America truly is the land of plenty. There are so many basic resources that we just take for granted because they’re always there — food, water, electricity, fuel, etc. In Burundi, we encounter shortages in these areas on a pretty regular basis, and that’s even when we have the financial resources to buy them, a luxury many Burundians do not have.
In recent weeks, there has been another fuel crisis in the country and we’ve had to restrict travel to essential trips only, coordinate trips with each other more than we already do, and use the most fuel-efficient vehicles for those trips. While there is certainly inconvenience that comes with these choices, it’s so much easier to be grateful for the resources that we DO have when we see how much others DON’T have.
The Fader brothers (Jason and Caleb) are masters in the art of using resources wisely. During a team business meeting, we were discussing the new solar power system at the hospital and how we can make lifestyle adjustments to maximize battery life and deal with power shortages when it’s rainy or nighttime. As an off-hand comment, Caleb said, “You know, defrost your cheese wheel in the fridge instead of the counter so that the fridge doesn’t have to work as hard to stay cool.” Two things struck me about this comment. One, he said this like it was obvious, but I have to admit that I never would have thought of that as an energy-saving move. Two, I found it interesting that he used cheese instead of meat as his example, but more on that later. Unfortunately, many of us on the team don’t naturally think like conservationists simply because we’ve never HAD to (until we moved to Africa)!
The Faders are slowly transforming me into a conservationist, but I still have a long way to go. Here are some nuggets of conservationist wisdom that I’ve gained from them over the last 10 years.
Your fridge and freezer function most efficiently when full (because the already-cold or frozen items keep each other cold or frozen), so use water bottles to fill the space when needed.
Keep a bucket in your shower to collect run-off and use the excess water to flush the toilets or water your plants. Jason says that he never flushes the toilet with the handle anymore thanks to this tip.
Minimize your meat intake. Per earthsave.org, “it takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef”. Yikes.
Pull something relatively “clean” from your dirty clothes pile to blow your (or your kid’s) nose to reduce the amount of toilet paper that you use.
And of course, something that is now a regular bathroom routine… “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” (We’re still trying to teach our kids that this rule doesn’t apply when you’re visiting someone else’s house in the USA.)
While thinking about this blog, I thought that surely there must be so many more habits that are so natural to the Faders that they don’t even notice them. After pressing for more info, this is what I I discovered:
To conserve cooking gas, Heather never cooks only one thing in her oven. If she’s going to bake something, she’ll fill it up as much as possible (and yes, cookies are actually the filler sometimes). She only uses her oven twice a week (and that's not because she's eating out).
She sorts laundry not by color, but by dirtiness. The less dirty load gets a quick wash and the other stuff (like a surgeon’s bloody scrubs or kids’ muddy clothes) gets a normal wash.
Leftover drinking water after a meal is not poured down the sink, but instead used to soak laundry.
She admits to still wearing clothes from her high school days. Of course, not many of us could do that even if we wanted to!
She routinely erases post-it notes to re-use them (can’t replace those in Burundi!).
Really, there are so many gems here that I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. The Dutch-missionary combo is a pretty good way to ensure maximum thriftiness.
Thankful for these teammates who have pushed me to think about how my lifestyle choices impact our world. If you want to see how many planets we’d need if everyone lived like you, check out https://www.footprintnetwork.org.
During our time in the US, we did a good bit of speaking here and there, on various subjects. Some of those sessions have been posted online (and some will be posted, but not yet). Here are some links, if you are interested in listening more:
1. Knox Presbyterian Church: "The Already But Not Yet Kingdom". Though I've preached at a lot of African churches, this is the only time to date that I've preached at a US church. The text is John the Baptist and his doubts while in prison; the theme is our struggle to find hope in first fruits rather than finished work.
2. StoryPrint. My friend Wes Burtner runs a podcast about life stories of people in/from the Nashville area. He interviewed me and the podcast is available here (Episode 003). This 90-minute interview spans a lot of topics, including vocation.
3. Louisville GMHC: Rachel and I moderated the Marriage & Missions panel, including the Kims, the Chupps, and the Vaughans. Our friends had some great perspectives to share. There are pauses for small group discussion periods, but it should be easy enough to skip over those parts.
A long time ago, before any of us moved to Burundi, we packed a container of "essential things" for life here. Because we were unsure of what sorts of things would be available here, it was deemed a good idea to order appliances in the US that were wired for 220 volt electricity, so that we could have high quality appliances that would last for a long time, but that would also work well in our new environment. Stoves, fridges, washing machines, and microwaves were loaded up in the container that arrived here December of 2013, several months before our houses were completed.
Where do you want your light switches?
Building a house was an adventure that was...occasionally...somewhat fun. But mostly overwhelming and confusing. Our house was the first to be built. From almost day one, there were unanticipated issues. Eric and I will never forget standing on a slope looking down at our newly poured foundations, then looking at the "blueprints," and then looking back at the foundations, wondering if there were perhaps new plans for our house that we didn't know about. In fact, there were not, but every room except two had been mis-measured (by up to 2 meters). We rolled with it. We would occasionally get asked what kind of trusses we wanted (I didn't know what a truss was) or where we wanted our windows, and then Eric would rush off to figured out where to put windows and the workers would remove rows of already laid bricks in order to accommodate said requests. So, yes. An adventure to be sure, and we are so grateful that for the past 4 years, our teammate Caleb has helped the process run a little smoother every time.
The kitchen under construction
So, the day came in 2014 to move in our appliances in preparation for our move in, how exciting! Sadly, there was an issue. We had already been asked as to the width of our doorframes (um, standard size please?) and when the refrigerator was brought to the kitchen door, the fridge was about 10cm too wide. Apparently Burundi standard size doors are not large enough to accommodate American "standard size" appliances. Even after removing the kitchen door from the frame and the fridge door. Finally, the security bars on the kitchen window were sawed off, the fridge was hauled in, and the bars were re-welded on. We vowed to never remove the fridge again.
Trying to repair the fridge for the first time
I won't go into all the details, but the fridge has had a lot of issues. It was repaired (while remaining in the kitchen) at least twice, and then we got an email on Christmas Day saying it seemed to have died for good. Bummer. Surprisingly, there is a Canadian Muslim refrigerator repair man now living in Bujumbura, who came up recently to try and repair the fridge. Although he was not successful, he thinks that he will be able to fix it in his workshop in Bujumbura.
We tossed around the idea of sawing the bars off the window again, but this time, Caleb came up with a new idea: why not widen the doorframe permanently? I must admit, I was a bit skeptical. The walls are solid brick and concrete. I envisioned sledgehammers and half of my kitchen wall crumbling down. But Caleb was very confident in our new plan. So, on Wednesday, three very competent Burundian workers showed up at my front doorstep. They promptly got to work with their little chisels and hammers (no sledgehammers, though) and removed 15 cm of wall. Wouldn't you know it, the fridge fit out perfectly! By the end of the day, a new frame was fitted, the concrete was poured, and other than the lack of paint, you could hardly tell work had been done at all.
Now our fridge is on its way down to Bujumbura, hopefully to be repaired, and when it returns, I look forward to sliding it right in the kitchen door, with no chisels, saws, or hammer required.
As I was typing this up, Eric reminded me that actually we have had similar problems in America, so as "exotic" as this problem seems, we did have to move a queen box spring into our bedroom in Ypsilanti MI through the window...because it wouldn't fit up the stairs. All's well that ends well....
The majority of the human body consists of this substance and the majority of the earth’s surface is also covered with this substance. It is the only substance to naturally occur in all three states (liquid, solid, gas) on earth. Over 42 billion tons of this substance was gathered together in China and the shift in mass on earth’s surface caused the earth’s rotation to slow by almost 0.06 microseconds a day, and the poles to shift by nearly two centimeters. What is this versatile, ubiquitous, and powerful substance? I am sure most of you have already guessed it. It’s water.
Where does your water come from? What do you use water for and is it important to conserve water? These questions and more were explored at our most recent KHA learning experience day where we focused on water as resource.
(A field trip to our well)
Americans, on average, will use almost 400 liters of water a day. Europeans generally use less than half of that amount. However, most people around the world consume only 10-20 liters a day. This is a shocking statistic; however, many people around Kibuye will collect water at the stream or a community tap and carry it back to their house. On our walk from the well in the valley up to the water storage tanks above the hospital, we imagined carrying 25 to 40 pounds of water that distance. The walk alone, with nothing to carry, was enough to wear out some of us and it was much easier to consider ways of conserving water.
On our nature walk, the kids collected water samples from a community tap supplied by the same well that supplies our faucets at home, from a stream in fields where some laundry was being done, from a puddle, and finally from a rain water collection tank at the school.
(DIY Water Filters)
Once we were back inside, the water samples arranged around the building for the students to examine by look and smell. Microscopes were used to get an up-close view of the water. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), we did not see much floating around in the water when inspected through the microscope. Each water sample had its own unique scent, although, the rainwater had the most distinct smell. We never reached a consensus on exactly what the rainwater smelled like, but the scent of rubber cement received more than one vote.
(Examining water samples)
After some water games and story time, we finished our water day in the waterlogged mud of a rice field. Each of the kids had the opportunity to kick their shoes off, squish the mud (and other stuff) between their toes, and learn how to cultivate rice. Amazingly, rice is grown in one small patch until it begins to mature. At this point it is individually removed and replanted, one at a time.
We took down our Christmas tree today. For me it’s always kind of a sad day. It’s the end of a season I love. But as I look back over the Christmas holidays here at Kibuye, it was really a special time, and we had so much fun not only with our families, but also in the local community.
This is the third year in a row that the children rehearsed and performed the story of Jesus’s birth. In the Western world it is very common for children to dress up and do a Nativity Play. But that is not the case here in Burundi. This is a new experience for our Burundian neighbors. For many who saw our kids' Christmas production, it might be their first time watching the Bible come alive in this way. They smile, they laugh, they whisper to each other each time a new character comes on, which really adds a fun dynamic to the performance.
This year we even added a set, or backdrop, to the production. The kids, working with our teammate Lauren Chudnovsky, who is an artist, painted 4 different scenes, and Jonah Watts built a moveable stand for it. Each scene looked amazing!
In addition to the Nativity, the kids also put together a chime performance. Michelle Wendler arranged a version of “Carol of the Bells” which she taught to the children during their music classes at Kibuye Hope Academy. The children performed the chimes and the Nativity in two locations at the hospital, as well as at the local school and the local church.
One of the places we performed was at the outpatient malnutrition clinic. These are children who had previously been admitted to the hospital for severe malnutrition. After they are released from the hospital, they are allowed to come back twice a week to be weighted, and receive a sack of Busoma (a nutrient-rich porridge) and a hard-boiled egg.
As the performance ended, I asked one of the chaplains to translate for me as I shared the good news of the Gospel with the children and their mothers. Christmas is not just a story - it happened! And it happened for a reason. God sent his son as a gift to us so we could be forgiven, and all we have to do is receive the gift.
As the pastor translated what I was saying, I noticed a majority of the group stood up. The pastor leaned over and whispered to me that he had asked who would like to respond to this good news, and who needs prayer. There were so many standing! Kibuye Hope Hospital is filled with people in need, not only for physical healing, but also for spiritual healing.
And that right there made it all worth it. All the rehearsals and costumes and sets. It wasn’t just a performance. We shared Jesus’s story. A story of grace, love, and forgiveness.
Please continue to pray not only for our team here at Kibuye, but also for the three chaplains who have a huge job at the hospital. The needs are massive. Physically and spiritually. We pray that everything we do is wrapped in truth and grace. Even a performance like this, that is new to their culture and can be a bit of a spectacle, we pray that the light of the Gospel would shine through all we do here.
Kibuye Kids Nativity Play 2018 - Vimeo
Madeline and Zeke as Mary and Joseph
Alma, Ella, and Seija as the Angels
Anna was the Kirundi narrator, Piper was the French narrator
Micah Watts and Abi Fader as the Shepherds
Liam Banks, Biniyam, and Kaden as the Three Wise Men
Toby John, Liam Fader, and Tracy (Dr. Alliance's daughter) as the Sheep
Our family returned back to Burundi last week, and Rachel and I restarted work in the hospital on Monday. I had been seeing my hospitalized patients for a couple days, but yesterday was my first day in clinic.
The day starts out with Alyssa sharing at hospital devotions. She leads the hospital staff through a small gratitude exercise, passing out sheets of a yellow legal pad for us to write down those innumerable gifts that God has given us that we are so apt to forget. We close with a prayer and a few announcements, and the day starts.
The medical student who is working with me (and serving as Kirundi translator) walks with me to my clinic office, where an old man is waiting outside the door with his clinic sheet. She exchanges a few words with him, and tells me "I think he has Parkinson's Disease, or something like that." I start with surprise and then recovering, ask them to come inside. Sure enough, this old man has come all the way from Tanzania because of a tremor which seems consistent with Parkinson's. I have not yet found any real treatment options for Parkinson's in Burundi, and I doubt his rural outpost of Tanzania has better options.
I grab a bottle of Sinemet out of my office drawer, and I say to my student in French, "I don't make a habit of bringing medicines from the United States, mostly because we want to support Burundian supply chains. But, you see, my grandmother passed away a couple months ago. She was a wonderful and lovely woman. My grandfather asked me to go through the medications she left behind, to see if any would be useful for Burundi. The only one that seemed useful to bring back was this medicine for Parkinson's. This bottle won't last forever, but I hope it will help him feel better for a while." Turning to the man, I continue, "I don't see that many patients with Parkinson's, and I wondered whether I would find any before the medicine expired, but lo and behold, you are my first patient back, and it's precisely what you need."
My student gives me a look that says, "Do you want me to tell the patient all that?" Yes, I do. I watch my patient's face light up with joy and profound gratitude on hearing the story of his medication bottle, and I think about the beauty and the probability of this moment.
A couple patients later, I see a 50-year old woman with heart failure. She is a village lady that I diagnosed a couple years ago. "She's only taking this one medicine now?" I ask. "How is she doing?" My student and the woman chat for a few sentences. "She says that she feels very well. Before, she couldn't even walk, and everyone told her that she would never get better. Now she thanks God because she is even able to work in her fields, though she does get tired sometimes."
I smile at my student. These cases can seem so rare sometimes. I pick up my folded sheet of yellow legal paper from the morning hospital devotions. "Did you hear what Dr. Alyssa said this morning?" My student nods. I say, "I'm going to write this lady down on my paper."
The thing is, since returning to Burundi, my most frequent prayer has been that I would be able to see God's hand at work in my life and in the world around me, day by day. Kicking off my first clinic day with these two stories seems to be Grace to me in the form of an answered prayer.
Many other days are just discouraging. Today was much more that way. My patients are mostly sick and none of them seem like they're getting better. Is God at work? Do I just need eyes to see it? Walking home through the gate, there is a vivacious chatter of a flock of weaver birds who have taken refuge in one of our tall eucalyptus trees.
It's a thing of beauty and of joy. But is it really just a tree and some animals? Or are these small wonders windows that peek into God's work in the world and his glory? On one hand, I'm not interested in rose-colored glasses, but I need not exchange them for blinders either.
I think the answer to such questions always requires some kind of faith, in the end. Either faith that it's just a coincidence or faith that it's something more. Either faith that it's just a bird, or faith that it's a glimpse of the light of the world. I'm not talking about faith as some arbitrary choice. We reason and we discern, but there does seem to be some irreducible element of choice that remains. How will we see the world?
I really do hope to see the world with gratitude for all that God does. And at least for today, it seems like a reasonable approach.
(for those interested in slogging through this question with the great Blaise Pascal, here is a quote that is most rewarding is you can persevere through the tangle of double negatives:
“The prophecies, the very miracles and proofs of our religion, are not of such a nature that they can be said to be absolutely convincing. But they are also of such a kind that it cannot be said that it is unreasonable to believe them. Thus there is both evidence and obscurity to enlighten some and confuse others. But the evidence is such that it surpasses, or at least equals, the evidence to the contrary, so that it is not reason which can determine men not to follow it, and thus it can only be lust or malice of heart. And by this means there is sufficient evidence to condemn, and insufficient to convince; so that it appears in those who follow it that it is grace, and not reason, which makes them follow it; and in those who shun it, that it is lust, not reason, which makes them shun it.”)
This last year I've had the privilege of teaching English to a small group of local village children 3-4 afternoons a week.
They normally show up after school around 2pm, dressed in their Sunday best, all smiles and ready to learn. First they wash their hands (using a sink with running water was a new experience for them) and then they each get a small snack or treat. Apple juice is a favorite (apples don't grow in Burundi) as well as cookies or banana bread, (treats that are very rare to come by here as the normal house doesn't have a stove or oven).
Then we work on learning some English words or phrases. These kids are raised up to be very quiet and respectful around adults. During the first few weeks of class they started out whispering the answers and it was like pulling teeth to get them to talk louder. But they are eager to learn and please and have an amazing ability to memorize and retain information. I guess that is what the lack of being able to look something up on a smart phone will get you!
They have really improved over the year. Check out these thank you letters written to a girl in the States who gave some school supplies.
After around 45 minutes of English we usually end with an art project or book reading time.
Recently they learned how to watercolor, and for their first attempts I think they did great!
And check out this picture drawn by one of the boys. I think he's going to be an artist!
Last week they encountered bubble wrap for the first time. Check out this video of all the joy and smiles.
Bubble wrap fun! - YouTube
They came a few weeks ago bearing baskets of potatoes and beans as thank you gifts. So sweet of them!
As we get ready to depart on our first scheduled furlough I'm going to miss this group of kids!
As we wrap up our time in the United States, several people have asked us about special needs for Kibuye during the holiday season. Though you can give to many projects and missionaries that can be perused at serge.org (all of which are tax-deductible and will be used to a worthy cause), we'd like to highlight the Kibuye Feeding Program.
Burundi is arguably the hungriest country in the world per the Global Hunger Index. They didn't have data to include Burundi in this year's ranking (though they have recently topped it), but they still note Burundi as the country with the highest rate of kids who don't reach the full height potential due to nutritional "stunting". We learned early on that malnourished patients don't heal, and thus, in 2015, Kibuye became the 2nd hospital in Burundi to feed their patients, a move which, thanks to dedicated staff and generous donations, transformed our ability to bring health to our population.
Also included in the Feeding Program is a twice-weekly Busoma (the multigrain nutritional porridge manufactured on the hospital campus) distribution program for identified malnourished children in our community.
These programs combined cost about $6500 per month, which purchases about 20,000 patient meals and supports the nutrition of about 250 children and their families at home. So, please pray for provision for this program and consider giving to it.
You can easily turn this gift into an alternative Christmas present by dedicating a gift to someone. Here are a couple ways to put the numbers together:
$8 feeds a hospitalized patient for a month
$10 feeds a malnourished child in the community for a month
$56 feeds the pediatric ward (and their moms) for a day (during the busy season)
$135 feeds all the hospitalized patients and their caregivers for a day
$312 feeds all the malnourished children with Busoma on a given day who come to the twice-weekly program
$1700 feeds the pediatric ward (and their moms) for a month
Be Creative and mix these numbers as you will!
Burundi Feeding Programs three logos: Serge/Hospital/Friends - Vimeo
You would think that people who live right next door to each other would find it relatively easy to communicate. Indeed, it is usually easy, but people are busy or not at home and it can be time-consuming to wander from house to house looking for that onion that you need to finish making dinner.
"Back in the day" (meaning 5 years ago when our team first landed in Burundi), we communicated the old-fashioned way: face-to-face. Our internet was almost non-existent at the time and texting by phone was the only other decent alternative. Once our team began to grow (and after internet became more reliable), the wise Susan Watts proposed forming a WhatsApp group to help us communicate more easily with each other. Plus, it seems to be the preferred method of communication for many Burundians since you can get a 30-day package of unlimited Facebook and WhatsApp for a mere $1.30.
This is now our go-to method of disseminating information and there are at least a dozen different groups of various combinations of people (Kibuye Hope Academy faculty, various committees, doctors, ...). Here are some excerpts from these groups that will give you a sneak peek into our daily community life in Kibuye.
The "Kibuye Core Group" was our first WhatsApp group and includes all missionary adults on the team. It can be used for any variety of purposes, most of which you are unlikely to see on a WhatsApp communication chain in the USA.
And with the team Thanksgiving feast coming up on Saturday, you can expect the "Exercise Group" to be buzzing. (Frankly, this group needs to be renamed since it includes all women whether they exercise or not :-).
Other frequent texts on this group include...
If you see Child X, please send him/her home. Anyone want to run at 4:30?
We even have one called "Milk" that lets us know how much we owe each month for the fresh cow's milk that is divvied out and delivered to our doors every day (thanks to the amazing Susan Watts). And if you're looking for someone to take your milk because you'll be out of town for the weekend, this is the place to go!
The very best part of WhatsApp is that it makes communication to North America so easy. We (the Cropseys) have a group for each side of the family and can easily send & receive quick pictures or texts about what's happening in everyone's lives. One little way to help us stay better connected. Thanks WhatsApp!
As a history teacher, I enjoy telling stories. Fortunately, my students at Kibuye Hope Academy love to hear a good yarn. Tales of my youth in Appalachia garner some special interest. Accounts of a little Uncle Scott being chased by turkeys and horse-sized dogs always produce some snickering. However, their reaction to hearing of how my family slaughtered chickens on my grandparents’ farm was received with slightly less enthusiasm. Hearing these stories is educational in their own way, but nothing can replace the hands-on learning of a KHA learning experience day.
Aunt Julie T. orchestrated an in-depth study of chickens that took us from the classroom, to the chopping block, and into the kitchen. Elementary students learned about the use of informational texts as they put together presentations on how to raise and care for chickens. The middle schoolers researched their questions about chickens online (which came first the chicken or the egg?). We learned that chickens are attracted to red and the fear of chickens is alektrophobia.
The term, alektrophobia comes from the Greek myth of Ares, Aphrodite, and Alectryon. After Alectryon failed to deliver a timely wake-up call to Ares and Aphrodite, he was turned into a rooster and cursed to announce the coming dawn forevermore. You can learn about this story and so much more at www.chickensinliterature.com (it’s a real site).
Once the students had gathered some general chicken knowledge it was time to apply it in the field. With the purchase of several local chickens, some hot water, and a couple Burundian guides, the students learned how the chickens get from running along the paths of Kibuye to our dinner tables. A few moments fraught with stomach churning for those of us with weaker constitutions quickly passed into a fascination with feather plucking. Every student was engaged in the following dissection (even if not everyone was strictly hands-on during this hands-on activity), and pointing out the different organs, naming their functions.
After a large dose of hand sanitizer, the kids were off to the kitchen to learn about eggs. The middle school baked quiche and frittata while the younger students made deviled eggs and omelets. We feasted together as we listened to the presentations from the different grades prepared earlier in the day. It was another successful KHA learning experience day, where students and adults delighted in learning together.
Although we never solved which came first, the chicken or the egg, we did learn what to call a chicken that stares at lettuce … chicken sees a salad. Get it? Chicken sees a salad, chicken caesar salad. One of the consequences of being a middle school teacher is that jokes like this become hilarious, and this was by far the best chicken joke in day laden with many egg-cellent puns.