24.2.21

A reflection on 2020: The Kingdom of God, Suffering, and He is making all things NEW!

 

Me thinking to myself: “Jenn, what are three big topics you’ve thought about in 2020?” 

Your kingdom come
Suffering
He is making all things new

What do these sentences have in common?  Well, the first and last go somewhat hand-in-hand, but are dissimilar enough they warrant separation. 
I realized that not only have I thought a lot about these ideas/topics, they also have helped me answer my own question: “why should we practice and teach medicine in Burundi?”

In March 2019, a dear older friend sent me a link to listen to a message/lecture given by Eric Mclaughlin about "Medicine and the Kingdom of God."  (**Let's note that I didn't know Eric at this point and had NO idea that he would end up being our team leader after deciding to move to Burundi!!)  I listened and appreciated the insight Eric brought to the topic of medical missions. 

During his talk, he references Mark 1:14 "...Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."  What is God's kingdom? Arguably it is "all of life under the gracious rule of God."   If you are in the kingdom, you are in the domain of the King. 
Little did I know at the time, but these words would be so helpful as I experienced (not personally, but rather witnessed) so much suffering this past year.  What a huge swing in worldview I’ve had after moving from one of the wealthiest countries in the world (in which we were extremely comfortable) to one of the poorest.  Living in a country where people who are wondering where their food will come from, living off of less than a dollar a day (for those who actually have employment), and most living without running water or electricity can lead one to feel and think many different things. Initially, it was overwhelming, and to be honest, many days I still am overwhelmed by the sadness and hardships by which I am surrounded. This is baseline, let alone what people go through when they or their children are ill and in need of hospitalization.  A child is born in Atlanta, GA with some sort of cyanotic (causing baby to be blue and hypoxic) congenital heart disease deadly in the first few months of life if not corrected; child receives surgery and lives an (almost) completely normal life – minus checkups, possible mild sequelae, etc.)  A child is born in Kibuye with same defect – there is no one here to fix this. And there is no way the family could ever afford to travel to the capital, let alone Kenya where there is possibly someone who could fix this.  I know this baby will die. Sometimes it’s worse knowing what could be if this child were born somewhere else.  Suffering. Injustice.  Knowing that children here suffer and die from congenital diseases/malformations that are easily treated and corrected in developed countries is a daily mental battle which all but forces me to long for the kingdom which is yet to come.  I have always believed that my hope is in the Lord, but in this past year that truth has become solidified in my daily thoughts and actions.  My hope rests on his faithfulness, His promises, His never-ending love, and the promise that one day Jesus will return and He will make all things new. 

Where am I going with this?  Honestly, I'm still working through the ability to articulate exactly what I've been processing since our arrival last January.   I'll take a few points straight from Eric's talk because he has stated them in a straightforward way, and also let's not reinvent the wheel...

  • Medicine is a tangible way to testify that God cares about the sick and suffering.  
  • By allowing God to use me and my skills to help treat those who are ill shows a little bit what life is like under God's rule.  
  • Disease and sickness are being taken away and when Jesus comes back again, will be banished for good.  

So while we are not personally capable of bringing God's kingdom to earth, I am able to pray – 
"God, your kingdom come.  May I surrender to your leadership and not lose sight of whose kingdom I am working for.  Forgive me for the times where I am working for my interests, my ‘kingdom’.  Help me to see the injustice and pain that is happening around me as part of the ‘not-yet’ kingdom as I long for your kingdom to fully come at which point all pain and suffering and death will be wiped away. I ask that the Holy Spirit would work through me to bring your kingdom to earth until that day when Jesus returns and all is made new.”

18.2.21

COTW: It takes a village (or the world) to treat derm.

 (by Eric)

One of the groups of friends that we've made in Burundi over the years is called The Cries of a Child.  This group was founded by an American family a few hours from us, and they were among our first friends upon arriving in Burundi.  Among the different roles they play is running a clinic.  Among the professionals at that clinic is a French nurse named Lydie.  From time to time, Lydie finds some kind of extraordinary problem and sends pictures and questions to us at Kibuye.

One such instance was last October, when she send me the following picture:



This young guy is 22 years old and has been suffering from the skin disease you can see since he was 12.  He'd tried everything he could find at different clinics but no luck, so he came to their clinic.  His eyes were also deeply affected by the same, and so Lydie was talking to John as well.

Given this severe and puzzling disease, as well as the long duration and failure in the face of every medicine we normally use, I decided to phone a friend.  Technically, I used Facebook Messenger, but I got in contact with an old med school friend who is a super smart dermatologist, Diana.  She has been gracious enough to field questions for me from time to time, and dermatology is thankfully the epitome of "a picture is worth a thousand words", or as a dermatology told me once: "My patients wear their pathology on the outside."

So I sent Diana this picture with a small summary and a "please help" message.  Her reply was "my first thought is chromoblastomycosis."  To which I thought "yeah, me too."  I would have if I knew an insane amount of dermatology.  I have since learned that this chronic and deep fungal infection needs really long term treatment, which could explain why he hadn't gotten any better.  Diana sent me a link, and I could also see the resemblance between the pictures and our patient.  

So, Lydie started him on treatment, and today she sent me a picture four months later:  
For some people, this may not look that great, and yes, he does have a long way to go.  But he hasn't looked this good in 10 years, and more importantly, for someone responding well to chromoblastomycosis treatment, this is exactly what you'd expect.  In other words, we're on the right track, and we have lots of reasons to keep hoping.

I really loved the dynamic of this case.  Small things lining up perfectly.  Other than perhaps Diana's extreme derm knowledge, there was nothing extraordinary.  It's friends from all over the world talking to each other, including some that I've known for almost 20 years.  It's realizing that a simple treatment taken (a lot) longer was the crux of what was lacking.  It's using the internet for good instead of evil.  It's a bunch of pretty small things that are perfectly arranged to make a huge difference in someone's life. 

"Who dares despise the day of small things?"  Zechariah 4:10

9.2.21

Unlikely Missionaries?

by Mary 

I still remember that Sunday at Knox Church several years ago when the "McCropders" (McLaughlin, Cropsey, and Fader families) announced their intention to settle in Burundi and develop the tiny hospital in Kibuye into a training facility for local doctors and nurses. The photos of Kibuye, the statistics on poverty, and the dearth of modern resources and conveniences left me wondering why anyone would sacrifice the Land of Opportunity to minister in a place of such great need. 


View of Kibuye Hope Hospital from "Kibuye Rock", April 2019

My husband Steve and I were enjoying full lives in the Ann Arbor area, complete with 3 (now adult) children, a comfortable home, meaningful work, and a vibrant faith community. Steve grew up in inner city Detroit and was living out his passion and calling for local missions work, with no sense of calling at that time for serving internationally. By natural temperament, Steve was also a reluctant traveler. 

So what does God do with 2 people who are comfortably settled into their local routines yet seeking to maintain willing hearts in the spirit of Isaiah 6:8? He calls them to Burundi, of course!
Steve and Mary in downtown Kibuye, May 2019

Our first unlikely trip came in the spring of 2019 when the Cropseys invited Pastor Tom and Ruth Ann plus one additional couple to bring the "Heart and Soul of a Real Marriage" class to the Serge Kibuye team, to encourage them in their marriage and team relationships. Although Steve and I were the newbies to the teaching team, the other 3 couples who were each invited had scheduling conflicts, so that lot fell to us. Just a year before, Steve and I had taken our first international trip together -- to Israel to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. God's timing is perfect, as that trip greased the wheel of international travel (especially for the reluctant traveler in our marriage). And, although we were new to the Heart and Soul teaching team, both of us had decades of teaching and counseling experience from our various work and ministries back home that could be value-added. The resultant time with the team was such a blessing, and we developed a deep love for them and their work here, along with the country and its people. The longing to return was firmly planted.
"Heart and Soul" team with Serge Kibuye team, 2019

The second, perhaps less unlikely trip, came 9 months later to deliver the remainder of the Heart and Soul class. Having made valuable connections with the team members on our first trip, it was a natural fit for us to return with Tom and Ruth Ann to complete the curriculum. We enjoyed a rich time of teaching, serving, praying and worshipping together, and growing deeper in relationship with the team members and their children. A mixture of joy and sadness accompanied our return home, as we praised God for the opportunities to serve yet wondered if it would be our last team visit.
Returning to chilly Ann Arbor after our second trip, February 2020

But God wasn't finished with us yet. Shortly after our return home, Covid-19 hit hard, and most of our work and livelihood went online. Having more time at home, we completed the years-long task of downsizing our possessions. We put our house on the market and it sold with the first showing, well before we were able to secure another living situation. And the Kibuye team still needed teachers for their children for the imminent school year. It was Steve - the homebody - who messaged me with the link to their plea for teachers! 

As you can imagine, everything moved quickly from there. The team's gracious enthusiasm to welcome us back, combined with our remaining belongings being in storage, our other work now "portable", and the prayer and financial support of so many back home, all converged to bring us back yet a third time to serve in a setting and with people who have captured our hearts. 

This time, our primary duties are to the children. We serve daily at Kibuye Hope Academy where our 50-something year-old selves are daily challenged to keep up with the vibrant and energetic 2nd-6th graders! Classes in Bible, Language Arts, Science, Art, and Physical Education are part of our weekly regimen, and it has been exhausting and wonderful.
"Star Wars Day" during Spirit Week at Kibuye Hope Academy, 2021 

We also seek to be in tune with the needs of families and adults and minister where God leads. In addition, Steve has begun to work with the hospital chaplains, to better equip them for their ministry work at Kibuye Hope Hospital. 

Who would have known that our combined life experiences would bring us to such a place as this...a place where poverty remains the norm, modern conveniences are elusive, and our families are oceans away? God knew, of course. And in the orchestrating, He has blessed us with a new sense of calling, meaningful work each day, rich relationships, and multiple opportunities to respond to His calling and go where He sends. To God be the glory! 

  "Also, I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'
Then I said, 'Here am I! send me.'"
Isaiah 6:8

3.2.21

How the body suffers.


The other day I started getting lower back pain after a fairly hard run through the hills (OK - hard for me...not the barefoot 6-year-old's running alongside me).  My lower back hurts because I've pulled a muscle in my hip. It seems like it got out of sorts after my left knee started hurting.  My left knee hurts because my left quad is tight. My leg is tight because there is scar tissue from our attack last year. 




As I was limping through the last few kilometers (of a total of maybe 8....let's not be too impressed) I started reflecting on the words of Paul, when he echoes Jesus teaching about the body of Christ


Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. I Cor 12:12


I think my whole life I have interpreted that passage as a reminder to me that all are important. That janitors are no less important than research virologist. That a young girl who stutters is no less capable of spreading God's message than a pastor full of charisma with a huge following (OK - I personally am more likely to have to  be reminded that a lot of the mega-church pastors ARE capable of spreading a message of unselfish love)


And that message is there, as Paul continues: 

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so, the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,  while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other."


It shows us that we each have a role to play, that all parts are required, that some we think are less important are in fact really important. 

If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts


We all have a job to do, we all do different things, and love ('the greater gift') is the thing that we should really all aim for (as Paul leads up to the next chapter, 1 Cor 13 - which has to be the most widely cited chapter on love in the whole Bible)

But as I was running, I realized something else. 

In the verses above- I omitted one small phrase that lands in the middle of this section, the first half of verse 26:

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it

It's not just that we should avoid thinking more highly of one part. I think my individualistic western mind has always gone to that part and ignored the communally oriented parts THAT ARE RIGHT THERE.


If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.


I no longer think "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it"  is prescriptive, telling us what to do (if someone suffers, you ought to feel bad, or you should try to feel empathy).

 I now see it as descriptive, telling us what does happen (if someone else suffers you WILL suffer, you DO suffer).


If all followers of Jesus are as connected as interrelated parts of a single body (and Paul just said we are...so if you have issues, I guess take them up with him) then it's not possible that one part is hurting and it doesn't eventually affect the rest.

Maybe there is a clever insight here that in the same way my back doesn't hurt until I run,  the body of Christ may not feel the pain of a certain part that suffers unless it's active and doing something. 


I guess the reality is if one part is suffering, it IS making the rest suffer. The question is are we attuned to that. Are we paying attention? 

Most days, after I run I can feel stiffness in my left hip/back/leg/knee if I'm sitting and pay attention. Or I can ignore it and push through. 

Either I can realize that one part is suffering, and if I pay attention, and give it what it requires (a bit more stretching, etc) then it can return (hopefully) to its normal functioning state, and the body overall will not suffer in the same way. (but...let's be honest...I'm 46.  Running on these uneven dirt paths up and down rolling hills is always going to cause some discomfort)


Maybe this means we need to sometimes just sit, be quiet, be still, and listen. Pay attention to the other parts of the body. Pay attention to those parts that may be suffering that we 'can' ignore if we want. Pay attention to our brothers and sisters who have suffered, been hurt, and continue to be neglected (by us).


If the body is to work well, it needs every part. Not just because it's a nice sentiment about community and inclusivity, but because the reality is we NEED each part to work. If some parts suffer - we need to pay attention.