Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas in Burundi

Christmas in Burundi is much different than Christmas celebrated in the United States. Trees remain firmly planted in the African soil, not cut and carried into homes to be decorated. Few people are decking the halls here – save a few westerners who brought some strands of colored lights to hang in their window. I have not heard Christmas carols on the radio or blasting from the sound systems of the local market. No one here is complaining about too many gifts to wrap, too many presents to still buy before the 24th or fighting the holiday traffic around the mall. People are planning to gather in homes for meals to celebrate together, and even at this late date people have room in their schedule to accept invitations and volunteer to bring their holiday cheer to the party.

It is odd to not have the tinsel, carols and gilded trees around. How odd, days before Christmas, to not be making a list and checking it twice – the grocery list, that is! Strange to not be planning the holiday feasts and setting aside hours to prepare them in the kitchen. This is just a different context for Christmas for the Nikondeha family this year, and it takes some getting used to.

But there is something about being free from the holiday hassles and expectations, from the myriad of distractions that I have become accustomed to amid this yuletide season. Christmas without the usual trimmings allows me to contemplate the coming of Christ, to consider the magnificence and mystery of Incarnation, God with us.

Then it dawned on me…

Christmas in Burundi is just the same as Christmas celebrated in the United States. We all will stop, for a moment, and remember the star that marked the sky and marked the coming of Good News to our broken world. We will listen to the Christmas Story and ponder, again, if there is room in the inn – room enough for God’s Miraculous Gift in our own stable of a heart. Shepherds watching, angels announcing, wise men seeking and a virgin birthing will all remind us of the amazing arrival of Jesus into the world He once created, entering the cosmos He so loves and coming close to those who bear His very image.

God is with us – all of us. He is with us as we celebrate in Burundi, as you celebrate in the United States, as you celebrate in Cape Town, Nairobi, Kampala, British Columbia, London, Oaxaca or where ever you are on the globe this season. Christ approaches all afresh this Christmas, arriving as a vulnerable baby who, like every baby, alters our world every day thereafter.

We join you, wherever you are, in welcoming the Prince of Peace to this world again. We affirm with you that our world continues to need His Good News, and we will work alongside Him in the days to come to bring restoration to what is broken, hope to barren places and joy to the world He so loves!

Christmas Blessings from the Nikondeha Family,
Claude, Kelley, Emma & Justin

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Missing the mountains

Since June I have not seen the large and looming mountains of Congo that sit on the other side of Lake Tanganyika.  They are majestic mountains, lush green and they set an amazing backdrop for the coastline.  There are so many mountains clustered together, it looks like layers upon layers of verdant monuments to stability and awe-inspiring beauty.   I miss seeing the mountains.

When I arrived in Burundi in early May I was greeted by the mountain-scape.  I could enjoy the view from my bedroom window each morning.   I love having them so close at hand - as if I can reach out and touch them after a morning stretch.  Somehow, seeing them off in the distance was comforting.  It was as if, in some mystical way, the mountains became like guardians.  But I have not seen the mountains since June, when the weather patterns changed.  Haze clouds my view - a combination of dirt and dust, pollution suspended mid-air, and other dynamics that remain a mystery to me.  I must say it again, I miss seeing the mountains.

This longing to see the mountains of Congo again has become a metaphor, of sorts.  I think of our work with the poor of Burundi, our friends.  I have seen, large as any mountain range, the goodness of the work.  I have seen with clarity the homes built since June, the land cleared and cultivated - now embracing potato, cabbage and carrot seeds, I have seen children transformed into students in gleaming new uniforms.  I have seen evidence that good things are at work - and at close range.  But there has been a haze settling in recently.  The last few weeks have brought in dust and debris that has obscured my view.  It is, I suppose, inevitable.  Weather patterns change.  External elements shift and I cannot control them, I must wait them out until the rains or winds come.  Until then, I have to remember that the mountains are there.  Despite what I see (or feel), the goodness is there hidden behind the haze of hurt feelings, distrust and sadness.  

I could get to the mountains if I wanted - I could hire a taxi and endure the jostling journey from Bujumbura to the Congolese border.  I could drive into the heart of those mountains, because they are there beyond view.  The mountains have not moved, they are steady and ever-present.  They are not ontologically changed because I cannot see them, they remain.  I know this to be true about mountains, about goodness and about God Himself.

Beyond the haze that can cloud our vision, God is present like the mountains of Congo.  He is steady, vibrant and with a loving largesse that grounds my world.  Haze will come, it is as sure as the shifting weather patterns and turning seasons.  But He is present.  He is at hand.  The clouds do not cause me to doubt Him, only to long to see Him more clearly in the coming days.  
I crave the sight of my beloved mountains.  I long to see those green guardians again, to stand in awe of their majestic magnitude.  I wait for the winds of change (and rains) to come and reveal them once again.  I miss seeing the mountains...

"I will look to the mountains..."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Camp!

We are in the final moments of summer...  We have hosted many friends since June.  Some from Arizona, California & Texas, others from the Dominican Republic and Canada.  It has been a great ride sharing our life with each friend, learning new things together and conspiring some Kingdom goodness along the way.  Our summer has been full of blessing!

Our kids enjoyed a traditional summer activity - camp!  Justin and Emma piled into the van with their aunties and uncles (and one cousin) and journeyed to Mwaro.  This was their first visit up country, their first taste of rural life.  This is where Claude and his family grew up, this is where our extended family still resides to this day.  So the kids enjoyed a 'rural camp' experience while staying with all there other cousins and family members.  

The kids mingled easily with their cousins, and I think their uncle was proud to have them visit. They stayed in a little house with their aunties.  Justin was assigned a job... feeding the cows. He took his job very seriously, feeding the cows with diligence and tenderness.  He commented that is was dirtier up there, but otherwise he loved the visit and wants to go again!  Emma's favorite part was the family wedding... she was mesmerized by the women dancing the traditional dances.  She couldn't wait to show me her new dance moves, as she imitated the elegant ladies and their animated movements!  The kids loved the family, loved the country and loved their summer adventure!

Now that all the guests have gone and camp is a memory... we are looking toward school and a new season of work.  Even in Burundi, the seasons turn!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


professional Burundian drum corps*

We live in a school neighborhood, and so the sounds of children are ever around us.  But in the past set of weeks, there is the sound of the drums every morning.  The summer session must be when all Burundian boys learn the rhythms of their culture that have vibrated throughout their land for generations.

We drove by the school the other morning, and saw what we'd been hearing so many mornings in a row.  There were Burundian drums, each large as an oak wine barrel, in a circle formation.  The teacher stood in the middle of the drums demonstrating the traditional rhythms.  The boys are positioned, one per drum, around the outside of the circle.  With the thick drumsticks in hand, they beat out the rhythms with as much velocity as a 7 or 8 year old can muster!  And this goes on for a few hours every school day during the summer.  

They are not merely learning an instrument (like I was consigned to learn the recorder in elementary school) or fulfilling a music requirement (like the lackluster music classes I had to endure in grade school), they are learning the heartbeat of their culture.  Burundian drum corps are know throughout Africa as being the most accomplished drummers.  This is part of their heritage they are ingesting with every beat.  It is beautiful to see them delight in their tradition, to learn their rhythms unmediated by western culture or other diluting forces.  When they are in the circle of drums, it is Burundian culture they are celebrating.  It is wonderful to witness these lessons in motion!

So this morning I am in my home office ready to work, and I am again serenaded by the young drummers.  The beat is steady, forceful and unrelenting.  There is no break for laughter or horse play, these boys are serious about perfecting their hallmark rhythm.  This sets them apart - not as a generic African, but as a masterful and renowned Burundian drummer.  And as I listen, I find myself swaying to the unique combination of beats.  I can't help it!  It is like my heart is learning a new rhythm, day after day, soaking in this primal Burundian sound.  The drums bring a smile to my face every day.  This is what it is to live in Burundi, to sway to the indigenous sounds and share in this national delight... to celebrate the culture.  

When I get frustrated (electricity demand exceeds the grids capacity resulting in regular black outs, water is delivered at odd times of the day, making the idea of a regular shower more a riddle than routine)... the drums revive me.  The drums, as meted out with determined focus and athletic energy (and stamina!) of primary school boys, showcases what is good about my life in Bujumbura.  Somehow the rhythm of their drums moves me to a better place each morning.  

I am a Burundian citizen, though I came to my citizenship later in life.  I guess even I need to be schooled in these rhythms, right?  I want to carry my passport with pride - and these drums teach me to walk with Burundian rhythms resounding and reverberating throughout my body.   

On other days I hear the children, boys and girls, singing in Kirundi with such sweetness that it melts my heart.  I enjoy those songs, too.  But the drums... they do get to me on a deeper level. I love my summer mornings, complete with the Summer Drumming Sessions.

*photograph by Jaimi Kercher Photography 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Our guests are gone.  The house is returning to normal.  I am now turning my attention to a new season, one with less action but still active.  There will be fewer events, but still a lot happening. It is returning to the routines of life, even when I cannot always discern the regularity, the rhythms and roles that make it routine.  Maybe my daily routine is like life on a boat - constantly responding to the incessant movement of the waters, developing 'sea legs' so that I can walk to and fro without being thrown (or getting sick).

A friend gave me a word when I first arrived in Burundi - unfolding.  I have held onto the word, letting my imagination play with the image.  Receiving this word at the onset of my Burundian chapter was a great gift.  The connotations have been perpetually gentle, like water lapping against the side of a boat as it rocks, ever so slightly.  I have tried to lean into the word, to fall into it without seizing or fearing.  

Unfolding is something that happens slowly, gradually and gently.  I think of a crumpled paper... the corners all pressed into the center and turning on themselves.  As the paper unfolds, it spreads out - not stretching, just spreading.  And the corners come out... out from the compact center, moving toward the periphery, where corners belong.  They are not meant to be central or compressed at the core... they are corners meant to be at the boundary.  So I am allowing my misplaced corners to find their natural place.  And what happens in the process of this unfolding - I begin to see what is really at the center of the paper, what it is that holds the center.

Unfolding also leads me to think of gentleness, effortlessness, an easiness with the process. There is no striving or contending when you unfold.  You cannot force or hurry your unfolding. You just submit to it - like a good massage.  You are passive, yet present.  You are aware but not in control.  

Unfolding is like unclenching your fist.  Open your hand, relax your fingers, expose your palm. Let the stress or anger go.  Allow the hot, knotted emotions to ease and cool.  Maybe they will even dissipate as you simple let them go.  

But the word that seems constantly coupled with unfolding is gentleness.  This is a kind process, an easy place where the yoke is light and easy.  Could Jesus' yoke really be this gentle? The Dali Lama also speaks of being gentle to ourselves, extending a kindness and grace to our self as we experience harsh emotions, display bad behavior or struggle.  Gentleness as we view ourselves, gentleness as we follow, gentleness as we unfold and discover what God is developing in us.

As I said, this word has been a good housewarming gift.  It has allowed me freedom to gently unfold and allow God to reveal His reasons for me to be here at this time and in this place.  I think that now as I return to my gently rocking routine, there will be more unfolding and more revealing.  I think that next there will be deepening as I learn how to engage in Burundi in ways that are in step with the way of Jesus and for the sake of His world.

Friday, July 3, 2009

So much beautiful

It has been weeks since I have written anything beyond status updates on Face Book.  There has not been time to really reflect and say anything worth reading.  There has been so much happening and so little personal bandwidth to be able to communicate it.  So silence... and a hope that something will emerge and be blog-worthy.  But all writers know that waiting for inspiration is a cop out - you just have to sit down and write.  So I am finally doing just that... with no promises about the thoughts to come.  Good friends will understand and extend some grace!

The last month was full, brimming over with goodness and friends and divine surprises.  I was in South Africa for our annual gathering of friends.  Over 200 friends from across southern and eastern Africa, plus some westerners for good measure.  It was a reunion that embraced new friends as well as old in an on-going conversation about God's work in African communities.  
Conversation was rich, connections were rich, communion & celebration were fitting for us. 
Coming together like this never gets old!

Right away we flew from Jo'burg to Bujumbura, 7 friends carrying joy from one gathering into the next.  We arrived to Burundi in the dark, early hours of the morning.  The city streets were empty and the electricity in the house was off... our friends would have to wait till morning to see where they had arrived.  But in the morning light they could see the goodness of Burundi - with sweet sun and light breezes that were so refreshing after the rainy winter days of South Africa.  We'd rest by the shore of Lake Tanganyika enjoying pizza, wireless internet access and that glorious view of the lake and the Burundian foothills.  

But just a day later we were in high gear as we readied to welcome 30 friends traveling from Texas to meet the Batwa of Burundi.  Bringing these two diverse communities together was a year in the making, or planning or praying.  God wildly surpassed our best plans, expectations and hopes for this gathering of friends!  Connections between these two communities seemed effortless, natural and God-ordained.  Greetings were enthusiastic and warm from the first smile, from the initial hand shake.  There was music - the sounds of hands clasping together, harmonies of laughter, lyrics being learned in Kirundi and English... new songs of friendship being composed right before our eyes!  Then we danced together on the beach - and found one another with joyful abandon.  I promise you this is no exaggeration, something happened that first day together.  The Spirit drenched us.  Maybe it was a taste of Pentecost on the edge of Lake Tanganyika... where language and culture did not hinder our ability to express love and share in joy together.  I will never forget that God-drenched day.  Ever.

The days that followed kept my eyes moist with tears.  The goodness keep unfolding between my American and Batwa friends.  Each community was laden with blessings, the friendship was yielding a bounty of blessings that could scarcely be contained.  We played volleyball together on the beach and swam in the lake, we worked together clearing fields and weather-proofing homes, we shared meals, sang by the fire, exchanged gifts and blessings and laughter.  At one point I wondered, fleetingly, when the bubble would burst.  Too much goodness was... too much.  At some point something had to give...  But God's goodness does not run dry or evaporate like burst bubbles.  His goodness grows, expands, deepens... and this was a foretaste of His lavish goodness to all of us.  As our friend Tracy sings, 'So much beautiful.'  It was just so much beautiful.

I will write more... but this is a start.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Mindfulness - I am not talking about minding your P's and Q's.  But minding yourself and your world with great care and kindness.  It is something I have been considering in the last set of days.  In a highly mediated culture it is so easy to not mind things that matter, to have attention diverted by favorite shows, favorite foods or favored vices of almost any sort.  But even in Burundi, away from the mediated rush, I find that I can be inattentive to the important things.

As I am observing my pattern of mindfulness, I am learning that I often am more mindful of things that annoy me, people that offend me, inconveniences I must suffer at inopportune times. It is too easy for my mind to feast on these things.  But mindfulness is a terrible thing to waste...

I have been reading some eastern thinkers on the practice of mindfulness, intentionally thinking about some things - or not thinking of them at all.  And one striking possibility is that we can train our mind to think differently, to be mindful of better things.  One recent challenge has been to not think about my frustrations as much as feel them.  So when anger ignites - feel the emotion without thinking about it, why I am angry, why I am justified in my anger, why someone else should validate my anger... simply feel it.  Hold the fiery sensation for a moment without thinking... and then exhale.  Sounded odd to me at first, until I began to practice being mindful about my anger.  It is a challenge to mind my emotions, really.  And I am learning something about what emotions most readily ignite in me and how I try to justify them.  I guess it is an internal mindfulness I am leaning into these days.

There is another related practice that comes from the Dali Lama, via my friend Jennifer.  He is talking about how to cope with negativity, and he recommends that when we feel a negative sensation to associate a positive thought (this is a poor paraphrase, I admit).  So when I lock my nightstand drawer, then lock my bedroom door, then lock the desk drawer and then the kitchen door before locking the front door of our home... instead of getting exasperated, I can think about locking up resentments power in my life.  And when I come home and unlock the front door, the kitchen door, the desk drawer, the bedroom door and then the nightstand drawer I can, each time, think about unlocking God's liberating goodness for the Batwa in Burundi.  It is being mindful each time I have a key in hand to lock and unlock certain things, rather than to be half-hazard and feel annoyed.  But since I have determined to do this - it is amazing how many times I am all the way through the ritual of locking doors before I am re-minded to lock up resentment!  I am learning how often I function on auto-pilot and am not mindful at all.  I guess that is why we practice!

Today I was reading a book by Barbara Brown Taylor, and she mentioned mindfulness as well. She frames it as paying attention to the world around us.  Listening to the crickets singing wildly in the shadow of the sunset (as I am doing now), watching the red-breasted bird pick at my arugula, inhale the spicy aroma from the neighbors outdoor kitchen and identify the spices as they linger in the air... paying attention to the world around me.  She comments on how this opens the door to God interacting with us in new ways, outside the walls of the church building, when we have a posture of attention.  This is a way to embrace the world God has made and has set us in.  She also connects attention with reverence... one often opens the door to the other. When we pay attention to the world and to people, we are often humbled and moved to reverence for God and His handiwork.

So many of the things I have been reading lately point to mindfulness... training our mind to be more attentive and more reverent.  I remember Paul's admonition to the Philippian church to 'set your mind on these things...' to practice thinking of better things, higher things, God-given things.  So I am trying to live this out, to practice mindfulness in my life.  I am trying to cultivate a holy attentiveness to the world God has set me in this season.

P.S. Tonight Claude and I are flying to Johannesburg for a reunion of friends... the 3rd annual Amahoro Gathering.  There is nothing as sweet as the joy of reunion and the opportunity to begin new friendships rooted in Christ and His transforming work across the world.  As an introvert entering an extroverted environment, I will aim to be attentive to the joys, the laughter, the beauty in each person God brings into view.  And if I don't have any space to myself in the next few days - I don't think I will mind!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Toward Engagement

Last Friday my brother in law, Augustine, took a step toward engagement.  In Burundian culture this is the first in a collection of ceremonies that lead to marriage.  This first ceremony is called gusaba irembo and is for close family only.  This ceremony is where the families first meet and the man's family asks for the door between the families to be open for connection, conversation and eventually marriage.  

The ceremony begins at the door, when the women of the family bring baskets of goods to offer to the woman's mother.  In our case, the women with baskets are my sisters-in-law and aunts. (Augustine wanted me to be part of this entourage.  While I am honored that he selected me and even believed I could balance a basket on my head... I am glad Claude persuaded him otherwise!) The baskets are filled with bags of rice, beans and bottles of beverages.  These gifts to the family indicate that this is a significant visit.

Once the baskets are given, our family is ushered to the front lawn where there are tents set up in anticipation of our arrival.  The Nikondeha clan sits together on one side of the tent while Martine's family sits on the other side.  We are served drinks and there is hushed conversation and murmured laugher among each family.  This goes on for about an hour.  

You can see here my Augustine tucked in the corner, sitting quietly, surrounded by his sisters and aunts.  The protocol dictates that he not say anything to Martine's family during this ceremony.  He does not speak for his hoped-for-bride, this honor is delegated to the elder of the family.  If our papa (Andre Nikondeha) was here, the responsibility would be his.  But in his stead, stood his brother Aloys.  So Uncle Aloys would represent the family, speak for the interests of Augustine and ask for the open door between the families gathered under the tents. But he would not speak until invited to... by Martine's father.  And as I said, we sipped fanta for over an hour before that part of the evening was initiated!

But at long last Martine's father, a military man, did engage the family in conversation.  And as is the tradition, he began by noting the gifts brought, indicating that this was a special visit.  So he asks the nature of our visit tonight.  (Keep in mind, we all know why we are gathered here tonight, but for the sake of the ceremony, everyone plays along with the etiquette.)  Then Uncle Aloys speaks.  His opening remark included the acknowledgement that while it is his tongue speaking, it is the word of Andre Nikondeha being communicated on behalf of Augustine.  Then he rehearsed the merits of my brother and how beloved he is by the family seated here.  Then he reminds all of how Augustine and Martine first met.  And then the question... if the door between the families can be open for conversation.  At this point we all clap and everyone takes a sip of soda.

Then Marine's father says 'ego' (yes), we can be in conversation.  More clapping and more sipping of soda by all!  Then he says that certainly our families can talk together, and that he hopes we will visit he and his wife and friends often.  (The joke is not missed... because the ones really wanting to visit one another are Martine and Augustine!)  But there is more clapping and drinking.  Then it is Uncle Aloys' turn...

This goes on for a while, the back and forth of speeches, clapping and drinking.  Part of the conversation included the recital of family history.  Uncle Aloys shared that the Nikondeha Family came from a certain province and a certain mountain and is of a certain clan.  (I learned, for the first time, that we are from the Sons of Tiger clan.  This is a highly esteemed clan in Burundian culture, apparently.  I would have learned this had Claude and I had an gusaba irembo of our own - but we modified a few traditions in our union!)  Then we learned about Martine's family profile, though with fewer details.  But then the two family men spent quite some time debating the clan history and who knew the historical lore better.  All the while, the rest of us clapped and drank at regular intervals.  (Here is Uncle Aloys, seated in the middle. On either side are Claude's older brothers and their wives.)

We were invited into the house for a lovely meal and then came the after dinner drinks.  The military family certainly drank more lavishly than our family of pastors!  I think our reserve disappointed them.  But this is how it is when different families open the doors to relationship - we learn about what we hold in common and where we differ.  

You may wonder why there is no mention of Martine's role in the evening and no photo of the lovely bride-to-be.  This, too, is part of the protocol.  She is unseen, cloistered in the house for the entire evening.  (Augustine told me that he imagined her watching through one of the windows, peeking from behind the lace curtains!)  But she is invisible in a ceremony that will begin a shift in her life.  This is a reminder of how women are often seen in such cultures and in ages that predate us.  

I was told that the next phase of the engagement will be the negotiation of the dowry.  Uncle Aloys will come to see Martine's father and have a more private and candid conversation about the financial gift that is part of the tradition.  Here is where he will make his case for what he believes his daughter is worth.  (This is hard for us to imagine as Westerners, but it is part of the process to this day in Burundi.)  Once the price is set, the next step will be the ceremony involving the exchange of the dowry.  I am told this includes more family members, more speeches, the presence of both Martine & Augustine and... more clapping and drinking!  

But this is the beginning of the engagement.  Now the door has been opened between our families.  

P.S. As I observe all this, I think Claude got off pretty easy!  He did not have to bring baskets of food, negotiate a price, host more ceremonies....  But I think that over time he has certainly paid the price for his bride!  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


There is something about Burundian residential architecture that has often fascinated me - the open bricks at the roof-line of each room.  These bricks appear in a variety of patterns that vary from home to home, and they are all screened to prevent unwanted things from entering the home (like bugs, I imagine).  The purpose the open bricks - to aerate the home.  These openings in each room keep air moving through the home at all times.  Instead of air-conditioning, Burundian homes have air-circulating!  

Last Saturday afternoon I noticed the movement of the air as I drifted into a welcomed nap. The air brought in more than just ventilation, it carried an aroma of the food being cooked in the house next door.  I could smell the tomato, the spice, the sweet note of the sauce simmering over the charcoals.  I could also hear the music playing from a few different homes at once - an African beat, some Fifty Cent and the ubiquitous Celine Dion all at once.  It was a cacophony that was circulating around my room and interrupting my attempted afternoon sleep.  But these openings are never shut, and so you are ever exposed to the sensation, sounds and smells of the outer world.

These openings are like portals to the neighborhood around me.  I hear the favorite music of my neighbors.  I know when they are cooking - from both the aroma wafting from their outdoor kitchen and the sound of clanking dishes.  I hear, un-muted and un-muffled, the rooster chorus each morning, the workman constructing the wall next door with heavy-handed hammers, the laughter of friends in the cool, darkening evening.  These openings keep me connected to my surroundings in a very unmediated way.  I feel the very rhythm of my neighborhood, I experience it with my senses.   

The structured openness of Burundian homes is something I am coming to enjoy.  It is also something I am realizing I need to learn from.  I need to have a practiced and perpetual openness to the world around me, to aerate my soul in ways that keep me immediately aware of my surroundings.  It is easy to live behind locked windows, shuttered from the things that are around me.  I can choose to shut out unwanted influences, or I can just become acclimated to living with the windows shut and not even notice how out of touch I am with my environment.  I can miss opportunities or the voices of those in need can be muted, never gaining my attention.  But I don't want to live a life that is closed off.   I want a ventilated soul - open to the world around me.  Now learning how to do this... that is something I will need to explore.  But I want to be exposed, to be open, to not miss being where I am.

This Saturday, before the above mentioned nap, the family went to Bora Bora for a pizza lunch. They have a great thin-crusted pizza garnished with fresh basil that I love!  But the view... stunning!  And the air was certainly circulating, the breeze coming off of Lake Tanganyika.  Life is good... so I want to remain open to receive and savor it!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

One Week In

We are one week in to our Burundian season as a family!  This is the first photo of the kids back together after 2 months apart.  They are adjusting quite nicely!  Today we had a relaxed Saturday around the house.  Claude and the kids relaxed in the front room together while I read upstairs.  Later Claude and I sat on the porch discussing transformation, reformation and redemptive suffering over tea.  

Then Aimable and Mutama helped prepare a little plot of dirt for the seeds I brought.  Once the dirt was tilled, they decided it was too poor to plant anything. So they walked down the street, to a field where things were growing in abundance, and brought in bags of top soil one by one. The soil now was dark and rich - ready to receive the seeds!  So carefully Aimable and Claude dropped the seeds into the ground in long lines.  Rosemary, sage, arugula,  parsley, basil, thyme and mint all have a place in the garden.  Now I look at the square of soil with such glee and hope!  Maybe in a few weeks I will begin to see sprouts of green herbage peek through...

Our friend Nicole dropped by to welcome me to town.  We shared lunch then moved to the patio for conversation and cool beverages.  It was nice to relax together and enjoy an unhurried afternoon of conversation.  Claude is hosting another set of friends as we speak - it is now Saturday night, after all!

P.S.  It has been raining on and off the past few days.  One thing I have been reminded of is that when it rains, we often lose our internet connection.  We were without it for the last 24 hours. So friends, if we do not respond to your email promptly - check the weather report, it might just be raining in Bujumbura!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Seeing Orange

Claude found us a brilliant and vibrant house... it is orange!  In Burundi this makes perfect sense and is part of the local aesthetic.  I think it is so wonderful... this would never fly in many HOA's in the States, but here it is part of a colorful palette that makes our neighborhood pulse with life.  I am posting a photo so you can share in the smile that crosses my face every time I turn the corner and see our home...

We have a patio that is well suited to morning tea, afternoon chats and evenings when you want to find the cool spot to recline.  I am thinking this might be a favorite spot of mine...

I have previously mentioned that there some interesting things I was packing for Burundi, among them some decor items.  And to honor the local protocol, I brought a picture of our president.  Yesterday we had it framed and hung... and so we now have a proper African home! I was told today by a friend that there is already an Obama Shop in downtown Bujumbura - the proprietors changed the name of their store to honor Africa's most recent export!  And I have already seen an Obama bus... that was a given, right!  (For those who don't share Africa's affection and enthusiasm for the president, kindly refrain from comments on this post.  I am sharing part of the story here as I experience it, so no need for debate. Thanks!)

We also are working on a few other rooms... living room and dining room among them.  You know how pulling a home together is a work in progress, but we are taking strides.

This morning I enjoyed a few other favorite things I packed for the season in Burundi... I sat in the warming morning and enjoyed some rooibos tea sweetened with sugar in my orange mug.  I am pages away from completing The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a great book on confronting our inner creative battles.  Not that I see life in Burundi as a battle (anymore!), but it is good to have some encouragement to not let Resistance keep me from fully engaging in my life, call and blessing here.  "When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us... we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings.  Ideas come.  Insights accrete."  So I am sitting down to work - waiting for lightning to strike!  Well, maybe not something that dramatic - but I am confident that faithful work will yield God-given fruit!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Packing List (a.k.a. All that I can't leave behind)

This week is all about packing for Burundi.  There are plenty of the predictable items - clothing, sundries, Emma's hearing aid supplies, batteries and my laptop.  But tucked into my 5 suitcases are some unconventional tokens of home.  

The one thing that I had to pack from my kitchen - my pepper mill (and an ample supply of peppercorns).  After spending last summer in Bujumbura, I realized that fresh cracked pepper is an important seasoning for me, but not most Burundians.  So this time I am coming prepared.  And where there is pepper, there is also salt!  I am packing four kinds of salt, a well-chosen gift from Heather Sunukjian.  I am hoping for a well-seasoned table!

I also decided to take the advice of my friend, Laura Wilson, and pack some seeds to plant in our Burundian garden.  I picked the herbs I can't imagine cooking without:  basil, rosemary, parsley, thyme, mint, sage and arugula.  Even if all the seeds don't yield the herbs, I imagine at least some will!  So I am looking forward to learning how to tend a garden and then enjoy basil leaves torn over fresh tomatoes, mint in my cucumber salad, rosemary potatoes... And then there are some spices I am taking - smoked paprika and chili powder.  Imagine the possibilities!

Carefully wrapped and tucked away in one suitcase are a few favorite icons.  Madeleine L'Engle says that icons are like windows or reminders, and they always have been for me.  Peter & Paul Embracing, St.John, John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ will create a small iconostasis somewhere in my Burundian home.  

I also have rolled away a picture of President Obama.  This is not meant to be a political show of support, but a way to engage Burundian decor protocol.  It is customary to have a photo of the current president displayed in your home.  The first time I traveled to Bujumbura there was a picture of President Buyoya, more recently the picture of the current President Nkurunziza. So our home will honor the dual citizenship of our family by displaying both the leader of Burundi and the United States.

Packed away amongst my suitcases are also a few things to make the mornings more bright:  my Fiestaware sugar & creamer set, vibrant orange mugs, and an array of favorite teas.  
The first is from my table in Arizona, a bit of home.  The second is a cherished gift from Monique MacDonald that I will enjoy each time I make my morning tea.  And then the tea... Moroccan Mint, Boh Golden Tea from Malaysia and Rooibos from South Africa, some favored varieties to enjoy in our new home.

But no packing list (of mine, anyway) would be complete without mention of books chosen for the journey.  Last summer I posted the entire list of the 12 books I was taking for a 4 month stay.  I will not list the 70+ I am taking for the next set of years... your welcome!  But I will highlight a few... because they are part of my favorite things packed!
~  The commentary on Exodus by Umberto Cassuto - his work is like reading poetry as he unravels the truths of the Hebrew text of liberation, deliverance and hope - I cannot wait to read from cover to cover!
~  The Politics of Jesus by Yoder, recommended by Brandon, a friend and fellow expat living in Bujumbura.  I am eager to think more deeply about how following Jesus might affect our engagement in public (even political) contexts.
~  Vulnerable Community recommended by Tim.  This is addressing how theology needs disability to learn how to be fully human - to embrace vulnerability and engage in true community.  I am intrigued...
~  The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron, recommended by Jen.  Pema is a contemplative from the east who has offers vocabulary and insight about the inner journey.  The title and strong recommendation tell me this might be timely for me!
~  The War of Art has been hailed a great read by Rob Bell... about the creative spirit, the process and all the resistance involved.  Also sounds apropos.
~  Parables as Subversive Speech by Hertzog, recommended by Brian.  Sounds like a text that will challenge how we engage the parables by understanding their subversive nature.  Brian gave us a sample, and it thoroughly whet my appetite! 

There are many other books.  Commentaries on Genesis and Isaiah, another book on parables, the authority of the Bible, how to think about mission in the 21st century, collections of sermons from great preachers, on contemplative prayer and works on empire, powers and the Kingdom of God.  Authors include N.T. Wright, Brueggemann, McLaren, Caputo, Perriman, Hirsch, Wink, Crossan, Borg, Padilla, Romero, Tutu...  I am quite excited to unload them from duffle bags and place on our book shelves!

So that is a list of the things I cannot leave behind.  There are flavors, simple comforts, visual pieces and cerebral stimulation - alongside the things we need to function day to day.  I find packing to be such an interesting process because it is an exercise in evaluation of what things nourish and engage us, at some level.  That I take toothpaste, AAA batteries or gold t-strap sandals is not interesting, but maybe it says something that somewhere tucked in a corner of one of my many suitcases is a packet of mint seeds.

Friday, April 17, 2009


In less than two weeks Emma and I will join Claude and Justin in Burundi.  For weeks now, Emma has been waking each morning asking if today was the day we were flying to 'Rundi.  Now even I am more and more likely to be found counting the days left on the calendar... eager to segue out of transition into the next season overseas!  Readiness is brooding in our little one-room casita!

But it wasn't alway so, as many of my friends know.  I was filled with hesitation and resistance about a long-term relocation to Burundi.  Even as we made the decision, prepared our things for storage and moved out of our home, I remained far from ready.  My head was in agreement that this was a good thing to do, for so many reasons.  But my heart remained so attached to things here, and unready to relinquish them, even for the best of reasons.

Then came Lent.  Ash Wednesday was a turning point for me.  I decided to fast from complaints about Burundi for Lent, realizing how often I complained about things there, dreading the move.  I selected this fast from complaint in the hope that God would reshape something in my heart, that maybe if I quieted my own negative opinions that He would have more freedom to renovate my internal environment.  So I went to the Catholic cathedral down the street for Ash Wednesday mass.  The cathedral is under construction - so the exterior is done and beautiful, and internal walls are painted rich, saturated colors, but the rest is undone. There is no gold-gilded altar, no icons, no grotto crowded with votive candles, the dome has no mosaic yet... in process. And somehow I felt so at home as I walked in and dipped my fingers into the basin of the holy water... because I recognized that I, too, was under construction.  From the first psalm we sang to the last prayer we prayed (The Lord's prayer), during the imposition of ashes and slow procession toward the communion table, I wept.  Something in me broke, and it was a good, clean break that left me feeling open. I emerged from the service with tear-stained cheeks, and have not complained about Burundi since.  I have not even wanted to... it is like the complaints just evaporated amid that service.  

So Lent for me, this time, has not been a burden of fasting but a freedom to embrace something new God is doing.  I have never had a Lenten season with so much levity!  So resistance that once had residence in my heart is gone - I am so ready to travel to Burundi.  I am eager to see what is ahead - could be new friends, time for reading and reflection, ways to serve others, ways to love my family deeper... all or none or more than the above.  But the good news is that I come ready and without heaviness.  I am grateful that for now, I can travel with joy. 

Often times we do not have enough resources or personal readiness to follow to the places Jesus invites us to travel.  I am learning to admit that truth, and then surrender to the One who has unlimited resources.  He is committed to completing the good work He began in me, so in due season He delivers the needed readiness for the road ahead.  I can witness to that... He supplies a readiness that frees us to move forward with Him.

Did I mention that we are so very ready to go to Burundi?