Saturday, June 28, 2008

Month End

June is coming to a close, the end of our first month in Burundi.  It has been a time to settle in, learn some lessons and begin dreaming new things for the people of Burundi.  Here is a list of some of the things that happened:
  • We received Grace Scale and her mother, Lois, from AZ.  Grace is staying with us for the summer to experience life in Africa and help local friends who oversee an orphanage up country.  She will soon be starting an English-learning group for some university students, which will allow her to share English but also develop relationship with new friends. Burundi seems to agree with her!
  • We have been spending time deepening our friendship with the Batwa community in Bujumbura.  We have hosted a dinner in our home, visited a village up country, visited the village in Bubanza in need of immediate assistance, gone searching for land for them and meeting together to understand more of their needs and dreams for their tribe.  We are listening, learning and loving... what friends do together.
  • We hosted an Amahoro breakfast recently to gather the local friends who attended the event in Rwanda.  It was so encouraging to listen to them share what they brought back from The Gathering.  In true African fashion, they are already gettin' busy!  Most have already begun to implement new enterprises to live out lessons learned in Rwanda.  One is hosting community meetings to discuss, openly, tribal struggles in an effort to move toward pre-emptive reconciliation in his region.  Another is intentionally inviting Batwa students into her new school, something that she would not have considered before hearing the Batwa testimony in Rwanda.  Others have walked far on the road of forgiveness since we'd been together - one Batwa pastor shared how he was stoned in a previous church because of his tribal identity.  So he returned to the church and let them know that he forgave them, and that he was sorry for the anger he harbored in his own heart toward them.  And now they share meals together - reunited because of his bold gesture of forgiveness!  The westerners present at the breakfast shared how they are still processing (so true!), but as you can see, our African friends are taking action already!
  • Emma and Justin have discovered new family members:  Aunt Leonie, Aunt Anna, Uncle Cadeau... and other friends who are always around to help and play.  Emma and Aunt Leonie are cut from the same cloth, and it is a delight to see them play and dance together.  Justin loves playing soccer with Eric - he can even initiate a game using kirundi! The kids love it when Uncle Cadeau comes to pick them up for school.  They are enjoying their extended family.
  • Emma and Justin also enjoyed 2 weeks at the Bujumbura International Montessori School.  Their teacher said that Justin had twice as many words as the other kids... we are not surprised!  Emma seemed to enjoy the animals on campus and the activities - my kinetic learner.  Justin loved all the new friends to play with - my extrovert.
  • We did make it to the Rainbow Center last week for a sweet reunion.  The nannies, gate man, mechanic... they were all so excited to see Justin and Emma again!  They hollered, laughed and cheered as the kids got out of the van.  They could not believe how much they had grown, how Emma could hear now, how Justin spoke English and how beautiful Emma was now... so much joy!  I was glad that these dear people could see that their investment in Justin and Emma was part of their health and happiness now.  I was glad they could see with their own eyes God's great goodness, and know that they are part of that story.  They kept thanking me for coming to see them, for remembering them, for bringing the kids.  They were encouraged, and so was I.  This is such a special part of Justin and Emma's story... their very own rainbow connection!
  • Our friends and companions, Ron & Sarah, celebrated their one year anniversary here in Bujumbura!  I bet they did not expect to be in Africa when they exchanged vows a year ago in LaJolla, Ca!  Ron is a natural expat, quickly picking up kirundi and making friends all over town.  He is already known in our neighborhood by his kirundi name, given to him by Claude.  He walks the dusty streets chatting with everyone, getting haircuts at the local barber, helping people carry their heavy loads... a true neighbor!  Sarah is still finding her kirundi name, but she seems to have found a good pace here.  She seems to reflect deeply about what she sees, not satisfied with staying at the surface of things.  
  • Claude traveled to Princeton Seminary to participate in Envision '08.  He was able to share his hope for Africa with 600 new friends - wow!  He also enjoyed a reunion with friends Brian McLaren and Richard Twiss, as well as meeting new friends and planting seeds for more partnerships.  He was delayed in transit... stopping over in Brussels while I awaited his return.  But he did make it home - with Almond M&M's from Terry!  
  • Claude returned home with an unexpected gift - Soularize videos from their gathering in The Bahamas.  I devoured the sermons by N.T.Wright and Brennan Manning.  But I was deeply challenged by the series offered by Richard Rohr, a contemplative and leader of The Center for Action & Contemplation in New Mexico.  I needed his words at the very moment they arrived.  I know that I need deep spiritual resources to be here, or to be who God desires me to be while here.  I believe God brought a ray of hope, a lifeline, right when I was at the end of my own rope (or my own shallow resources).  I am excited to go deeper, to be not a mere introvert but a contemplative in the best sense of that word.
  • I have read 6 of my 12 books... and still have 2 more months to go!  Lots of time to read, reflect, journal and correspond here.  As I said, this has been a sabbath season in many good ways.  I am moving slower, but maybe I am moving better.  I am certainly seeing more things in me that need to be addressed, need to be let go, need to be surrendered to God for reformation.

And next month... well, I fly to Uganda tomorrow to launch the first Amahoro Institute on July 1st.  Then we have another in Burundi the following week, and then off to South Africa for the 3rd one before the month's end!  So this month will be about smaller regional conversations. The kids will begin learning french at a new school - one they will be in for July and August. Claude will be working closely with our Batwa friends to move the project forward.  We are all on the move...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Looking for Land...

We were out on the road again today - looking for land for the Batwa Community.  This is not the first parcel we have investigated, and may not be the last, but this is part of the process. This particular plot is already fertile ground for cotton, as you can see.  Through the dusty brush and grass you could see these bright white orbs like gems in pronged settings... catching the sun and radiating alabaster beauty.  I never knew cotton could be so stunning - before reaching a tailor or fashion house for shaping!  But cotton is not the best crop for sustainability, we are thinking rice will better suit the local market, the growing climate and such.  Rice demands ample water for frequent irrigation, and that is one downside to this land.  Water is nearby, but not close enough to make this land our gem!  Well... with the investment of some infrastructure, maybe.  But we are not done looking yet for the best place for our Twa friends to relocate, rebuild and renew their lives.  

Just 2 kilometers up the road is the Batwa Village that we will be partnering with for this project.  The photo above shows just a snapshot of this village, perched on the side of a road. Imagine a home on the shoulder of the main road in your city, imagine your children playing there, you cooking outside with the fumes of exhaust lingering in the air, with no privacy or protection from the elements or passers by.   This would not be suitable housing for us, nor is it for our Twa friends.  So you can see why it is important to go looking for land - to find a better place for them that will offer good housing, fertile soil for gardens and land that can sustain a new economy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Visiting the Twa

This weekend we traveled up country and off road, deep into the countryside to visit a Batwa village in the heart of this lush, green country.  Our driver... the Honorable Etienne Ndayishimiye, a member of Parliament and a Twa man, a dear friend (he is pictured here to the right of Claude).  He was eager to take us to see more Twa friends, to learn more about how they live and what they need to advance in the coming years.  Also along for the journey was Evariste Ndikumana, a university student (one of only two Twa in university in the entire country) and Grace Scale (living abroad with us this summer before she begins university in AZ).  

We swerved and swayed,  bumped and jostled as we made our way to the village.  We stirred up more than dust with our visit... the mzungus caught the attention of everyone we passed.  We were to discover that many people who live this deep in the country do not often, if ever, venture to Bujumbura.  This means that many have never seen a white-skinned person; maybe they have seen one in a distant car careening by, but not up close!  Not one walking with them, worshipping with them and close enough to reach out and touch...  Grace and I were novelties, and we had (quite literally, as you can see) a following. 

But we know that the true gravitas was with Etienne, as a member of Parliament he will be able to represent them, to effect change for them, to give them great hope by his visit.  And Evariste, who asked so many kids about school, shared his own story with them about enduring elementary school, staying in secondary school and now undertaking university.  You could see the kids eyes grow with surprise... a Twa in university!  He learned that in this local village, only one child was still in secondary school (high school).  The Twa are very poor, and can seldom afford school fees.  And if they can find money for fees, few can endure the ridicule of other children - Twa are treated with contempt and disgust by most Hutu and Tutsi people.  So you can imagine what school must be like - when you are poor, made fun of and no one expects much of you anyways.  Not many have the fortitude (or encouragement) to press on, and so across the entire country of Burundi only 400 are in elementary school, fewer in secondary levels and two (2) in university.  So Evariste's story can be an encouragement, and Etienne's presence can give them hope.  The Twa are blessed with leaders who are paving the way, and making sure that others have access to it for a better future.

We have become part of this... as friends.  We can share the story, we can make sure they are seen, we can work to help bring a better future for the Twa.  

See the older woman crafting a pot?  This is a proud Batwa tradition... pot making.  Sadly, there is little market for her pots anymore as the market is now flooded with plastic and metal vessels from overseas.  So she works on these beautiful, perfectly symmetrical pots and can expect 0.20 for each.  Practically, this is not enough to be considered currency.  All she can now do with her pots is trade or barter for food - two large pots and one small one will get her 5 kilos of cassava.  Not much money, not much food, not much hope.  But see her smile - she is lovely and we need to see her and encourage her.  

Please remember our Batwa friends.  Remember them in your hearts, your prayers, and your growing understanding of Burundi and those who comprise the population of this land.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hosting Friends

Last night we hosted dear friends in our home... 5 friends from the Batwa tribe.  Two of our guests are Parliament Ministers, representing the Batwa at the highest level of government. One is the eldest Batwa in Burundi, a man of great honor among his people.  Two are university students - rare among the Batwa community.  This was an amazing group to host, and we were humbled and delighted by their company.  Liberate (seen center in the above photo) was the first Batwa member of Parliament.  She shared her story, of ridicule and shame and heart ache growing up Twa.  In Burundi, the Twa make up less than 1% of the population.  While the Hutu and Tusti have open hostilities toward one another, they share a mutual distain for the Batwa tribe and make their life one filled with ridicule, disadvantage and poverty of the most extreme sort.  But God has not forsaken or forgotten the Batwa, and neither have we.  As a matter of fact, these are our friends whom we will be working with over the next season to bring about hope to a Batwa community of 70 families.  I will share more later... but we were blessed to host our Batwa friends last night.  You need to know about them, to pray for them, to celebrate what God is doing for them!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Healthy Smiles

We are happy and healthy - see!  This photo was taken in honor of fathers - mine and theirs!  Since mine was in California and theirs was in Brussels on Father's Day, this was our way of sending smiles to our great dads!  Now we have another great father in Montreal, too, so we cannot forget to wish him a Happy Father's Day also!

As you can see, Emma and Justin are adapting well to life in Burundi.  They seem to enjoy this house filled with friends, family and great helpers.  Justin loves Nina, his nanny.  He also enjoys playing soccer with Eric and watching him open and shut the big gates. ("Mama, someday I want to open the gates like Eric when I get bigger" he told me!)  Emma adores her Aunt Leonie - which is no surprise to me because they have a very similar way about them.  Emma's biggest smile came when her Aunt dressed her up in her own African skirt and taught her to dance... she danced with abandon (but no rhythm, sadly)!  They are having fun with Aunt Anna, Uncle Cadeau... and then Ron & Sarah and Grace.  So many friends around all the time - Justin is loving the relational opportunities!  But they are eager to start school - which is coming soon!  Justin does miss Miss. Angel and his friends from his school, and Emma has asked when the yellow bus is coming to take her to school... so they are ready to get back into a classroom, back into the mix with new friends... more activity for their curious minds!  They do enjoy going with Aunt Leonie to Sunday School every Sunday... they are the only ones in the Sunday routine!  

I am well, but waiting for Claude to return.  He is stuck in transit... in Brussels right now.  But soon he will be back - and my smile will be all the wider!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What I am (not) doing in Burundi

I am not doing a lot of things in Burundi that were normative for me back in Arizona.  Here is a starter list:
  • I am not doing laundry
  • I am not cleaning house (or even making my own bed)
  • I am not going grocery shopping
  • I am not cooking
  • I am not driving around town
So this brings another question to the forefront - what am I doing in Burundi these days?  Here is another list:
  • I read (three books so far... I might even run out before the summer is over!)
  • I write in my journal
  • I listen to music and podcasts
  • I correspond (mostly via email)
  • I spend time in long, unhurried conversation with friends
There is a pace of life here that is unheard of back home - one that is not dominated by the watch or clock, not determined by the long list of tasks that must be accomplished in short order.  At home there is time to do, here there is ample time to be.  When you have the unhurried opportunity to just be, you gradually become more human, as was intended by our Creator.

I mentioned it before, but the thought returns that Sabbath, with good reason, is a biblical imperative.  When we cease from frantic activity, we can begin to untangle some of the knots we've gotten ourselves into over time.  We can relax and let those tense places in our psyche unclench and loosen.  Gently and without hurry we can begin to pull things out and begin to reflect more deeply on who we are and what drives us.  Busyness can drive us - but it does not fulfill us and does not define us in terms of God's intent for us.  

So this is my Sabbath season, a time to rest and read and reflect.  A time to re-imagine what might be ahead for me and my family.  As years of hurry fall off like scales, I can begin to find a deeper peace within my own soul and be in a place where I can imagine new things.  Here you don't have to rush to answers, to quickly determine outcomes or react to anything with immediacy.  You can let questions linger, you can take time to discern and watch things unfold before making a premature move to solve or correct.  

We have been encouraged, since Creation, to follow God's example and rest every week.  Every week there is a time to sit back and refrain from the frantic, fast-pace demands of life.  Every week we take a day off, a day to declare that we are not our job, we are not defined by our production, our worth is not determined by our paycheck.  We take a day to receive holy gifts, as Walter Brueggeman so elegantly says.  Sabbath is a time to receive from others - chiefly from God himself (who loves to give good gifts to his children, the Bible says), but also from those around us.  We receive, and that reminds us that we do not live on our own merits alone, we live by the grace of God who makes the sun to shine, the skies to rain and the sweet fruit of summer to ripen on the vine.  We receive from our family and friends gifts of deep laughter, unhurried conversation, unspoken affection... reminders of our inter dependance - things we can only accept when we take time to be present and undistracted.  

When was the last time your Sabbath (maybe Sunday for you) was a day of unhurried receptivity?  A day not of rushing to a church service, or doing several loads of laundry or spent in front of the computer on a work project?  But a day when you sat back and received all that is good in life, the things you cannot create or work up on your own, but must just accept with open hands from others?  I am convinced that we need to receive in order to be fully human, as God intended.  We need to stop running - and rest, receive and be restored.

Sabbath is not just for Africa (though it is so abundant here), it is for America and all the world that God created.  So I wish you each sabbath - a time to (not) do something, a time to be who you most truly are created to be as you receive from God and others.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Look what I found!

Here I am, having a (diet) Coke* and a smile!

*Well, Coke Light is what they call it here.  And yes, it is an import from the Middle East market.  It was the lone silver can in the cold case, and I could not resist.  The taste was not the same - but close enough to garner a smile!

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Today is our sabbath, our day to play, contemplate and rest in Bujumbura.  We are at club du lac, a local resort perched on the edge of Lake Tanganyika.  On most Saturdays you can walk past the pools down to the sand and join a game of sand volleyball with the expats - if you are into that sort of thing.  If you know me, you know I have to be elsewhere!  So while Ron & Sarah and Grace hit the beach, I elect to be cloistered up in the lounge.  Here there is a strong breeze blowing across the open room, there is a sweeping view of the lake and waves (yes, lakes this large do have waves) and internet access!  So I come here to read and write, to think and be a bit free from domestic distractions.

Right now the kids are taking a nap at home with Nina and their Aunt Leonie present.  Joseph and Eric are keeping the home in order.  The day is quieter for most everyone.  Saturday even begins more slowly, as it is designated as a community works morning.  This means that there is to be no traffic on the roads (paved or dirt) before 11am, and people are encouraged to come out and clean the streets, repair roads damaged by heavy use or heavy rains, etc.  So there is little movement on the streets till late morning.  So Saturday begins slow, and seems to keep that relaxed pace throughout the day.  

For all the noise of Africa, there is a stillness and slowness that opens the door to contemplative pursuits.  There is time and space for reflection, for reading, for imagining new possibilities.  (If you are a writer with a book in you - this is the place to come and let it grow and burst forth!)  I have already completed 2 books and am well into my third.  So my mind is well nourished.  This might be fertile soil for introspection and the birth of new adventures.  I hope to make the most of this time, this open space for dreaming and daring to ponder new things!

So goes the Saturday Sabbath on the shore of Lake Tanganyika!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Patient Prisoners

Key to the work of God's Kingdom is bringing release to the prisoners.  Today we witnessed such a work. 

It is a sad truth that many who come to the public hospital for medical care end up becoming imprisoned by their caregivers.  Once medical needs have been met and a person is ready to be discharged, if they cannot afford to pay their bill they are detained by the hospital.  These people are known as patient prisoners.  The hospital will keep them in their bed, feeding them enough to keep them alive, but refusing to release them until their bill is paid in full.  

For the past week Claude has been visiting the Prince Charles Hospital, one of three local public hospitals in Bujumbura.  He has been meeting with the chief social worker to learn about patient prisoners in their facility.  What he discovered is that there were 12 men and women currently detained in this hospital, ranging from the age of 17 to 73.  Some had come to the hospital in late 2007 to seek medical care, but upon recovery have been kept on-site because they do not have the money to cover their bill.  Looking at the release dates reveals that some of these men and women could have returned home 4 or 5 months ago – if they could have only paid their bill.  The good news is that today, 12 of them would get to go home due to kindness from someone they never met.  We got to be midwives, mere hands and feet, but what a joy to be a part of such a story. 

Pictured here is Hakizimana.  Tonight, after months of detention for an unpaid bill, she will go home to her 7 year old son.  This is good news, indeed.

I will try to share more later, but you can imagine how emotional the day was.  By the end we saw 12 people go home because God moved on their behalf through others.  Some days God's love is so tangible you cannot fight back tears, and you can only be in awe of such holy moments when prisoners, even patient prisoners, are given their freedom.   


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Noise of Africa

I was on the roof-top this morning... and noticed the noise.  Down the street is a local carpenter shop, and the sawing and sanding create a rhythm line for the neighborhood music.  There is the rooster(s) next door that are incessantly calling and strutting their voice at all hours of the day. Always there is a child crying from one direction or another (sometimes even my own!).  Cars honk randomly throughout the day and night, honking for someone to open the gate so they can drive into their home.  On Sunday you can hear a choir singing songs in harmony - so there must be a church nestled somewhere in our vicinity!  The noise indicates that Africa is alive - people are working, visiting, worshipping and living.  I am so glad we are in this neighborhood, surrounded by life!  We could have been in an upper-class place, but it is more quiet there in the hills about the city sounds.  Here we are part of the life and the noise.  Our contribution is our broken kirundi, heavy with an american accent!  The constant clicking on our laptops might be another texture we add to the mix.  Here we get to be part of the African song, the neighborhood noise.

From the roof-top we can watch all the other families.  They are washing (by-hand) and hanging clothes to dry, they are rocking their babies to sleep, they are cooking over an open fire or sitting together drinking fanta.  Sometimes a small child will look up and see us - point and laugh!  We just wave and smile.  There is also a lot of construction going on in this place - we must be in the Surprise of Bujumbura!  The building tactics here are quite different, to say the least.  But it is good to see that sign of life and growth, the confidence people have when they are building their future and planning to live here.  The structures and colors would surprise you - no HOA or COA here!  But this is a place where neighbors do talk to one another, so everyone seems to be in on the local action.  I love seeing the community from my roof-top.  I am learning as I watch.  Now, who is watching me?  Would they learn anything of use from me? Hard question... I think I need to stay in a learning posture here!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Family Photo!

Here is our most recent family photo!  This was taken by our friend, J., while all sitting in the Kigali Airport.  We were waiting for our Rwanda Air flight to Burundi while the others were awaiting an Ethiopian Airline flight to Dulles in D.C.  It was our last time together in Rwanda... Gotta love those smiles from the kids!  This is real life.