Befriending Faithfulness

 (from Eric)

I don't know how many times I've read Psalm 37, but I was struck anew by one aspect of it yesterday:

"Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!

For they will soon fade like the grass and with like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart."

Psalm 37:1-4

The psalm continues in the same vein for a total of 40 verses, with the same recurring juxtaposition which makes it sound more like Proverbs than any other Psalm that I know.  Part 1: "Don't be anxious about evil; it won't endure." Part 2: "Instead, trust in the Lord and his ways.  That's what endures." Then repeat, in case you missed the last 8 versions.  Some things are worth repeating.

And sure enough, for all of the repetition, I still forget to "fret not" the evil of the world.  I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in that regard.  Our world fairly teems with fretting.

It seems like the kind of exhortation that might sink deeper into our broken hearts if the negative command (don't be anxious!) is coupled with the corresponding positive command to fill the void (instead, do this!).  So what is that positive command?  Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

It's a fun mind game for me to imagine what word I would have thought would follow "befriend" if I had to complete the sentence like some kind of google predictor.  The idea of befriending an abstract idea is interesting enough by itself but what follows?  Befriend...what?  Righteousness?  Obedience?  The community of God?  Instead the word is faithfulness.  Befriend faithfulness.  Get to really deeply know sticking-to-it.  Being faithful at what?  The psalm doesn't explicitly say, but given that is follows "trust in the Lord and do good", I read it as "remain faithful to that which the Lord has asked you to do."

What does all this say to us?  It calls us to remain faithful to what we are called to, even when it is small.  Even when, and perhaps especially when, it does not seem to be producing the desired results in the timeframe that we expected or desired.  It ultimately means being more concerned about faithfulness in the way we walk the individual steps of the journey, resting in a knowledge that the final outcome rests in hands larger than our own.  This would be true of work, education, parenting, friendships.  Follow Jesus faithfully in the next step that is before you.

Other translations say "farm faithfulness" or "cultivate faithfulness."  All of this is very consistent with the Bible's repetitive use of agrarian images.  The farmer plants when it is time to plant; waters when it is time to water; harvests when the time comes.  Faithful to each day's need.  Fret not, o farmer, the harvest, when we are still planting.  Plant faithfully.  The outcome is ultimately something more mysterious than all your planning and machinations.

It's worth recognizing just how counter-cultural this giving up of control is.  Everything in our society screams against it.  To give an example, I never pass up a chance to jibe at my stateside family's attachment to weather prediction.  Multiple apps are consulted.  Plans are made.  Based on information that as far as I can tell, is wrong quite often and everyone knows it.  But such is our desire to control something that surrounds us every day and remains defiantly mysterious.

Where do we find the strength to yield control in favor of befriending faithfulness?  In trusting the promise of the Lord.  I think we would all be more okay with this if the timeline was shorter.  Verse 10: In just a little while, the wicked will be no more.  My first thought is the following humorously cynical meme (overlay text added by me):

The cynical humor is that we drum up some kind of hope or expectation, for which we really have no reason.  Faithfulness and trust requires an object.  Christian faith speaks of a very good reason to be faithful, which is God's goodness, manifest to us all in a thousand different ways, but most clearly in his own sacrifice for us on the cross.  Yes, our idea of timing is dramatically different from his, and the outcomes we are serving may indeed be long after our lifetime or far beyond our scope of understanding.  But we befriend faithfulness to him because he was first faithful to us.


Does Kibuye need to hear this?

Even more than usual, I think.  In addition to the difficulties that we always face, and those which have touched the globe in the past 18 months, this season is a great period of transition.  People coming and going, roles changing.  Work moves forward, but not maybe at the same pace that we had made at various times in the past.  Expectations are always high, and it's currently harder than normal to meet them.

Trust in the Lord and do good.  Dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.  Do the daily work that is all your heavenly Father has ever required of you.  Be faithful in the way, and trust that the end is held by resurrected and now undying hands.


Kibuye North American Connections

by Julie Banks

“A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” Proverbs 27:9

Whenever missionaries are in North America, we have the opportunity to see friends and family that we often haven’t seen in years.  This is such a blessing and we cherish it.  

Sometimes, however, we do get to connect with our fellow Kibuye missionaries while we are Stateside.  If the opportunity does arise, trust me we try to make it happen!  We halt roadtrips, go off the planned itinerary, just to get a hug.  Or in the 2020 Covid world, an “air hug.”  There is a bond that never goes away when you serve with someone in Burundi.  They are “your people,” and they are able to understand you, your children, and your struggles in a matter of minutes.  

Here are just a few of these happy (mostly socially distanced!) reunions that have occurred over the last year in North America:

Banks family with Alyssa in Birmingham, AL right before she returned to Kibuye in 2020

McLaughlins and Banks in Nashville, TN July 2021

Sunds with Dr. Frank Ogden in Washington 2020

The Bonds went a day's journey out of their way to see us in Springfield, MO in 2020

We were able to share a meal with Caleb and Krista Fader in Michigan - March 2021

Socially distanced Chick-fil-A with 2018 Kibuye intern Rachel Baker in Florida - 2020 

Ted John briefly connecting with surgeons Ben Roose and John Donkersloot in Michigan

Ted John and Carlan Wendler taking Covid-friendly strolls in California

The John family in Colorado with future teacher and teammate, Glory. July 2021

A cold Canadian reunion with Kibuye's first teacher, Shea and the Watts family

Cheering each other up while quarantining in our temporary North American homes - May 2020

We cherish all these reunions in our hearts and look forward to the next meeting… some sooner and some later.  But no matter where we are, or how much time has passed, we will always have that Kibuye connection.


Tales of Missionary Kids

Children who grow up in a culture other than their own have experiences that cause them to see the world a bit differently. It has been such a pleasure for me to spend time with the kids here, and learn about their lives and how they think about and perceive things. I have compiled a few stories to give you a taste of what it is like for me to witness how this life has grown and shaped the wonderful young ones that are part of my life here at Kibuye.

Towards the end of the school year, we took a field trip, of sorts, to the waterfalls to look at the ecosystem of insects there. Equipped with their nets, and with the guidance of Mary Wiland, they set out to collect any and everything that moved within the water. I have never seen a group of students so excited to catch and investigate things in nature, especially those that crawl!
While having lunch with one of the students, I asked her what she looks forward to about going to America. And her answer was…pre-measured butter! It was definitely not what I was expecting to hear, but now that she has pointed it out to me, I see just how helpful it is to have the measurements on the wrapping of the stick of butter! It really saves a lot of time.

There are motor bikes here that are called Pikis. They are what many people use as transport, and the team even owns some as well. The other day, I heard a child say, “mom, can I have a piki-back ride?” She was meaning to say piggy-back ride, and it was the cutest thing ever. Only here would a child think of a Piki, before thinking of a piggy.

I went grocery shopping with a family last week. Their daughter walked around with me and helped me choose the best brands of each product. She knew exactly what kinds everyone here buys, and why they are better than the others. In a community that is so close, these are the things kids learn quickly I guess.

I was sitting in my hammock the other day, when a four year old on our team walked by on her way to the playground. She stopped and asked if she could sit with me in the hammock instead of going to the playground. So she climbed in and we sat and chatted about life and the book of Proverbs for about 20 minutes until it was time for her to go home. We talked about the Proverbs 12:18. “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” We discussed what a cutting remark might look like, and the meaning of the verse. What a sweet moment it was with her, for both of us to grow in our understanding of the Bible.

There are many guava trees on the compound, and, as I learned from the kids, it is guava season! So the children here spend at least a part of every day working hard to get the ripe guavas off the tall trees to eat. A couple weeks ago two of the kids were determined to get me a ripe guava to try, because they were sure I would like it (I had tried an unripe one a while ago, and it was not my cup of tea). After spending the better part of an hour trying to get some down, one girl said, “we need a longer stick.” So she took me over to the large bamboo plant in the middle of the compound, and we worked together to pull off a very large, very stubborn stalk of bamboo. Finally, it came off, and they continued with the quest for a ripe guava. After over an hour of trying different trees and different methods, they finally got a good one, checked it to make sure there were no maggots, and gave it to me to enjoy. And it really was delicious! This is such a good picture of the innovation, determination, and thoughtfulness of the kids on the compound. They worked really hard, using many different techniques just to find me a ripe guava because they thought I would like it.

On top of these stories, I love seeing their excitement over chocolate, helicopters, bike rides, hikes, games, and many other things. Not to mention their vast understanding of things like chickens, cars, carpentry, making things from what is available, fruits and vegetables, lizards, the French and Kirundi Languages, and so much about different countries around the world. The things they know and experiences they have amaze me, and I absolutely love learning from them.


Loving the Livestreaming

Here at Kibuye, most of our team sits about 8,000 miles from our families in North America.  Often this distance feels like eight million miles, especially when we are missing major events, such as weddings, funerals, holidays, and family reunions.  BUT this year, due to the Covid pandemic, many more events have been livestreamed on the Internet this year, which allows us to tune in from across the ocean.  Thus the world feels a little bit smaller. 

In the last year, we have enjoyed gathering to stream several weddings. Last weekend, Kibuye's beloved Aunt Kayla tied the knot. None of the team could be there in person, but we stayed up late here to celebrate the moment. Someone remarked that watching weddings online is even better than attending in person, because we don’t have to be quiet and because we can eat cake during the ceremony. 

Another newlywed KHA teacher has been dear to Kibuye hearts since 2014.  Some of her former students here even participated in her wedding by prerecording a video of the scripture reading, and then they watched themselves on the big screen during the wedding several weeks ago. In the picture below, ten of the bride's former students stood in her old house in Kibuye and watched while she walked down the aisle in Canada.

 Due to Covid-related restrictions on gatherings, some funerals in North America have been livestreamed this year as well, which has been a great blessing to us here, allowing us to "be there" through the Internet in real time.  It was a real gift to my heart to be able to grieve with our loved ones during two funerals this past year, one for a long-time friend from our Michigan small group who passed away much too young, and another funeral for a Grandpa figure whom I have loved for as long as I can remember.  

Family gatherings over Zoom seem to be more common across the globe this year, and for those of us who usually miss the in-person gatherings as well, Zoom family gatherings are uniquely inclusive.  Our family caught up with cousins from California to Canada to Chiang Mai via Zoom this year.  Loved it.   

Our increased online connections have not been limited to events.  Daily life and routine meetings have been more accessible for us, too.  Our church in Michigan has been streaming Sunday services due to the pandemic, so many Sundays at 3:30pm, we eagerly show up at the computer for another round of church.  In February an annual meeting was held via Zoom, so I attended for the first time in about 12 years.  Well, ok, it started at 11pm in this time zone, so I attended until my eyes couldn't stay open. 

Our same church in Michigan runs a women’s Bible study that I (Heather) have been missing for 12 years.  So this year when they opened a Zoom participation format, I signed right up.  Every Monday this year, I loved that study with sweet old friends and new friends several thousand miles away.

Thanks to Covid travel restrictions, some of us participated in international meetings from home, wearing scrubs, rather than having to fly to another country.  Jason even conveniently gave oral boards exams to South African surgery residents from the comfort of his office chair. 

The kids have connected via Zoom in new ways as well, as the Kibuye 6th graders attended Biniyam’s birthday party together… logging on from 4 different countries.

So while we all hope that the global pandemic ends soon and that all the in-person gatherings will safely resume, we are grateful for the ways that we have been able to participate in so many events from afar.  And maybe livestreamed events, classes, conferences, and celebrations will be here to stay?


Congratulations - you built a House!

{NOTE: This post is taken from a recent newsletter our family sent out to our supporters - but it applies equally to all of you who support this team in any way. If you'd like to receive Watts Family updates you can sign up HERE}

One of the true joys we get living and working here in rural Burundi is the opportunity to link your generosity with the deep needs of the people around us.

Mama Bella is a woman that Susan first met at the feeding program several years ago when she was bringing her extremely malnourished daughter Bella to get food. When Susan started to get to know the family she learned there was also a son with severe vision problems, as well three other children. The father has some significant cognitive disabilities needs surgery for a growth on his head, and was unable to work.

The family just barely survived. Just barely.

You can see their previous house. It was tiny, dark, leaky. The single room was almost always muddy, as the roof leaked so much.

It was pitch dark as the roof didn't keep out the rain, but only the sun. It had no door. No windows. Not even tall enough for an adult to stand up inside. The family ate and slept in that one small mud room that many rural Burundians up here would not use for their animals.

In a culture where social standing is clear and important, having one more strike against you (no proper house) is not just a physical burden, but also a social, emotional, and mental drain.

It's hard to get ahead when you spend so much time and effort just trying to keep your family dry & safe. Constantly having to reapply mud to the walls, and leaves and grass to the roof was a losing battle they had been fighting for years.

We talked with our Burundian colleagues and determined what this family needed was a helping hand. A leg up. They've been hit hard repeatedly, and need something to help give them hope.

We coordinated some of our construction workers who were between projects at the hospital to design and build them a new house.

Yesterday we drove out to visit the family and see the finished house. Actually, we took Mama and Bella back home as Bella was just released from the hospital for malaria. She's much healthier again and was really excited to get home.

Actually - she was also pretty thrilled to drive in the back of our Land Cruiser. As soon as we started driving away from the hospital, she started giggling to herself, and could barely contain her excitement of being in a car the whole way home.

Here is the family in front of their new house. It is spectacular so see this.

Their new house would not be considered fancy by western standards, but the upgrade is massive. They now have a tin roof, that will keep out the rain for years to come. The walls are solid brick, built on a proper stone foundation. They have wood doors and windows that can be closed and locked. The floor is cement. They have four rooms inside, and a small outdoor cooking spot out the back.

The difference is shocking.

We hired construction workers who live out near the family, or who owned bikes, to do the work. Our incredible construction supervisor oversaw the work and ensured it was done to the same quality as anything we build. Every guy on the team seemed to want to make sure this family (finally) got something nice.

The kitchen to me is extra special as it was done by our construction workers, but they weren't paid for it. There were some construction materials left over, so they guys used some, traded some with neighbors for what they needed, and volunteered their own labor to build it. It's just a small shed with a clay-tile roof, metal walls, and a simple door - but it's a clean, dry place for them to cook over an open fire so they can prepare food without filling their house with smoke.

These are workers who make a couple of dollars a day, who took an hour to get to the worksite, who have families of their own to support. They gave their time and expertise to provide a working kitchen for this family.

So now everything is great?
Not even close.

This family will still struggle to feed themselves, the father still has no work, the son still has vision problems. However, there is safety, stability, and dignity that comes from having a proper house. A roof that does not leak, a door that you can actually lock. Windows that can be closed. A floor that is not mud. They have a leg up now as a family that will make a difference from this day forward. They can spend less time gathering leaves to patch their roof, and more time tending crops. The kids should get sick less now that they won't be lying in the mud at night. They don't have to worry that any item they acquire - starting with a cooking pot - may get stolen.

It's a big deal for this family - and you made it possible.

The Bible tells us over and over that one of the fundamental ways we serve God and worship him is by taking care of the poor, the sick, the orphan, the widows. Those who have been beaten down by the powers of this world. In this case, we (you & us together) had an opportunity to do just that.

Your support and our construction team's talent came together to make this family a home.

And that is incredible.


Shipping Container Logistics

(By Caleb)

Recently we sent another container over to Kibuye full of medical equipment, educational material, books, essential spare parts, construction supplies, tools for repairing medical equipment, and of course creature comforts like extra crunchy JIF peanut butter and enough jelly beans for the next 5 Easters.   

Getting all of the needs and wants for about 15 families living in Burundi to one geographic location was a massive undertaking.  We had ‘Packing Buddies’ all over the mid-west who volunteered to receive 100s of Amazon packages on behalf of each family.   They would unbox and repack these items into specific black bins with yellow tops.  This was a massive effort and we are so thankful for these wonderful Packing Buddies!  Most of the bins arrived in West Michigan on March 20th where the empty container awaited.  

The empty container delivered on March 19th


With help from friends and family in Muskegon and the great gentlemen of JDB Carpentry we started packing the container using a method we’ve used in the past.  The black and yellow bins from Home Depot fit nicely together on the bottom and a false floor is built above to support items of every shape and size.

Lunch break!

My nephews hard at work building inside the container

Bins on the bottom, odd shaped items on top.  Trying to use every cubic inch.

The deliveries continue with lots of helping hands to unload.

All packed.  Only space left for M&Ms in the nooks and crannies.

A giant crane came on April 14th to load the container on a truck.  Unfortunately, we discovered that we were slightly (2,000 lbs.) over our 42,000 lbs. weight limit.  The crane operator was an extremely patient man and allowed us to quickly remove a full bunk of 2x4s before lifting it again to load on a truck chassis.  


Wow!  Big crane!

All loaded up on the truck...but without the 2x4s.  😧

The container then travelled by road to Chicago and by rail to New York City where it was loaded on to the Express Rome, a container ship capable of carrying thousands of containers or 10,114 TEU.  This is considerably smaller than the now famous Ever Given (20,124 TEU) which you may remember became stuck in the Suez Canal for a week back in March.  

The Express Rome


The Express Rome has completed its voyage across the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean Sea and is now scheduled to pass through the Suez Canal on May 18th which might just be the day you read this!!   I pray it fairs better than the Ever Given.  You can track the current position of the Express Rome at this link.

Current Position of the Express Rome as of May 17th, 8pm EST


The container will continue to Mundra, India where it will be offloaded and reloaded on another ship called the Emirates Asante (follow at this link) which will travel down to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.  The container will then travel the 850 miles by road to Kibuye.  It is due to arrive sometime in mid- to late-July about 3-4 months after it left Michigan.  


The world of shipping container logistics is fascinating to me.  And the fact that one ship lodged sideways in the Suez canal can disrupt the global economy….wow!  I hope you enjoyed a little look into how we get some much-needed supplies over to Kibuye Hope Hospital.     



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.