Transitions: An Ever-Renewing Perspective

(from Becky)

It happened without my consent or attention. I noticed it just a few nights ago. I was putting my little girls to bed, sitting on the edge of the bed scratching their backs, when it hit me, “Wow, I don’t hate this mosquito net anymore!”  I had the same realization the other day when I threw away some old food and didn’t have the gut wrenching guilt that I had experienced in our first few months here.  

We have lived in Burundi now for 4 months.  The transition has been more difficult for us than we anticipated and in ways that were unexpected….i.e. the trash and mosquito nets.  Yet, life has ever…..so…..slowly found it’s new rhythm and patterns.  Trash is no longer an issue of angst.  I was so worried about offending our Burundian househelper every time my kids didn’t eat all of the food on their plate, or when I would throw away a huge casserole that tasted bad from the very beginning. And the mosquito nets…ugh, they sound so fun right? Like a little tent for your kids, a safe little place for them to sleep. But oh no, they have a mind of their own. They grab your shoe, stick to the pillow, hang too low in some places…..it has been a pain. Yet, now, I can see their appeal and the safety that they offer. I actually wonder now if sleeping without them on furloughs will be an issue.  

Transition is a funny thing.  I remember our first week here, life was so different for all of us that I didn’t have the time or ability to teach my kids how to brush their teeth without using tap water, so they didn’t. They didn’t even take a bath the first week. Every single one of your senses is overwhelmed each day and the only thing you can do is take one new reality at a time and deal with it. I pictured it like this. Our world was turned upside down with every single ball floating in space, and each day you grab one of those balls and tackle it.  Day one, the food and water ball, What do we eat here, how do we want our water filter set up? How do we make COFFEE? Day two, trash/compost ball, what can we throw away in front of a Burundian, what needs to be done under cover of darkness? 

To me, it’s a very difficult thing to go through a major life transition like this with 7 kids following behind you.  To tell yourself to only use filtered water is one thing, but to get all of your children to understand this, and do it, is an entirely different challenge.  

I know that our transitions are not done here, and maybe they never will be. Africa has a way of keeping you on your toes. But God has been gracious in this season. He meets us in our weak moments, in the times when buying a plane ticket to America sounds like the best idea EVER. Yet we keep staying, keep going to bed, waking up and taking on another day.  And slowly a love for this life is growing. It’s just a seedling now, I’m not even sure if the sprout has come up above the ground,  but it’s there. 

By God’s grace it’s growing and will one day be a plant…and then maybe even a tree.  A tree of love for Burundi, for Africa, for serving the poorest of the poor in Jesus’ name.  

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 


A Week in the Life...

(from Nicole)

I would like to try to describe a ‘normal’ week of life in Kibuye but, there really isn’t such a thing. This week felt particularly abnormal. 
Over the weekend a group of us took the three-hour trek to Bujumbura to attend the wedding of one of Kibuye Hope Hospital’s Burundian doctors. I have had the privilege of attending many Burundian weddings in my year and a half here – I believe this was number seven but, it was my first in the city. It may have been quite a bit hotter than a village wedding, but it was quite a bit more extravagant to make up for it. Replacing the strands of paper often hung from the church ceilings for decoration, the walls were covered in billowing red and white fabric. The bridesmaids all wore modern matching red dresses, and the groom wore a white tuxedo. At the reception, the wall behind the couple was covered in fabric and twinkle lights, and there were white slips covering all the chairs. 

Some of my favorite bits of the wedding were when a group of girls followed the couples every move throughout the ceremony tossing copious amounts of confetti over them, the bride and groom each surprised each other with an original song which they performed at different points in the day, and as the car took the couple between locations a group of men from the wedding party walked next to and in front of the car resembling the secret service. We bowed out after formally presenting our gift so we could make it back to our friends’ house before dark. Nights in Bujumbura are usually filled with downloading, updating, and skyping. 

Back in Kibuye, on Monday afternoon we welcomed the first of the 27 (!!) total visitors that will be passing through Kibuye this week (as I said, this is not a normal week). One of these visitors happened to be the American Ambassador. As her caravan of three SUVs pulled up we all stood at attention at the front gate a bit nervously, prepared for a very formal welcome, only to be greeted by a few dozen hugs and smiles! She came on Thursday and stayed the night, giving us all a chance to share lunch at the hospital canteen, an informal ‘meet and greet’ / shamelessly ask for selfies, and of course a dessert social. I believe it was the first US Ambassador to visit Kibuye since 1989. Needless to say we were honored, and thankful for the work she is doing.


Botfly Bonanza

by Jess Cropsey

WARNING — The following blog is a little gross.  Read at your own risk.

Our son (8) woke up a few mornings ago with about 15 mysterious bites on different parts of his body.  We thought a mosquito or flea went to town on him at night.  Bug bites of unknown origin are not an uncommon occurrence, so we didn’t think much of it.  After a couple days we noticed that one of the “bites” had come to a white head with a black dot in the center and red lines streaking away from the center.  Well, perhaps this is a jigger (although a very odd place for one) or an infected bug bite.  We tried to give it a squeeze, but it was pretty painful and didn’t prove effective.  We also noticed that some of Micah’s other bites looked infected as well, so we started him on some antibiotics.  Nearly two days later, things weren’t really improving and he complained about them throughout the day.  As recommended by our beloved & talented pediatrician Dr. Alyssa, we soaked him in a nice warm bath.  It soon became clear that something alive was inside those “bites”.  After letting him soak for about 15 minutes, we began the squeezing process.  We lost count after a little while, but we think we removed around 17!  One from his head, his ear, several from his face/neck, armpit, back, leg, etc.  Poor  kid was feeling pretty woozy by the end.  It was traumatic for some and thrilling for others.  

Of course, we decided to look up some information online after we treated him and discovered that you’re not actually supposed to squeeze them out.  (Note to self for a next time we hope never happens.)  Apparently, petroleum jelly will suffocate them and you can then extract them with tweezers.  Fortunately, I think the attempted drowning technique worked pretty well and they came out intact.  

This might go down in the Kibuye infestation record books.  While I am competitive, that’s one record I hope no one else in our family (or on our team, for that matter) ever beats.    


Kibuye in the News

Not to flood your feeds and inboxes with more of the same, but we wanted to share a few more articles and a video with our readers.  Christianity Today just did a piece on Jason winning the Gerson L'Chaim prize.  You can read it here:


Also, when the team from African Mission Healthcare Foundation came to announce the prize last month, they brought a reporter from the Christian Broadcasting Network with them.  He put together a video piece that will be airing on their networks tonight (January 12).  If you don't have access to a CBN network, or if you miss the airing, you can watch the video and read his story here:


We continue to be proud of Jason and beyond grateful for the support our work has been receiving.  And as a team, we continue to pray God will use us here in Burundi, for many years to come.

Update: A Third article from WORLD magazine:  A really great look at the Gerson family:



African Road Trip

(It is my pleasure to introduce a new blogger.  Audrey Ward is our intern for ten months who has been here since August.  She is somewhere in limbo between graduate studies in comparative literature and medicine, and where better to pass such a limbo than in Burundi.  We're thankful for being willing to share her perspective.)

It sounds like an absurd story problem in math class: 14 sunburnt yet happy buzungu and 28 cans of Pringles are in a 15-passenger van whose fuel tank is only 1/8 full of diesel. They want to travel from Kigoma,Tanzania to Kibuye, Burundi after a camping trip with monkeys. 

If the visas are all in order, but it’s also New Year’s Eve, and 2 out of 3 filling stations will NOT have diesel fuel, then how many hours will it take for the buzungu to reach Kibuye? And how many cans of Pringles will be left over? (When calculating your answer, make sure to consider that Son Excellence the President of Burundi himself is alsocurrently on a road trip.)

I was blissfully unaware of the answer to this story problem as I popped a Dramamine for carsickness and crammed into the last row of the van. We stopped in the town of Kigoma to shop at the excitingly clean minimart with glorious products like cocoa mix and chips,stuffed ourselves back into the van with grocery bags on our laps, and headed towards the border.

We made it to the border pretty quickly, only a few hours, including the short stop by a Tanzanian policeman in an immaculately white suit who waved us on after a cheerful conversation.

To cross the Tanzanian/Burundian border by car, there is no one-stop international tollbooth gate or something, as I had imagined. Instead, the trip requires two separate stops, one on each side, to get visas checked twice and stamped for exiting and for (re-) entering. On theTanzanian side, we stopped at the office next to a Burundian refugee camp. The officials were fairly efficient, and we stepped across the road to buy a stalk of bananas and to exchange some money.

A little while later, we stopped at the Burundian border office. One guy passing by on foot peered in the windows of the van curiously while several of us cued up at the desk of the border official. A Tanzanian nun traveling on foot glanced at the long line and the stacks of passports obviously all in one group, and asked meekly if she could be allowed to go to the head of the line. We of course ushered her to the front. (It’s pretty bad form to be a missionary and snub a nun.)

After what felt like ages, there were just two people left in line: George Watts, with his family’s stack of passports, and me. The border office uses large hardbound books full of blank graphing paper to record information by hand. Just as the border official had finishedpainstakingly copying all of the information (country, name, passport number, occupation, visa number) from the second passport in his stack, she came to the end of the current page in her notebook.

Slowly, she turned the page.

She looked at the blank paper.

She took out a ruler from her desk.

She placed the ruler on the page and drew her pen down to create a column.

She removed the ruler and touched-up the line she drew with a few gentle strokes.

She continued this process until both of the open-faced pages had the correct number of columns.

She double-checked her work with the previous page.

For the sake of future efficiency (I suppose), she turned another page and drew all of those columns as well.

Finally, she reached out for the third passport as George and I breathed a sigh of relief. I have never felt more Western in my sense of time passing. Thankfully, she seemed to speed up a little bit as she took down the information for each passport, although she did look at my visa for several moments and then asked me if it was a visa, which was briefly concerning.

“What happened in there? Are you guys even legal or what??” John called when George and I finally made it back to the car with our passports.

We lurched back onto the road, and for the next hour everything went smoothly, despite another stop by a policeman who just wanted to chat (and hold Jess’s hand through the window for an awkward amount of time).

Then, we started looking for diesel, but the first few attempts yielded nothing but stares from pedestrians who stopped to watch us through the windows. We were only slightly concerned about the time we had left on the engine when the biggest delay in the road tripoccurred. Son Excellence.

In the middle of nowhere, with fields on either side, is an intersection with two main highways (they must have been main highways, because they were paved). All we had to do was turn left at the intersection and we would be only an hour and a half or so fromKibuye. But just as we approached the intersection, we noticed a police officer stopping all oncoming traffic from either direction.

“This can’t be a good sign,” someone muttered, and suspicions were confirmed when some official police and then military vehicles started to pass through the intersection on the road up ahead. We realized that it must be the entourage for some sort of important official.  After the kids got bored of counting the cars that passed after about 36 SUVs and military trucks with soldiers hanging out on the back, we realized that it must be the entourage for the MOST important official. The President had apparently been on a tour or doing a fieldcampaign in a province and was heading back to the capital. We spotted a black SUV with Burundian flags and thought it must be him, but ten minutes later after another barrage of military vehicles another identical SUV passed. When this had happened about five times, we had to hand it to the Burundian security force for not taking any chances. There were more than enough decoys.

Meanwhile, we had to turn off the AC in order to conserve fuel. It was a sunny day and we hadn’t climbed the mountains yet, so it was humid and HOT in that car. To make it worse, we couldn’t roll down all of the windows: word apparently spread to the neighborhood kids that a white van with a bunch of buzungu was stopped at the presidential parade. About a dozen kids and teenagers forgot all about the parade as they surrounded the windows, cupping their hands against the glass to peer in and occasionally tapping it or yelling at us to see if we would react. Sometimes we talked to them, to break up the boredom, but soon we felt too lethargic to say anything. Sweat trickled down our backs. Every time there was a pause in the passing military cars, our hopes would rise that the parade was over—only to be dashed again as yet another truck or SUV appeared.

I’m not entirely sure how long we stayed there, but it felt like at least 45 minutes. Finally, the policeman waved us on, and we escaped the crowd and rolled down the windows for the most refreshing breeze I’ve ever felt.

But we still had to find fuel. When we finally discovered a gas station with diesel, it was in a very crowded corner of the town and once more our van was surrounded with onlookers and even grown men who cupped their hands against the windows to stare at us. But the waitingpaid off, and finally we had a full fuel tank and set off on the final leg of the journey.

We arrived in Kibuye about 3 PM. In reality, the trip was only about an hour longer than we originally estimated—so as far as African travel goes, this was pretty successful.

In the end, the answers to the story problem are: five hours. And no Pringles remaining.