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.