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.