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
“I am going to award you 10 points out of 20.”
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!
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.
Grandpa and Carlan in France in 1993.
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!