From Michigan to Burundi: Container #2

by Rachel

It doesn't seem that long ago that, several days before Christmas 2013, a big red 40 foot container made its way up Kibuye hill to deliver Christmas presents (and a variety of other household goods) to our families.  Well, several years and several new teammates later, we were ready to send container #2.  This container featured personal items for a few families, a lot of construction equipment (including a flatbed trailer and cement mixer), books and computers for a new medical library, power conditioners for our wildly surging electricity, classroom supplies for the local Kirundi primary school, boxes of medical equipment, and a variety of other sundry donations and goodies.  As before, the packing of the container required the assistance of many, many people.  Caleb, John, and Eric all supervised the loading of different portions.  Our home church, Knox, generously gave us space in their lower parking lot to park a beautiful to us, but potentially an eyesore of a mustard yellow metal box, for what turned out to be six months.  They also built us several storage sheds which we will be able to use as future container packing staging sites.  This is not even mentioning the generous financial donations from our church and others to purchase the majority of what went into the container.
Best seats in the house for watching container packing
John's solution for putting a 1,000 lb planer on the container: a pickup, some 2x4's, duct tape, and a ramp

Loading the packed container onto its semi trailer last December
On the front end, packing required ingenuity (mostly on John's part) and heavy lifting equipment.  Pickup trucks, forklifts, and flatbed trailers with lifts were all engaged to do the work.  And finally, after months of delay (some of which was due to our shipping agent waiting on a quote for rail transport for the container within Burundi...which we could have told him didn't exist), on an icy day in December, our container was launched.  It travelled overland to the East Coast and sailed to Oman.  There it was transferred to another ship which had to skirt the Somali coast and its pirates (see the movie "Captain Phillips" for details) and landed in Dar es Salaam.  After several days of overland journey through western Tanzania (where there aren't apparently paved roads), the box arrived in Buja, where it sat for several weeks clearing customs.  There were a few false starts and delays on its final leg of the journey up to Kibuye, but it finally arrived late last Sunday.

On the back end, unpacking required ingenuity (mostly on John's part), and heavy lifting equipment (i.e. 20-30 Burundian men).  It was amazing to watch these guys lifting and unloading what took forklifts to put on the container.  Thanks to dozens of people, what took months to pack was unloaded in just under a day, and the empty container was laid to rest in its new home in the new Busoma compound.  There were a lot of tired, but very happy, western missionaries on Monday night.  I would be lying to say we weren't happy in part because of the marshmallows we were eating. :)  So, thanks to everyone who helped make this possible.  The container's contents are and will be a blessing to many here as we seek to continue to serve.
"Heavy lifting equipment" = Burundian workers

Excited kids opening up container gifts


God's Calling and Faithfulness

(by Krista)

We are in Kijabe, Kenya at the moment, awaiting the arrival of our second born. I’m 39.5 weeks pregnant, so really- any day now. We are thankful for all of the prenatal care we received in Burundi by our excellent OB, Rachel, but due to limited medical resources available there in the case of an emergency, the team recommended, and we agreed, to go to Kenya for the birth. Not to mention, the same OB who delivered our first born, Liam, at Northwestern Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago - one of the most prestigious women’s hospitals in the world - is now practicing at Kijabe Medical Center in Kenya. And if all goes as planned, Dr Catherine Chen will hopefully be the one to deliver our second born as well. I know many women have had the privilege of having the same doctor deliver their children, but how many can say that they’ve had this privilege on two different continents?! It’s a pretty miraculous story that we wanted to share with you about God’s calling and faithfulness to each of us.

When I was pregnant with Liam, I was followed by an awesome group of Midwives through Northwestern. Liam must have known how brutally cold the Chicago winter was, and he refused to come out, so I was finally induced at 42 weeks on December 13, 2013. Towards the end of my 12-hour labor, there were some complications. So, right around change-of-shift, my midwives felt the need to recruit the on-call OB to perform a forceps delivery. Dr Chen instilled so much confidence in us when she walked into a somewhat crazy situation (for us), looked us in the eye, and told us exactly what we needed to do. By God’s grace, Liam was brought safely into this world with no further complications. A gift.

December 2013: Liam at one week old

My mom had flown in from Kenya for the birth and she came in to the room while Dr Chen was finishing up. Somehow the conversation unfolded about my parents living and working in Kenya. It turned out that the Chens had been praying about an opportunity to move to Kenya with AIM where Dr Chen could work at Kijabe Medical Center (KMC), but they had been questioning whether it would be the best move for their kids- especially in regards to their schooling. Caleb and I were able to reassure her of our wonderful experiences at Rift Valley Academy, the school where her children would attend if they moved. And Caleb was able to give some encouraging insight as the child of parents who lived and worked at KMC for 16 years. You can read Dr Chen’s side of the story about that memorable night here: Kenya: Exactly 4 months from now

A year later, as Caleb and I were pursuing our own calling of moving to Burundi and trying to make some family planning decisions (When would we want to have another child? Where would that child be born if we moved now? Etc…) I decided to see if the Chen’s plans to move to Kenya had progressed. Somehow, the thought of Dr Chen being in Africa, even if it didn’t logistically work out for her to deliver our next child, gave me peace. If God could bring this highly qualified OB from one of the top hospitals in Chicago to work in Kijabe, then surely He could provide all of the expertise and resources we needed for a safe delivery, anywhere in the world. Honestly, this fear of having a child overseas (after the complications with Liam’s delivery) was my biggest hurdle in moving forward with our plans. So, I scheduled a check-up appointment with Dr Chen who was still working at Northwestern at that time. What a gift it was to see her again and to hear that they were, indeed, moving to Kenya just a few months later!

I can’t help but feel that God used this divine meeting between two of his children, to grant each of us His peace moving forward in our individual callings and to reassure us of His faithfulness despite all the unknowns. This story will always remind me how God truly cares about our hearts and our fears. I know that it’s no guarantee that this baby, due any day now, will have no complications- but I can confidently say that we will walk this path in peace, knowing that our Father cares for us- deeply.


A cup of BUSOMA!

(By Caleb)

At the end of February we celebrated the opening of the new BUSOMA factory at Kibuye.  It turned out to be a lovely facility that we hope will serve the hospital, Church, and community for generations.  This factory has certainly been a product of teamwork starting back in the 1980s when Dr. Frank Ogden began researching a local solution for a high-protein flour to serve to malnourished patients.  Thus was born BUSOMA, a flour made of two parts corn, one part soy, and one part sorghum (BUrundi – SOrghum /SOy – MAise).  BUSOMA production has been a staple at Kibuye for over 25 years now.    

With the implementation of the Kibuye Hope Hospital Master Plan (our integrated plan for the next 20 years) we wanted to continue and even increase the production of BUSOMA.  The Friends of Hope Africa University pursued and obtained a grant opportunity through the Herman Miller Cares foundation for this new facility.  The grant also included funding to serve a cup of BUSOMA porridge each day to all the patients at the hospital and their caregivers, as well as all of the kids who come to our malnutrition clinic. 

The factory was designed around the process of making the BUSOMA flour.  Carlan Wendler sat down with Fidele, our BUSOMA manager, to figure out the details of the process in order to come up with an efficient design that will allow production to increase. The new facility also takes advantage of rain-water collection for grain washing, includes both covered and uncovered drying areas so grains can be dried in all weather, and greatly increases the sanitary conditions of the entire process. In mid-September, a few weeks after my family and I arrived in Burundi, I was given this design and construction began.  Through the efforts of our dedicated construction team, the factory was completed in less than 5 months.  It was a joy to be a part of something that has had such an impact at Kibuye and will continue to do so for years to come.    

Jason and our Medical Director, Dr. Wilson, cutting the ribbon

All were invited to tour the new facility

Dr. Gilbert offered a prayer of dedication and thanksgiving

In celebration all hospital employees and construction workers enjoyed a soda and a delicious meat-pie at the canteen!

In an effort to illustrate the process of Busoma production:

Grain is delivered by the trusty Busoma truck to the loading dock.

The grain is stored in tightly-sealed rooms to keep the vermin out!

The grain is sorted by hand to remove impurities.  Notice the rainwater collection tanks on the left and the Busoma truck in the loading dock on the right.  

John receiving careful instruction on how the grain is then washed with rainwater

The grain is then dried under the sun on nice days....

...and under a covered area on rainy days.

The grain is then roasted which produces a lovely aroma throughout the area.

The grains are mixed in the correct proportions and milled

The flour is then packed and sealed for distribution

The porridge being enjoyed by this young patient


New Album of Music for Free!

(from Eric)

It's been about a year in the making, but I finally finished a collection of Burundi-era songs.  I have shared a couple of them on the blog before, but there are a total of thirteen, now available for free download.

I hope these songs can give a few different glimpses into life here.  Today, I'll spotlight the first track, "Though the Mountains Give Way".  I wrote this song just weeks after arriving in Burundi, when we heard about the Westgate Mall terrorist attacks in Nairobi, where we had had lunch just six weeks prior.

At the time, we were living on that rural Banga hillside, where we spent three months getting an introduction to Burundian culture and Kirundi language.  I remember sitting on the veranda, looking across at the mountains on the other side of the valley.  I was reading Psalm 46.  "Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea."  The words came alive, and I trembled.  I could picture the distant mountain being uprooted, and felt the terror that accompanied the idea that the mountain where I'm sitting might be next.  "We will not fear?"

It came alive so vividly precisely because of the Westgate Mall attacks.  The revolutionary nature of faith.  The way that the reality of God so drastically changes our outlook on the world.

"I will not fear."  Mostly, I say it in order for it to be true, rather than because it already is.  But I do believe that there is good reason for it to be true, so I guess we will press always closer to the author and perfecter of such faith.

(Track #1.  Download it along with the others for free.)


Growing Pains

(from Eric)

Currently, there are a lot of patients at the hospital.  A lot.  Alyssa posted this on Facebook the other day:

84 patients on the pediatrics service.  A year ago, a heavy pediatrics service was 35 or 40.  The year before that it was 25.  Malaria season does make a big difference, but half of these 84 are either on the malnutrition service or the neonatology service, neither of which existed a couple years ago.  As Alyssa said, it is "another" record breaking day.  The record just keeps on getting broken.

She is not alone.  All over the hospital, there are more and more patients.  More people coming from farther away.  More hospitals transferring their cases to us.  (We used to only get transfers from health centers, but now it is just as often from another hospital.)  Less places that we can transfer them on to.  And this is challenging.

1.  Not enough doctors.  We are very blessed to currently have five specialist Americans working with five Burundian generalists.  That is a lot of doctors for a hospital of our size in Burundi.  However, it is taking its toll.  The patients keep coming, and there is no one else to shift the responsibility to.  We are set to hire a few more generalists, and there are a couple of Americans in language school in France, but they are not here yet!

2.  Not enough staff.  Alyssa rightly asked for prayers for perseverance and endurance for all the hospital staff.  Everyone, from registration to nursing to lab and administration is being asked to do the work of a hospital 40% smaller.  Again, more hiring is coming, but the process takes time.

3.  Not enough beds.  Alyssa has 84 patients in 31 beds.  Actually she has 84 patients, 84 mothers, and a score or so of the patients' siblings who came along for want of someone else to care for them.  So that is about 180 people in 31 beds.  Don't worry, they're small.  =)  We have broken ground on a new ward building.  It's exciting to watch the footings get poured, and to think about what that space will represent in terms of function and accommodation when it is finished.  Next year.

All this can feel simply broken and insufficient.  And it is.  But there is another side to it.  This is growth.  These are our growing pains.

The reality is that we have more usable space in the hospital than ever before, and we have way more doctors than a couple years ago.  Our staff is also growing.  The infrastructure of our facility in greatly improved.  Our water supply hasn't been this good in decades.  Maybe ever!  Our systems are also improving.  When things go wrong, there is more attention paid, and more desire to find a solution.  We are better organized, and our leadership skills are growing at every level.

We have moved significantly up the slope.  It's just that the demand has moved even faster up the slope.  I guess this is natural enough, and the fact that the demand is moving will probably be the strongest impetus to keep the growth going.  It's just painful, that's all.  Growing pains.

But if there is anything that we have all learned from Growing Pains, it's that great things can one day result if we can find the strength to persevere.  Like Leonardo DiCaprio winning an Oscar, for example.