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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New Avenues–Part 2

thumb_IMG_20160426_104524233_HDR_1024Just as my time has been affected these past months in that I am not teaching at HAU this semester, due to lower students numbers and needs, so too have many others been affected. These two dear sisters from our church are presently not working either. One is an architect, the other a project manager for community development programs. But that has given us a new opportunity to meet to help each other improve in English/French language use.

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When Elina went back to visit her family in Moscow she visited a church that was studying Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. She returned and suggested we study it also. So twice a week we meet at my house-chez Bond. They prepare the lesson in English and I prepare it in French. We take turns giving a synopsis of the chapter and discussing the question at the chapter’s end in the language each one is working to improve. I have to say their English is far better than my French and they both have improved tremendously, but what a joy to meet together!   It has been such a pleasure to get to know them better and to share our life experiences which are very different in the details of place, time and culture but very similar in the spiritual truths and growth we’ve learned in our faith walks.

These new avenues are “the springs in the desert” as we walk through this protracted time of uncertainty and diminished options for work. Inasmuch as both of these ladies need to be working, we are all very thankful for the opportunity to use this unexpected “free” time to improving our language understanding and more importantly, to become friends.

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New Avenues–Part 1

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Groups working in English class at HAU 2015.

For the past two years that we’ve been living in Bujumbura I’ve had the pleasure of teaching English as a foreign language at Hope Africa University. Since it’s enrollment was over 5,000 students there was always a need for teachers, especially native English speakers. Unfortunately, the student body population has dropped dramatically.

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HAU graduation in February of 2016. Over 1200 graduated!

In February about 1200 students graduated from HAU; a fantastic accomplishment in the face of the political crisis that ensued last April. But now there are only about 1800 students, or less, most are in their final semesters seeking to finish their degree programs. Three hundred of these are medical school students who are deeply invested with time and money. This seems to be the result of both the location of the school (in one of the “hot” neighborhoods of last year’s protests) and the rapidly falling economy, due to the political crisis. With fewer students, particularly new students, many professors have been laid off. And while I cost the University nothing, I have not been teaching at HAU this semester since there are so few new students who need the EFL courses.

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Instead, there have been some new avenues I’ve been able to participate in. One of these has been the pleasure of working with some teachers at a private Burundian school called Discovery School. It started in 2008, under the Community of Emmanuel Churches Of Burundi by missionaries, Joy and Jesse Johnson. On the campus of the Emmanuel Church mission there is also a clinic, a school for the deaf and other church ministries. The school has grown over the years. It now has about 800 Burundian students from age two (preschool) up to grade six with about 45 Burundian teachers.   They use American curriculums, teach mostly in English and try to keep class size 20-30. It is truly impressive!

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Hearing I was a teacher and not presently teaching at HAU, Joy asked me if I’d like to give a seminar to the teachers at Discovery School, specifically in how to teach writing to students using a Writer’s Workshop approach. I was happy to have the opportunity to be engaged in teaching again but especially as I toured the school for the first time and saw how the teachers were engaging their students as learners.

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Discovery School teachers discussing during writing seminar.

So over the last two months I’ve lead a seminar for the teachers of 4th-6th grade levels, observed them teaching using the new strategies, debriefed with them and taught a class for each so they could observe another teacher using this approach.

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Observing teachers integrating workshop strategies.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the teachers as they are eager to learn, engaged, thoughtful and seek to integrate new teaching strategies into their repertoires, which are completely foreign to how they were taught in school. It is exciting to be a part of introducing something new that they can adapt and integrate into their own culture and teaching styles in ways that will enhance the students learning. It’s also been wonderful to be with children who are eager to learn and full of enthusiasm. They are Burundi’s future hope for sustainable growth, development and advancement. I am thankful for this new avenue and what it might hold in the time ahead.

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“New Avenues–Part 2” upcoming!

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Living With An Enigma

The dictional defines an enigma as “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling or difficult to understand.”  Synonyms are: conundrum, paradox, quandary, puzzle, riddle.  Sometimes I feel like this word describes my life experience all too well.  But this sense is heightened living cross-culturally where I continually feel thrown off balance.  Recently we took a trip with a friend to see some waterfalls in the interior of the country. Although our experience did not entail encountering a flash flood, as some from our sister team experienced on another waterfall excursion, it has given me some visual images to juxtapose to some very familiar words I’ve been reading this week.  Thus allowing me to  create a depiction of how I so often feel; both in cross-cultural living and also in my walk of faith in which I’m constantly surprised by the greatest Enigma of all time, Jesus.  I hope you can appreciate the humor and join me in laughing and marveling at life’s ironies.

Psalm 23

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“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

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He makes me lie down in green pastures,

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he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

 

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

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Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

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I fear no evil, for you are with me;

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your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies

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You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

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Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

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So thankful for the opportunity to experience the beauty of the countryside of Burundi and for the privilege of walking each day with the Shepherd who understands and loves it’s people and me, inviting us to trust the enigma that He is and enjoy the wonder of life He’s given.

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