A role I thought I'd never have and a bit of gardening

(by Jenn Harling)

"Chef de Service, Pédiatrie" - that's my current role at the hospital - head of Pediatrics.

REWIND to one year ago, during our "vision trip" the summer of 2019.  This is how I imagined it would play out:
  • September 2019 - We would go back to the States to deliver Mark (our third child) and I would have learned enough during our vision trip at Kibuye to be able to round on my own when we came back in January 2020.  Just enough to scratch the surface of the vast amount of information there is to learn regarding pediatrics at Kibuye, but enough to take care of patients and be in a position to continue learning under Alyssa and Logan. 
  • End of 2019 - Alyssa (head of Peds at Kibuye...well, the only Pediatrician at Kibuye) leaves Kibuye to return to the States for home assignment (furlough) for an anticipated 5 months.  Logan Banks would take over the role of head of pediatrics while Alyssa was gone.  
  • January 2020 - I would return to Kibuye in January, Logan would be head of Peds until Alyssa returned in April and during this time I'd be gleaning information and wisdom from the docs who are used to this stuff, who go to the department meetings, who fix problems, who run the pediatric specialty clinic, who know how the hospital works, how the feeding program works, etc etc etc... 
Enter.... need I even say it? 

Alyssa was stranded in the States and the Banks left for home assignment in April.  

I was named head of Peds in April. 

This is how I saw myself at that moment in time: Dr. Jenn Harling, who had never taken a tropical medical course.  Who had just finished the chapter in a tropical medicine textbook about malaria because she had so much to learn and people were asking questions expecting the expert, the specialist to know the answers. Who at that point didn't know all the names of the nurses on Peds.  Who never expected this responsibility, this title. 

Do you know what I've learned? None of those qualifications or un-qualifications matter in the kingdom of God.  God will accomplish His will despite my readiness or my unreadiness, despite my breadth of knowledge or lack thereof, despite my not-so-great medical French and essentially non-existent Kirundi, and despite my imperfections.  

"Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?"
Exodus 4:10-11

These past six months have been such an amazing time of growth, learning, and stretching for me. And a whoooole lot of being humbled.  I can't count the number of times I've said "I'm not sure, I'll need to look that up" or more frequently "I'm not sure, I'll have to talk to Dr. Alyssa and get back to you."  God knew Alyssa wouldn't come back in April. He knew Logan would be leaving in April.  And it just so happened that He placed a pediatrician to be at Kibuye when otherwise there wouldn't be.  He is sovereign and so so good. 


Since Michael and I job share, I work Mondays and Tuesdays and some weekends, and he works Wednesday through Friday and some weekends.  That means I'm home a good amount and while I'm not taking care of the children, I'm tending to household things, working on lectures, etc.... and sometimes find time to do some gardening ◡̈  Turns out I love it!

Here are a few pictures of some things we've tried since being here!  

Our first two tomatoes 

Carrots, pole beans, bush beans, tomatoes, broccoli, parsley, hot peppers, lenga lenga, celery, Swiss chard. 

We ended up with baby carrots. The girls loved snacking on them! 

Brussels sprouts plants

Baaaaaaaby brussels sprouts

Baaaaaaaby broccoli


While gardening has become a hobby, as we discussed during our family worship time this week, it is God who makes the seed grow.  It is He who made the soil and causes the sun to shine.  My part and privilege is to serve Him diligently, in all my weaknesses, and He will make His kingdom grow.

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” - Matthew 13:31,32


A Day In My World, Construction Management In Kibuye

(by Matt)

Quinzaine: Engineer, we need you at the 8-plex.
Me: Sure, I will be there in 15 minutes.

It's 8:00AM, and I'm still at home trying to finish a contract agreement for a project in Congo. EMI Uganda needs this contract in order to review it and send it to the client representative, who in turn will send it to the president of their organisation and to the contractor.

Twenty-five minutes have already passed since I told Quinzaine I would meet him at the 8-plex site. I don’t like to keep our foreman waiting.

While I am meeting with Quinzaine, Sadiki needs me to meet with a clay pots supplier. We need clay pots for a vertical garden at the 8-plex. But the supplier is waiting for me at the kindergarten construction site for some reason.

I meet with the clay pots supplier and we reach a deal: we are getting 130 clay pots in two weeks. That’s a lot of pots.

Pamphile: Engineer, I need screws to attach the toilet seats at the ophthalmology bathroom under construction.
Me: Give me 10 minutes, and I will be there.

On my way to Pamphile, I meet Chadrack who is working on terrazzo trial. He wants to know if he can grout the surface. I need to see it first before I can give my approval.

But first I need to stop by the doctors’ offices that we are renovating. The electrician is busy installing lights, light switches and sockets. He also happens to be the one on the crew who installs louver window frames. He asks me for the supplies to complete this task for the newly painted window frames.

Me: I’ll get those to you, please remind me later today.
I know that I also need to demonstrate how I want the materials to be used.

Finally I meet with Pamphile and attend to his queries. I do a quick tour of the work in and around the bathroom. Junction boxes are almost done, covers are being made and Pamphile has installed the hand washbasin already.

My next stop is the workshop. Chadrack is there, waiting for instructions about grouting the terrazzo floor trial he has been grinding.

The floor looks good. It appears as if our trial is a success. There are a few holes here and there and that is why we need to grout the entire surface with our own homemade grout. We will regrind and polish the floor next week on Monday.

I haven’t been to B20 yet. There is a small team of workers painting the 2nd floor ceiling and a group of masons repointing the ramp parapet wall. I stop by to check in how they are doing, and it all looks great.

Desiré: We need you at the 8-plex.
Me: I am on my way there.

Desiré is installing roof trusses at the 8-plex, and he almost done. He is now working on front porch trusses.
Desiré: How do we attach the gutters? We will end up with so many downspouts.
Me: What do you suggest?
He is a creative welder, and his idea seems innovative.
Me: Give it a try.

As I inspect the ground floor of the 8-plex, there is a group of workers staring at a tree. I realize they are preparing to cut down pine trees that are too close to the structure. They also have suggestions on the direction to make the trees fall. I call for Quinzaine to get his opinion and he seems to agree with the crew.

Me: Alright, let's do it.

John: Hey Matt, I’m at the clinic already.
Me: Cool, I’ll be there in a minute.

I sent a few guys to help John install cabinets in the eye clinic OR we renovated a few days ago. They had a questionable approach that would use nails to hang 4 very heavy cabinets. John is having a hard time communicating with them, but he is not convinced of their idea.
Me: I’ve got a few anchor bolts. They should work.
John: Sweet. Do you need my help?
Me: No, we’ve got this.

Well the cabinets are heavy, and we need help to lift them up in order to attach them to the walls. It ends up taking a long time to complete the task.

My Jess: Hey love, our sink is not working.

Calling Pamphile:
Me: Hey, stop by my place, and fix my kitchen sink.
Pamphile: Yes sir, I’m heading there right now.

It’s 2:30pm, and we have just finished hanging the cabinets.

As I head down to the 8-plex to respond to another call from Desiré, I notice that one of the trees has slightly damaged the roof eaves on its way down. It is not a big deal, but we will need to replace that section. I get concerned because we still have 6 to 7 more trees to cut down, and some of them are leaning heavily toward the compound wall.

I watch in amazement as some of these crooked trees are taken down with just a machete and a rope, but nothing is damaged. Genius!

It’s now 4pm, and I haven’t eaten lunch yet. Maybe I can stop by my place and have something.

I try to go for my last round, but I don’t have time to visit all the project sites. The 8-plex and the kindergarten sites consume most of my time.

It is 5:30pm, the end of our workday. I did not yet respond to emails or send our material orders to suppliers. But I need to refresh my mind, so I go for a bike ride and then return back home to my computer.

I’ve reached the end of this workday.


A Farewell Letter

Dear Kibuye,

My family and I first arrived in Kibuye in August, 2014.  Since then we have called Burundi our home. You, our Kibuye team, became our family, the anesthetists, Burundian doctors and nurses, our friends.  And so, it is with deep sadness that we left Burundi this summer in order to transition to a new life in Kijabe, Kenya. The decision to leave Kibuye was deeply painful because of our love for all of you, but was based on our belief that the Lord had opened an opportunity for us to move to Kijabe in order to more heavily invest in physician anesthesia training and also to continue to live under the same roof with our children while they attended Rift Valley Academy.

It is hard to put into words our deep affection for Burundi, for Kibuye and for all of you.  What God has done and is continuing to do there is a testament to His goodness and grace.  And the variety of gifts that He has knit together to form this team constantly astounds me. In order for a team of North Americans to settle and thrive in a place like Kibuye, with such limited resources, requires so many different talents and abilities and somehow He has endowed each of you with talents and abilities that compliment one another so beautifully. Something that struck me, particularly during our first year in Kibuye was my constant state of need.  I needed someone to explain a certain hospital system.  I needed someone to explain something to me that was said in Kirundi.  I needed someone to explain how to communicate with our national partners in a culturally appropriate way.  I needed someone to help me start a car, show me how to grocery shop, how to fix a broken piece of equipment.  And no matter what the need was, there was always a teammate who was able and willing to help. I have no idea how missionaries who go out without the support of such a team survive even one day. 

The last 6 years are filled with memories and friendships that I know I will treasure for the rest of my life.  I am forever indebted to all of you who have over the years loved me and my family, who have laughed and cried with me, who have sacrificially served me, and who have taught me what it means to “walk in Christ”. 

I am comforted by the hope that I will continue to see many of you often as we continue to make trips to Burundi and as you continue to travel to Kenya.  But it will not be the same. We will be a part of a different team. 

And so, my family and I would like to say thank you to: 

Eric and Rachel, Alyssa, Jason and Heather, John and Jess, George and Susan, Logan and Julie, Carlan and Michelle, Scott and Lindsay, Caleb and Krista, Ted and Eunice, Kayla, Shay, Alexis, Rachel, Abraham, Jesh and Julie, and to all of your children.

And to my closest Burundian friends, Alliance, Ladislas, Joseph, Samuel, Samuel, Pamphile, Berchimas and Gloria.

… thank you for all you have done for us, and for welcoming us into your family for this season.  We love you all so very much. May God continue to strengthen you and to shine His face upon you.

Your biggest fans, Greg, Steph, Ella, Mekdes and Biniyam


Red, White and Blue!

A couple of days ago, there was a buzz around our homes. I think the kids were the first ones to pick up on the fact that this was no ordinary Saturday.

Keza was getting ready for the party in style!
Madelyn grabbed her own flag to wave and started dreaming of strawberries!
But before the picnic began, there were games to be enjoyed by all! Thanks to Jess and Lindsay for their organizing prowess.

American friends from around the country came to celebrate... and attempt to take down Scott in Can Jam.

Meanwhile, the grill master was hard at work.
Finally, the feast was ready to be enjoyed.
And there were smiles all around!
In addition to celebrating America's birthday, we celebrated Wayne and Barb Vibbert's decades of service in Burundi. They first arrived with their family in 1976. It was a treat to hear their stories in person before they return to the US later this year.

What would the Fourth of July be without sparklers?
These are actually birthday candles to put on cakes, though I think they are much safer to use outside!

Before leaving the next day, Barb Vibbert shared some words of wisdom with the next generation. It was a memorable weekend!

To all of our American friends, we hope you found a fun and safe way to celebrate Independence Day!


Lamenting and Rejoicing on the Hospital WhatsApp Group

(from Eric)

(Note for the Americans who may not know: WhatsApp is a mobile application used all over the world - except most of the US - for group texting and sharing)

This weekend been an emotional roller-coaster for the staff of Kibuye Hope Hospital.  Along with 64 others, I am on a WhatsApp group for hospital employees.  It's good for my Kirundi practice, and it keeps me in the know for a number of local and national happenings.  Additionally, it's an interesting study into the variable cultural uses of emojis and texting etiquette.

Friday morning I awake to about thirty new messages.  Our head cashier just had her first baby and posts a beautiful picture.  Sleeping newborn wrapped into a clean blue blanket featuring, of all things, American footballs.  Dozens of congratulations from her fellow hospital staff, most getting a "reply all" thanks for the congratulations.  Celebration is better in a group.


Friday at 3pm.  I'm sitting down at home to a Zoom call when I get an urgent text that Jean-Marie, one of our nurses, was found at home in a non-responsive coma.  Rush to the hospital, where I find him in a basically brain-dead state.  I had seen him two days before and we talked about treatment for some vague symptoms he'd had for a couple weeks.  He was to come back to see me that day, and was apparently doing better, until he suddenly collapsed.  What happened?

Discussions.  Tests.  ER Bed encircled by ardent prayers for healing.  Dread feeling in my stomach.  Afraid to hope.  Jean-Marie dies at 1:30 Saturday morning.  

After the sudden announcement on the WhatsApp group, the messages of grief pour in.  Prayers and expressions of shock.  Tearful eyes and stunned faces.  

The burial is Saturday afternoon.  We meet by the morgue and walk behind the hospital pick-up truck that carries the coffin to the nearby gravesite amidst the towering eucalyptus trees.  I can't catch all the Kirundi in the eulogy, so I quietly ask my friend for details.

Jean-Marie Hakizimana was 36 years old.  He was a local guy, from a nearby village within Kibuye district.  After going to the local high school, he went to teacher's college and taught school for several years.  Later, when he got the chance to go to nursing school, he took it.  He had been working at Kibuye for a year or two, and was universally known for his diligence and gentleness.  He often volunteered to preach at morning chapel.  Along with his wife, one son, and four daughters, he was building a house nearby, and in an amazingly tragic detail, he had planned to move into his new house on the very day that he was buried.


Walking back towards sunset, I can't sort out the tragedy, nor its juxtaposition with new life.  The group in front of me is talking pleasantly with each other, and even snatches of gentle laughter find their way back to me.  Strangely, it doesn't feel inappropriate or disrespectful.  It feels like hearts that have the capacity to absorb suffering together.  

A few months ago, I wrote about rejoicing and lamenting at the same time.  I wrote that we need to learn how to do this, and that the Bible is a great model.  Interestingly, I think my African brothers and sisters are also a great model.  This capacity seems to be born of suffering, something that is true of most biblical and most African cultures.  I'll quote Jerry Sittser once again:

"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."

As I watch my home country of the USA from afar - this troubled nation that doesn't know what WhatsApp is - it seems that people don't know whether to celebrate or to grieve.  Because the grief is real, we feel bad celebrating.  But the reasons for celebrating are also real, so what does that mean about the grief?

All around me here in Burundi, I see a world that seems to know better than I how to do both at the same time.  I am thankful for them.  I hope that I can learn this from them.


Today just before noon, the WhatsApp group rings off the hook again.  Our cashier's newborn baby has died.  I have no idea what happened.  The expressions of grief pour in again, mostly followed by the heartbreakingly gracious reply of "thanks".  Sorrow on sorrow.  Who can endure?

If it is suffering and sorrow that enlarge our hearts, then let's not kid ourselves.  There is nothing easy in being broken.  But "nothing easy" does not mean, and never will mean "nothing redemptive".

We lean on one another on this long, often difficult, and always beautiful road.


Though his tenure on the earth
is that of a blade of grass,
though his acquaintance among the dead
increases year by year
and, like many grown old
before, he lives from the loss
of one beloved companion
to the loss of yet another,
the old man prays to find,
at the end of his own leash,
his love for the world at hand,
his heart at rest in gratitude.

(Wendell Berry: Sabbath Poems, 2012/III)


In Everything, Give Thanks

by Carlan Wendler

“Why does God hate my family?” It was an earnest query by an exasperated black man.

“What do you mean? What is happening to your family?” was my reply.

The next half-hour was spent in a poignant conversation with this medical student who had seen multiple family members die in separate incidents, accidents, that felt like divine targeting of his family for punishment. He was in deep emotional distress, compounded by that kind of self-doubt that comes when you “know” you shouldn’t feel a certain way about God but nonetheless you do. He was looking to me as a missionary and mentor to help him sort through everything. I honestly did not know what to tell him in that moment. My mind raced to retrieve any information that could comfort his weary heart. I wanted to help him but could not settle on any counsel that would anchor his soul in his storm. As I often do in Burundi when faced with a situation that is completely out of my depth I sent up a flare prayer — “Jesus, help!”

The Spirit directed my mind to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

“OK Lord,” my heart whispered back. “It doesn’t seem like that will help but it is Your word, Your will.”

Our next hour was tremendously blessed as we talked about faith, taking God at His word, and choosing gratitude. We reviewed the Good News and spent some time in prayer together. We both left that conversation with more peace, hope, and joy than either had felt initially. I am forever grateful to that young father, for honoring me with his trial, and our Heavenly Father, for showing me again the power of trust and obedience in confusing times.

These have been trying times for everyone I know. Our community in Burundi has experienced the unexpected death of a well-loved president while while COVID-19 continues to afflict a population that does not have a lot of margin in health care or economics. Our community in the US continues to fight against the pandemic while conflicts over policing, racism, and inequality wreak havoc. My family is “stuck” in California while leaders in many nations decide when airports will reopen and what type of quarantine to require. Locusts and dust storms and earthquakes and sectarian violence touch other parts of our worldwide network of family and friends. It is enough to make my heart despair.

So what to do? Here's what I did this week.

-Sent up a flare prayer: “Jesus, help!”

-Remembered that it is always God’s will for His children to give thanks.

-Tried to chose gratitude.

(And since going to church is still restricted where we are, I got out into nature and into prayer. It is the next best thing for me. I can tell you from experience that it has been balm for my soul and rest for my heart to spend even 15-20 minutes in prayerful thanks.)

-Then I wrote a little poem:

Today I read
of fear and dread
of pestilence and pain.
I hung my head
and anxious fled
To Christ my soul’s sustain.

“What can be done?
We’re overrun —
by anger, pride, and greed.”

“Be still My son
and worry shun,
Your suffering is seed —

“Which Heaven sows,
My Spirit grows;
it burgeons forth in praise.
Its blossoms yield
and grace revealed
When humble thanks are raised.”