COTW: The Rest of the Story

(from Eric)

Several months ago, I wrote about a tough Saturday, one of those days where the broken bodies and broken hearts seem to pile up until the windows are all blocked and the light seems to be having trouble getting through.  

One of the patients that day was a young lady named Spes.  For reasons that I don't think will ever make sense, she was locked in a room by her husband for 4 months and given only a minimal amount to eat.  Eventually her neighbors descended on the husband and forced him to bring her to the hospital. It looked like too little, too late.  Spes was malnourished to the point of being barely conscious and definitely not able to stand up.  She had an angulation in her spine from tuberculosis which had taken advantage of her weakened state.  She wasn't moving her legs much, but it was hard to know if that was spinal injury or just her general weakness.

The first week was touch and go.  She was in an isolation room because of her tuberculosis, and that unfortunately gave her husband (who remained in the hospital out of fear of prosecution) ample opportunity to go on neglecting her.  He said that she had some kind of mental trouble.  We never saw any of that, but unfortunately both his and her families seemed to feel equally ambivalent towards her plight.  It's hard to get more alone that this woman.  Her breathing was labored, wandering off and on oxygen.

We found out she was pregnant just in time.  She was only 25 weeks at the time.  The day after the discovery, when she started complaining about low back pain, we discovered her pre-term labor, and Rachel entered the picture.  Medicines were given, and thankfully the contractions stopped.  She was transferred to the OB service, but we kept following her.  We talked to Alyssa and Joyeuse the malnutrition nurse about supplementing her diet.  We don't normally have enough food to do this for all the malnourished adults, but given her special situation and her pregnancy, we made an exception.

But she didn't want to eat.  Even her baby didn't seem to be motivation enough to work very hard at living.  Weeks passed.  She was moved into a general maternity ward, where all the other moms provided some much needed social pressure on the husband.  The students on our services got more involved.  They chipped in to buy her medicines.  One student even organized a bag of baby clothes to give her after delivery and collected a very substantial sum (by local standards) to defray random costs.

Day by day, things didn't change.  But as weeks went by, light started to creep in.  She started doing physical therapy.  She regained bladder control and started taking a few steps with her walker.  Given her tenuous home situation, it became apparent that she was staying until delivery.

Then she delivered.  A healthy baby boy with an amazingly uncomplicated delivery.  He had a slight fever and so Logan (covering for Alyssa) got involved and saw the baby through a routine neonatal infection.  Motherhood becomes her.  She engages people more, considers things more, even smiles.  Even her husband seems more engaged.

After ninety days in the hospital, she went home.  I took a picture with her the last day.  I wish I could post it, but given the sensitive story, I decided not to (Her name isn't Spes either, sorry).  She is sitting next to me on her bed.  Her baby is in her lap, and there is a hint of a smile.  In the background, there is another lady, with her hand over her mouth in a classic "can you believe that crazy white doctor taking a picture with her?" moment.

It was a great day, but let's remember some things.  She is going back to the same home and the same family.  She is just starting to recover from paralysis.  She was severely malnourished and now she is breastfeeding a newborn.  The darkness still looms.  I told her that if she makes her follow-up visit next week, that I'll print a copy of the photo for her.  World Relief is promising to go visit her home, as are the local authorities.  The physical therapist sent her with a walker and will see her when she comes back.  We don't know what's waiting for her, but we're trying to help her out.

The darkness still looms, but it wouldn't do to leave this story without remembering a few points of light.  A lonely mother with her new baby.  Seeds of (something a least a little like) reconciliation with her husband.  Unsteady steps with a walker.  A baby saved from certain death.  Doctors-in-training giving sacrificially to meet the needs of "just another patient".

It's not perfect.  It's not even really good.  But there's goodness mixed up in it all.  Quite a lot actually.  Light shines in the darkness, and it is not overcome.


Vivent les Guinea Pigs!

(from the Kibuye Kids)

The kids at Kibuye love their guinea pigs. If you’ve ever had one you will understand just how loveable they are, how fun it is to play with them, and how great it is to look after them. Guinea pigs make great pets because they help little kids learn responsibility, they are cheap to own, and you get to watch part of God’s creation up close. When the guinea pigs you own are about to have babies, guinea pig ownership becomes a science lesson.

Kibuye kids have owned and loved guinea pigs as far back as the summer of 2015. The Miller family came, bringing Twix, Zeus, and Galaxy. It was only the Jason Fader Family, Millers, and Aunt Alyssa (Pfister) in Kibuye that summer, because the others were in America. The guinea pigs thrived. It wasn’t long before one of the pigs gave birth to twins, Panda and Bamboo. Everyone was excited. Later, Twix gave birth to Pistachio and Mustach-io. They were so cute! Galaxy seemed to be the father. As summer neared its end, Zeus got pregnant and gave birth to three babies. The kids named them Mocha, Peanut, and Moosetracks. The next day, there was a dog attack. All of the guinea pigs died. A while later, four new guinea pigs – Milky Way, Natalie, Colonel Popcorn, and Dr. Pepper – came to live in Kibuye. Milky Way and Colonel Popcorn had spiky hair. Colonel Popcorn had a signature pose – he would stand erect, two front legs straight and look kind of off to the side, in a very colonel-like fashion. All of these guinea pigs have somehow met Jesus, in his zoo in heaven where the kids are certain their beloved pets wait for them.

Micah Watts remembers the first time he visited Kibuye. While playing Capture the Flag, he heard the guinea pigs saying, “squeak, squeak.” He enjoyed holding them and playing with them on that visit. Now he lives in Kibuye with his family, and he got his own guinea pig, Imbeba (mouse). Unfortunately, shortly after, she got sick and died. Elise Cropsey and her brothers, Micah and Sammy, purchased a guinea pig, Abraham (named for Abraham Paternoster), at the same time that Micah Watts got his guinea pig. Later, they found that he was a she (Mrs. Abraham). Later, she fell head over heels in love with Charles, Matea and Alma’s guinea pig. After a couple weeks, she got pregnant. The Cropseys didn’t want other people to hold her, so they made a signed notice that said, “Please do NOT hold the pigs.” The notice was signed not only by them but by the guinea pigs too. They put their paws in mud and stamped them on the notice. Later that week, a dog attacked the cage. Mrs. Abraham was never found, but Charles was – an answer to Aunt Becky (Baskin)’s prayers.

Carmel, Benjamin, Clover, Chocolate, Twitter, and Oreo (the bunny) came to live in Kibuye at the same time as Mrs. Abraham, Imbeba, and Charles, bringing delight to Maggie, the Baskin kids, Abi, Anna, and Madeline who was not an owner but an awesome caretaker. When not being held by the children or adults, these guinea pigs enjoyed playing in tubes and Styrofoam boxes. They liked to burrow into the grasses in their cage and play tag with one another. It was so cute to watch! Anna felt like Twitter was the best guinea pig she had ever owned, because, when she held her, she made a twittering sound, and they could have long conversations. When Anna was sad, she could talk to Twitter and be comforted. Unfortunately, the cage that was home to these guinea pigs was insecure and was often knocked open. Despite efforts to secure the cage with bricks, the cage was knocked open, and the guinea pigs escaped. Rumors immediately began to form about how this may have happened. They were never found.

Now, the children enjoy playing with their new guinea pigs – Peanut butter, Christopher, and Frank. Everyone was thrilled to discover Peanut butter’s pregnancy! Aunt Rachel (McLaughlin), the team’s OBGYN, was asked to do an ultrasound on Peanut butter. She said, “yes.” Everyone met on January 13th to proceed up to the hospital to perform the sonogram. When they arrived at the hospital, Aunt Rachel got her machine ready and looked around on Peanut butter’s belly. When the first ultrasound machine didn’t reveal an image, she brought out a stronger one. The audience saw a spine and a head that confirmed her pregnancy. A happy bunch went home from the hospital.

During the first weekend of February while the team was away on a retreat, Peanut Butter had three babies! Feeling more than ecstatic, Anna, Abi, and Madeline became the proud owners of Nutella, Speculoos, and Elsa.

The Kibuye kids’ guinea pigs are loved, cherished, and treasured even after they die. The memories of past and present guinea pigs remain with the kids always. There are always new memories and fun times enjoyed with the guinea pigs, and the kids look forward to owning even more if possible.


Make a joyful noise unto the Lord

(by Michelle, adapted from our blog)

I married into the team in 2015 via Carlan, the ER doctor. My husband and I are currently in France attending language school, along with the Sund family (Greg wrote the previous post). We are now half way though and eagerly look forward to reuniting with the team in Kibuye this September. Yay!  Along with studying French, we’ve had the opportunity to get to know people from the Albertville community along with our local French-speaking church

Our hearts long to be back in Burundi with our team but God has us here in France and it’s exciting to see how He has been using us here even as we equip ourselves for our ministry ahead. 

One unanticipated opportunity came around Christmastime.  During the month of December we had the occasion to participate in a Christmas concert put on by the local church and in partnership with the local town mayor and held in Albertville's concert hall. I was one of the pianists, along with Greg while Carlan worked the lighting. 

This concert was a first for our local French church so we weren't sure how many people would come. After months of planning, rehearsing and practicing the concert day came. The concert hall was nearly full with eager spectators (300-400), many of whom had heard about the concert by the flyers put up around town. Another 400 watched via Facebook livestream. 

In total it was a 2 hour concert of both classical and contemporary Christmas music. The concert had a warm reception and we were called back for two encores!

Greg Sund and I played a beautiful arrangement of Angels From The Realms Of Glory written by Dan Forest for 4 hand piano, cello and vocals. We also played a few solo piano arrangements and accompanied the singers. 

But the unsung heroes of the concert were the behind the scenes people, one of which was Carlan. He was assigned the job of doing all the lighting. This involved him climbing scaffolding and making his own filters for all the lights. Here he is working hard during one of the rehearsals.

In a recent class devotional I was convicted in how I often am so focused on the task ahead that I forget to stop and enjoy and live in the present. At the beginning of language school my mentality was "let's get through this." Yet, as I look back from this halfway point I can see how God is using us and our feeble talents in the here and right now. 

I'll end with this short video clip from backstage at the concert. 


On French Language and Culture

(by Greg)

Our family served in Kibuye for 9 months in 2014-2015.  Since our time in Burundi, we felt God’s call to serve alongside the long-term team working there.  And so, after a year of support raising and preparation, we are currently in Albertville, France, trying to improve our French before returning to Kibuye this summer.

To be honest with you, I actually enjoy studying a new language.  I know, I am a geek.  I know many people who do not enjoy learning a new language, and I hold no ill will toward them.  But I have always been fascinated by what you can discover about a culture through their language.  I enjoy learning new vocabulary, new ways of expressing everyday phrases.  I even enjoy conjugating verbs.  Shameful, I know.

Although our time in France has not always been easy, I have tried to remind myself daily what a gift it is to live in another culture, to explore, to experience life in a new way for 10 months.  I am fascinated by the way different cultures use language and the insight you gain as you study their vocabulary.  For example, as an American I would often use a phrase such as, “I am excited to do this or that”, or “I am looking forward to this or that”.  So, upon our arrival in France, it seemed like a no brainer to me, to translate this word for word from English.  There is a French word for excited almost identical to the English word.  The problem, as I learned about a month after our arrival, is that this expression has a, shall we say, romantic connotation.  I was asked to please stop using this phrase.  Okay, but then how do I express to someone that I am indeed looking forward to something, or that I am excited in the American sense of the word?  I asked my language partner, who is French.  He thought about it for a moment, then said “we don’t really have that emotion”.  I have since asked several other French people, and the best I have been able to come up with is, “j’attends avec impatience”, which translates directly to, “I am waiting with impatience”.  I now use this phrase often, reciting it with as much enthusiasm as I can muster.

There have been other phrases that I find sometimes puzzling, sometimes amusing.  For example, the French do not say a man “grows a beard”, rather they say he “pushes out a beard” (pousser une barbe).  Maybe I have just not been pushing hard enough?  Also, a woman does not “become pregnant”, she “falls down pregnant” (tomber enceinte).  And finally, the phrase “mind your own business” is translated more appropriately as “occupy yourself with your own onions”.  These make me giggle every time I hear them.

The French have many beautiful customs, one of which is “la bise”.  Recently, I wrote a blog post (on our family blog) about how awkward I have been with regards to this French custom of kissing on each cheek when greeting someone (http://beyondourbackdoor.blogspot.fr).   Since writing the blog I have received more helpful advice about how and when to “faire le bise”. One piece of advice involved taking off my glasses before kissing someone, so as to avoid eye injury.  So, this week, in preparation for a “bisous”, I took off my glasses.  I then dropped them on the ground mid-bise, kicked them across the room, shuffled to retrieve them like a blind mole-rat, then apologized for how awkward I am.  It seems I still have a ways to go.

Another troublesome point for me (and other Americans) is the ubiquitous use of “tu” versus “vous”, which mean “you”, tu being informal, and vous being formal.  The point at which two people switch from the formal vous to the informal tu remains to me infinitely mysterious.  There are rules, but at some point in a relationship, which is not clear to me, you switch.  A fellow student found the table below to help us hopeless Americans parse through this issue.  It reminded me of the algorithm for cardiac clearance before elective surgery.  God help me, I love a good algorithm. Now I just need to memorize it, apply it, stop dropping my glasses when I try to kiss someone, and stop giggling when I hear someone say that they have “fallen down pregnant”, and I will be good to go.  I am eager to get back to Burundi and start using the knowledge we have gained here in France.  In fact, I might go so far as to say that I wait with impatience!!!