Saturday, August 13, 2016

Connecting Two Worlds

There is much I will miss about our lives in the U.S., but one of things I am going to miss deeply is the people I work with at Skagit Valley Hospital.  The nurses, techs, surgeons, everyone there has been so supportive of what we are doing in Burundi.  It is truly an incredible group of people, and I have never felt so at home going to work each morning, as I have for the past 8 years.

It is such a joy to connect people to our work in Burundi, and the people I work with have supported us in so many ways, from financial support, to sending us care packages while we were in Kibuye last year, to simply reading our blog posts and staying engaged.  And so, you can imagine my excitement when two of the general surgeons I work with agreed to travel to Kibuye and cover for Jason for 2 weeks each, consecutively.  When people ask about specific needs in Kibuye, there is so much it is hard to know where to begin, but one thing we always need is surgeons to go and cover for or work alongside Jason, who is massively overworked.  These two surgeons sacrificed a great deal to go and work in a hard place (made harder by the fact that much of the long term team was out of the country at our mission agency's retreat, which happens once every 3 years).  They got to experience firsthand the need and the challenges of healthcare in Burundi, and they both returned deeply affected by their experience.  I am truly grateful to both of them as well as to all of my friends at Skagit Valley Hospital who have encouraged me in so many ways.  I will miss you all.

I hope in the years to come I can continue to connect friends back home to this work, and I hope more and more people will go and serve.  The work is hard, but it is good.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Journey Begins

Some of you who live in Bellingham, might be wondering where the heck we have disappeared to.  Our moving to Burundi to serve as missionaries, involves several preliminary steps.  And the first step involves a month long training in Colorado Springs at Mission Training International.  So, last Saturday, we packed up the minivan, loaded up the kids, put a “for sale” sign outside our house and started driving, and driving, and driving.  We drove through Bozeman, MT stopping to visit some old friends, then spent half a day driving through Yellowstone Park, where Ella’s hat was blown by the wind right into a boiling hot springs (despite the children’s pleadings, I decided not to wade in to fetch it).  Then we drove through the rest of Wyoming, then through Nebraska and ended up (for now) in Lincoln, where we stopped to visit Steph’s parents and her sister’s family.  Thursday night Steph and I then flew to San Francisco, where we had an appointment at the French consulate to apply for our visas for language school, then flew back to Lincoln Saturday morning.  We will stay here through the weekend, then Monday morning, we will load up the car again and drive 8 hours to Colorado Springs.  

So far, the kids have done a great job, and we all feel like we have gotten to see a lot of this beautiful country … maybe too much.  And for those of you who think that Lincoln has nothing going on, the night before we arrived, Justin Bieber performed at their local arena.  That’s right people ….. Justin Bieber.  

We have been told that being a missionary means your lives will be filled with transitions.  In fact that is one of the topics I believe will be addressed at this training in Colorado, dealing with these frequent transitions (both for us and our kids).  There will be many hellos and there will be many good-byes.  This will undoubtedly bring much joy but also much sadness.  But in the end, we believe it will be worth the price.  But more than that, we believe we have been called into this by a good God who cares about us, and who cares deeply about the people we have been called to serve, the people of Burundi.  

A snapshot of our lives over the past week

Leavenworth, WA

The famous carousel in Missoula, MT


 The French consulate appointment really took it out of me

The joy of cousins!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Perspective Of A Third Culture Kid

By Ella

Q. What is a third culture kid?

A.  A third culture kid is a kid who is growing up in a different culture.
That’s what we are going to be soon, third culture kids. 

Some of the questions we get asked the most about Burundi are things like “ What was school like?” or “ What was your favorite part” and most of all, the basic question of “ Did you like it?”. The answer is YES!!!!!!! We all loved it there! What kind of kid wouldn’t love to run around outside all day with friends? Certainly not us! Burundi gave us a whole new perspective on life anywhere. This is an essay I wrote for a school assignment.

                                         Less is More 

   I never knew, but sometimes, less is more. When people are less fortunate, you learn to appreciate the things that you do have. I learned about that first hand.
   My family was working at a mission hospital in Burundi, East Africa, for nine months last year. We could only bring limited supplies, and most of our bins were full of resources for the hospital. We had to adjust to living with less.
   At first it was hard living without the things we were used to, but as time went on, we learned to appreciate the little things that we did have.
   Whenever one of our friends back in the U.S. would send us a package, we would be so exited about chocolate chips or colored pencils, even though normally we would just have those things instantly.
   I started to realize, the less we had, the more appreciative we were.
   In March 2016, Burundi was named the most unhappy country in the world, with Denmark in first. My family and I came up with the solution that they must have interviewed people in the capital, Bujumbura. Out in the country, where we were, people were very happy. The people in the capital know what they’re missing, but with no internet, no connection to the outside world, the villagers are grateful for the little that they do have. 
   This is an important lesson to learn. A lot of times, when people have many things, they don’t appreciate the small things until that’s all that’s left. Appreciate all your things, because sometimes, less is more.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Global Challenge

For the past two years through this blog we have shared many stories.  We have shared stories of individuals in Burundi who have benefited from the medical and surgical care delivered at Kibuye Hope Hospital. These are the personal stories of the patients who have made it to the hospital. What we have, however, neglected to talk about is a global problem we are currently facing. Today there are 5 billion people who do not have access to safe and affordable anesthesia and surgical care when needed, according to a recent Lancet Commission on Global Surgery.  If that number sounds like a lot, that is because it is a lot.  In fact the total population of the world is 7.125 billion.  That means the MAJORITY of the world does not have access to safe and affordable anesthesia and surgical care.  

This same commission estimated that 16.9 million people die every year for lack of access to safe and affordable anesthesia. This is more than twice the population of Washington state ... dying, every year.  This figure is four times higher than the number of people dying annually from malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis COMBINED!  

According to the World Federation of Societies of Anesthesiologists "a lack of training in anesthesia, along with a lack of vital anesthesia equipment in low and middle income countries, is a huge part of what is making this number so shockingly high.  In many countries anesthesia and surgery are simply not safe".

It is hard for people to wrap their minds around this. It is hard to make people care about numbers so large they are almost unfathomable.  I'm sure it would be more vivid if we were all looking at the problem from inside the circle with the other 5 billion people who simply have no way of getting a needed surgery. 

This is the crux of what we are doing. We can go to Burundi and train anesthetists and surgeons and treat patients with safe and affordable care.  What can you do?  You can support those who go and those who are laboring to change these statistics.  

We need a team of monthly supporters fueling the work we are doing in Burundi. If you would like to join our support team there is still plenty of room. We are currently at 41% of our monthly support goal with the aim to reach 100% by June so that we can deploy at the end of the summer. Will you partner with us to be a part of the solution to this global challenge?

Saturday, February 13, 2016


This morning I was reflecting on our time last year in Burundi, and remembered a particular moment that I am not sure I ever shared in a blog post.  It was an afternoon during Reanimation (critical care) rounds, and I was seeing patients with my 6 medical students.  There was a patient, a middle aged man, who was very sick with tuberculosis.  We were seeing him together in the "isolation" ward.  I put "isolation" in quotation marks because if you have ever been in an isolation ward in an American hospital, this is nothing like that, but is rather a building separate from the rest of the hospital, with open windows to facilitate good ventilation.

The man we were seeing was sitting up in his bed gasping for air.  There was no oxygen in the hospital that week to give to him.  After discussion with the internal medicine team, it was thought that he might have a pericardial effusion (a collection of fluid compressing his heart) as a result of his tuberculosis.  It seemed to me that if we could do an echocardiogram with our ultrasound machine, we could decide if this was part of his problem and potentially remove some of this fluid.  This MIGHT help his breathing.  However, in order to do this test, I would need him to lie down.  He said if he was to lie down, he could not breath at all.  I told the students that if we could at least get him into a reclining position (maybe 45 degrees) I could do the exam.  However, the beds in Kibuye are not adjustable.  You are either sitting up or you are lying down.  I could not think of a solution to this problem, and so I looked at my group of students.  One of them had come up with a solution.

He took off his white coat.  He climbed into bed and seated himself behind the patient, then put his arms around this man's waist and gently leaned him back against his chest, so that I could do the echocardiogram.  It was hard for me to not let myself cry as I watched him do this.  This patient was sweating, he had likely not had a shower for weeks, he was HIGHLY infectious with tuberculosis.  And this student made himself into a human pillow, so that we could do the exam we thought needed to be done.

As I think about this afternoon, two thoughts keep churning in my head.

What this student did was so beautiful to me, because I saw in it a picture of the Gospel.  I saw in what he did a reflection of the work of Jesus Christ, who took off His kingly robe, and embraced those who would believe in Him.  He ate with sinners, he washed the filth covered feet of His disciples, He invited dirty little kids to come and sit on His lap.  He humbled Himself out of love and compassion for His people.

The second thought is this.  We are moving to Burundi to teach, train and disciple African medical students.  And as much as I like to think that one of things I am going there to teach is compassion, oftentimes, it is they who are teaching me compassion.  To be honest, I would not have done what this student did.  I am far too selfish and too concerned with my own health and my own cleanness.  I am grateful for the example he was to me.  I am grateful for the opportunity to work with students like this, who are bright and compassionate, students who are, in my eyes, heroic.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Bad Dream

Have you ever had a dream where you realized you were back in college and it was final exam day, and you had forgotten to attend class or study or read for the entire semester?  Or perhaps you have had the dream where you showed up for a presentation in front of a class and after beginning realized you were naked?

During my last week in Kibuye in November, I had the privilege of having my own "bad dream" come true.  I got up to present at our hospital's grand rounds, in French ... and quickly realized that ... I don't actually speak French.  Okay, I speak a little French.  

Shortly before my arrival in November, the team at Kibuye decided it would benefit the medical students, national doctors and the rest of the hospital staff to hold a weekly grand rounds, an hour lecture on a specific topic, usually given by one of the missionary doctors (although we hope soon the national doctors will be able to participate in this as well).  My first two weeks in Kibuye I learned a lot about cranial nerve palsies (from John) as well as evaluation and treatment of abdominal pain (by Jason).  On my third week, Jason asked me if I would present.  I chose to present on the topic of "Anesthesia for the Pregnant Patient".  Jason offered to find someone to translate for me, but in my foolishness, I declined, thinking it would be a good opportunity for me to practice my limited French ... in front of the entire hospital staff.  Sometimes I make poor decisions.

Through the use of my broken French, a lot of hand waving, and a bit of interpretive dance, I got through it, and hopefully my next presentation will be a bit more polished.

If I smile long enough, perhaps they won't notice I forgot what I was supposed to say.

I think this photo really captures the joy and laughter my French brought to the room.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Click Here To Get Rich Quick

If you are reading this and you live in the U.S. or Canada, I have good news for you.  You are already rich!  I know you don’t feel rich, but if you could just take a step back and see your life and your wealth on a global perspective, I am sure you would agree with me … you are rich.

As we head into the Christmas season, you will undoubtedly be inundated with letters, e-mails, advertisements asking you to give to any number of charities.  I am writing this blog post to implore you to consider giving and to consider giving generously.   I have heard people argue against the idea of giving to charity for several reasons:

“Charity does not make a difference” - I could tell you hundreds of stories of lives that were massively impacted by even small amounts of giving.  I could tell you stories of lives that were saved by even small amounts of giving.  Charity does make a difference.

“Charity does more harm than it does good” - Historically, there have been charities that no doubt did more harm than good.  Even 10 or 20 years ago, this was true.  Thankfully today, we stand on a mountain of research and experience which most charitable groups use to guide them in doing development and relief work that is both empowering and sustainable for the people they serve.

“I won’t give money to a group that is going to take out 10 or 20% ‘overhead’.  I want my entire donation to go toward the cause”. - Let me ask you a question.  Let’s say you want to donate $100 to the charity of your choice.  You have 2 options.  You can have the entire donation go directly toward the beneficiaries, and then your money ends.  Or you can allow the charity to take 20% of your money and invest it in hiring talented leadership, marketing and further fundraising, which will increase your $100 over the next 5 years to $1,000.  Which would you choose?  We would never buy stock in a company that paid their employees nothing, did nothing to market their product, and did nothing to grow their company, so why do we hold NGOs to this impossible standard?  For an excellent TED talk on this subject, click  HERE

So, in my attempt to help you wade through the mountain of letters, emails and ads you are going to receive this month, I would like to suggest, implore, beg you, to consider giving to one of the following three causes.  These are all groups which I have been directly involved with, which are having a massive impact in what they are doing, and which you will likely not receive a single solicitation for this month (aside from this one … from me).
1.  Lifebox is a UK based charity whose goal is to provide every hospital in the developing world with high quality, durable pulse oximeters.  These small hand-held devices are used all over the hospital, but are especially valuable in the O.R. where they give you continuous measurement of a patient’s heart rate and oxygen levels.  With very little effort on my part, Lifebox has provided me with a total of 8 pulse oximeters which I have distributed to Kibuye hospital as well as 2 other hospitals in Burundi which were greatly in need of these life-saving tools.  They are eager for me to identify and make contact with other hospitals in Burundi who are in need of these machines. They rely on donations to continue this. This is truly life-saving work.

2.  Yezelalam Minch was founded by Birtukan, who grew up a World Vision sponsor child.  This entirely Ethiopian-run NGO provides food, education and healthcare for 1500 orphans in and around Addis Ababa.  I have served for several years on the U.S. Advisory Board for YZM and have been able to follow the amazing work they are doing.  They rely heavily on families in the US or Canada who are willing to sponsor a child in need as well as one time donations to sustain their operations.  This is a project very dear to the hearts of Stephanie and I.

3.  Kibuye Hope Hospital - If you have been following our blog or our story for any length of time, you probably guessed that Kibuye Hope Hospital would make my “top 3” list of giving options this year.  This is an amazing hospital and an amazing ministry, which continues to have great financial needs, which you can help with.  Here is a link to their giving catalog.  Donations can be made through Paypal: