Of wooden planks and boiled eggs

(By Jess Lembelembe)

Along with the rest of the team, I have enjoyed seeing incremental progress on the several building projects going on these days in Kibuye - the pediatric ward, the octoplex residence, maternity ward renovation. Since I happen to know the construction manager, I like asking for special guided tours when the crew has already gone home, so I can ask all my curiosity questions:
"How long does the concrete stay in the wooden forms before you remove the wood?"
"What will this room be used for when it is finished?"
 "Where will the stairs be?"
"Are you sure this platform is strong enough to hold me?"
One of the most amazing things to my untrained eye is to see how rough unfinished planks of wood, crooked pieces of timber and simple string are useful for producing perfectly flat and level concrete beams and columns. I comment on it almost every time I'm on site. Hopefully the photos below give you a sense of what I'm talking about.

When a pole is too short, the solution is simple: wedge a few piece of wood underneath.

And when the pole reach the top, they are attached to the bigger frame with random bits of wood, too.

But standing back, the point becomes clear... All those unfinished poles line up to support a flat concrete slab.

It isn't only wooden poles that will hold up the slab, because these wooden forms were already used to pour concrete columns.

I started to wonder why these building techniques fascinated me so much, and I realized these very imperfect bits of wood held a lesson for me.

I am a perfectionist, and I find it impossible to leave a task until it is completed to meet my (high-ish) standard of excellence. When I am unsure of my ability to complete a big, important task, I wish there was someone more qualified available to do it as it "should" be done. At times it is hard to believe that God not only can, but actually prefers, to use me in my weakness to be a part of his beautiful kingdom. My pride would prefer that I be called upon only in my moments of (perceived) strength.

In a team of committed and competent people, I know I am not the only one who finds it uncomfortable to live out of my weakness rather than strength. Whether it is the person preparing a sermon in a second language or a doctor who realizes their skills and strength alone are not capable of meeting the medical needs of all those who fill the hospital beds, I doubt many of us make it through a week without feeling about as impressive as a splintered bit of wood at least once.

A week ago I was walking around on top of the wooden frame that all those concrete columns and skinny wooden poles are holding up. Looking down from above, I saw just how many pieces are needed to build the platform, all of varying lengths and widths. But they are angled and attached with precision, and leveled out using string to ensure that they will eventually produce a straight beam and flat upper floor.

 When this complex arrangement is finally covered over with boards, the purpose becomes more clear. This structure is going to support a strong concrete slab in just a couple of days.

After all, the slab on the ground floor started with wooden forms, too, and the photo below shows just how pristine the result was.

God's Word reminds us that we are actually a body made up of many parts, and he makes us all fit together to cooperate and serve one another with the gifts he has placed in each of us. There is no need to look down on the parts that are less impressive, since they still are valuable in performing their particular role.

I recently volunteered to serve as one of those "modest" parts in the complex body that is the feeding program for malnourished children and their mothers. My job: boil 250 eggs to be distributed each Friday morning to the mothers. When I was in the middle of the actual boiling task, one question rose to the surface: This is a mundane job; should or could someone else do this? I'm happy to help, but if the rest of the food (specifically Busoma, a porridge mix made from several nutritious grains) that is given to these mothers is produced at the Busoma factory, shouldn't the staff there just take care of preparing the eggs, too?

The next day, when Matt and I carried all the eggs up to the Busoma staff in time for distribution, I caught a glimpse of the bigger operation that is actually going on. Staff at the factory were sifting grain to make more porridge mix, staff at the gate were ready to distribute it to the mothers enrolled in the program, who were already lined up outside. Others are responsible for procuring all the grain and even the eggs that I had boiled. Come to think of it, I hadn't even been the one to boil all these eggs. Acheri, the kitchen helper who works at our house, did most of the boiling. And there aren't electric hotplates or stoves just sitting around the hospital or in any of the surrounding homes. Entrusting Acheri with this small, but important work, and making my kitchen available, is actually contributing to the bigger ministry of offering hope and health to many families struggling with malnutrition.

Sometimes we can only see our crooked edges and rough surfaces and wonder what they are good for. Thankfully God has a bigger perspective, and He is actively working out a masterpiece we can only partially comprehend. When we do get a glimpse, the views are never short of beautiful.

Many of you reading these posts also play a significant supporting role in the mission of Kibuye Hope Hospital from a distance, and we are grateful for you. It is a privilege to be a part of this greater Body, working together for transformation in Burundi.


Easter Reflections

by Rachel

As a surprise to no one, anywhere in the world, Easter was a bit different this year.  Our team has struggled with the implications of COVID and potential problems, held in tension with the fact that Burundi has recorded only 5 cases.  We are trying to find the right balance of wisdom in preparing and protecting ourselves and our country, while still finding a way to live and work in our very tight-knit community.  There was a lot of discussion leading up to Easter.  Traditionally, it's been a day of celebrating, perhaps sharing a song in a packed out church, feasting at a brunch potluck together, kids hunting easter eggs and candy.  This year...we try to avoid crowds.  We try not to share food.  There are no visitors to bring candy in special suitcases.  But in the end, we decided that gathering together was important enough to our mental health and the witness our intertwined lives provides, to continue with at least some of these traditions.

The team did decide to gather for a meal.  We set up tables 6 feet apart and did family groupings.  Only a few people served the meal, wearing gloves and distributing food so people didn't have to touch utensils multiple times.  But we showed up.  Someone did in fact pull out a sack of candy for the kids to find!  And we started with "A Liturgy for Feasting."  This is something we've classically done on Thanksgiving, but it seemed no less appropriate for Easter Sunday in the COVID era.  I already shared this in my Thanksgiving blog, but it bears repeating:

To gather joyfully is indeed a serious affair, for feasting and all its enjoyments gratefully taken are, at their heart, acts of war.
In celebrating this feast we declare that evil and death, suffering and loss, sorrow and tears, will not have the final word.

We ate, and we prayed, and we sang praises.  Later that afternoon, Serge had prepared a special Easter service online for all of their missionaries, and our families were able to watch a message of hope and encouragement.  It was a good day.  It was a very anticipated day and one that was full of a different meaning than in years past, as the world struggles along and death seems very near.  It's been a hard season here at Kibuye, a season of dying and loss, and the resurrection has never seemed so poignant nor applicable...nor longed for.

And yet now, after the fact, it seems that the hope and joy that I wanted Easter to bring....are hard to come by.  If I'm honest, I hoped that Easter Sunday would magically usher in a new season here on earth, with healing from viruses, world peace, and an end to goodbyes.  A personal sense of peace and calm.  But it didn't.  The problems of the world, the problems of my heart, are all still the same as they were on Saturday.  The difference is, if I can cling to it, that the problems are faced with a different viewpoint.  If I truly believe, as I do, that Jesus Christ conquered death on that Easter Sunday so many years ago, then this world is not my home.  There is more to come.  These "light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."  My heart is fickle, and I often choose to focus on my temporary afflictions instead of my eternal glory.  But I hope and pray that this Easter season will serve as a reminder to me to fix my eyes on Jesus and the hope to come.  I pray that for us all.


Grieving Losses & Building a RAFT

by Jess Cropsey

In recent weeks, people all over the world have grieved uncommon losses of many kinds -- the ability to go to work/school, independence, senior year memories, vacation plans, weddings, feeling of safety, etc. And of course there are those who have lost their jobs or even their own lives because of this pandemic.

While the situation in Burundi is different in certain ways for the time being, our lives also have been upended. As we anticipate the departure of several families and navigate our new way of life in this covid-era, we decided to spend some time with the kids reviewing some common themes in their lives -- loss, grief, and transition. So this is what our school day looked like at Kibuye Hope Academy on Monday ...

We began by reading the first chapter of B At Home in which 10-year old Emma's world is rocked when her parents tell her they're moving...again. It's a chapter book that is highly relatable to children who have experienced a lot of moves, particularly while overseas.

Next, we talked about some of the recent and anticipated losses that we've experienced / will experience as a community and the kids took some time to write about losses that they're feeling as individuals. Regardless of the perceived magnitude of the loss, we've found it important to name them and not brush them under the carpet as "unimportant" or "no big deal".

Using many of the ideas from Misunderstood by Tanya Crossman, we subsequently discussed what grief is, the different ways that people grieve (pre- vs. post- grievers), and why it's important to do it well.

Finally, we walked kids through the RAFT process, which I would highly recommend for anyone (not just overseas workers) facing a big transition. We were introduced to this idea at cross-cultural training and we've found it helpful to walk through together as a family before any move. This time, we had the kids actually build their RAFT using craft sticks, with the name of the step on one side and their answers to the questions on the back. We also added Scripture verses on the support craft sticks on the bottom of the raft.

R (Reconciliation) -- Are there any broken relationships that need to be mended?
A (Affirmation) -- Is there someone who has been particularly important in your life? Make a plan for what you want to tell them and when/how you'll do it.
F (Farewell) -- What special people, places, pets, or other things have been meaningful to you? Make a plan to say good-bye to them.
T (Think Destination) -- Think about where you'll be next. What are your expectations? How will things be similar or different? What are you excited or anxious about?

At the end of the morning, the kids had time to make cards for others as part of the "Affirmation" step. Here's a super creative one that I got from Elise. (I'm pretty sure the fashionable fry only applies when I'm borrowing my mom's clothes.)

You are all on our hearts and minds as you grieve your own losses in this unique period of world history. Please feel free to comment and let us know how we can be praying for you.

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." 
~Psalm 73:26


Lamenting and Rejoicing at the Same Time

(from Eric)

We are living in a time of loss.  And so are you, fellow inhabitant of planet Earth.  This season is not what anyone predicted.  We cannot go where we thought we could go.  We cannot do what we thought we were doing.  We cannot be with those whom we thought to spend time.  We do not know when things will change, which makes any significant planning nearly impossible.  Early February has this amazing nostalgia.  The glory of that ordinary life - we knew it not.  May we know it better when it returns.

Watching people all over the world grapple with this time of loss has shown me two seemingly contradictory responses:

First, there is an increased call for the importance of lament.  Articles such as NT Wright's and different books (including my own) have been sources of resonance for a lot of people.  Lament is indeed a gift to us in times like our own.  We don't have answers, and we don't know yet when answers will be forthcoming.  Our normal means of decision-making and anxiety-mitigation have been stripped from us by the utterly unprecedented nature of the global COVID-19 pandemic.  We don't know what to do.

Here, lament gives us the words and even the emotional stance that we need.  We cry out to God.  We pour out our complaint.  We ask "How long?" as more than a rhetorical question.  We don't understand, but can at least know to whom our complaint is rightly addressed.  We do better to take the ugliest thought to God than the most cleaned-up thought anywhere else.  "We don't know what to do, but our eyes are on you."  (2 Chronicles 20:12)

The second response is one of celebration and beauty.  As our normal life becomes restricted, and in many places slows down, there is a need to find some form of celebration.  People write notes to each other.  You may have seem more longtime friends on Zoom in the past couple of weeks than you have in years.  Yesterday, my wife walked through our house loudly singing Les Miserables tunes ("One day more!") and the kids joined in.  The joy and the beauty are a defiance of the fear and the darkness, and this is as it should be.

I have loved watching the art and the music that Covid sequestration has already birthed.  My med school classmates are posting brilliant dual-piano pieces that they are playing together despite being a time zone apart.  Our team intern's watercolors of a beautiful JRR Tolkien quote are circulating on social media.  I can't remember when the beauty of American spring was so celebrated in photos.  The human creative spirit inside all of us, which is part of humanity's role as image bearers of a creative God, has hardly ever been so evident.  We need this.

So we find that we need to lament this loss.  And we find that we need to fill the void of this loss with a celebration of beauty.  And it feels impossible to do both of these together.  Give me one or the other, and some kind of path is laid before me.  But both?  I can feel my feet sticking to the ground.


Jerry Sittser is a religion professor at Whitworth University in Washington state.  He was driving home late one night in 1991 with his family, when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver.  His mother, his wife, and his daughter were all killed that day.  Three years later, he wrote a beautiful and haunting book called A Grace Disguised, where he says this:

"Sorrow is noble and gracious.  It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously, of feeling the world's pain and hoping for the world's healing at the same time."

I have found this idea of sorrow widening our souls very compelling.  The pain and the mourning don't disappear, but they cease to cancel out or crowd out the joy and the beauty.

Is this even possible?  Well, I think you'd have to suffer greatly yourself to really know the truth.  However, as a doctor in Africa for ten years that has walked daily in an environment of ongoing loss, I would say yes with whatever authority that is my due.

We lament.  We rejoice.  Doing this things together may seem impossible, but it is rather as it should be.

Psalm 126 is a compact manifestation of this:

"When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them." The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad."

Rachel and I used this first half for our wedding.  Now note the sudden transition to the second half:

"Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the (desert) Negeb!  Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!  He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him."

We did not use the second half for our wedding.  Is the psalmist rejoicing or weeping?  He is doing both, and the result is hope.  Once this is seen, it seems that it's all over the Bible, perhaps mostly in the Psalms, though the very person of Jesus exhibits this creative tension as well.

Where is all this loss leading us?  By God's grace, may it be to a larger heart where we are able to feel the world's pain and hope for the world's healing at the same time.

Better to give up my quest for control and live in hope.  -Jerry Sittser