Baby Moses & Mama Clairia

By Susan

About 5 months ago, a baby boy was born in a field just up the hill from our hospital. For reasons we will never know, the mother left the baby there and disappeared. Thankfully, a hospital worker heard crying, and found the baby very shortly after, and quickly brought him to the hospital.  Our pediatrician checked him over and miraculously he appeared to be healthy. Due to the risk of being born and left in a banana field, he was put on a course of IV antibiotics to make sure he didn’t contract an infection. 

Like all the patients at Kibuye Hope Hospital, this baby was required to have a caretaker. Someone to be with the patient at all times, to help with their care.  Since this little baby had no one to take care of him, some of the other mothers in the NICU pitched in to help. Despite needing to care for their own premature babies, they helped with his feedings and care for him for the first couple of days he was there. We knew we needed a new plan to care for this precious baby. By this time, I had started calling this sweet orphan, Baby Moses.  

Alma & Baby Moses

The book of Exodus contains a beautiful adoption story of a Hebrew woman who had a son at a time when
 the Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew male infants to be put to death.  Instead, the Hebrew mother found a basket, waterproofed it,  placed her son inside, and gently sent him down the river.  Not long after, one of the Pharaoh’s daughters caught sight of the basked and retrieved the young baby.  She eventually adopted him into the royal family and named him Moses (Exodus 2:1-10).  This is the same Moses who grew to be an important leader, a prophet, and a faithful servant of God. It's a story about a child being rescued from certain death, a story of God's providence, but also a story of the compassion and care of this Princess. 

Clairia, months into her care.
At the same time that Moses was in the NICU, there was an 8-year-old with a terrible bone infection recovering in our surgical ward.  Clairia had been in the hospital for many months at this point and had endured several painful procedures and surgeries.  I had gotten to know Clairia and her mother quite well after spending time visiting and playing with Clairia each day.  It’s common here to refer to women as “Mama “ + the name of their oldest child. I admired Mama Clairia. She was quiet, gentle, patient and faithful.  She was right next to her suffering daughter every minute of the day, holding Clairia down during painful dressing changes with tears in her eyes, and comforting her in quiet whispering and prayers.  

Finding joy in the midst of pain.
Learning how to walk again.

When I explained to Mama Clairia that we had a 2-day old baby with no one to care for him....there was not a moment of hesitation.  She said that if she could remain in the surgical ward by her daughter’s side, then she would be happy to care for Baby Moses.  Now she not only cared for her sick daughter but for a newborn.  She never complained.  She never asked for anything.  She had spent months in the hospital, away from her home, her husband and her other 4 daughters, and now cared for a newborn. Yet she was content. I have learned so much and still have so much to learn from this faithful and beautiful, strong and quiet woman.

She treated Moses like only a loving mother could. Changing him, feeding him, singing softly to him, whispering in his ear. Burundian culture has a special ceremony for the first time a baby is tied to its mothers back (where it will spend the majority of the next year!) I had the privilege of being there when Mama Clairia tied Moses on her back - caring for him as her own.

After spending 6 full months in the hospital, it was finally time for Clairia to leave our hospital and return home.  Before they left, Mama Clairia came to me and explained that she, too, was an orphan.  She told me that she believed Moses was still far too young to leave in someone else’s care, and that she really wanted to continue caring for him in her home. She told me that if she had to give him up, that her heart would break.  Moses was 3 months old when he finally left the hospital grounds for his first time ever and got to go home....his new home.  
Giving Moses his last bottle before he left the hospital
Finally going home

Every Friday I have the privilege of seeing sweet Baby Moses, as his foster mama brings him back to the hospital to collect more formula that we have been providing for him.  He is growing and thriving...and is loved.

A few weeks ago, our family ventured out one Saturday morning to find the home of Mama Clairia and Baby Moses.  Even though we took someone with us to translate who was born and raised in this area, it was still not really possible to understand directions. So we arranged to meet her at the closest road. She jumped in the back of the truck (with Moses on her back) and lead us the rest of the way.  We followed a series of small dirt paths, each getting consecutively smaller until finally, the Land Cruiser couldn’t fit anymore. We parked the truck there on the footpath, bananas on one side, coffee bushes on the other, and followed Mama Clairia to her house.

Mama Clairia's home

Their home was a small, mud-brick home, with a neatly swept dirt yard surrounded with a fence of woven sticks. We ducked through the short door, to be greeted in the one room. It was maybe the size of our girls' bedroom. But instead of housing two girls beds, their clothes, books and space to play - this room was everything. This is where the eight of them sleep, where they eat, and where the girls do their schoolwork. There is a small room off the back of the house for cooking and a little hallway that connects the two spaces, which they use to store a few hoes and small cook pots.

They gathered up enough chairs from neighbours so that we could sit in their neat, one-room house. They told us how happy they were to have Moses in their family. How the girls adored having a brother. How Papa Clairia didn't hesitate when his wife told him about the child. As we sat and visited they told us about their hope that Clairia will be able to return to school this fall, and how they hoped they could find someone to sell them milk for Moses. Like most families around here, they struggle to feed their children. They don't have luxuries like running water or electricity, and they work hard to just survive. Yet this couple was eager to extend what they had, to help care for this child who had entered the world in such dire circumstances.

Their family insisted in walking us back to the truck, and as we did Alma and Clairia ran up ahead. To see the two girls, my daughter and a  girl who had been immobile, in horrible pain, and sad for so many months, skipping down the path was a gift I can't describe. 

There are a lot of hard things here, and getting to glimpse just a little bit into the lives of Claria, her sisters, her mother and father, and her new baby brother help me to see that in a new light. Both the extent of difficulties, the depth of sorrow, the complexity of poverty - but more importantly the joy of hope, and the light of love. 

I don't know much about Egyptian princesses, but I find it hard to believe that Pharaoh's daughter had anything on this woman. Mama Clairia did not take in a child to care for in the lavish excess of a palace, but she truly sacrificed what little she had to take him in. She has no servants and attendants, and unlike Pharaoh's daughter, she doesn't send to find a woman to help care for the child. She walks all the way to our hospital every week. She cares for him. She literally carries him. 

I don't know how this story will end. In a place like Burundi, it really could go so many different ways. But what I do know is this woman, who grew up an orphan, who now lavishes care and love on six children has taught me so much. 

What sacrificial love it.

What true care for others looks like. 

What contentment can actually look like. 


Loss Upon Loss

by Jess Cropsey

The last day of school is supposed to be full of great joy, but as we drove away from the school that my kids have come to know and love over this last year in Michigan, I listened to two of my children weep tears of deep sorrow.  Yet again, they are being asked to leave behind a piece of their hearts as we get ready to return to Burundi in early July after a year-long sabbatical in the USA. 

We’ve gone through this good-bye process countless times over the years (every transition from one continent to another; the constant comings and goings of visitors, interns, short-term workers; etc.) and our kids seem to feel it more acutely each time.  It’s heart-wrenching to watch and exhausting to experience.

Elise & Anna (2015) comforting each other after saying good-bye to some good friends

But my biggest fear is that one day there won’t be any tears or sorrow because they’ve learned how to protect themselves from the pain of loss.  I dread that one day the pain of their many good-byes may cause them to keep people at a distance as they ask themselves, “How long will this person actually be around?  Is it worth investing in this relationship?”  Instead of diving deeply and quickly into relationships like they do now, I fear that their hearts will grow cold and wary like my own at times.

Loss can come in multiple forms and many TCKs (Third-Culture Kids) like ours experience more loss in their developmental years than most mono-cultural adults do in their lifetime.  As one writer puts it, 

“The layers of loss [for TCKs] run deep:  Friends, community, pets.  Family, toys, language.  Weather, food, culture.  Loss of identity.  Loss of a place of comfort, stability, a safe and predictable world.  Home.  These children are losing the worlds they love, over and over.”    

During our cross-cultural training, the adults learned about paradox while the kids learned about a pair-o’-ducks:  the “Yuck Duck” and the “Yay Duck”.   

We’ve been talking about the pair-o'-ducks lately.  The "Yay Duck" about leaving the USA soon is that we get to go back to our home in Burundi and be reunited with our friends.  The "Yuck Duck" is having to leave behind our family and friends in the USA.  It’s confusing and hard to feel happy and sad at the same time!  Yet, I’m reminded that every transition (and there have been many!) is accompanied by loss, no matter how many Yay Ducks are waiting on the other side.  

So how do we help our kids (and ourselves) cope with the loss and grief that they will experience during transition?  We give them permission and space to mourn.  We weep with them.  We seek out ways to remember — photos, special mementos, journals, etc.  We acknowledge the losses and try not to minimize their grief by reminding them about all the good things they have to look forward to.  Certainly, we don’t do this perfectly and we are always open to other suggestions, so feel free to comment with any thoughts you have on this topic.   

As I reflect on this past year in the USA, my mother’s heart is deeply grateful for the many people (adults and kids) that have reached out to my kids (and us too) this year and loved us well, knowing that we would only be here for a short time.  We will cherish our memories with you long into the future.        


To Vouvoie or not to Vouvoie

By Ted John

Respect. To me, this is such a dynamic word that can be conveyed (or not conveyed) in so many different ways, depending on the culture and context of any given country or people group. In France, one of the ways respect is conveyed is through the French language, and more precisely, whether “to vouvoie or not to vouvoie” (this is me using a combo of French + English, i.e. franglais, in case you were wondering what vouvoie was).

“To vouvoie,” or in its true French infinitive form, “vouvoyer,” is the verb that means “to address someone as vous.” As a follow up, you are probably thinking, what/who is “vous”? It translates to “you” in English, but with a certain element of respect, formality, or social distance. Correspondingly, there is another “you” or “tu” with a less formal connotation, used among friends, family, children, in churches and other social groups. This brings us to the verb, “tutoyer,” which means “to address someone as tu.” The English language doesn’t really have a distinction between these two forms. Thus, you can imagine some of the questions I’ve asked myself:

  • After you meet someone and start to become friends, how do you know when to transition from vous to tu? 
  • What if you start to tutoie, then decide you don’t want to be friends with them anymore; do you revert back to vous? 
  • If you vouvoie someone (and they think you're on tutoie terms), will they be offended? 
  • If you tutoie someone (and they don't think you're at that level of closeness), will they be offended for you this mismatch in closeness perception? 

Hence, the title of the post: to vouvoie or not to vouvoie. That is the question. At least for me in France, not infrequently, as someone who is trying to be culturally appropriate and respectful. For French natives, this comes second nature to them. For English speakers trying to learn French and understand French culture, it requires more processing time.

(Aside: If interested, here is a 1-minute comedy video (in French) poking fun at this very topic.)

I remember one of the first times this topic was brought up in conversation with a real French person. It was after a Sunday church service (at a local French church), and I was talking with the Pastor. At that time, I was using the vous form with him. Then, in the middle of the conversation, he suddenly brought up whether we should start to tutoie, and I responded, sure why not? And since then, we have been on tutoie terms. Apparently, according to other French colleagues, this is not an uncommon way for the transition to happen. I also later found out that most people in the church setting commonly use “tu” to address everyone anyhow, with the idea that everyone is brother and sister in the same family of God.

Interestingly enough, the two forms of addressing you as vous or tu exists to a degree in some form in a variety of other languages, including German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian (non-exhaustive list). Who’d have thought?

It also sort of exists in the Korean language, but it’s called an honorific form, and applies to not only verbs, but also nouns (like 2 ways to say the word food, one more respectful than the other) and the way you address someone (like a more respectful way of saying Mister or Miss). Since I’m a Korean-American, the idea of respect expressed in language and culture is not a new concept for me. In the Korean culture, people bow to show respect, and one or both people might bow depending on the situation. Growing up, it was normal and expected of me to greet my parents' Korean friends in this way, as well as the parents of my Korean friends, my own relatives, and pretty much all other Korean adults.

From the Korean language standpoint, not using the honorific form when situationally indicated would be offensive and disrespectful, so perhaps this is why I’ve been drawn to make parallels between Korean and French.

Another reflection point is on how different cultures address God. Do they vouvoie or tutoie God? In the Korean language and culture, God is addressed respectfully and appropriately in the honorific form. This is based on the desire to give honor and respect in an attempt to reflect how great and majestic God really is. Not surprisingly, I incorrectly assumed the same would apply to French. So in French, God is also addressed respectfully and appropriately, but in the “tu” form as a way to capture the closeness and familiarity of the relationship with God.

Looking ahead to Burundi (T-minus 3 weeks), it will be interesting to observe the differences and similarities between the Burundian language and culture and that of France or Korea (or the US), particularly in regards to respect. What is considered respectful in one culture, whether a gesture or the way you address someone, may be considered disrespectful in another culture, and vice versa. Thankfully, I have some teammates in Burundi who have already paved the path a little for us and who can give us a head start in the do’s and don’t-do’s.

All that to say, it is pretty amazing that God made all of us, and that He is the author of all people, cultures, and languages. He understands each one of us, and He knows what’s in our hearts, even if we don’t convey it a certain way in action or in words. It reminds me of this passage that gives us a glimpse of heaven:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ” – Revelation 7:9-10.

Taking a break from studies to enjoy the outdoors in France!


Sorrowing yet Rejoicing

by Michelle Wendler

My name is Michelle Wendler and I'm married to Carlan, the ER doctor on the team. 

It wasn't what we had hoped for. After months of eager expectation, two of my siblings came to visit us here in Burundi. I was surprised at the tears that flowed when we greeted them as they walked through the little airport terminal located in the capital of Burundi.  Being far from family and friends takes its toll and is probably one of greatest losses we experience to serve overseas. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, but being here, putting feet on the ground, is probably worth a million. No one can describe perfectly what the air smells like, what the food tastes like, what it’s like to see the smiling faces of the village children as they enthusiastically respond to seeing their picture for the first time. It was such joy to watch my siblings get to see and experience our life here for a period of time. 

Yet halfway through their visit, the unimaginable happened. We were awakened Saturday morning by a call from our family in California that our father had unexpectedly died of a heart attack while on a hike / prayer walk in the mountains behind their house. He was in great shape and had no health problems that were known, so this was a complete shock to us and the entire family.

We immediately booked flights home and embarked on the emotional / exhausting flight back to California. It was probably one of the most difficult flights I’ve ever taken. When we landed at LAX, the realization that Dad and Mom wouldn’t be there to greet us as they usually would was almost unbearable.

After an emotional four week trip home we are now back in Burundi. I would like to use this as an opportunity to share a little about my dad, whom I love deeply and who has had a huge impact on my life and is one of the main reasons that I am where I am. 

Waiting to walk down the aisle with my dad. 

My dad was a kind, selfless and fun father. Some words that come to mind when I think about him are:

Humble, gentle yet strong, fun, goofy, unpretentious, fearless, hardworking, compassionate, joyful, peaceful, faithful, prayerful, wise, knowledgeable, and loving. 

He was strong both physically and in his faith, yet he was also gentle. I always felt safe when Dad was around.

It is impossible to describe a lifetime of love and service in one moment. As I was thinking about what to share so many memories filled my mind, and continue to do so. Each day I will see something that will remind me again of another fond memory of Dad. But for the sake of time I will only share a couple. 

My dad instilled into us a love of being active and of the outdoors, and at the same time he taught us some very valuable life lessons. During one of our first hikes up Mission Peak, I was around 7 at the time, we were complaining about the steep hills and difficulty and ready to give up. He encouraged us on by pointing to the trees in the distance and giving us a goal within sight to reach. When we got to the tree he let us rest, praised us for our endurance, and gave us another goal just ahead. We made it to the top of the mountain thanks to my dad’s gentle and patient guidance and encouragement. 

Another example of this was during our long drives to Santa Barbara from the San Fernando Valley when he was pastoring a church there. As kids, this drive seemed like an eternity, yet he turned it into a game for us by giving us landmarks along the way to look forward to. We eagerly waited for each one and would call out in delight when we saw them. One of them was a stop on the way home to get out and see the waves hitting the rocks along the coast. 

In his wisdom he knew that we needed to learn the lesson not focusing on the current and past difficulties but of looking ahead. I am reminded of the verse: 

“…But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:13-14

Even on my wedding day, as my mind was all aflutter, he calmly reminded me of the next goal as we prepared to walk down the aisle, talking me through what the wedding coordinator had told us to do. He lovingly guided me as I walked down the aisle to marry the man of my dreams. 

A large part of being on the mission field now is because of my dad and mom. Dad was a pastor and he and my mom had a deep love for missions. Some of my fondest memories were of the times when my parents would missionary biographies to us as kids each evening. I even laughed and told them once that if we became missionaries it was “all their fault.” Growing up, some of our closest friends were missionaries overseas. We would often meet up with them during their furloughs and hear all their exciting stories. I believe that prepared me for the life I now life.

These memories of Dad and so many more:

 …of when we would make tents in the living room with Christmas music blaring, of holding our breath while we drove through tunnels, of marching around the house to Sousa marches, of watching him selflessly serve the churches he pastored, often arriving early to set up and stay late to tare down all the chairs. 

I am so thankful to the Lord for such a wonderful dad. He is loved dearly and will be profoundly missed. I am sorrowing yet rejoicing in the fact that now his faith is sight and he is worshipping in the presence of his Savior whom he deeply cherished. And one day we will together rejoice at the throne of our Lord. How I long for that day. I love you Dad and miss you so much! 

Mom and Dad surrounded by their kids (and my uncle Dave).
My dad baptizing me.
The view from where he was hiking before he stepped
into the presence of his Savior.
His prayers were turned to conversation in an instant.