I’ve been dabbling in art and this last month I decided to try something a little different and watercolor a map of our community. I hope this helps give a picture of what our daily life is like in our rural African community.
Our house is #5 in the residential area.
*Not all the trees were included (because there are so many!) just a few larger groves.
*The villages surrounding the hospital were not included (that’s my next project), just the residential area where we live, the hospital, and the buildings between us and the hospital.
*New hospital buildings
#29A An expansion of the OR
#30 Surgical Ward
And check out the new addition to our hospital!! #32-33 New Solar Power Installation.
(This post was written just over a month ago but never made it to publication. It still very much describes my experience here.)
I love being a professor. Actually, that statement is too narrow. I love being a teacher.
There’s the selfish part. Feeling like you know one subject more thoroughly than another is nice. The pride that rises up when a student asks a question and you find exactly the right way to explain it. The respect you receive from others.
Though I would have to say, for each of those, my experience as a med school professor in Burundi gives counter-examples. Emergency medicine is intrinsically general. In residency one professor used to joke that we knew “the first 15 minutes of every specialty” but little beyond that. The majority of questions posed to this professor are not met with sparkling illustrations and inspired syntheses but with fumbling attempts to cobble together the French vocabulary I have to explain a concept that exists in my mind only in English. And when you say something off-handed that turns out to be a cultural faux pas and offend all of your students simultaneously without knowing it for a week…well, let’s just say that “respected professor glow” disappears.
In the last few weeks I’ve experienced all of the above while preparing and teaching a course on Traumatology. Every career and every job has its ups and downs. Everyone starts out incompetent in their job and builds that competence over years of making and learning from mistakes. Yet I find that the stresses and strains of researching and writing curriculum and diffusing those lessons in the clinical and classroom contexts resonates with something in me. Watching students who struggle to put disparate observations into a larger schema finally “get it” when you ask them the right question to unlock their own curiosity and logic is the unique privilege of teachers. Seeing your students acquire competency more quickly than you did carries no spite or jealousy but joy and a vicarious sense of accomplishment.
Yet what I cherish most is not building knowledge or skills into my students. That is not the best part.
These students come from various walks of life. Some are the children of rural villagers whose whole communities have sacrificed to send one child to university. Others have had the advantages of excellent primary and preparatory schools and educated parents. Some are local and some are from neighboring countries. They are atheist, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, and a host of other worldview backgrounds that I do not even always know. They have different natural aptitudes and varying degrees of discipline or drive. They are different characters.
And that is the best and hardest part of being a professor. Teachers carry a responsibility to shape the character of their students. Will my pupils have better character because of their time with me? How can I reach in and influence their hearts? How do I prepare a curriculum for that?
In Matthew 23:8-12, in the midst of a scorching rebuke of the pastors and professors of His time, Jesus tucks these gems into the discourse.
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
I’ve been reading the Bible as a Christian for over 20 years. I’ve read through the Gospel of Matthew unnumbered times in the course of those years. I remember the “rabbi” part. I remember the “father” part. But somehow that “instructor” clause escaped my notice until last week when I was in the midst of preparing and teaching the traumatology course.
It turns out that the best and hardest part of my job just got better and harder. I am supposed to have good character. I am to be humble. Patient love will need to characterize my preparations and interactions. I’m also going to need to drop my title.
BUT…look at the positive of what Jesus said. We have a teacher. We have a Father. Christ, the Promised One, is our instructor. !!!
Somehow the way to be an effective and productive professor just joined the pathway to being a good anything else : point self and others to Jesus.
I could see their faces fall as the impact of my grading statement landed in their hearts. In the Belgian system we have borrowed and adapted at Hope Africa University, 12/20 is passing. They had clearly fallen short.
As I reviewed the breakdown of their scores with them, these three Burundian medical students became increasingly aware that their failure to pay attention to the details had cost them points on their presentation of “Hematuria” (blood in the urine). In all fairness, theirs had been a pretty average presentation: data dutifully copied from some paper or online sources, slides hastily constructed at the last minute because other things were more pressing until the day before they presented and relatively little interaction with the audience. But what really got me were the errors in spelling, grammar & formatting. Every slide was a minefield of minor inattentions that conspired to distract from what they were saying. They lost 3 points on that basis alone.
If you ask my teammates, I’m the most likely to fail a student or a group. I don’t think that I am mean-spirited or domineering at heart (maybe every tiny tyrant thinks that they are being just). I simply expect better from students in a doctoral program. I fail people out of fear and out of hope.
I fear the consequences of allowing students to get by with minimal last-minute effort. I fear what happens if we reward inattentiveness at any level in their medical training. I fear the prospect of releasing even one single graduate into the world as a doctor when they aren’t ready to shoulder the burden and discipline of caring for another human being’s life.
I hope that holding a higher standard will drive these students towards excellence. I hope that they will take my feedback and do better the next time. I have to believe that they are capable of growing and developing into proficient teachers of themselves and others because I’m betting the farm that they are the next generation of medical educators.
I am reminded of a story about Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State demanding excellence out of his aides and ambassadors. The following is a quote from Winston Lord who was Ambassador to China (1985-9) and Assistant Secretary of State (1993-7) as interviewed by George Washington University in January 1999.*
I would go in with a draft of the speech. He called me in the next day and said, “Is this the best you can do?” I said, “Henry, I thought so, but I’ll try again.” So I go back in a few days, another draft. He called me in the next day and he said, “Are you sure this is the best you can do?” I said, “Well, I really thought so. I’ll try one more time.” Anyway, this went on eight times, eight drafts; each time he said, “Is this the best you can do?” So I went in there with a ninth draft, and when he called me in the next day and asked me that same question, I really got exasperated and I said, “Henry, I’ve beaten my brains out – this is the ninth draft. I know it’s the best I can do: I can’t possibly improve one more word.” He then looked at me and said, “In that case, now I’ll read it.”
Mastery comes slowly and requires effort. I know I’m not the smartest or most gifted educator, even on our team, but I want to get better at providing feedback and setting clear expectations upfront so that students can excel – because in a small sense, any time I give a student a failing grade, I’m giving myself a failing grade. I can’t take on their work ethic or procrastination as a personal defeat, but these kids are capable, intelligent and generally diligent. If they know the standard, they usually rise to it. They’ve just been allowed to stagnate in mediocrity because the system they’ve come through to get to us provides so little formative feedback and followthrough. We are (and I am) happy to stem that tide.
Please pray for our professors and students, that God would grant grace and clear communication across linguistic and cultural boundaries to best prepare them for a lifetime of serving Him and patients. Thanks.
(PS: I gave them a chance to regain those points by revising their presentation and remastering the content. I’m proud to say that they made big strides and ended up with a 12/20.)
* http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/coldwar/interviews/episode-15/lord1.html, accessed 22 June 2016
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.
Dr Wilson BIZIMANA, wife Jeanine & son Jolison in 2015
“When we received your invitation we thought that there would be five or six other people here,” reported Dr Wilson BIZIMANA, medical director of Kibuye Hope Hospital. “But when I got here, I found that it is just my family. Why have you thus honored us?”
The humility implicit in that statement is only one of the reasons why we admire Dr Wilson and love his family so much. He graduated from the University of Burundi in 2011 and took a risk by coming to work for Kibuye Hope Hospital upcountry. In 2013, the medical director resigned in a huff and the leadership of the church and of Hope Africa University (which own the land and direct hospital operations, respectively) appointed Dr Wilson as interim (then permanent) medical director. This rapid rise to responsibility is not too unusual in Burundian business, but what happened next is.
The next year, 2014, Dr Wilson was offered a government job back in the capital. These jobs are highly-coveted because, beyond the prestige, the pay is pretty consistent and the work hours are flexible (meaning you can hold multiple jobs simultaneously). Previously, 100% of our other employees had chosen the government job when offered. But Dr Wilson didn’t. His precise motives are his own, but given that his wife and son were living in the capital at that time, his decision to reject the government’s offer and move his family to Kibuye is a HUGE statement of confidence and hope in what God is doing in our community.
Dr Wilson is not a member of the Free Methodist Church of Burundi (he worships at another Protestant church in the area) and yet has maintained excellent professional and personal relationships with their hierarchy. He has navigated the hospital through major personnel and legal straits with minimal damage and he brings an air of calm, considerate leadership to the helm. His wife, Jeanine, just completed her bachelor’s degree in language pedagogy and teaches French and Kirundi to our team kids (and selves). They live with their son Jolison and one-on-the-way next to the McLaughlins and the school in our neighborhood.
The dinner was a big success, a crazy linguistic blend of English, French and Kirundi (good to have a couple language teachers at the table). We enjoyed hearing our Burundian counterparts’ story of falling in love and getting married as well as recounting our own. We enjoyed a delicious meal of rice and a modified ratatouille Michelle made. We even slaughtered our prized rooster to serve in a tomato sauce made by Carlan. (Read more about that rooster here.) We capped the night off by sharing some proverbs in different languages (classic Burundian conversation) and prayed for each other.
As you think of him, please pray for Dr Wilson and his family. He faces daily pressures to compromise and faces many discouraging realities. Join us in asking God to uphold him and endow him with the wisdom and grace each new challenge demands. Thanks.
(PS: They are due to deliver their second, a boy, by C-section in the middle of July.)
Rule #1 about receiving a gift chicken in Burundi: Smile broadly and be effusive with your thanks.
Rule #2: Do not name that chicken.
I’m afraid we violated Rule #2 within hours of receiving a “welcome back” chicken from one of our good friends in Burundi. Though his crow made him sound like he’d been smoking a pack a day for twenty years, he was a beautiful chicken. He had an almost metallic sheen to his burnished brown plumage with an emerald green tail and a near-perfect comb. He carried himself with the dignity and pomp of a cock without rival in the area around the Quadplex and even ran quickly enough to evade two Burundian men and two white women for 15 min. He was a good chicken.
But there comes a day in every Burundian rooster’s life when he is required to make the ultimate sacrifice so that others can eat. Copper’s day came one week ago when Dr Wilson and his family came over to eat with us. Michelle had already grown too attached to our laryngitis-striken alarm clock to stick around for his final rites, so Josias, one of the team house helpers, slaughtered and prepared the chicken. He tasted as good as could be expected served with a tomato sauce over rice and our guests were pleased and honored that we would sacrifice such a chicken for them. Well done Copper.
One of Michelle’s goals for our family is to raise chickens and/or goats (for milk) when we move back long-term, so we might need to get a little better at following Rule #2 in the future. Do you have any other rules to live by when you receive gift chickens? Comment below.
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!
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!
Some of you know (or realized) that we were in Philadelphia this week visiting Serge’s Serving Center (aka, Mission HQ) for a process known as “A&O” for “Assessment and Orientation.” This is the interview and evaluation process by which Serge determines if the mission is ready to send us (and we are ready to be sent) to the field. In our case, things were easier since this was Carlan’s second time around, but there is always more to learn and to master. We were approved yesterday and offered a five-year appointment, which is the maximum available, for which we are very grateful and excited. We would covet your prayers as we enter the next phase of fund-raising and pre-field preparation.
Next week (December 5th 2015) we leave on a jet plane bound for Philadelphia, another step in our journey back to Africa. The goal of this trip is to meet with the leadership at Serge, Grace at the Fray, and to Lord willing be approved and sent to back Africa as a married couple. Our hearts are yearning and eager to return to the team and the dear African people, and each step closer brings us such joy and anticipation. Yet, we remind ourselves that God is sovereign over our movement forward in this direction, and if he chooses to redirect our steps we know that His will is perfect. So with eager, yet surrendered hearts we step forward and prayerfully surrender our plans to His will.
Wisdom for the Serge leadership as they seek God’s will in the approval process.
That we would be approved.
Wisdom in all the decision making that the journey back to the mission field requires.