It’s been 2 1/2 months since we moved to our community called Kibuye located in the rural farmlands of Burundi, one of the poorest and hungriest countries on the planet. In October I started the one and only Kibuye Music Studio, complete with a Kawai upright, shipped new from the States. Most probably one of the only upright, acoustic pianos in the country.
Moving it from the container was a nerve wracking experience, but when all was said and done it only had a couple superficial scratches.
Currently I have 10 piano students from among the team children. Most of the children have electric keyboards in their homes, and one other family shipped over an older upright.
Since arriving we have had the opportunity to host some local Burundian friends and musicians. Seeing and hearing the piano has turned into a local attraction. One young man, a musician at our local church, stopped by and played the piano. He told me it was his first experience to play on a “real acoustic” piano. He has only ever played on small keyboards.
The children are preparing music for the upcoming Christmas recital. I am also eager to see how we can use this instrument to bless the local community, and hope to in the future, hold some concerts for our village. And one day I would *love* to open a music school for the Burundian children!
And it’s over. Has a year really gone by?! In the moment, time feels like an eternity but when it’s passed it feels like a train that’s rushed by in a hurry and one is left hearing the whistle trailing off in the distance. As I sit here on my couch this summer morning in Albertville, with my to-do packing list next to me, and my graduation ceremony behind me, I’ll do my best to recount some lessons I learned during this year of intense French language school.
Immersion language learning is…
1. …one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
This caught me off guard, maybe because I had taken Spanish in high school, and Greek and Latin in the years following. Language learning had always been fun and challenging. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the physical, emotional, and mental challenges of languageimmersion. At the end of long conversations or a week of class where no English was allowed, I could literally feel my brain throbbing. Each day was a firehose of new words, new verb syntaxes, new ways of speaking and expressing, and desperately trying to understand what those around you were saying. Each day was also filled with many unsuccessful attempts at speaking, though this improved with practice.
2. …at times amusing.
If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. O how true this old adage is when it comes to learning a second (or third) language. I made many mistakes but some were more memorable like when I told the choir I was going to “bother them” instead of “lead them.” The French words for lead (diriger) and bother (déranger) are similar, yet very different. Or when I volunteered to lead Bible study thinking that I was volunteering to make a cake.
3. …emotionally challenging.
We quickly learned that the French educational system is much different than the American system. Upon reflection I can see the benefits, yet it was a painful process. A passing score is 50%. That doesn’t sound too bad you might say, but in reality for us Americans, it feels like a beat-down. I’m used to being an A student, studying well and getting good grades. But that’s almost impossible here in France. The tests are made so incredibly difficult that it’s almost impossible to get a “good” grade. It feels like you are drowning, like you can barely keep your head above water and waves are forcing water into your mouth. In the midst of this storm you find out that you passed, but it doesn’t feel like “passing” in our American minds. Self-esteem doesn’t stand a chance when you miss almost half of the questions. This may be a benefit of the French model, yet for me this was emotionally challenging. I never realised how much value I put on performance and how much self worth I find in success. What a scary thing to build one’s confidence on this constantly moving foundation! It is my prayer that I will learn from this realisation and build my confidence on Christ’s work and perfect score…not my feeble attempts.
4. …takes time.
A month into our time here in France I asked Carlan when he started to feel more confortable in French. I was expecting him to say something like “by month 3,” yet he said, “after a whole year of language school and 6 months into living in Burundi.” What??!! And Carlan is super duper smart. But it’s true. Learning a language takes time. In our fast paced world it kind of goes against our grain to be patient. We want instant results. If we look at children, they absorb their mother tongue for years before even uttering one word. I have been learning and relearning the lesson of patience this last year as I strive to learn French.
5. …confusing to your mother tongue.
Yes, I have had moments when I’ve forgotten a word in English, or accidentally used a French word without realising it. My spelling was never great, but now it’s atroce. I’m constantly asking myself things like “is plant spelled with an “e” like plante or without?” In French it’s: plante, in English: plant.
6. …very rewarding.
Almost no one speaks English in Savoie (where our language school is). When I arrived, I knew next to nothing in French. Every conversation sounded like a mass of sounds with a few “bonjours” interspersed. We went out to eat at a restaurant the day after getting here. Carlan told me what to say and asked me to order in French. I did the best I could but the lady just looked at me confused. Even shopping was scary. What if I couldn’t find something and needed to ask for help, what would I say? Or even more scary, what if someone asked *me* a question! Eek! Yet as the days and weeks of language school progressed, I started understanding more and more. I remember the thrill of my first Sunday when I understood most of the sermon, that was back in January. All of these crazy sounds started making sense! I was surprised at how encouraging it was to have a conversation with someone in *their* language and to understand them and to be understood!
So there you have it, not a complete list, but some thoughts looking back in this last year. I couldn’t have done it without my Saviour and his unconditional love and forgiveness. And I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement of my husband. And I couldn’t have done it without my patient, hardworking professeur!
The years ahead will continue to hold additional language learning as we head to Burundi and learn Kirundi and continue on in French, but I’m thankful for these lessons and hope to continue to learn from them in the future!
Here is a link to a video of our school made by a fellow student (Stephen Abbott). The drone footage is amazing!
Last weekend Michelle and I visited some family friends in a city called Bourg-en-Bresse. These are families that knew my mom’s parents while they were missionaries in France. I recorded one of their stories in a newsletter sent at the same time as this post. If you are not yet receiving those newsletters and would like to, please request an add here.
Grandma C : My mom’s mom died of leukaemia when I was quite young, so I do not have many of my own memories of her. It was, therefore, a joy and an adventure to hear these long-time friends recount stories of things she had done or impacts she had made. A lot of the stories her friends told me were of meals she hosted in their apartment including “tuna rolls” which were not, as our California readers might suppose, sushi, but rather a baked dish wherein canned tuna was spread over a strip of dough that was subsequently rolled up and baked with white sauce. I’m imagining a cinnamon rolls but with tuna instead of raisins, sugar & spices in the middle. If that doesn’t sound appetizing, rest assured, it went over well with the French woman who copied the recipe and served it to her own family.
It seems that Grandma C also had a lot of space in her life for others. Another woman from the church told me that she deeply appreciated Grandma’s mid-week lunches. She would have one or more women from the church over to eat, talk, study and learn together. What struck this woman, now a grandmother herself, was how often Grandma was asking questions. “What do you think about this? How would the French respond to this situation? How could one explain this idea to someone with a different background?” This woman found such curiosity endearing and disarming.
I think that one of the chief advantages we get for living abroad is seeing how another group of people respond to the universal difficulties and challenges of life. Ironically, it is in requesting those insights that we get the chance to confer some of the that benefit on our friends from other cultures. But that humility seems a prerequisite and truly stood out to this dear friend even thirty years after Grandma died.
Grandpa C : One of my favorite anecdotes about Grandpa C from our time with these families in Bourg-en-Bresse has to do with bananas. There was a time after my grandma died that my grandpa stayed in the home of another family from their church. One afternoon one of this family’s children offered Grandpa an overripe banana, perhaps in an overly aggressive way (as children sometimes do). Grandpa’s exact response escaped the hearing of the boy’s mother, but the child quickly left to entertain himself outside or elsewhere. Afterwards she asked my grandpa about the bananas and he replied, “I’m terribly sorry, but even the smell of overripe bananas doesn’t agree with me.” I’m not sure I got the quote right, but it really touched her how gentle he was even in expressing a negative opinion. (We speculated that it might have had to do with the time he spent as a hostage in Congo or his service as a submariner in WWII.)
“He helped us repair our house.”
“He’s the one who put up this wallpaper. Look, it has lasted 30 years without peeling.”
“He knew how to get anything working again.”
“He taught me a lot about gardening. I still have the tools he gave me when he left.”
“When they left on furlough, they let a struggling young woman stay in their house.”
“I never, ever saw him get angry or lose his composure.”
These are just some of the testimonies given about Grandpa and the impression he left on people. In some ways, it strikes me just how ordinary most of those memories seem. Home improvement and maintenance. Sharing hobbies. In many ways I grew up thinking of the grand adventures Grandpa C must have had – the travails of growing up on a farm during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, the trials of Navy life in the Pacific theatre in the 1940s, the turmoils of bringing your wife and young daughter to Zaire/Congo and evacuating them multiple times during the struggle for Independence and then civil war. But his most indelible impact seems to have been in all those daily moments, compounded over a lifetime, of loving his neighbors. It is a special heritage to me that his legacy should be at once so attainable and so aspirational.
Why would a language school require all students to give their testimony in French in front of the entire student body?
Because it’s good for us.
How many times did you hear that phrase or a similar phrase growing up? Eat your vegetables. Play outside. Do your chores. There is something about doing what you would rather not in order to get to a result that you would like. Perhaps nowhere is that more tangibly, palpably demonstrated than public speaking in a foreign language.
Michelle just completed her first address to the student body in French. It was fantastic! She presented herself, her spouse (me), and the work in Burundi. She then told the story of how she bought her mahogany Kawai baby grand piano after graduating CSUN. Like so many stories of God’s grace, it falls into three parts, the prayer, the pause and the piano. OK, maybe not all stories of God’s grace end with a piano, but so this one does. Here’s an abridged transcript of what Michelle said in French.
“After graduating from CSUN, my dad gave me a gift of $5000 to buy a new piano. I searched through ads and in musical instruments stores. The shop owners would just laugh when I told them I was looking for a baby grand (my old piano had jagged keys that sometimes cut my fingers when I played it) and quickly ushered me to the back of the store where the upright pianos were. The best I could figure, I needed at least $7000 to buy a baby grand.
Then, one day, I came across what seemed like a good possibility. One shop had a black baby grand piano for sale within my price range. The salesman said that I needed to buy it on the spot, as there was another woman interested in the piano. Feeling rushed, I called my dad who advised me to pray about it before buying it. I told the clerk I needed the night to pray about it and when I called the next morning, the other customer had already purchased it. Months went by without anything better.
Had I passed up God’s provision? Sure it didn’t have the best sound, the action was heavy and it was boring black. I prefer natural wood colors. But it was the only baby grand I had seen in my price range. Until one fateful day when I saw an ad in the paper. “Baby grand piano. Good condition. $6000.” It was extremely brief but something in me told me to call on this piano. The seller invited me to come check it out. When I arrived, we went inside his deceased mother’s house and pulled a heap of blankets off a beautiful mahogany baby grand. Opening the cover I found the felt still on the keys. The tone was remarkable. The action was crisp and light. I was delighted. This was an excellent piano.
He showed me the paperwork that accompanied the piano. His mother had been the original owner. What’s more, it had been constructed in the year of my birth. And even more, he said that during the Northridge earthquake a speaker had fallen off a shelf and scratched the back of the lid. He wanted to reduce the price so that we could fix it. (Later I visited a piano store just to check on what this piano would sell for in their store. The vendor’s estimate: $25,000!)
This is how God works. He is good and He is in control. He knew all the pianos in the area and He directed me to that one in His time. He doesn’t always say ‘yes’ but He is always the same.
In the midst of language school here in Albertville France, we had the opportunity to participate in a Christmas concert put on by the local church and in partnership with the local town Mayor and held Albertville’s concert hall.
It was a first for the church so we weren’t sure how many people would even come. After months of planning, rehearsing and practicing the concert day came. The concert hall was almost filled (300-400) with an eager crowd, many of whom had heard about the concert by the many flyers put up around town:
Michelle played an original piano arrangement of Carol of the Bells and also accompanied the other singers. Michelle and our teammate Greg Sund accompanied a beautiful arrangement of Angels From The Realms Of Glory written by Dan Forest for 4 hand piano, cello and vocals.
It was a 2 hour concert of both classical and contemporary Evangelical Christmas music. The concert had a warm reception and we were called back for two encores!
Here is the group of musicians: 4 pianists, a cellist, percussionist, 3 vocalists, a bass player, and a guitarist.
But the unsung heroes of the concert were the behind the scenes people, one of which was Carlan. He was assigned the job of doing all the lighting. This involved him climbing scaffolding and making his own filters for all the lights. Here he is working hard during one of the rehearsals.
On the day of the concert, during the last rehearsal God answered prayer by providing a dress for Michelle to wear, lent by a kind member of the church, perfectly her size!
Thank you all for your prayers! It is so fun being a part of what God is doing here in this corner of the world! (Enjoy a 14 sec clip from backstage. We will link to more when it becomes available.)
Nous sommes arrivés en août et ont été occupés immediatement. Ok…now back to English:-) We arrived in late August and hit the ground running. Our goals for this year are for Carlan to continue his French language acquisition and for me (Michelle) to learn as much French as possible for life in Burundi. The day after arriving we took our placement tests and then started classes the following day, and it hasn’t slowed down since. Carlan is in the most advanced class and I am in the debutante class.
Our weekly routine usually looks like this:
Monday: class all day / homework in the evening
Tuesday: class all day. In the evenings I attend a local art class where I can practice my French and learn painting. Once a month Carlan attends a continuing medical class
Wednesday: day off / study day / get out and enjoy the mountains / music practice for Sunday
Thursday: class all day / every two weeks we attend a French Bible study
Friday: class all day / date night
Saturday: study day, take weekend exam
Sunday: day of rest / once a month I play the piano at our local French church and Carlan works the sound board.
I have also had the opportunity to arrange some Christmas music and lead our student body in choir practices leading up to our graduation performance on December 16th. Also, on December 17th I will have the opportunity to be a part of a Christmas concert held at a local concert hall.
We would appreciate and covet your prayers!
That our minds would retain the onslaught of information we are learning each day
That the Christmas concert would be a blessing to many people
That we would have the strength needed for living abroad and learning a new language
We are adjusting well thus far
God has given us opportunities to serve our local church and community
Life in Africa is much like how life used to be 70 years ago. Food is organic and most of our meals are made from scratch. During our most recent trip to Burundi (June 2016) we made fresh pasta topped with our own freshly made pasta sauce. Thanks Shay for the pasta maker! And thanks Elise and Maggie for being two very eager and helpful sous-chefs!
Joys of cooking in Africa:
Everything is totally organic and fresh!
Creativity is the name of the game.
Bananas are plentiful and amazing…so are pineapples and avocados!
Challenges of cooking in Africa:
Water pollution. Even washing veggies takes extra effort.
Power outages. Sometime you can’t open the refrigerator or start the crockpot.
Lack of food variety and bugs that like the food too!
Next time: What nonperishable food to bring from the States that they don’t have in Africa:
Spices and bouillon.
Anything chocolate: Cocoa powder, brownie mixes, chocolate chips etc.
Tuna and canned meats.
A variety of teas. Burundi sells tea…but only one type of black tea.
In February we had the privilege of attending and speaking at the M3 Mobilizing Medical Missions Conference in Houston. Here is a recap of our time at the conference.
The conference was brief (Friday-Saturday), but good and very encouraging. Each of the 4 plenary sessions were packed with at least 5 speakers doing a Ted-style talks (18 min). The breakout sessions were a bit more in depth. Carlan was the first main speaker for the conference and he did a great job. Thank you for all your prayers! Kibuye Hope Hospital, “our” mission in Burundi was one of the highlighted ministries of the conference and received a check for $10,000 from the conference sponsors at the end. Our Kibuye booth was busy the whole time and there are TONS of people interested in what we’re doing in Burundi. The holistic vision of what we are doing and the emphasis on team/community really attracted the interest of people from lab technicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, med students and a bunch of specialists in attendance. Praise God!
Below is a picture we had taken with Paul Osteen and his wife Jennifer.
Below is a picture taken during out of the breakout sessions. It was encouraging to see many medical students and residents with a heart for missions in attendance, and with many eager questions.
Below is a picture with Chrissy Chipriano, who flew out from Serge to help us man the booth. We couldn’t have done it without her! Behind us you can see the banners that Carlan designed himself.
It was a great experience connecting with those who are like-minded in their desire to use their gifts for the glory of the Lord and in His service. We really enjoyed reconnecting with Paul Osteen and his family and seeing their heart for missions and desire for the spread of the gospel. He had the speakers and their families over to his house for dinner before the conference started which was a rich time of fellowship. The evening ended with the group congregated around the piano singing Amazing Grace while Michelle accompanied.
While we were attending the conference, Carlan’s grandfather Del Carper went home to be with the Lord. We were saddened to be away from home but thankful that he is now free from pain and his faith is now sight! A few weeks prior we had the opportunity to visit him the day after his 91st birthday and to celebrate with a chocolate pudding pie (he had no remaining teeth at that point, probably due to his inclination to favor the sweet dishes on the menu 🙂 Before we left we asked him how we could be praying for him, and he said, “Pray that I will remain true to the Lord.” What a heart of faithfulness to the very end! We were so very thankful to have had this opportunity to visit him before he passed away.
Thank you all for your prayers! God answered in many ways!
Grandpa upon graduating Navy basic training at Farragut, Idaho.
“Pray that I would remain true to the Lord.”
That’s what my grandpa said when Michelle and I asked him how we could pray for him the last time we saw him. Ninety-one years old. He had served faithfully on his family farm growing up, in a Navy submarine in World War II, at the mission station and in a rebel prison during 20 yrs in Congo plus 17 more in France afterwards and for decades in retirement.
In my mind, he had already passed the “true to the Lord” test.
In the sovereign plan of God, he would pass the ultimate test two weeks later, in a hospital bed but surrounded by family.
My impulse is to “go philosophic” in the face of Grandpa’s death. I’m wired to engage the deeper, weightier things, to search for meaning in the jagged, ruptured edge of our earthly existence marked out by sin’s cursèd effect. But for Grandpa, I don’t really have to: he had completed his course and was receiving his medal of reward.
We, his surviving family, all prayed that God would not delay his death for even a moment. He was ready to go. I don’t mean that he had checked out of life and become unresponsive or listless. He was simply a boat at port (“Submarines are referred to as ‘boats,’ not ships,” he had taught me.) Rudders and planes locked, engines quiet, ropes coiled or fastened — his journey was almost complete. He had only to walk down that gangplank onto the dock of that glistening shore where his Savior waited to welcome him home.
I love my grandpa. To say that he inspired me to attempt great things for God and expect great things from God is understatement. I depend on him for a quarter of my genes but he had an outsized influence on my spiritual heritage. Grandpa taught me as much about carpentry, agriculture, prayer, ministry, and trusting God as anyone.
And though this is a time of real sorrow for my mom (his daughter) and our family, this is also a time of real rejoicing. Grandpa knew Jesus Christ well. I saw Him shining in him all the time. His sins were forgiven. His heart and mind were at peace. He was prepared. After all, it was Grandpa who used to tell me as a boy,
“A missionary’s got to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice.”
(In lieu of flowers or gifts, we are honoring Grandpa’s legacy by planting the Word of God in Congo through the continuing work of missionaries with his mission, Crossworld, accessible by clicking here.
Our prayer cards have just been approved and sent to the printers…yay!! If you would like one let us know!
We can’t believe how fast the time is flying! In a few short months we will be leaving for language school in France; we just got our confirmation in the mail postmarked from Albertville, France 🙂
This next week (2/15-21) Carlan, myself and his Mom will be flying to TX with two mail goals: 1) to finish packing the container that will be shipped to Africa 2) to present at the M3 Medical Missions Conference. We would covet your prayers!
Specific Prayer requests:
A) Prayer for strength for Carlan as he is packing up all the materials we need for our house in Africa, and that we will be able to fit everything in the container.
B) Prayer for wisdom as Carlan prepares for this conference. He is speaking for one of the main sessions and two breakout sessions. We also will have a booth which myself, Carlan, his mother Marilyn Wendler, and a volunteer from Serge will staff and field questions about the work in Africa. What an honor to be there and to have the opportunity to tell people about God is doing in Burundi!