On Building a Morgue

 (from Eric)

One of my more juvenile (though, I suspect, not unusual) memories is being in a group of teenage guys talking about various pranks that we thought would be funny.  In the macabre manner of a 16 year-old kid, one guy talked about placing a speaker behind a coffin at a funeral to say something ridiculous and freak people out.  Sadly for the prankster, even a bunch of immature teenage boys didn't think they would do that to anyone after they had passed away.  Another guy generously spoke up:  "You can do that at my funeral!  What do I care?  I'll be long gone!"

This is a stupid story, right?  But the reason it came to my mind the other day is that the second guy's statement that he didn't care if you pranked his coffin because he would be "long gone" was, at the time, seen as vaguely Christian.  We were a bunch of church kids, and it felt like some kind of expression of faith to say that we were focused on the eternal to such an extent that we weren't bothered by anything material after death.


Starting from before our team's arrival in 2013, we have been involved in massive amounts of construction.  We have built homes and classrooms and dorms and hospital buildings and workshops and a multigrain flour factory and a basketball court.  We have often sat down with Burundian leaders to talk about construction priorities, and perhaps the most consistently voiced priority in those discussions has been...

The morgue.

A morgue that was modern and had refrigeration.  A significant capacity of refrigeration to make sure that it was always available.  A "nice" morgue.  I even took a tour a few years ago of four different hospitals' morgues to generate planning ideas for our own.

The whole concept of prioritizing the morgue has been difficult for me.  I'm not 16 anymore, and I have grown to recognize the necessity of some of these things, but the high prioritization was tough.  Really?  In the face of all the different things that we need to fund and build, why give any more attention to the morgue than we need to?  Isn't this distracting us from focusing on keeping people from needing the morgue in the first place?  But again and again, our Burundian partners draw our attention to its importance.


As I contrast Burundian culture's approach to my own (either in the form of my immature teenage self or my more nuanced 40-year old self), I have been reflecting on the Bible's approach.  

I think of Jacob's dying request to Joseph, which was in fact to make sure that his dead boy was laid to rest next to his family's, not in Egypt but rather back in Canaan.  That meant a long journey, and it meant a lot of work to prepare the body to last that long, in that case by embalming.  When Abraham died, the only piece of the promised land that he actually owned was this same cave that he bought to bury Sarah, and became the family burial chamber for multiple generations.  This was very important to them.  When Jesus died, he was laid in a new tomb, and in their grief, the first thing that the women most faithful to him did as soon as the Sabbath allowed it was the preparing of his body.

Sometimes my theology suffers not so much from wrong premises but from wrong extrapolations.  I start with a true idea (my existence will outlive my earthly body's demise) and extrapolate to what seems a logical conclusion (thus the manner of dealing with a deceased body is relatively unimportant).  And as in this case, it can be easy to ignore the fact that my extrapolation is in conflict with the Bible, which actually talks about the question directly, thus making the extrapolation superfluous.  

What is the Christian picture of a "good death" or a "good funeral"?  According to the Bible, it at least contains respect, importance, and grieving.  Will there be a place for the funeral home in the completed New Creation that God promises?  No.  And the same can be said for medicine, but we will do it now as best as we can.

view from the back of the morgue - expansion on the downhill side

So we're building a better morgue.  With financial assistance from the Isaiah Mission Foundation and others, we hope that it will serve the communities around us well.  We hope that the refrigeration units will allow family members that live far away to come and participate in the funeral with their loved ones.  George has listened well to our local partners who told him about the importance of having an anteroom where the family members can wash the body and place it in the coffin privately prior to the procession to the gravesite or the church.

"Whatever you do, do it to the glory of God."  My favorite definition of the kingdom of God is "all of creation under the gracious rule of God the King".  This, too, may it be done well and according to your will.  And may we also be led to a truer and better understanding in the process.

Front entrance of the new morgue (still under construction)


Team Retreat 2021

By Alyssa

"...in returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength..." Isaiah 30:15

One of the things I love about missionary life is retreats. When daily life entails the hard and never-ending work of teaching students (at the hospital and at Kibuye Hope Academy), patient care, hospital infrastructure development, difficult leadership decisions, and keeping households running with food on the table and clean clothes, etc. in a limited resource setting, it can be easy for us to lose sight of the beauty of our team community and the presence of our Heavenly Father through all the daily ups and downs. Retreats provide the opportunity to take a break from the fray and to refocus on each other and on the Lord and His calling on our lives. But of course it has been difficult to plan time away during the pandemic. We've had two Serge company-wide conferences cancelled, and, because we never have all teammates here (someone is always on home assignment), it's hard to make a retreat plan knowing that someone will be missing out. In fact, only about half the people in the below picture will be here in the fall of this year, but hopefully we will have 4 additional team families here and one new teacher who are now in the US. But, rather than continue to wait for an ideal moment that would never come, we decided to seize the opportunity to spend a few days away with the folks who are here at the moment even as we missed those who are gone. 

There were lots of obstacles to getting everyone from Kibuye to retreat including health concerns, complicated vehicle arranging for 32 people, and last minute change to a different weekend due to plans at the hospital. It really is miraculous that everyone currently at Kibuye was able to come! 

Lake Tanganyika has been rising like crazy over the last year - the trees and the near end of the dock used to be on land! Made for lots of fun waves to play in, though, if you were careful not to step on the underwater tree stumps! Maybe not as ideal for teaching swimming lessons to the littlest kids, but they still had fun, too, and now have the goal to swim to the (nearly underwater) dock when they get bigger. 

George led two sessions for the adults on contentment - a theme we all were inspired and challenged by! With lots of teenager helpers to watch the kids, the adults had some personal time each afternoon to reflect and pray which is always a valuable time of retreat.  

We also shared communion together, worshipped, and took turns telling our stories - always interesting to hear how God has worked in people's lives over the years. The older kids and teens seemed particularly interested in some of the testimonies. 

Smiling faces before car sickness and road weariness hits! Always a challenge to drive on the winding roads - and the roads this trip were particularly muddy and difficult - but thankful for God's protection through the travels. 

Our Serge Kibuye team commitment states, "We believe that our team community is given to us by God for the sake of the mutual strengthening and encouraging of its members, but also to be a unique outward testimony of the body of Christ to the greater community of Kibuye, Burundi in which we serve."

Living this out is not always easy -- misunderstandings, disagreements, and thoughtlessness impact us regularly and lead to hard conversations. But time away together reminds us of how much we love this community, of how precious these friendships are, and of how God has been faithful to us for so many years. There are big transitions ahead, but we hope and pray that the perfect love of our Heavenly Father will continue to carry us through no matter what. Please pray for that with us -- that we would persevere together in the love of our Father remembering His care for us rather than despairing over the big and small problems of each day. 


Beauty in the Small Things

By: Erica Ause

To me Burundi feels like this little hidden beauty that the majority of the world will never see, and maybe never even know of. Everyone knows that the Eiffel Tower at night is a sight to absorb, or that the Grand Canyon is incredible in its vastness. But the world is not aware of the little road through Kibuye that takes my breath away daily. So, early on I decided to take pictures of all the beauty I see so I can remind myself of the things I assume will (but hope will not) become just what I see every day. Below is a picture of some, not all trust me, of the amazing beauty around me. I hope that these pictures give you a taste of what I wish the whole world could experience and appreciate. Yes, some of them are bugs, but I think some insects are devine in their own right.
Foggy Mornings can be common here, and I really love them. There is something so calm and quiet about waking up to fog coming through all the trees that surround us.
This is a picture from the walk I take daily to the school. My commute is about 45 seconds, but on the days I use my time to look around me, I get to see beautiful sights like this.
I sometimes sit outside my front door to do school work or read and right in front of me is this huge, full, green tree. Majestic!
And on clear nights I can see the sunset right outside my front door as well. This was one of the more spectacular ones.
This is the place on our running route that always makes me want to stop and soak it in. It is in a small valley where the hills and trees give way to a space of farm land with all different kinds of crops. The variations of plants and the color of the soil make for an incredible view.
This is the same spot as the photo taken above, but looking the other way. Again, an expanse of farm land that is so detailed and vibrant.
I thought I had found the most beautiful view in the pictures above, but one day was lead to another valley that is covered in growing rice. It has the most vibrant green color I have ever seen, with a little stream running through it. It is so amazing to just stand in the middle of its beauty.
There is a city not too far from Kibuye where we go to buy dry goods and fabric for making clothes. This is a photo taken of the stalls that sell fabric and make clothes. Each of the hanging cloths are for sale, the only challenge is choosing one. This is three out of maybe 20 stalls that are on this one street.
I saw this on a hike. Not sure what is going on here, but it blew my mind!
We went to this waterfall a couple weeks ago. It was huge, with more water than normal. The different textures of the rocks and how the water moved around it astounded me. Such a sight to see!
A few weekends ago the team went to Lake Tanganyika for a retreat together. There is something about water that just captivates people, this lake included. It was beautiful looking out at the palm trees and the waves.
And yes now we have the bugs. This guys is huge! His body is probably the diameter of a quarter or so, and his legs come out from there. Huge. He lived for a long time right outside my front door, and we got along pretty well. Then, someone kindly thought to clean up his web, although it makes me more nervous not knowing where he is..
Another beautifully colored insect sitting outside my door. I have never seen, or maybe never noticed, the blue and yellow colors on their legs before.
I have never seen a moth that looks like this. So pure with the perfect white, bright red, and strip of black on the antenna. Truly ingenious.
And finally, what a bright green spider. He also was hanging outside my front door and really amazed me. His legs are so long and the color so unique.

Praise God for His creativity in His creation. He could have made everything black and white, but he chose to give us views and creatures that awe us and make us admire and wonder about Him.


Help Save our French Language School!

by Greg Sund

Communication is the key that unlocks relationships. We all know this, however, when you become a missionary living and working abroad, you become more acutely aware of this truth and are reminded of it every time you walk out of your front door. Without the ability to speak French, our team in Burundi would be completely ineffective in what God called us here to do -  to teach, to disciple, and to build relationships with those God has brought us here to love and to serve.

A significant part of our team’s journey was a year spent at the Centre Chrétien d’Enseignement du Français (CCEF - aka Association Française d'Enseignement Biblique), a French language school in Albertville, France. For over 50 years, this small school has been laboring tirelessly, year in and year out, to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12), training those whom God has called to bear witness to the Gospel in Francophone countries. The impact that this school has had in France and across Francophone Africa cannot be overstated.  Founded in 1967, it has equipped nearly 3,000 missionaries working in 36 countries around the world. During our family’s year in Albertville (2016-2017) we were taught alongside missionary families heading to Senegal, Gabon, Chad, Togo, DRC, Benin, France and Burundi. These are families that, because of their ability to communicate in French, are now caring for the sick and the hungry, teaching children to read and write, training doctors and nurses and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard it. 

Over the course of my life, I have had a small number of teachers who have made what I would consider a significant impact on the direction of my life and on the quality of my character. My two language teachers at CCEF are among that list. Years later, I remain deeply grateful for the work they are doing, and for all the ways they served and equipped me to serve in Burundi.

Sadly, because of a series of lockdowns in France and the inability of most of those who were on track to study at this school to obtain visas to travel to France, CCEF has been hit hard and is on the brink of financial collapse. We are asking all of you who are able to consider making a financial contribution to keep the doors of this amazing school open, so that this vital work can continue, so that missionaries can continue to be trained in the French language for many years to come, so that the Good News of Christ can continue to be proclaimed, in word and in deed. Would you consider making a donation to this cause? If so, you can make a tax-deductible donation at this linkAlso, please take a minute to watch this video (look for Michelle on the piano at 5:17!), to meet the teachers who have had such a significant impact in our lives and in the lives of those we minister to. 


(video)Team spotlight: Eunice John - A glimpse into her life at Kibuye

by Julie

It might seem somewhat obvious what the physicians on the team do at Kibuye.  Although in reality their life as a physician is very different than a "normal" physician in the US.  But still, we have found that explaining the medical work comes a bit more naturally.  The question that is more complicated to answer is, "So what do you do at Kibuye?"  A question directed to the wives and moms who are not physicians.  Somehow it doesn't quite cover it to say that we teach classes at our team's elementary school, or that we are also a "stay at home moms," or that we prepare meals, do laundry, and plan activities for our kids. It's so much more than that!

Recently our teammate, Eunice John, was asked by Samaritan's Purse to put together a video in which she shares a little bit of their story in medical missions and what her life at Kibuye looks like.  Ted and Eunice went through the World Medical Mission's Post-Residency Program at Kibuye for 2 years.  Long-time blog readers will remember that this is the same program that sent the McLaughlins, Cropseys, Faders, and Alyssa Pfister to Tenwek Hospital in 2009-2011.  

We are so thankful that the Post-Residency Program sent us the Johns, and that they decided to join the Kibuye team long term!  They are currently in California raising support and making preparations to return to Burundi later this year.  I know I am inspired by the woman that Eunice is.  She is a wonderful mom and a gifted teacher.  But more than that, her heart for the Lord shines through in all that she does.  I was encouraged by her video when she posed the question, "Are my kids missing out?"  I know I often ask myself that very question, as life in Burundi means no parks, museums, sports teams, take-out, English-speaking church, extended-family time, and other things.  It's easy to question our decision to live in Africa.  But Eunice said that the two things that don't change, no matter where you live, is the Mom and the child.  Our calling as a mom is still the same no matter where we live. (We just have fewer resources at our fingertips in Kibuye!)  Thank you, Eunice, for your inspiration and for sharing your heart with others.

Enjoy this video as it gives you a glimpse into missionary life for Eunice!




 By Alyssa 

A lot of this past year has felt like the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter morning to me. Christ has come, and his sacrifice on the cross opened the way for us to individually and collectively approach our Heavenly Father. The curtain of the temple that separated us from the Most Holy Place - the Holy of Holies - was torn in two immediately at Jesus’ death so we could access God Himself despite our sin and uncleanness. This is good news! 

And yet we are still waiting. Waiting for everything sad to come untrue. Waiting for the pandemic to end. Waiting for tiny premature babies and malnourished children and laboring mothers to get the care they need. Waiting for broken systems to be made new. Waiting for a world without suspicions and accusations and mistrust. Waiting for racial justice. Waiting for shalom - for physical, emotional, spiritual, relational health and peace. Waiting for resurrection. 

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Ps 27:13-14

The veil of darkness

transformed to the brightest light.

The most dreadful end

became the most beautiful


The depth of despair

fades to reveal HOPE everlasting.

The curse of death,

defeated by eternal life.

Author unknown

Friends shared the above poem with me this week, and it has been an encouragement to me. At times on this earth - including in rural Burundi - we see darkness, despair, and the curse of death, but that is not the end of the story. Light has broken in and brought everlasting HOPE. Christ has indeed conquered death. And this is just the beautiful beginning of the story that will be told for all eternity. We see dimly now, but one day it will all be clear. We only need to wait for the Lord. 

So where have I seen light breaking through recently? (All pics from the last 2 months)

Team Good Friday service

Beautiful Burundi - Karera Falls 

Waterfall adventurers 

Solidarity with women in Burundi with special fabric for International Women's Day

Rainbow over Kibuye Hope Hospital

New pediatric building - official opening coming April 16! 

Play area for hospitalized kids - first of its kind in Burundi!

Kids getting fed in the outpatient malnutrition program thanks to generous donors

Serge Area Directors Scott and Jennifer Myhre sacrificially undergoing multiple Covid tests and a 7 day hotel quarantine in order to come encourage our team at a crucial time 

Little ones surviving despite the odds 

And bringing joy even when they don't feel good

Saturday morning bike ride 

Affirming meetings with Burundian leaders of Hope Africa University, Kibuye Hope Hospital, and the Free Methodist Church 

Graduation of more doctors for Burundi

Teaching medical students 

A weekend away with friends including a hippo sighting (to my right)

More Beautiful Burundi landscapes

Safe travels even on muddy roads during rainy season

Sweet patient going home after months in the hospital due to a serious wound and malnutrition thanks to help from the Needy Patient Fund 

Sharing the burden of pediatric care and student teaching with Dr Jenn - and celebrating discharges together, too, like these twins

And this baby with congenital heart disease and prematurity going home after 3 months in the hospital

An ice cream treat during an exhausting day trip to Bujumbura for meetings

Hanging out with these awesome middle schoolers every Thursday afternoon

Rift Valley Academy team kids home for term break just in time for Easter. Hooray for negative Covid tests and lots of travel mercies! 

And finally, remembering that this is where I want to be! One year ago I was participating in Easter activities (Passover Seder service, Good Friday, Easter morning, Serge prayer time) alone in front of a computer screen at the beginning of the pandemic with no idea when I would ever get back to my Burundi home, team, patients, students. It took months of waiting, but God brought me back here in His timing and sovereignty. And thus I can trust Him to bring redemption to the things still broken around me today. 

And if you got this far in this long blog post, here is some entertainment for you - the blooper reel of the waterfall adventure as several teammates try to "help" me on the natural slip n slide. No worries - no one was injured in the making of this video! 😄 And laughter and fun with teammates are definitely glimpses of light in the darkness, too!