Another Graduation

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Bring on the drummers! Any significant event in Burundi is herald by the traditional drummers. While February may seem a strange time for a graduation, out of sync with the school year or the calendar year, it’s a much welcomed event and celebratory at Hope Africa University. Not only is it the end of training in a specific field, a marker of obtaining a certain level of proficiency and the beginning of a new phase of life, but for many of the graduates it’s all the greater due to the political crisis of 2015.

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From the end of April to August of 2015 most of the universities and schools in Burundi were closed, especially in Bujumbura, the capital. The campus of HAU is situated between two neighborhoods where there was a lot of unrest, violence and insecurity. The winter semester classes for were interrupted in April 2015 with the beginning of protests in the city. Many of the 5600 students left. Faculty did not come to the campus. Classes were suspended until it was safe.

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In August of 2015, the new semester would have begun but the previous semester had to be finished first. As students began to return special sessions were held to finish course material and give finals so students could receive credit for their interrupted courses. Then in September the new semester began, making adjustments with extra days due to its late beginning.

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This interruption caused the regularly scheduled graduation of December 2015 to be moved to February of 2016. At that time over 1200 students graduated with much celebration due to the unusual circumstances that had overshadowed their educational experience.   This past December of 2016 another group of around 800 students walked for their degrees and licensures, including 17 medical students. It seemed things were getting back on track.   Unfortunately there were another 400+ students who were not quite ready to join them, due to the interruption the year before, but they were very close to completing all necessary requirements. Rather than make them wait until December of 2017 a special graduation was held to grant them what they had worked so hard to attain.

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I was especially happy to see several of my first English students from 2014 taking their place in the line up with big smiles of accomplishment and joy. In addition, several more medical students were also able to graduate, necessitating a special gathering for them to take their Geneva Oath, the vow of care and compassion for their patients.

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These students have not only accomplished a difficult task, but they have lived out, in a unique way, the school’s motto of “Facing African Realities”. May their tenacity, perseverance, endurance and education lead them into avenues of leadership and service to bring growth and prosperity for their families, communities and societies.

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Blog Silence

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Definitely NOT Burundi!  Beautiful Cascades in Washington

Sometimes life comes at us quickly with few spaces to reflect, report or recover in meaningful ways. Such has been the last two months and the reason for the long hiatus in this blog. We have been able to see many of you who read this, thus the lack of needing to write about what we could relate face-to-face. I have never wanted this blog to be a travel log, daily journal or space for whining and complaints. Rather my purpose has always been to, “. . . speak of the glorious splendor of your [God’s] majesty—and [I will] meditate on your wonderful works”, as it says in Psalm 145 where the psalmist is commending one generation to tell to the next the mighty acts of God as they display his graciousness and faithfulness. It was this purpose that inspired the name “Beauty and Wonder”. So if I don’t have something to write that speaks to that purpose I’d rather not write (especially since I’m not a writer). But as we have just recently returned to Burundi, I have now been able to pause long enough to write in a meaningful way some of recent situations that have spoken to me of the “beauty and wonder “ of God.

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21 new medical graduates from HAU

First, I must draw attention to the 21 medical students (seen here) who graduated in December to become licensed doctors in Burundi. This is no small accomplishment in a place of so few doctors, with so much need and such limited educational resources and expertise. Having counseled, mentored, educated and worked with them the last three years, Randy can attest to just what a feat of God this is. In addition, six of them have already committed to working together as a group to bringing their medical skills to the needy of Burundi in much the same way they have seen modeled by the Kibuye medical team (our sister Serge team in the interior). This is a sign of beauty and wonder—God’s faithfulness in the lives of these graduates and to the people of Burundi.

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Fun with family in Seattle

 

 

Next, I must recollect with profound gratitude the fun-filled time over the Christmas holiday with family. Once again we were able to spend the days around Christmas with family in Seattle, including our own adult children, in-laws and relatives. A particular highlight was experiencing the beauty of the snow, mountains and cross-country skiing for the first time.

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First time cross-country skiing!

 

 

 

 

 

I was also able to spend sweet time with family in California, most especially seeing my aunt just before she passed from this world into her heavenly home. Her parting words to me of: “I’m not afraid”, were testimony to her life of fellowship with God. While she loved life and had always lived giving, serving and without complaint, even while she was in a lot of pain the last ten years, she was ready to enter into the loving arms of her Creator and Savior. I was so glad I could visit her one more time, “this side of heaven”, to affirm our mutual bond of faith and tell her how she had witnessed God’s love to me growing up—another testament of beauty and wonder.

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My beloved aunt

A very special part of this U.S. visit was time spent with the three churches that have most impacted our spiritual development during the last three decades as they continue to support us in our present work in Burundi. Each of these church families has been instrumental in nurturing our growth not only while we lived in their particular local but even now as they support and pray for us. We were so blessed to be able to reminisce with old friends, hear about their lives, tell them of God’s faithfulness to us and encourage each another. We were excited to engage in discussions about possible new ways for some from these churches to become more involved in helping with the educational endeavors at HAU. And on top of all that joy, we were able to have communion with each church, which was particularly profound, meaningful and strengthening.

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Dear friends, always hard to leave.

Lastly, I must give thanks for the continued deep friendships with many over the years and miles, especially my closest friend, confidante and skin doctor. I am so appreciative of her concern for my soul and vigilance over my high-risk skin. I see so much more of the wonder of God’s love through her as she ministers to me and shares her own pilgrimage of faith.

Thank you to everyone we were able to see and spend time with. Thank you for all the ways you encourage us!  I hope that in highlighting these things God’s beauty will be displayed and acknowledged, and that others would join me in giving thanks for the marvelous things he has done!

 

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Back to School

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Everyday is summer here.

Much of my life’s routines and schedules have been formed around the school year calendar (Sept.-June), first as a student myself, then as a teacher and a parent. It is still the same, just a different calendar. Nothing in our current equatorial environment says, “fall”, the traditional time for school to begin in my experience, but nonetheless a new semester is underway.

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Education majors playing a vocabulary building game.

The academic year at HAU runs from January thru November, in two semesters (Jan-May and Aug.-Nov. roughly). Due to the large drop in student numbers this year I did not teach any courses during the 1st semester but now I seem to be the only teacher teaching English as a foreign language. I have two classes (50 and 55 students) for English 2. I’m also teaching a course called Integration of Speaking and Listening in English to a small class of three students who are second year Education majors. They are delightful!

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Writing exercise working in small groups.

English 2 is a course for learning academic writing in English. Like many new college students most don’t know much about the language of academic writing. Many have not learned how to write a logical, cohesive essay in French (the language of business and education in Burundi), but now I am trying to instruct to do it in English. It is a challenge to say the least! Further complicated by the many African realities of: lack of desks, decent blackboards, new students joining week 5 out of 11 and the extremely limited understanding of plagiarism as “stealing” or unacceptable

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Compare and contrast writing using pineapple and bananas.

Realistically, it is difficult to know who or how many of these students will need to be proficient English writers for their future. My goal is to teach them how to write a well-developed 5-paragraph essay, preferably in English, but with principals they could apply in any language so they will be equipped to share their stories and ideas with others. I have nothing but sympathy for their struggle to learn a new language due to my own language learning experience and for most it is their third or fourth language. I feel privileged to give them tools that may help their futures and I am glad to be teaching again, to be with students who are eager, hard-working and have a future hope.

 

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Bittersweet of Comings and Goings

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Beautiful hills of Virginia, scenery from one of our past “homes”.

For the past five years we have lived overseas making visits to the U.S. about twice a year. You would think it gets easier as it’s nearly routine. In some ways it has.   The logistics get better as we learn from experience and mishaps how to be better organized because we know what to expect or better prepared for what we don’t expect. But one part doesn’t seem to get easier for me, that is the experience of entering in and then exiting again the deep personal relationships with family and friends. That is the part that is the most bittersweet.

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Leaving our Burundi home.

Before we leave our host country each time there is a time of great anticipation and preparation for those we will see. There is such a longing to be face-to-face, to renew relationships, to create new memories, to be present to value those we love. There is also the preparing for our absence in the work and relationships that we will be leaving. Questions of: Will people continue in their responsibilities well or will things begin to fall apart? Will our new relationships here be strong enough to sustain through our absence or will people feel abandon and will we have to start building trust all over again? And so we prepare, pray, trust and leave the people and the work here in God’s hands to enter into our country of origin and reunite with those we love.

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Unplanned extra day in Nairobi instead of Paris due to flight delays.

Next there’s the hassle of travel. It’s a long trip! Sometimes it goes really smoothly, without a hitch. This last time every leg of it was fraught with some problem, from a missed flight to airline strike to vouchers for a bus that no longer ran to catching the last train thirty seconds before it pulled out of the station (and a lot of other unusual things that I won’t describe). But we got to every place we were scheduled to go to without loosing any luggage so we counted ourselves very blessed despite the inconveniences.

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Choices, abundance, diverse variety–I don’t think we are in Burundi anymore.

Once we land in the U.S. there is the initial 24-hour of culture shock. Each time a different set of observations grabs me. (This time it was just how multi cultural the U.S. is with languages, shades of color and customs and the amount of obesity across all sectors of the population.) Then there are the sweet reunions renewing of deep bonds of friendship that have held over the years of moves, transitions and changes. There are the face-to-face encounters with those, whose loving support upholds and sustains us, as we live so far away. There are the times with family where our parental love, joy and pride swell with being able to participate with our adult children in shared experiences, special events and common activities of daily life.

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Sweet reunions!

My hope and prayer is to be able to be present and connect during each of these encounters and relationships because all too quickly the days slip by and there’s always “business tasks” or others busy schedules that “eat into” the time we have. Perhaps that is why about halfway through our visit I again face the reality that we are not part of the daily lives of those we love. It makes me feel very sad for a time. We no longer live in the same cities states or country as our adult children, parents and friends. While that is often the case for families/friends that live in different cities, it seems compounded for us because not only do we live in a different country but a very different culture. I understand much of the experiences of those I love in the U.S. but few of those friends & family have lived overseas which makes it difficult to share our worlds with each other. Our deepest relationships go beyond daily activities but daily activities are the stuff of life. It’s what people know and converse about and shapes the background on which their lives play out.

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Visits with family loved ones.

Every visit I get to this place of realization and then I remember two important things I’ve learned that help me. First, I realize the gulf that is there in so many of my precious relationships which is the price of living overseas and laying down our lives for the gospel. It is a daily choice. Second, I concur again the importance of working at strengthening and preserving those relationships beyond time, place and culture. Thankfully, we live in an age of technological wonders, which gives us the means of staying connected but we must be intentional in using those means. Perhaps it’s realizing this again that helps me prepare to return to our host country and enables me to “let go” and say “until next time” instead of just good-bye.

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Sweet times–hiking with my kids.

Each time we leave the U.S. again, Randy’s mom gets very teary and sad saying, “I don’t know if I’ll be here the next time you come.” She feels her age and the 9,000 miles distance in our parting. She speaks a possibility each one of us could say to anyone on any day because we don’t know the number of our days. But I answer her with the only truth that encourages me when we must leave our loved ones to return overseas, “Well, if not here then in our eternal home, you’ll just be there first.” I’m not trying to be flippant I’m trying to “think out” the implications of the truth of this promise Jesus gave in John 14:2,3: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  I feel her sadness and pain at feeling left alone. I have sadness and pain too. I could not leave and go if it were not for believing in this promise of eternal life with Jesus. Because of this I can embrace the bittersweet of comings and goings. I can try to stay connected to loved ones in whatever ways work. I can even continue to experience my broken heart in all the “so long, until next time”. Because I believe that one day, “He will wipe every tear from their (my) eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” and that He will “make all things new!” (Rev. 21: 4 & 5)

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Randy and his mom–trip to see Mr. Rainer.

 

These words ease the bittersweet and help me to make the transition back to our host country home, back to routines, to unpacked suitcases, to my own pillow and bed, to the place we put our stuff away for now, to the work and relationships we have here and to looking forward to the next time we will travel to be with our loved ones.

 

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Fabric Shopping In Bujumbura

 

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One of the most colorful spots in Bujumbura is the fabric corner of the “City Market”. There are stall after stall of vibrant, colorful fabrics sold in 6 meter panels to wrap around bodies as skirts, dresses, shirts, head wraps and baby carriers. I have been to the City Market fabric shopping several times with others and it is always an entertain experience which ends in buying several pieces of fabric.

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Recently, I needed to find fabric to replace the cushions on our balcony.   After over two years of equatorial sun in the early morning and late afternoon they had faded so badly I needed to replace them. This was to be my project during the six weeks between our company conference in Spain and leaving for vacation—a summer doldrums (if such a thing is possible) because it’s a time that nearly next to nothing is happening due to schools being out of session and many people leaving the city. Problem was I wasn’t sure about going to the market on my own and everyone else I knew was gone, so I asked Gilbert, our house-worker, to accompany me and be my translator and guide (although most vendors speak some French). He gladly agreed and so we went.

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There is a bit of a system to the choosing of fabric and it is no different here. First, one is overwhelmed by the colors and varieties, even when you have an idea of what you’re looking for. So it’s important to peruse all the choices to find which fabrics keep jumping out at you. Here that means all the stalls. Second, you have to be gathering information, asking prices to get an idea of the range, quality and the negotiation parameters. Third, once you know the fabric that keeps attracting your eye at each stall you can begin to narrow the field of which stalls have it and how much they might sell it for. Of course, one doesn’t straight out ask about the piece of the one you’re interested in—that would be a give away—rather you pretend not to be interested and bargain for other pieces and be a little disgusted at the high price. Then you ask “What about others that cost less, like this one or this one, how much?”

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This was the negotiation Gilbert facilitated for me in Kirundi, then translating to French, along with lots of discussion about which fabrics fade and which are more durable.   In the end, I pay the “ex-pat price”, not the lower “Burundian price” but at least not the higher “tourist price”. If I could have sent him back on his own another day he might have been able to negotiate a cheaper price but economically times are hard for everyone and I really wanted to leave with fabric in hand so I paid the middle price that day.

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Afterwards we walked through other parts of the market to buy light bulbs and look for an attachment for the garden hose. I had never been to the other parts of the market and had no idea just how big it was and how many things were available there. I even got to meet one of Gilbert’s relatives who owns a stall selling clothes from Uganda. Because Gilbert was “my guide” no one else approached me to buy things or to be my “helper”, which I have to say made this trip to the market even more pleasant.   So now, not only do I have bright, new cushions on the balcony I also have another pleasant experience of the shopping for fabric at the “City Market”.

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Meet Gilbert

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The first of July is Burundi’s Independence Day. It also happens to be Gilbert’s birthday. Gilbert is our “God-send”. Two years ago he was recommended to us as a house-worker from a Belgian family that was leaving the country, but he has become so much more than a “worker” for us. We are thankful for him every day.

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While his job entails housecleaning, gardening, laundering and guarding, he is one who always goes the extra mile. In addition to being diligent, hard working and resourceful, Gilbert is also honest, amiable, humble, joyful and has a very big heart for others. He takes care of many of the extra things we need done, like standing in line to buy our electricity each month or going to the local butcher to get bones for the dog’s food or finding sugar for me when there’s a shortage. He fixes things around the house where he knows how, saving us from getting a plumber and translates for us to the night guard who only speaks Kirundi. Daily he endures my poor French speaking and patiently tries to restate things I don’t understand until I get it. He has goals and plans for his future but as is so often the case in poor countries the injustices and realities of poverty are constantly throwing barriers and roadblocks against him. Yet, he maintains his integrity and is a man of his word.

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His birthday offered the perfect opportunity to honor him and communicate our deep appreciation for all he does and for who he is. So I offered to make something for him to take to his mid-week church meeting. After discussing the choices (cake, cookies or cupcakes) he decided on cupcakes (easier to transport, closest to a cake). With 40 people in his group I made two batches of cupcakes, more than enough to fit all the letters of “Joyeus Anniversaire Gigi”.

thumb_IMG_20160629_171724411_1024We carefully placed them all in airtight containers, wrapped them in a sack and he strapped them on to his bike for his friends. He was so tickled by the whole thing, as if he was 10, bringing cupcakes to school, instead of 28. It was such a pleasure to make his birthday memorable and honor him among his friends.

Having the privilege of knowing Gilbert and employing him is yet another way we experience God’s provision and care for us daily.

 

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“I do”

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Our wedding day 38 years ago!

Here is a thing of beauty and wonder–after thirty-eight years we are not only still married but happily so and looking forward to continuing doing life together.  While we have worked at our marriage over the years, fighting the wars within and the wars with out  (as anyone whose been married for even a short time knows) we completely acknowledge and give thanks to the God of love, who brought us together all those years ago and continues to give us the grace to love and forgive each other each day.

Starry-eyed on our wedding day, making promises to one another to love and seek the other’s good before our own, we had little idea of what that would really mean in the big decisions of life and the day-to-day ordinariness that builds character and shapes who we become.  Today we look back rejoicing in having traveled life’s path thus far together.  While it has not always been easy or pretty (as our kids will attest to) we know a greater, deeper, truer love for each other than we could have even imagined on that day.  So we rejoice and look ahead to continuing to grow together through the rest of our lives.  thumb_IMG_20160527_151157074_1024

 

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

(From Robert Browning’s  poem Rabbi Ben Ezra)

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