Saturday, January 24, 2015

Road Trip Burundi

Where do ex-pats in Burundi go on Vacation?  Rwanda. Where do ex-pats go to vacation when their visa renewal process takes over 2 months and they don’t have their passports back in time to go to Rwanda? That’s what we had to figure out.
With our Rwandan vacation cancelled we scrambled for a new plan. Greg, since first looking at the huge map of Burundi we have on the wall in our house, has wondered if we could follow the road that passes through Kibuye south towards Tanzenia and then go west towards Lake Tanganyka then follow another road north along the lake all the way to Bujumbura.  This Burundi Road trip became our new plan, exploring the yet unexplored (by anyone we know) parts of Burundi.  It wasn’t until the day before we left that we fully committed to the route. We were unsure if the roads would be paved, and even paved roads in Burundi are painfully pitted with potholes. The road south and west actually ended up being one of the better roads I’ve been on in this country.  There were potholes, but not many, there were not many cars coming at high speed from the opposite direction, the roads were less windy than the drive north with far fewer cliff dropoffs. There were not many people walking or riding bikes along the side of the road (which always scares me). It was beautiful open countryside of Burundi. 
After a 4 hour drive south and west we stopped in Nyanza Lac where we spent two nights at the East African Hotel. 

Glad Greg splurged for the $30/ night room with a view.

Fish drying

The Burton Speke Monument  - for the first Europeans to search the great lakes of Africa for The Source of the Nile 

We then traveled the straighter but much worse road north along the lake all the way up to Bujumbura. 
We spent 5 nights in Buja at the home of some gracious missionaries who allowed their home to be used by us while they were out of the country.  We had a great time exploring Buja, shopping, and eating foods much different than our normal Kibuye menu allows.  We spent Ella’s birthday swimming at a nearby hotel and even found a Thai restaurant for her traditional birthday dinner (we actually couldn’t find the Thai restuarant so we called the number we had and the man that answered offered to meet us and lead us to the restaurant. He ended up being the owner and the restaurant was quite nice.)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Always saying good-bye

One facet of life here in rural Kibuye is the almost weekly arrival and departure of visitors. This has come as a surprise to us as Kibuye is so far off the beaten path.  Some of these visitors are extended family members or friends coming to visit the long term missionaries here, others are physicians or other specialists here to serve.  Most of the visitors we have hosted come for between 1 and 4 weeks.

This constantly meeting and getting to know new people adds an interesting dynamic to life here.  It is wonderful to get to know so many different people from all over the US and all over the world with hearts desiring to serve the poor here in Burundi and elsewhere.   Most weeks, each long term family here (and ours) host people for dinner or lunch, sometimes multiple times in a week.  In a place like this, where there are so few distractions, this means that our time with everyone who comes to visit can be more focused, and often deeper than what we are used to back home.

Having visitors from America also allows us to feel more connected to life back in the states.  Often these visitors bring suitcases full of gifts or packages that were delivered to them by our families back home, or which they just brought out of the kindness of their hearts.

The difficult part of making these new friends is that too soon we are saying good-bye.  It is amazing how connected you can become to someone after spending just 1 or 2 weeks with them in an isolated setting like this.  But nonetheless, I wouldn’t trade it for the alternative.  We are grateful for all the new friends we have made over the past 4 months.  We hope our paths will cross again.  If not in this life, in the life that is to come.

Luke and Tabitha (far right) came to Kibuye for 3 weeks after spending 2 years in Niger.

This is Randy.  He and his wife have spent most of their lives serving as missionaries in the Congo.  Now they spend 6 months at their home in Stanwood, WA, and the other 6 months serving between Burundi and Congo. 

Keith and Hannah came to Kibuye for 3 weeks, Keith serving as a pediatrician and teaching the "Helping babies breath" course.  

Drew (plastic surgeon) and Kim (FP resident) came for a week to fix cleft lips and palates.  I can tell you Burundi is a more beautiful place now that they have been here.

Agneta, a general surgeon from Kenya came for a month. There is a rumor floating around that she might come back in April.  We hope she does.

This past week Kibuye had a total of 10 visitors!  This included a leadership team of 6 from Samaritan's Purse here to evaluate Kibuye as a potential sending sight for short term medical missionaries.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015


This week we had a visiting plastic surgeon and his wife from the US (Drew and Kim Huang) to do a series of kids (and 2 adults) with cleft lips and palates.  We spent Monday morning in clinic screening the patients who came to Kibuye for this surgery and we asked each mother how she felt about her child.  They all said the same thing, they felt "ashamed".  They told us how the communities they lived in had rejected their children, and they were ashamed.

It was a great joy to be a part of this life-transforming surgery for these kids, which is otherwise unavailable in Burundi.  We operated on 5 kids and 2 adults with cleft lips and palates, as well as performing 2 other plastic surgeries (one for facial deformity due to Noma, the other for a little girl with a large burn injury).  It was also a joy to get to spend this week with Drew and Kim, who are both wonderful.  We hope they return to Kibuye soon.

This little girl did not meet the age requirement to have surgery this week (she will return in a few months) but I couldn't help but post her picture because she was so darn cute.  She was also the only child who did not burst into tears at the site of me and my iPad camera.

One of our satisfied (and maybe a little sore) customers.

Drew and Jason.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Riding the Clutch

About a month ago, pastor Luke, one of our hospital administrators, approached me after morning report and told me that he needed to talk to me later that day … in his office.  I assumed he was likely going to tell me that I was fired, and I pictured this playing out much like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer started going to work everyday for a company that had never really hired him. Thankfully, that was not the reason for our meeting.  Instead he told me that there was a new church being planted on January 4 and would I consider joining him for their first Sunday service?  I replied “of course”!  Then he asked me if I would preach.  Despite my visceral aversion to public speaking, I agreed, having a feeling that this was an opportunity I should not pass up.  

Now, you might not know this about me, but I served as an elder at our church back in Bellingham, and I have even preached on Sunday, twice!  The last time I preached, after the service, one of the elders thanked me for preaching and then suggested I focus my efforts on writing. Yes, it was just that good. 

Well, yesterday morning, Steph and I piled into “The Old Lady” (John Cropsey’s Land Rover with just under 300,000 miles on it), along with pastor Luke and two other chaplains from the hospital, and began what would be a 2 hour off-roading adventure to a small church, in a very small village nestled on a hill in the mountains of Burundi.  After the service we were told that we were the first white people to ever visit this village.  The “road” to get there was very exciting.  At some points along this journey we drove down what looked like nothing more than a narrow walking path. (picture below).
 At other points, we crossed “bridges” made of nothing more than a few logs plopped down in the mud. (picture below).

But, we finally arrived, and it was well worth the journey. (The Church is the orange roof in the picture below)

The church was nothing more than a brick enclosure with dirt floors, wooden benches, and was overflowing with people, some of them standing in doorways and outside the windows for the entire 3 hour service.  I was asked to introduce myself and my wife, and at the last minute decided I would try to do this in my best Kirundi.  After my introduction, I fully expected a standing ovation for my valiant effort at their language, or at least a slightly thunderous roar of applause.  Instead, my greeting was met with some snickers, followed by the sound of crickets.  After sitting back down, I re-considered what I had just said, and thought perhaps it could be translated something like this: “My name Sund Greg.  I hoe at hospital Kibuye.  This is my husband Stephanie”.  Well, I suppose that would explain the crickets.  I preached on Colossians 2 and Galatians 2, the gist of the message being that salvation is based not on what you do, but on what Christ has already done in your place.  Thankfully, Luke told me I could preach in English and he would translate.  

At the end of the service, they served Stephanie and I, as well as the other visitors, a lovely lunch, and then presented us with a gift.  They explained that they did not have a lot to offer, but what they had they wanted to share with us.  They then presented me with a branch full of bananas and a live rooster.  (picture below).  
I felt so blessed to have this experience and to get to be a part of this new church plant among a people who live about as far removed from my life in Bellingham as I could ever imagine.  

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Galatians 2:20-21

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Christmas in Burundi

It was admittedly difficult to get into the Christmas spirit this year.  We missed the glitz of seeing our town decorated and the excitement of finding gifts that delight.  Here we had no visual reminders, no cooling of the weather, no places nearby to shop, nothing to remind us that we had entered “the most wonderful time of the year”. I kept finding myself surprised that Christmas was just around the corner. 

We celebrated Thanksgiving in grand fashion the Saturday after the actual holiday (all the doctors worked on Thanksgiving itself). We joined with the other families for a great feast which included an American turkey, and no beans were served! 
I decided to stick with Christmas tradition and put up our Christmas tree the day after we celebrated Thanksgiving. The first problem with this plan was that we don't actually have a Christmas tree, and because of the concern of deforestation and respect for the Burundian landscape we didn't want to go find a tree to cut down.  But, I had the grandiose idea of using a long pole as the base for our "tree" and then attaching cardboard and paper to make ourselves a "Christmas tree”. My children did not share my vision and were less than enthused about coloring  hundreds of sheets of paper.  We tried to make green paint with flour and food coloring, but that didn’t work, and then I tried green plastic bags for further and faster tree making. Finally, disheartened, I threw in the towel and admitted that what I had envisioned was not going to come to fruition.

  So our “festivise pole”  stood in the living room for over a week until one day our kids came inside upset that some trees near our house were being cut down. The property we live on belongs to the hospital, and workers, with instructions from someone,  were clearing underbrush and a few trees near our house.  I went outside and with great excitement saw that they were cutting down an evergreen.  So, furthering my reputation as a crazy muzungu, I motioned for the man with the ax to chop off one of the branches of the tree.  I then heaved the branch over my shoulder and lugged it into my house.  Our failed attempt at our paper tree  helped us be delighted in our scraggely tree and the kids began to get excited about decorating for Christmas.  

In the week before Christmas we found that our Christmas tradition of making cookies for all our neighbors and the making of little gifts for others helped us feel more in the spirit of the holiday. 
On the Sunday before Christmas, we joined the other missionaries in singing “Hark the Herald Angels sing” at church, accompanied by team members playing guitar, mandolin, Burundian drum and saxophone, much to the amusement and delight (confusion?) of the Burundian parishioners. 
The children gave a Christmas concert with singing, piano and recorder performances,  led by their music teacher.  And on Christmas Eve the kids performed a play about the coming of Christ for the redemption of mankind followed by Christmas carols and scripture readings in  a beautiful Christmas Eve service.  

Our gifts were few this year, provided mostly by the generosity of others who sent packages all the way from America.  The kids were beautifully excited to give the gifts that they had so creatively made and joyful to receive the ones given to them. We hope that wherever this season found you, you found joy.