Teaching and Learning Go Both Ways

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Playing a game asking questions about the future.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? Twenty years? These are the questions I presented to my English class of 20-somethings as a platform to use future tense. Then it dawned on me that it was about five years ago that we came to visit Burundi for the first time. Did I see myself doing what I’m doing today five years ago? What will they be doing in five short years?

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Two weeks before we were learning about past and past progressive tenses. I asked the students to write a story from their past. It was to be true and memorable. They wrote their stories about a family wedding, a sister’s birthday party, the first television in their village, winning a competition and their first day at Hope Africa University. They also wrote some sad stories of being detained by police, swindled out of money, robbed, and the most common, witnessing a fatal road accident. Out of forty papers, a quarter of them were about a road accident involving one or more fatalities. (We have often been told that the greatest danger in our day-to-day life here is not personal violence or political instability but the risk of a serious road accident and the lack of trauma care in the hospitals. We live these African realities by God’s grace and protection every day.) Each paper I read sparked a memory from my own past of something similar, a common human experience cutting across our cultures uniting us by shared experiences. It shouldn’t surprise me but it always does, we are more alike than different.

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So while I’m teaching these students English as a foreign language, unknown to them, they are teaching me lessons of humility and compassion as they share their stories and lives. Humility because daily I see how alike we are as people; that although I was born in an affluent country rather than in another place I had nothing to do with that. From this daily experiential realization I find my compassion for others has grown and I am continually motivated to do all within my power and ability to assist them in attaining their goals and dreams. Everyone encounters obstacles growing up but these students have experienced them in exponential numbers. And yet, they face their future with a tenacity that testifies to the indomitability of the human spirit. I am curious to see what they will become and what they will do. They are the future for their nations. And I am thankful for the chance I’ve had to know them and be a part of their education.

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Dice and game boards are a new experience for many.

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A New Tradition

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Spring—warm weather, daffodils, green grass, bright colors, blue skies and the promise of new life as the earth awakens from its long winter sleep. But wait? There’s no winter here, so how can you celebrate spring? We don’t celebrate spring but rather we have found a new tradition that helps remind us of who we really are and what we have in a much larger context.

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Our Seder plate with it’s symbolic foods.

One of the most important celebrations for the Jewish people is the Passover, beginning with the Passover Seder (ritual feast) on the first of the seven days of Passover.   The ritual meal is a retelling of the Israelites leaving Egypt through God’s divine intervention. A special plate is prepared with very specific foods, each representing a part of the story of the exodus. A leader guides the retelling with specific prayers, explanations and questions according to an ancient script.   Its purpose was to bind the community together in their common heritage while also instructing the next generation. The Passover Seder was the last meal Jesus ate with his disciples which has become known among Christians as the Last Supper.

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Mombasa–preparing for beachside Seder.

Three years ago we were in Mombasa for Serge’s East Africa retreat over the time of Easter. Our leaders hosted a Messianic Passover Seder on the beach. For in the same way Jews are united in their heritage and community through the Seder, the Passover testifies to Christians of its fulfillment in Jesus. He became the sacrificial lamb that won our liberation from sin and death. It was a rich and meaningful experience; drawing a line of continuity spanning four thousand years of history and pointing to the promise of the great feast in heaven which Jesus alluded to at his last supper.

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The booklet for the Seder.

Each family received the booklet that was used for this Messianic Passover Seder so last year we decided to do it again with some of our fellow Christian believers here in Bujumbura. Dear friends, with a large table that could accommodate all of us, volunteer to host. Many had never been a part of a Seder before so it was a new experience.

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Seder in Bujumbura 2016.

Of the ten people gathered with us last year only one other couple still lives here, so this year we hosted and invited some new arrivals to Bujumbura. Again, many had never been a part of a Seder, which meant a lot of trust, or risk, to be willing to come and participate when they didn’t know what they were in for (eating bitter herbs!). We all agreed it gave us an appreciation for the heritage of our faith and a renewed assurance, especially as we represented a microcosm of different tribes, tongues and nations. We represented three races, born on four continents.

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Seder in Bujumbura 2017

Having participated in a Messianic Seder three years in a row, I very much want it to become a part of our annual Easter observances. Did it take moving overseas to open me to this new tradition or was it just a fortunate side benefit of new opportunities? Whichever is not important, what matters is to experience the fuller awareness of being part of the people of God across history, ages and cultures, as we look to the promise of one day feasting with Jesus.

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Our March Madness

Having traded our northern hemisphere U.S. lifestyle for life on the equator in Eastern Africa we often lose touch with the cycles of seasons, sports and holidays which we grew up with. So while “March Madness” traditionally refers to NCAA … Continue reading

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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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