English Can Be Fun!

(by Michelle Wendler)

This last year I've had the privilege of teaching English to a small group of local village children 3-4 afternoons a week.

They normally show up after school around 2pm, dressed in their Sunday best, all smiles and ready to learn. First they wash their hands (using a sink with running water was a new experience for them) and then they each get a small snack or treat. Apple juice is a favorite (apples don't grow in Burundi) as well as cookies or banana bread, (treats that are very rare to come by here as the normal house doesn't have a stove or oven).

Then we work on learning some English words or phrases. These kids are raised up to be very quiet and respectful around adults. During the first few weeks of class they started out whispering the answers and it was like pulling teeth to get them to talk louder. But they are eager to learn and please and have an amazing ability to memorize and retain information. I guess that is what the lack of being able to look something up on a smart phone will get you!

They have really improved over the year. Check out these thank you letters written to a girl in the States who gave some school supplies.

After around 45 minutes of English we usually end with an art project or book reading time.

Recently they learned how to watercolor, and for their first attempts I think they did great!

And check out this picture drawn by one of the boys. I think he's going to be an artist!

Last week they encountered bubble wrap for the first time. Check out this video of all the joy and smiles.

They came a few weeks ago bearing baskets of potatoes and beans as thank you gifts. So sweet of them!

As we get ready to depart on our first scheduled furlough I'm going to miss this group of kids! 


Holiday Giving: the Kibuye Feeding Program

(from Eric)

As we wrap up our time in the United States, several people have asked us about special needs for Kibuye during the holiday season.  Though you can give to many projects and missionaries that can be perused at serge.org (all of which are tax-deductible and will be used to a worthy cause), we'd like to highlight the Kibuye Feeding Program.

Burundi is arguably the hungriest country in the world per the Global Hunger Index.  They didn't have data to include Burundi in this year's ranking (though they have recently topped it), but they still note Burundi as the country with the highest rate of kids who don't reach the full height potential due to nutritional "stunting".  We learned early on that malnourished patients don't heal, and thus, in 2015, Kibuye became the 2nd hospital in Burundi to feed their patients, a move which, thanks to dedicated staff and generous donations, transformed our ability to bring health to our population.

Also included in the Feeding Program is a twice-weekly Busoma (the multigrain nutritional porridge manufactured on the hospital campus) distribution program for identified malnourished children in our community.

These programs combined cost about $6500 per month, which purchases about 20,000 patient meals and supports the nutrition of about 250 children and their families at home.  So, please pray for provision for this program and consider giving to it.

You can easily turn this gift into an alternative Christmas present by dedicating a gift to someone.  Here are a couple ways to put the numbers together:
  • $8 feeds a hospitalized patient for a month
  • $10 feeds a malnourished child in the community for a month
  • $56 feeds the pediatric ward (and their moms) for a day (during the busy season)
  • $135 feeds all the hospitalized patients and their caregivers for a day
  • $312 feeds all the malnourished children with Busoma on a given day who come to the twice-weekly program
  • $1700 feeds the pediatric ward (and their moms) for a month
  • Be Creative and mix these numbers as you will!

Burundi Feeding Programs three logos: Serge/Hospital/Friends from Radio Friendly on Vimeo.


WhatsApp: The Community Communication Cure

by Jess Cropsey

You would think that people who live right next door to each other would find it relatively easy to communicate.  Indeed, it is usually easy, but people are busy or not at home and it can be time-consuming to wander from house to house looking for that onion that you need to finish making dinner.

"Back in the day" (meaning 5 years ago when our team first landed in Burundi), we communicated the old-fashioned way:  face-to-face.  Our internet was almost non-existent at the time and texting by phone was the only other decent alternative.  Once our team began to grow (and after internet became more reliable), the wise Susan Watts proposed forming a WhatsApp group to help us communicate more easily with each other.  Plus, it seems to be the preferred method of communication for many Burundians since you can get a 30-day package of unlimited Facebook and WhatsApp for a mere $1.30.    

This is now our go-to method of disseminating information and there are at least a dozen different groups of various combinations of people (Kibuye Hope Academy faculty, various committees, doctors, ...).  Here are some excerpts from these groups that will give you a sneak peek into our daily community life in Kibuye.  

The "Kibuye Core Group" was our first WhatsApp group and includes all missionary adults on the team.  It can be used for any variety of purposes, most of which you are unlikely to see on a WhatsApp communication chain in the USA.

And with the team Thanksgiving feast coming up on Saturday, you can expect the "Exercise Group" to be buzzing.  (Frankly, this group needs to be renamed since it includes all women whether they exercise or not :-).

Other frequent texts on this group include...
If you see Child X, please send him/her home.  
Anyone want to run at 4:30?

We even have one called "Milk" that lets us know how much we owe each month for the fresh cow's milk that is divvied out and delivered to our doors every day (thanks to the amazing Susan Watts).  And if you're looking for someone to take your milk because you'll be out of town for the weekend, this is the place to go!

The very best part of WhatsApp is that it makes communication to North America so easy.  We (the Cropseys) have a group for each side of the family and can easily send & receive quick pictures or texts about what's happening in everyone's lives.  One little way to help us stay better connected.  Thanks WhatsApp!



Learning Eggs-perience

As a history teacher, I enjoy telling stories. Fortunately, my students at Kibuye Hope Academy love to hear a good yarn. Tales of my youth in Appalachia garner some special interest. Accounts of a little Uncle Scott being chased by turkeys and horse-sized dogs always produce some snickering. However, their reaction to hearing of how my family slaughtered chickens on my grandparents’ farm was received with slightly less enthusiasm. Hearing these stories is educational in their own way, but nothing can replace the hands-on learning of a KHA learning experience day. 

Aunt Julie T. orchestrated an in-depth study of chickens that took us from the classroom, to the chopping block, and into the kitchen. Elementary students learned about the use of informational texts as they put together presentations on how to raise and care for chickens. The middle schoolers researched their questions about chickens online (which came first the chicken or the egg?).  We learned that chickens are attracted to red and the fear of chickens is alektrophobia.

The term, alektrophobia comes from the Greek myth of Ares, Aphrodite, and Alectryon. After Alectryon failed to deliver a timely wake-up call to Ares and Aphrodite, he was turned into a rooster and cursed to announce the coming dawn forevermore. You can learn about this story and so much more at www.chickensinliterature.com (it’s a real site). 

Once the students had gathered some general chicken knowledge it was time to apply it in the field. With the purchase of several local chickens, some hot water, and a couple Burundian guides, the students learned how the chickens get from running along the paths of Kibuye to our dinner tables. A few moments fraught with stomach churning for those of us with weaker constitutions quickly passed into a fascination with feather plucking. Every student was engaged in the following dissection (even if not everyone was strictly hands-on during this hands-on activity), and pointing out the different organs, naming their functions.

After a large dose of hand sanitizer, the kids were off to the kitchen to learn about eggs. The middle school baked quiche and frittata while the younger students made deviled eggs and omelets. We feasted together as we listened to the presentations from the different grades prepared earlier in the day. It was another successful KHA learning experience day, where students and adults delighted in learning together.   

Although we never solved which came first, the chicken or the egg, we did learn what to call a chicken that stares at lettuce … chicken sees a salad. Get it? Chicken sees a salad, chicken caesar salad. One of the consequences of being a middle school teacher is that jokes like this become hilarious, and this was by far the best chicken joke in day laden with many egg-cellent puns.  


Love One Another: An Exhortation for US Election Day and Everyday

(from Eric)

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love another, for whoever loves has fulfilled the law."  Romans 13:8

One of the frequent questions we get here in our time in the US is "What's it like to walk into this moment of America's political culture?"  It's a complicated question to answer, but I do feel like there is one Christian exhortation I can unequivocally add to the discussion.

Love one another.  If you cannot love your brother that you see, how can you say that you love God, whom you haven't seen?  And loving God and loving one another are the two greatest commandments.  All the law and the prophets hang on these commandments.  Without love, I have nothing.  (These are all direct citations from the New Testament.)

How does this normally play out in life?  Mostly, we are concerned with being right.  If I'm right, but I'm not necessarily loving towards others, then that's not ideal, but at least I'm right.  The Bible stands in stark contrast to this, saying effectively, "That's impossible, because love is the fulfillment of the law."  If I am not loving, then I am wrong, in the deepest sense.  I haven't just missed it a bit.  I haven't lost style points.  I have utterly missed the mark.

But, I say, making right and wise choices is a means of love.  For example, as a parent, my love for my child insists sometimes on difficult, right choices sometimes.  That's true.  But I can use it as an excuse to prize my rightness over love.  Just as in the parenting example, though a right decision can be a manifestation of love, I can still be right without loving.  In which case, Jesus says I have utterly failed to be right.  Love is not secondary.  When love is subordinated, we have run off the tracks.

Read James 3:13ff about wisdom.  Read 1 Peter 2:19ff about unjust suffering.  One cannot divorce justice and righteousness from these ideas, but the unexpected feature of them both is how selfless love is the foundation.  There is no starting place besides Love.


Every aspect of our lives needs this exhortation every bit as much as America in the wake of Election Day.  My marriage needs it, as does my relationship with my children.  My church needs it as they interact with each other.  Our team in Burundi needs it.  For, as an old friend of mine says, "the only people without issues are dead people".

I may often be loving.  But I am also quite focused on being right.  Both of these things have to do with why I am in Burundi.  However, as I interact with others, my strongly held opinions can make me unloving as well.  Thus the danger is always there.  So the persistent drum beat of love is always there in the Bible, to remind us of what we all too easily forget.

The Romans quote above says that love is the debt we always owe to each other.  Why?  Why are we indebted to one another?  Because we are indebted to Jesus for his great, underserved love for us, and he calls us to pay it forward.  He sacrificed for us.  Then he calls to sacrifice for one another.  This Sacrifice is the key, I think.  Love will call us to sacrifice.  It will call us to bear one another's burdens.

We cannot subordinate love, neither towards each other, nor towards the world around us.  We cannot build good systems, administer good medicine, teach correct practice, and not love each other.  Correction:  we can probably do this, but we cannot do it and fulfill God's mission.  We cannot come close.  For this is the core of the mission.  This is our continuing debt.  This is life in abundance.


So, for all of us who struggle to love, here are a couple questions for self-examination that I hope are helpful.  I hope that they will be helpful for me as I write them:

  • Is my first thought as I read this "Yeah, people aren't loving towards me!  They're too concerned about being right!"?  May God show us our hearts and lead us to repentance.  
  • Am I curious what God is doing in the life of the person (or people) that I see as obstacles to what I think is right?  Can I imagine that my love for them for them might be more important in God's eyes than me getting it right?
  • Am I hoping for genuinely good things in the life of the person that I see as an obstacle?  Can I pray that God will truly bless their lives with good things?  Can I thank God for making them and for loving them?


Burundi missionary history

(By Alyssa)

Jess recently wrote a post about hidden talents from our visitors and how they encourage us. I'd like to add another visitor to that list. We recently welcomed a visitor who was born here in Burundi in 1948! We learned so much from her about Burundian missionary life decades ago. Here are some snippets of stories that might interest you, too:
  • Several of her missionary aunts and uncles attempted to come to Burundi in 1941 on a ship named the ZamZam. While crossing the Atlantic in the middle of WW2, however, the ship was bombed and sank. The missionaries were rescued and one of Faith's aunties even was able to rescue her typewriter! Here is the gravestone for one of her missionary aunts (about 2 hours away from us in Kibuye): 
  • World War II was still raging when Faith's parents came to Burundi in 1943, so they traveled through the South Atlantic instead. That meant taking a ship from California around the Southern coast of South America and on to Cape Town in South Africa. But unfortunately their passports arrived two days after the ship left California! Their colleagues went on the ship and her parents were able to arrange a flight from California to South America. Then they waited for a month in Uruguay before a freighter could take them across the South Atlantic to South Africa. From there they traveled north on trains and boats to Burundi. The entire journey took 6 months! 
  • Their first child died in Burundi in 1944. 
  • Faith was their third child and she was born at home in 1948, though a doctor from Kibuye Hospital came to stay with her mother for one week. 
  • Her father helped build and lead a church in a place called Kayero. The church is still being used - they were having a meeting there when we arrived! And they are building a new one, too, so the congregation seems to be thriving there.
    The church built by her father at Kayero
    The field where she used to play as a kid outside the church
    Her childhood home still being lived in by the current pastor's family
  • In those days, Burundi was called Ruanda-Urundi and was under Belgian rule (the Belgians had taken over from the Germans after WWI.) Faith remembers when the king of Belgium came to visit. A fellow missionary kid was asked to clean up the outhouse in case he should need to use it. In the process, the child lit a match which caused the outhouse to go up in flames just as the king arrived! (The child was ok.)  
  • Faith remembers being in 6th grade when Burundi gained their independence. 
    The scenery is gorgeous around Kayero
    This is called the German Cliffs - there is an old German outpost here from before WWI
    And Karera falls are not far from her childhood home 
  • She was in school in Mweya for several years (currently a Bible training college with the dorms still in use.) 
    Visiting Mweya (about 45 minutes from Kibuye)
    Barb and Wayne Vibbert, who currently live in Mweya, first arrived in Burundi in 1976, so they knew Faith's parents but she was already grown up by then
    Exploring Mweya
    Faith with her dorm in the background
    Faith's old classroom - she's pointing to where the class of students being actively taught sat while the others did work on their own (one room schoolhouse). As the oldest child in the school her 8th grade year, she was responsible for teaching the younger ones how to read! 
  • For 10th grade, Faith's family was in the US. Midway through her 11th grade year, her parents returned to Burundi. She didn't see them again until she was midway through college! 
  • Faith's parents retired from Burundi in 1979. 
  • Faith began working as a laboratory technician at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya nearly 40 years ago and she plans to retire in 2019, so she wanted to take this opportunity to see her childhood home for the first time since the 1970s! We first met her and Annette (Canadian respiratory therapist who traveled with Faith to Burundi) when we worked at Tenwek from 2009-2011. Both Faith and Annette offered helpful expertise and teaching to our staff and students in their respective areas. 
It's so interesting to me to learn about the Burundi of 70 years ago. But I'm thankful that it only takes me 24 hours or so to get to the US rather than 6 months! Burundi was as beautiful as Faith remembered. Some things are the same such as the colorful Burundian fabric and the traditional farming tools, but she noticed great improvements in education and healthcare from her day, so that's encouraging. I wonder what Burundi will be like 70 years from now when our missionary kids come back to visit! 


Translational Research

by Carlan

Translational research is the phrase we use (or formerly used, I’ve been out of that world for a while now) to describe how something discovered in a Petri dish could be made relevant for patients. It is about getting from theory to practice. Now before your eyes glaze over and you scroll on to the next post in your feed, let me assure you that no boring science or statistics will appear in this article. Rather, I want to tell you what happened to me the other night with three Burundian pastors and elders in our house.

Since the beginning of the year, I have been working through a curriculum called Fundamentals of the Faith with a group of hand-picked men from the community here. They are two chaplains, an administrator, a nurse anesthetist, and a schoolteacher. All are leaders in their respective churches. This curriculum has been translated into a bunch of different languages (at least nine) but not into Kirundi. So our plan has three phases:

1 - go through it together in French
2 - translate it into Kirundi
3 - they teach it in Kirundi to others and perfect the translation

We are well into Phase 2 and every Monday night we drink tea, eat some snacks, and talk about how to convey timeless biblical truth in their native tongue. I’m largely superfluous to the technical work that these five guys are doing, but occasionally my amateur language-learner status comes in handy. This was one of those rare helping moments.

Firmat, Luc, & Silas pore over a translation question
We need some background to start. The word for “spirit” in Greek (pneuma) is neither masculine nor feminine. However, every time a pronoun is used in reference to the Holy Spirit, the masculine personal pronoun shows up. This is a little linguistic nuance not lost on Bible translators and theologians across the ages - a place where grammatical rules were broken in service of a truer expression.

English carries this through pretty well. For example, in John 14:17, clearly talking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, “You know him, for he dwells with you…” Not “it,” “him” and “he.” French likewise respects this understanding, using “le” and “il” for the pronouns. But Kirundi doesn’t have gendered nouns or pronouns like students of European languages are used to thinking. There are sixteen noun classes in Kirundi, so it’s complicated, but there is no “masculine” pronoun to be used. How to translate the exercise that asks students to read the passage and identify the pronouns?

Well, the Kirundi word for spirit, mpwemu, is in a particular class (Class 9, for those of you counting at home). This class includes, as far as I can gather, mostly farm animals. (Scroll down for a list of Class 9 nouns.) But interestingly enough, the pronouns from that verse are from Class 1 and are actually found as infixes within the conjugated verbs. (Yep, you knew about prefixes and suffixes already, but Kirundi also has infixes - in the middle of the word.) Class 1 is exclusively used for people nouns, though some people nouns fall outside of Class 1. So even though Kirundi grammar would call for one pronoun, the translators wisely chose the one that makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is personal rather than animal. Way to go!

Class 1 and 9 nouns
But I titled this post “Translational Research” because a wonderful metamorphosis is happening as these brothers work the principles from French into Kirundi: their eyes brighten and their hearts come alive. It is fun for me to watch as this task takes what might otherwise remain cold and intellectual and pushes it to the warm, beating center of their understanding.
Part of the the Gospel of John in Kirundi


KHA Archaeology Day

*Written by KHA Middle School

The topic for Kibuye Hope’s Academy’s (KHA) first learning experience day was archaeology. It was a great topic because we knew so little about it, but were interested and wanted to learn more. 

First, we were asked the question, “What is archaeology?” and found out that it is a branch of anthropology, which is the study of people. More specifically, archaeology is the study of human history through objects.

Archaeologists must be curious. They often do not have much information about the objects they find. Sometimes they find artifacts (things that you can pick up and move) and sometimes they find features (large structures or things that cannot be moved). Technology helps them to ask good questions and to know where to look. They use satellite pictures of the earth to locate unusual dips or rises on the surface.

Our first activity was what the archaeologists would normally do with the artifacts at the end of their long search. We went down to our local trash pit and talked about how in hundreds of years, archaeologists might find our junk. Archaeologists often look at garbage from the past to learn about the people who lived at that time. We then divided into groups.  Each group was given a piece of modern day rubbish (a plastic soda bottle, an empty matchbox, Styrofoam packing panels) and we pretended to be archaeologists. Even though we knew what our objects were, we pretended they were mysterious and asked questions that archaeologists ask when they find an artifact. We asked ourselves, “who, what, where, why, and how.” One group was given a Styrofoam tray and after many observations we decided it could have been used as a make-your-own hat. You could stick feathers or flowers in it and it would sit nicely on a bun. 

Between our first and second activity we had recess. It was fun to play and eat the homemade archaeology-themed cookies provided by Aunt Julie B.

Next, we got to become archaeologists ourselves. There were mock dig sites where we could excavate ancient (or two day old) pottery and puzzle pieces. The digging process showed us how patient and precise archaeologists must be. It also called for a lot of teamwork.

When we got back to the classroom we wrote letters to our future selves. We placed these letters and a few extra items in a time capsule. At the end of the school year we will get out our time capsules and read the letters that we wrote.

After lunch, we planted a garden with Uncle Carlan. He did a wonderful job of having us work together to make something beautiful. God was the first and very best gardener. We enjoyed thinking about gardening like that as we divided into classes to some gardening ourselves. Middle school sectioned the garden into plots, 4thgrade got manure and seeds, and 1stand 2ndgrade picked out where we were going to plant everything. Everyone got there and planted the seeds, watered the garden, and had fun. It looked amazing when we finished. 

All of the kids walked out of school a little smarter. We got to learn so much about archaeology, but we also got to explore outside our classrooms, and spend time together as the whole school. Archaeology day was a blast!


The Kibuye Chimers

by Michelle Wendler

Two weeks ago, Kibuye's first ever chime choir had their debut performance! While at my parents house in California last year, I saw the chime set that we had used in their church years ago. It struck me that this would be a great way of teaching music notation, counting, and ensemble skills while at the same time blessing the community. Our chime choir is made up of both team kids and Burundian youth from the church. Check out the videos at the end. Enjoy!


Hidden Talents

by Jess Cropsey

We have an increasing number of visitors coming through Kibuye these days, bringing with them needed expertise and often goodies from the USA to share.  We certainly appreciate the skills that they offer, but sometimes it’s the ones that you don’t expect that are the most delightful.  

Recently, a team working with Sister Connection (an outreach to Burundian widows) stopped by Kibuye for the day to see what’s happening.  Before they even arrived, a woman in the group offered her services as a professional hairstylist.  Of course, many of the ladies on the team jumped at this opportunity and slots quickly filled up.  Everyone arrived with clean, wet hair and she cranked out 17 haircuts in 5 hours, working through her lunch break and braving the first haircut for a 1-1/2 year old.  

This handsome guy is mine.  :-)

First haircut!

That's a lot of hair!

Heather getting a lesson on how to cut Anna's hair

At the end of the day, she gifted us with her brand-new cutters, scissors, spray bottle, and drape.  As an added bonus, her husband (a plumber) went around fixing all of our leaky sinks!

A couple months ago, one of the ITEC team (who helped finish the massive solar project at the hospital) offered his expertise in 3D printing.  He adapted his college-level explanations for our 1st-8th graders, brought 3D printed models to share with them, and even acquired free licenses to a design program.    

When Julie and Logan Banks visited our team in 2014, Julie led the women through a worshipful yoga experience and also taught some ballet to our little girls.  

2014:  Julie Banks (center); Maggie, Elise, Abi, & Anna (left to right)

We get to benefit from her unique talents on a long-term basis now that her family has joined our team.  (Imagine game show hostess, drama and dance club director, party planner extraordinaire, pep rally leader, etc.)   

I’ve learned that anyone who visits has something that they can offer to serve this community (either missionary or Burundian) and am looking forward to seeing what other talented people God brings our way in the future!  


Many First Times

(By Ted)

When was the last time you experienced or did something for the first time? 

For our family, this past year has been filled with many first-time experiences. It was our first time moving to another country (France) then yet another (Burundi). It was Eunice’s first time learning to drive stick shift (awesome!). It was my first time getting a speeding ticket in another country, while in France (not so awesome). It was Toby’s first time attending a French preschool, where French was the only language spoken around him all day. It was Amos’s first birthday shortly followed by his first steps walking on his own. And the list goes on… 

For me, specifically in the context of the hospital here in Burundi, first time experiences are a daily thing. Such experiences typically come in the form of an operation I’ve never performed (that would be typically done by other surgical specialists in the US) or in a disease I’ve never treated or managed before (like osteomyelitis in children). Some of such first-time operations these past 3 months for me have included a cleft palate repair, an excision of gingival mass, a hip replacement, and an ectopic pregnancy. 

Before getting to Burundi, I knew I would be in a radically different hospital environment, and I expected to be learning a lot of new information outside the scope of my training and background in general surgery. With a few months now under my belt, I can attest that there is never a day that goes by where I am able to say to myself, "Self, you knew how to take care of every patient that you encountered today." Fortunately, there is a more experienced and well-seasoned surgeon, Jason Fader, available to mentor us and guide us through the foreign and unknown. 

Still, even for things I know and was trained how to do, the pre-operative workup, the intra-operative steps, and post-operative management are totally different, and I am essentially having to reprogram my mind how to think. For example, even a simple biopsy to determine whether a mass is benign or malignant is something which we nearly always obtain in the US to guide our management for surgical diseases. Here, pathology services are not available, and if we think a biopsy would be helpful, we can get results in a few weeks by sending a tissue sample back with a short-term visitor or teammate who is heading to the US in the near future. As another example, we have no CT or MRI imaging, so as a result, we rely heavily on physical exam and ultrasound. 

Having so many first times in the hospital context can be challenging and exciting at times, and can bring a sense of great accomplishment. Other times, it can trigger a sense of feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, or helpless. In the medical world, where competence and performance are valued and praised, you would be hard-pressed to find general surgeons (and other physicians) admitting to feelings of inadequacy, which would be a sign of weakness. Conversely, in the context of a mission hospital in a low-resource setting, I would say that you would be hard-pressed to find missionary doctors who are not experiencing inadequacy or helplessness at some level. And I think there is Biblical truth to be found in this. I am reminded of the 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10, when Paul writes: 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

I know that I don’t have all the answers, and that there is a steep learning curve of working in a mission hospital, which keeps me on my toes and keeps me humble. Though experiencing many first times is not comfortable, it is in this state that I am forced to turn to Jesus and to rely on Him, and this is good.


Umutama Power

(warning:  this blog post contains shameless introspection and unabashed navel gazing)

(by Greg)

Among the team of long-term missionaries here at Kibuye, I am the oldest member.  I am 44.  In Kirundi there is a word for “old man” which is Umutama.  In Burundi, it is an honor to carry this title.  After our arrival, once we sorted out that I was in fact 2 months older than George Watts, members of our team began to address me by this title, not so much as a sign of respect but rather as a reminder that I am no longer a spring chicken.  In fact, one of the missionary kids on our team started calling me Umutamakazi, which means “old woman”, just in case I had any delusions that my new nickname might actually be for the purpose of honoring me.  Some of the Burundian hospital staff have also started calling me Umutama.  By the way, this title came with an “umutama walking stick”.  With my dying breath, I am to pass this stick along to the next in succession, perhaps to George. 

I do realize that I am far from what most Westerners would consider to be “old”, but given the constant reminder of my revered position on this team, over the course of the past year, I have started to reflect more and more on my life, and what it will look like at the end.  This reflection has not necessarily been a moribund or negative process, but rather has caused me to think more deeply about what is really important in my life.  As the author  Columba Stewart wrote, “Awareness of mortality exerts a unique power to focus the mind and the heart on essentials”.  There are still a lot of things I want to do.  I want to travel to New Zealand.  I want to visit the Lagavulin distillery in Scotland.  I want to learn how to play Settlers of Catan.  In reality, I probably will not get to do all of the things left on my “bucket list”.  Lets face it, Settlers of Catan is a young man’s game. I might live for another 50 years, or I might die before I finish this …. sentence.  

But above all of these bucket list items, I want to be able to say at the end of my life that I loved my family well, that I served in my profession with dignity, diligence and compassion and that I ran my race not for my own glory but for the glory of Jesus Christ, living a life that was a display of His Gospel.   Have I been doing this?  Not perfectly and not nearly as well as I would like.  There is at this point in my life unrest within me that I need to address.

I want to be able to share the Good News, which someone once shared with me, with my children, my friends, and my patients at the hospital.  In order to do the latter, I need to learn Kirundi (as most of our patients do not speak English or French).  Their response to this offer will never determine the physical care I provide to them, but I want them to at least be given the opportunity to respond.  Learning a new language is not easy to do when you are an Umutama.  There was an article in Time a few months ago that said that scientists have determined the age after which you can no longer become fluent in a new language. I opened the article with much anticipation, hoping the magic age would be around 50.   It’s 12.  That certainly extinguished any flicker of hope left in me that this might be possible.  But I will keep trying and I hope and I pray that one day, maybe in a year, maybe in 40 years, I will be able to express, in Kirundi, the Gospel of Jesus and what He has done for me to the people of Burundi.  By then, I think I will have truly earned the title I was given 40 years earlier.  Now, if someone will hand my me walking stick, I’ll be on my way.


Eternal Medicine

(By Jesh)

This week I joked with my medical students that we were running an “eternal medicine” service. Surgery is very different than internal medicine and surgeons often feel that internal medicine rounds take an eternity thus the name “eternal medicine.” This is no disrespect to my internal medicine colleagues for whom I am very grateful…I could not manage their patients whose problems tend to be more mentally complicated than my surgical patients, thus the difference in our rounds.

The surgery service peaked this last week at 61 inpatients so at 4 minutes per patient, it would take my medical students and I roughly 4 hours to see everyone. Thus our rounds seemed to take an eternity. It was a good process though because it forced our medical students to present only those signs, symptoms or tests that are important rather than giving the typical drawn-out bedside patient presentation. 

It meant no beating around the bush!

Sometimes during eternal rounds and all the business of the day it is easy to forget the real “eternal medicine.” Not endless surgery or internal medicine rounds but the life that comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is this life-giving relationship that changed my life. It allows me to wander into the surgical world of pain and suffering and yet have immense joy in sharing surgical principles with my students and compassion to my patients. It also drives us as a surgical service to do and expect high quality work because we report not only to boards and certifying organizations, but also to a living God. It’s also the hope we can offer to someone in death because it truly is eternal in nature.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

John 4:13-14