray it fairs better than the Ever Given.  You can track the current position of the Express Rome at this link.

Current Position of the Express Rome as of May 17th, 8pm EST


The container will continue to Mundra, India where it will be offloaded and reloaded on another ship called the Emirates Asante (follow at this link) which will travel down to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.  The container will then travel the 850 miles by road to Kibuye.  It is due to arrive sometime in mid- to late-July about 3-4 months after it left Michigan.  


The world of shipping container logistics is fascinating to me.  And the fact that one ship lodged sideways in the Suez canal can disrupt the global economy….wow!  I hope you enjoyed a little look into how we get some much-needed supplies over to Kibuye Hope Hospital.     



On Building a Morgue

 (from Eric)

One of my more juvenile (though, I suspect, not unusual) memories is being in a group of teenage guys talking about various pranks that we thought would be funny.  In the macabre manner of a 16 year-old kid, one guy talked about placing a speaker behind a coffin at a funeral to say something ridiculous and freak people out.  Sadly for the prankster, even a bunch of immature teenage boys didn't think they would do that to anyone after they had passed away.  Another guy generously spoke up:  "You can do that at my funeral!  What do I care?  I'll be long gone!"

This is a stupid story, right?  But the reason it came to my mind the other day is that the second guy's statement that he didn't care if you pranked his coffin because he would be "long gone" was, at the time, seen as vaguely Christian.  We were a bunch of church kids, and it felt like some kind of expression of faith to say that we were focused on the eternal to such an extent that we weren't bothered by anything material after death.


Starting from before our team's arrival in 2013, we have been involved in massive amounts of construction.  We have built homes and classrooms and dorms and hospital buildings and workshops and a multigrain flour factory and a basketball court.  We have often sat down with Burundian leaders to talk about construction priorities, and perhaps the most consistently voiced priority in those discussions has been...

The morgue.

A morgue that was modern and had refrigeration.  A significant capacity of refrigeration to make sure that it was always available.  A "nice" morgue.  I even took a tour a few years ago of four different hospitals' morgues to generate planning ideas for our own.

The whole concept of prioritizing the morgue has been difficult for me.  I'm not 16 anymore, and I have grown to recognize the necessity of some of these things, but the high prioritization was tough.  Really?  In the face of all the different things that we need to fund and build, why give any more attention to the morgue than we need to?  Isn't this distracting us from focusing on keeping people from needing the morgue in the first place?  But again and again, our Burundian partners draw our attention to its importance.


As I contrast Burundian culture's approach to my own (either in the form of my immature teenage self or my more nuanced 40-year old self), I have been reflecting on the Bible's approach.  

I think of Jacob's dying request to Joseph, which was in fact to make sure that his dead boy was laid to rest next to his family's, not in Egypt but rather back in Canaan.  That meant a long journey, and it meant a lot of work to prepare the body to last that long, in that case by embalming.  When Abraham died, the only piece of the promised land that he actually owned was this same cave that he bought to bury Sarah, and became the family burial chamber for multiple generations.  This was very important to them.  When Jesus died, he was laid in a new tomb, and in their grief, the first thing that the women most faithful to him did as soon as the Sabbath allowed it was the preparing of his body.

Sometimes my theology suffers not so much from wrong premises but from wrong extrapolations.  I start with a true idea (my existence will outlive my earthly body's demise) and extrapolate to what seems a logical conclusion (thus the manner of dealing with a deceased body is relatively unimportant).  And as in this case, it can be easy to ignore the fact that my extrapolation is in conflict with the Bible, which actually talks about the question directly, thus making the extrapolation superfluous.  

What is the Christian picture of a "good death" or a "good funeral"?  According to the Bible, it at least contains respect, importance, and grieving.  Will there be a place for the funeral home in the completed New Creation that God promises?  No.  And the same can be said for medicine, but we will do it now as best as we can.

view from the back of the morgue - expansion on the downhill side

So we're building a better morgue.  With financial assistance from the Isaiah Mission Foundation and others, we hope that it will serve the communities around us well.  We hope that the refrigeration units will allow family members that live far away to come and participate in the funeral with their loved ones.  George has listened well to our local partners who told him about the importance of having an anteroom where the family members can wash the body and place it in the coffin privately prior to the procession to the gravesite or the church.

"Whatever you do, do it to the glory of God."  My favorite definition of the kingdom of God is "all of creation under the gracious rule of God the King".  This, too, may it be done well and according to your will.  And may we also be led to a truer and better understanding in the process.

Front entrance of the new morgue (still under construction)


Team Retreat 2021

By Alyssa

"...in returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength..." Isaiah 30:15

One of the things I love about missionary life is retreats. When daily life entails the hard and never-ending work of teaching students (at the hospital and at Kibuye Hope Academy), patient care, hospital infrastructure development, difficult leadership decisions, and keeping households running with food on the table and clean clothes, etc. in a limited resource setting, it can be easy for us to lose sight of the beauty of our team community and the presence of our Heavenly Father through all the daily ups and downs. Retreats provide the opportunity to take a break from the fray and to refocus on each other and on the Lord and His calling on our lives. But of course it has been difficult to plan time away during the pandemic. We've had two Serge company-wide conferences cancelled, and, because we never have all teammates here (someone is always on home assignment), it's hard to make a retreat plan knowing that someone will be missing out. In fact, only about half the people in the below picture will be here in the fall of this year, but hopefully we will have 4 additional team families here and one new teacher who are now in the US. But, rather than continue to wait for an ideal moment that would never come, we decided to seize the opportunity to spend a few days away with the folks who are here at the moment even as we missed those who are gone. 

There were lots of obstacles to getting everyone from Kibuye to retreat including health concerns, complicated vehicle arranging for 32 people, and last minute change to a different weekend due to plans at the hospital. It really is miraculous that everyone currently at Kibuye was able to come! 

Lake Tanganyika has been rising like crazy over the last year - the trees and the near end of the dock used to be on land! Made for lots of fun waves to play in, though, if you were careful not to step on the underwater tree stumps! Maybe not as ideal for teaching swimming lessons to the littlest kids, but they still had fun, too, and now have the goal to swim to the (nearly underwater) dock when they get bigger. 

George led two sessions for the adults on contentment - a theme we all were inspired and challenged by! With lots of teenager helpers to watch the kids, the adults had some personal time each afternoon to reflect and pray which is always a valuable time of retreat.  

We also shared communion together, worshipped, and took turns telling our stories - always interesting to hear how God has worked in people's lives over the years. The older kids and teens seemed particularly interested in some of the testimonies. 

Smiling faces before car sickness and road weariness hits! Always a challenge to drive on the winding roads - and the roads this trip were particularly muddy and difficult - but thankful for God's protection through the travels. 

Our Serge Kibuye team commitment states, "We believe that our team community is given to us by God for the sake of the mutual strengthening and encouraging of its members, but also to be a unique outward testimony of the body of Christ to the greater community of Kibuye, Burundi in which we serve."

Living this out is not always easy -- misunderstandings, disagreements, and thoughtlessness impact us regularly and lead to hard conversations. But time away together reminds us of how much we love this community, of how precious these friendships are, and of how God has been faithful to us for so many years. There are big transitions ahead, but we hope and pray that the perfect love of our Heavenly Father will continue to carry us through no matter what. Please pray for that with us -- that we would persevere together in the love of our Father remembering His care for us rather than despairing over the big and small problems of each day. 


Beauty in the Small Things

By: Erica Ause

To me Burundi feels like this little hidden beauty that the majority of the world will never see, and maybe never even know of. Everyone knows that the Eiffel Tower at night is a sight to absorb, or that the Grand Canyon is incredible in its vastness. But the world is not aware of the little road through Kibuye that takes my breath away daily. So, early on I decided to take pictures of all the beauty I see so I can remind myself of the things I assume will (but hope will not) become just what I see every day. Below is a picture of some, not all trust me, of the amazing beauty around me. I hope that these pictures give you a taste of what I wish the whole world could experience and appreciate. Yes, some of them are bugs, but I think some insects are devine in their own right.
Foggy Mornings can be common here, and I really love them. There is something so calm and quiet about waking up to fog coming through all the trees that surround us.
This is a picture from the walk I take daily to the school. My commute is about 45 seconds, but on the days I use my time to look around me, I get to see beautiful sights like this.
I sometimes sit outside my front door to do school work or read and right in front of me is this huge, full, green tree. Majestic!
And on clear nights I can see the sunset right outside my front door as well. This was one of the more spectacular ones.
This is the place on our running route that always makes me want to stop and soak it in. It is in a small valley where the hills and trees give way to a space of farm land with all different kinds of crops. The variations of plants and the color of the soil make for an incredible view.
This is the same spot as the photo taken above, but looking the other way. Again, an expanse of farm land that is so detailed and vibrant.
I thought I had found the most beautiful view in the pictures above, but one day was lead to another valley that is covered in growing rice. It has the most vibrant green color I have ever seen, with a little stream running through it. It is so amazing to just stand in the middle of its beauty.
There is a city not too far from Kibuye where we go to buy dry goods and fabric for making clothes. This is a photo taken of the stalls that sell fabric and make clothes. Each of the hanging cloths are for sale, the only challenge is choosing one. This is three out of maybe 20 stalls that are on this one street.
I saw this on a hike. Not sure what is going on here, but it blew my mind!
We went to this waterfall a couple weeks ago. It was huge, with more water than normal. The different textures of the rocks and how the water moved around it astounded me. Such a sight to see!
A few weekends ago the team went to Lake Tanganyika for a retreat together. There is something about water that just captivates people, this lake included. It was beautiful looking out at the palm trees and the waves.
And yes now we have the bugs. This guys is huge! His body is probably the diameter of a quarter or so, and his legs come out from there. Huge. He lived for a long time right outside my front door, and we got along pretty well. Then, someone kindly thought to clean up his web, although it makes me more nervous not knowing where he is..
Another beautifully colored insect sitting outside my door. I have never seen, or maybe never noticed, the blue and yellow colors on their legs before.
I have never seen a moth that looks like this. So pure with the perfect white, bright red, and strip of black on the antenna. Truly ingenious.
And finally, what a bright green spider. He also was hanging outside my front door and really amazed me. His legs are so long and the color so unique.

Praise God for His creativity in His creation. He could have made everything black and white, but he chose to give us views and creatures that awe us and make us admire and wonder about Him.