COVID Miracle

 By Alyssa 

If there is one thing I think we have all been learning through this pandemic, it is that we actually have zero control over our lives (as much as we like to pretend otherwise). No matter how much Herculean effort we put into planning, everything can be derailed in a moment. And having had that fact pounded into my head over the last 6 months, I celebrate that it is most definitely a COVID miracle that I am writing this post from my home in Kibuye! 

Plan A: Take a five month home assignment in the US to reconnect with supporters and family, speak at conferences, debrief the last couple years in Burundi, update medical board exams, work on my master’s in medical education, etc. Attend CME conference in Greece on my way back to Burundi. Arrive in Burundi April 5, 2020. 

Plan B: Greece conference cancelled. Rebook flights to fly to Burundi directly. Arrive March 28. Send passport to Burundi embassy in D.C. to get visa date changed to reflect March 28 arrival. 

Plan C: Receive call from Burundi embassy that my passport is being returned to me with no new visa. Burundi airport closed March 22. Stuck. Wait. Find temporary job in Birmingham at local health department until return to Burundi is possible. 

Waiting indefinitely was very hard. My bags were packed and I was ready to get back to my life in Burundi. And yet, there were mercies in the waiting, too. Having spent 10 years overseas, I had not had occasion to lean in to my passport country for a long time. And seeing the struggles and suffering firsthand in America - racism, uncontrolled pandemic, polarizing politics - provided the opportunity for me to grow in compassion and to learn so much (learning that will continue for a lifetime). I also connected with my local church more deeply than I have in years, and I remembered what I love about Birmingham and the people there even as I also saw injustice in new ways through my work with the homeless population. 

Plan D: Get special authorization for a visa on arrival in Burundi thanks to the incredible efforts of our Burundian partners. Fly commercially to Ethiopia. Take a humanitarian flight to Burundi on August 5. 

As the flight into Ethiopia began to land, I could see thick clouds out the window. The landing gear went down and I briefly saw hills and trees, but then the plane took a sharp turn upwards into the sky! We climbed and climbed, and then finally the pilot said he couldn’t land due to the clouds, so he was going to a nearby airstrip to wait for the weather to clear. We flew 30 minutes to Dire Dawa, Ethiopia: a dry, dusty place near the border of Somalia. There we sat on the plane for 5 hours waiting to return to Addis Ababa while the humanitarian flight went to Burundi without me. 

From my quarantine hotel in Ethiopia, I investigated various options for getting to Burundi, but with the airport still closed to commercial flights, options were extremely limited. I would need to wait 2 weeks to get on another humanitarian flight. Thankfully, on day 8 of quarantine (and after another negative Covid test), they let me leave the hotel room and stay with a missionary family in the city which was literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air. 

Plan E: Complete 14 days quarantine in Ethiopia. Fly to Burundi on August 19. Complete 14 days quarantine in Burundi. 

This time, things actually went even better than planned! The flight was entirely uneventful, and my luggage arrived with me. The Burundi airport was very well organized with socially-distanced queues, hand washing stations, temperature checks, and forms to complete about symptoms and about quarantine. All the passengers were tested for COVID on arrival and then we stayed in a quarantine hotel for 24 hours until we found out the results. Thankfully everyone on the plane tested negative, so they released us from the hotel to finish quarantine at home. I came up to Kibuye the next day and spent my Burundi quarantine time settling into my house after 9.5 months away and getting re-oriented to team life and work. Tomorrow is the last day of my second quarantine, and I will head back to the hospital on Wednesday! 

So is the COVID miracle Plan E? Sort of. It truly is a miracle that I was somehow able to get back to Kibuye during a pandemic with a closed airport and an expired visa - and that I stayed healthy through it all. And we have several teammates waiting in the wings in North America who would appreciate your prayers for a similar miracle (but without the Plan D derailing)! For me, though, I think the miracle is a deeper settling into my Heavenly Father’s care for me no matter how many “worst-case scenarios” come true. [And of course I realize that none of this was truly “worst-case” - it just felt like it at times!] But I’m an Enneagram 1 (the perfectionist) and Myers-Briggs ISTJ and a firstborn - basically I like plans, lists, routines, schedules. When I travel, I think through what could go wrong and I make contingency plans in my head. I evaluate speed bumps along the way with straightforward reasoning and logic. But these weren’t speed bumps - they were mountains! And no amount of planning or reasoning was going to make them go away! And, as everyone reading this knows, there has been no routine for the last 6 months! Living in Africa has definitely grown my resiliency in the face of uncertainty - but these trials have tested that to the max and forced this thinker to reckon with feelings, too! Yikes! ;) Psalm 77:19 says, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.” That verse was very meaningful to me when our team dealt with the flash flood years ago (see post here), but it is also relevant today. God provided a way back to Kibuye for me through seemingly impossible circumstances. And at times I didn’t see his footprints ahead of me, and I had no idea what he was doing. But he kept reminding me of his presence and his steadfast love along the way, and he kept teaching me and growing me through the waiting. I hope I will remember that miracle the next time I’m tempted to anxiously make contingency plans and doubt his care. Thank you to all of you who have been praying for me through all the waiting and travels! 

Ethiopia Hotel Room Quarantine

Flying to Burundi! 

COVID testing in Burundi

Lake Tanganyika 



Hope For The Hopeless

 By Michael Harling

Do you ever notice how bad things seem to stick in your brain so much easier than good things.  In psychology it's known as negativity bias, a tendency to form stronger memories more quickly after negative events. Of course it's unhealthy, and arguably unbiblical, to only remember the negative.  But it's a struggle that can be a tool in medicine.  Part of our training during residency is knowing how to hone in on problems, to constantly expect disaster, and learning what we can do to prevent it.  This constant vigilance against bad outcomes can make it hard at times to remember good ones.  What easily sticks out is when patients don't do well and I consequently spend hours ruminating over what could have been done differently.  The patient I was operating on in the last newsletter had a complication after surgery and died as I was taking him back to the operating room.  I have thought of him often over the last few weeks and have been learning how to lay these difficult times before the feet of Jesus.  But rather than dwell on that challenge, today I want to share a praise.   Meet Hosiane:

I met this 7 year old girl in clinic earlier this year.  Her mom had brought her because she had vomited almost every single day of her life since birth - often several times a day, after most meals, and especially at night when she lay down to sleep.  The first thing that popped into my head was that I wanted to get a CT scan of her abdomen, but CT scans are incredibly expensive, even more expensive than an operation.  So I gave her a bill for the operation with the plan to do exploratory surgery (that is to say, I didn't know the diagnosis before operating on her, I was truly operating to "explore" her abdomen).  After returning home to find the funds and paying, she was on the schedule for July 10th.  She wound up being the last case of a long busy day, and before going back to the OR I reminded her mom that I wasn't sure what I would find or if I would be able to fix the problem.  In the OR I found something called malrotation.  Basically her intestines had twisted around themselves and were stuck in the wrong places which was chronically blocking food from getting out of her stomach.  After very carefully peeling the intestines apart and removing attachments that weren't supposed to be there I was able to put everything where it needed to be.  (For the medically inclined it was a really interesting presentation of chronic malrotation with the proximal jujunum crossing just below the terminal illium and wrapped twice around the mesenteric stalk, let me know if you want pictures!)  I went out to talk to her mother afterward and share the good news, that I had found the cause of the problem and that I was able to fix it.  She confessed to me that she almost didn't bring her girl back to the hospital, she was convinced her daughter was going to die.  The picture above is her 5 days after the operation getting ready to go home.  She hadn't vomited once since her operation.  Praise God that He protected and sustained her until she could come to the hospital. Praise God that he prompted her mother to bring her back.  Praise Him that it was a fixable problem and that we were able to correct it.  Praise Him that she recovered so well and so quickly.  Praise Him that this mother who had lost hope for her daughter left the hospital with a smile on her face.  I think the name of our hospital captures it so well:  Hopital Espoir de Kibuye - Kibuye Hope Hospital.  Praise Him that we have a chance to relieve suffering, to give hope for today, and to share our hope for eternity.

"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain." Psalm 127:1

Soli Deo Gloria,



Year 8 Is Going to be Great!

by Jess Cropsey

It's that time of year when we all start to see back to school posts on social media, although this year will certainly be unique as school will look different for most teachers, parents, and students. In two weeks, we'll begin our 8th year of school at Kibuye Hope Academy, the small school we have for our team's kids. Ironically, it's going to look a lot more like the first year than ever before with me and Heather as the main teachers and only six students....but hopefully not for long! 

In recent weeks, we've said goodbye to the three teachers that have faithfully served our team families for the last 2+ years. Kayla finished her 2+ year term with us in May and will be starting a new job at a school in Michigan in just a few days. As the main classroom teacher for our 11-year-olds for the last two years, she invested deeply in meeting the needs of this diverse group of learners. She excelled in asking good questions, sharing her love of writing, tracking student progress, and a host of other skills. We already miss her presence on our team and at the school.

Scott & Lindsay Nimmon have been with us for the last 4 years. Scott -- history buff, king of the cheesy dad joke, lover of all things Star Wars & Marvel, and teller of fantastic tales -- took on the formidable job of classroom teacher for the middle schoolers. His infectious smile and humor were able to cheer even the most moody among them, and the kids adored him. Lindsay has served as our principal, bringing our school to a new level in organization and rigor. Learning experience days, artist & musician study, and clubs were also her brain children and have brought richness and depth to our learning community. Their family is now settled at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi where they will continue to minister to third culture kids.