Months Gone By

In all honesty I am a terrible blogger. But anyone who has witnessed my months of inactivity is fully aware of that. Alas I persevere. I never had the highest hopes for this blog to begin with, as I am not a writer by nature and the monthly newsletter I send out is generally all I can muster, but I started this at the end of 2012 and it would be a shame to give up on something just because I’m not good at it – that would disqualify me from most things in life!
The last post I wrote was in May after I had made an emergency trip back to NY. Since then I have made another trip to NY for a much more celebratory reason. In July I traveled back for my mother’s wedding. After an intense six weeks of studying language in the south of France (ok so it really was intense but it was also beautiful and incredible) I spent 3 lovely weeks with family and friends before returning to Burundi. The time went quickly as is to be expected and I left feeling I hadn’t had much time to do anything besides updating people about the Lord’s work in Burundi; but I was able to spend a day in Cape Cod with my cousin, a weekend in Boston with my 2 best friends, and many days with my family and friends in Poughkeepsie.
After spending so much of the summer bouncing from place to place I felt that the Lord was teaching me something very important. He was teaching me contentedness in all things. Wherever I am, whoever I’m with, whatever I’m doing I know that the Lord is with me. After being in France I felt ‘oh yes, I could see the Lord using me in France; there is a greater spiritual need than I ever imagined!’ and then ‘oh yes, home, where the people who know me the most deeply are where I can contribute to the Lord’s work without the strain of cross-cultural living’ and finally ‘oh yes, Burundi, also home right now, where there is endless need both physically and spiritually and where the Lord has called me to for now’.
This is not to say that I’ve decided whether I’ll be living in France, NY, or Burundi after my term ends next August, it is just to say that I feel more willing and able to follow the Lord’s call wherever in the world that may be. I am finding contentedness.

Well that’s my first crack at getting back into blogging, we’ll see how this goes in the coming months!

Counting the Cost

I’m going to share the words of the eulogy I gave a few weeks ago for a man who was more a father than a friend. Kevin lived with my family from the time I was a few months old and was always a constant in my life. I am not new to loss.. I’ve lost all of my grandparents and their siblings, family friends, and friends my age. But the impact of losing someone I consider to have been a parent weighs heavier on me. I didn’t see this coming. When I think of a future where I get married and have children and Kevin isn’t there and doesn’t know them; and it just doesn’t feel right. But the Lord is steadfast and as I continue to grieve and count the very real cost of being so far from home He comforts me. I know that He loves Kevin even more than I do, and He has him in His hand. I know that although I feel guilty for having been absent the last seven months of his life, I was where God wanted me and I know that Kevin was proud. This life is not easy, but the Lord is good and faithful.

Top left: Kevin, Michael (brother) and my dad – Christmas 2015 in the sweaters I bought them

Bottom left: Kevin and I in Green Bay in 2102

Right: at home in 1992

The words I shared at his funeral, which I’m sharing in hopes you will see a glimmer of who he was:

We all knew Kevin in our own unique way and have our own stories to tell. I’m so thankful for the relationship I had with Kevin and the infinite number of memories I have to carry with me. I was lucky enough to grow up with three parents, and sorry mom and dad, but Kevin was my favorite.
When I was a little girl Kevin used to dress up like a super hero and run around in the yard with me. Although he never did admit to being justice man. We watched more WWF than most 5 year old girls I’ve known. As I got a bit older he taught me how to hit a baseball, for which he received a black eye he wore to work proudly. And we watched Get a Life repeatedly. As I got older still we went to a few concerts and football games – I might not have been the worlds biggest fan of Rob Zombie but we loved to listen to heavy metal together anyway. I couldn’t help but become a diehard Packers fan of course. We also watched more horror movies than I can remember.

He taught me many valuable life lessons: a good way to get kids to behave is to tell them you’ll hang them by their thumbs in the closet if they don’t. He taught me the safety twins: think safely and act safely. He taught me that spiders are our friends and girls who eat sweets take up two seats. He taught me to beware of ducks in red plaid jackets. And to always look on the bright side of life.

As I got older our friendship of course grew and changed. But what never changed was Kevin’s unwavering support. When I left for college, became a Christian and went on to become a missionary in Africa, Kev may not have understood why I did what I did, but he always encouraged me and was always there for me. What I’ll remember most about Kevin is his heart. His loyalty to those he loved, and all of your stories are evidence of your love for him as well. I loved Kevin like a father and wouldn’t be who I am without him.

I know that Kevin believed in God and I trust that he’s with him now. Right now I am reminded of the brokenness of this world. I feel a sorrow deeper than I knew was possible. But I believe that the pain and suffering we are surrounded with is not how the world was meant to be. I also believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross so that those who trust in him would be free from this pain and reunited with God for eternity. I believe that Kevin is at peace and I’m thankful that his suffering is at an end. I am thankful that I got to know Kevin in the special way that I did for 24 years and I will look back on those memories and smile. And I long for the day I will see him again.

How I became a bridesmaid in Rwanda

Actually the title is a lie because I’m not entirely sure how it happened.

I was invited to a wedding a few weeks ago for Hélène’s daughter (the hospital accountant I share an office with and a good friend – pictured below, center). The wedding was in Rwanda but, a few of us on the team felt that our relationships with Hélène and her husband Fidele were important enough to make the trip. A few days before the wedding is when things got interesting. Hélène told me that I would be in the wedding. I had been to Chouchou’s (a nickname – I didn’t learn her real name until we were on the way to Rwanda) dowry ceremony but, I hadn’t met her. And now I was going to be one of her bridesmaids. This is one of the cross cultural phenomena I can’t quite put my finger on. Was I asked to be in the wedding by Chouchou, or did Hélène make the decision? Was it just because I’m a muzungu? I assume it was meant to be an honor – which it certainly was. But what was I being honored for? For being Hélène’s friend who happens to be single (a requirement of a bridesmaid)? Did I take the spot of one of Chouchou’s friends who was meant to have been in my place? Whatever the reason I am thankful that it has led to a deepening friendship for Hélène and I, and given me the chance to befriend Chouchou, whom I talk with occasionally since the wedding, though she now lives in Rwanda.

I should also mention that the wedding was absolutely lovely. After the ceremony we took bridal party photos at Lake Kivu, followed by a reception in a more intricately decorated room than I’ve ever set foot in. The festivities and multiple ceremonial events lasted well into the evening – needless to say my 24 hours in Rwanda were certainly ones to be remembered.

 

The Value of a Franc

I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk. I deal with money all day. In the states it is not uncommon to be wary of the germs carried by money. It is constantly changing hands and has been who knows where. It’s hard to compare that to Burundian money though. While some newer money has been put into circulation in recent years, most bills look something like this:

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It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish which bill it is. It feels like it will crumble to dust if you don’t handle it carefully enough. These 100 Burundian franc bills at worth less than .05 U.S. dollars. I need to continually remind myself where this money comes from and what it represents. Something that once had next to no value to me meant everything to one of our patients. Every day I am faced with African realities. Patients and their caretakers constantly come in and out of the accounting office because they cannot afford to pay, while many who could pay had spent weeks or months saving those fragile old francs, and handed us everything they have in an attempt to save their life or the life of a loved one.

This money tells a story. It has value because these patients have infinite value. I’m so thankful for the Needy Patient fund my team raises money for which covers the cost of medical care for those who have no other option. In Burundi, if you are unable to pay your medical bill you are not allowed to leave the hospital until someone comes to cover the bill. I have heard stories of patients being stuck at a hospital for months waiting for someone to come pay their bill. I am thankful this is something we can have an immediate impact on at Kibuye Hope Hospital.

If you are interested in contributing to the Needy Patient Fund you can do so at the following link:

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Changing Interests

Moving to rural Burundi comes with it the expected lifestyle changes. There is a slower pace to life that can be hard for New Yorker to adjust to – even an Upstate New Yorker – but once it is embraced brings with it a greater appreciation for the simple things in life. While a lot of my time is filled with work, language learning, team events, and ministry, I still find myself with plenty of down time. It’s important to keep my schedule balanced to stay healthy. I’ve enjoyed spending time cooking – everything here has to be made from scratch and I’ve found great joy in learning to make something that I normally would have bought in the store in the US (Some of my favorites – bread, tortilla chips, donuts, cinnamon buns, pasta sauce, etc.). I’ve also taken up sewing, knitting, crocheting, and cross stitching. I guess those hobbies make me sounds a bit older than my years, but I keep myself young with plenty of exercising, running and hiking. Most of all I’m thankful for time to be still in God’s presence and to be in the Word and in prayer. It has been a great comfort to me as I continue to adjust to life here in Burundi.

 

Clinic de l’Oeil

  • One might not think that rural Africa is where you want to develop eye troubles. One would probably be right, unless we’re talking about Kibuye, Burundi. I had excellent vision growing up, but in recent years developed what I believe the medical professionals call a ‘squinting problem’. Actually it’s called astigmatism but I’ll get to that. Once I began working at Kibuye Hope Hospital and spending the majority of my time either I front of a computer screen or trying to decipher illegible handwriting in a language u don’t understand, my squinting problem became an actual problem. After a few weeks of perpetual migraines I made an appointment with the local ophthalmologist. He also happens to be my Serge team leader – Dr. John Cropsey. This was my first experience in the Kibuye eye clinic – unless you count making my way through the crowds that gather to see him each day as I head to my office. I waited until the end of the day when the crowds had cleared, and quickly went from station to station where Dr. John and his eye team made their assessments. This is where the astigmatism comes in. Thankfully it is easily fixed with a pair of glasses, for which I received a prescription and began the journey to the ‘alimentation des lunettes’ (don’t worry, it’s only next door). I selected my frames, paid the hefty fee of $20 for the whole operation, and the next day returned to pick up my new glasses  – did I mention they’re Ray Bans? (I cannot confirm the authenticity of this product).
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I am so thankful for the resources available to me – including my teammates expertise. And it is not lost on me that I can easily afford these glasses ($20 is a steal compared to the U.S. average cost of $196) while the majority of those patients who line up to see Dr. John each day cannot.

Did I mention this eye clinic didn’t exist 2 years ago?

Check out this video for a closer look into Dr. Johns’ vision for transforming lives by being the hands and feet of Jesus in East Africa: https://vimeo.com/113349898

Training in ColoRADo

It’s been about a week since I got back to NY after four weeks at the Missions Training Institute in Colorado. There’s a lot that I could say about the program, but I’ll try to narrow it down. There were 37 adults (5 single women and 16 married couples) and 38 children (up to age 18) living together and bring equipped to be sent out around the world. Most of us were heading to different parts of Africa. For the first two weeks we focused on language learning. I’ve been asked many time how my French has improved as a result, but the focus was on HOW to learn a language. My “tool belt” was filled with tips and techniques that will allow us to take charge in the language learning process. The second two weeks were focused on the cross cultural transition. I was taught by experienced missionaries who have worked to become experts in their chosen fields, whether that was language study, crossing cultures, conflict resolution, stress management, Sabbath keeping, single missions, or a variety of other topics that were discussed. It was freeing to be surrounded by people in the same position as me. I was free to be open about my fears and my hopes, and so were they. In four weeks I feel like I got to know these people’s hearts, and each one was a beautiful testimony. I am so thankful for the time I had with each instruction, and with each trainee. Each one helped me to feel better equipped to face the challenged ahead. Outside of training we were also able to explore a bit of the area, enjoying sand sledding at the Great Sand Dune National Park, the Garden of the Gods, the local rodeo, driving north and exploring Denver, and staying local and walking around Palmer Lake, to the local ice cream and coffee shops, and hiking.

I am thankful that while I was in Colorado the elections in Burundi remained peaceful, and violence has not escalated since. I continue to pray for peace and wisdom in Bujumbura, but am thankful that my team has been able to continue their work in Kibuye uninterrupted. I am excited at the prospect of joining the team at the end of this month. While logistics are being worked out to make this possible, I am praying for a miracle in my support raising. I am trusting God to raise up new supporters to join my monthly support team and for a 40% increase in monthly support, to leave at 85% and keep my support raising from the field a minimum. Please pray with me and if you feel lead to join that monthly support team you can do so by visiting my support page at https://www.serge.org/staff/id-51212/

Singleness

How do I feel about my singleness? This is a question I get asked often, in many different ways. I’m 23 years old, and I’ve committed to living in East Africa until at least my 26th birthday. Don’t I want to get married? Have kids? The simple answer is of course I do. On a bad day, singleness is painful. It’s lonely and jealous and questioning “when will it be my turn?”, and “am I making the right life choices?”. That’s on a bad day. On a good day, I am thankful for my singleness. God has given me this time to discover the world, to discover my passions, what I want to do and who I want to be. This is a choice I made. I decided that it was more important to me to serve God with the gifts He’s given me. It was more important to serve Him and to serve His people. I don’t want to sit around and wait. I don’t want to twiddle my thumbs until my husband comes along and then begin to do what the Lord has called me to do. On a good day, I recognize how big and powerful my God is. I recognize that if He has a husband for me, He will intersect our lives at the right time no matter where I am; so why not serve Him while I wait? On a good day, I recognize that His timing is perfect; more perfect than mine. Today was a bad day. I felt sad and lonely and jealous. I cried and complained. On a bad day, I remind myself of all of the joy found in those good days. I remind myself of the truths my God has given me through His word. I remind myself of how good my God is and the good plans He has for my life.

Change

Below is a detailed update on what is happening with me and the South Sudan team. The life of a missionary is one of change. That is part of what I signed up for.
As the situation in South Sudan escalated, the Mundri team was evacuated to Kenya a number of weeks ago. Recently, the security team met and after reviewing the current information decided to leave the South Sudan team on “Red” status, meaning no one is allowed to return at this time.
In the midst of everything happening, team leaders Shawn and Heather had time to reflect on the last 6 months. The affects of living in a country at war with four children, a lack of access to educational resources for their children and overall hardships of living in such a remote area had taken a significant toll. After seeking wise counsel, prayer and speaking with the rest of the team, the Wallace’s have decided they will not be returning to Mundri.
The rest of the team has accepted short term assignments in Kenya until the end of the summer. At that time the security team will reevaluate the situation in South Sudan.
With all of this said, if and when a team returns to Mundri it will be a small team without the current leadership and with many other unknowns. Being a young, single woman who has not yet spent time in South Sudan, it was decided by Serge and my team leaders that it would not be wise for me to continue with my current assignment. This does not mean that I am no longer a Serge missionary. I will still be joining one of their East Africa teams as that is where my heart is and where the Spirit is leading me. I am processing through these changes and myself and Serge leadership are talking with other teams to find the best fit. There is one team with an immediate need for help in my focus area which seems to be a perfect fit in perfect timing. When a new assignment is finalized I will share all of that information.
What does that mean for you as my supporters? As I said, I am still raising support to join a Serge team in East Africa. Please continue to give if you are doing so already. I will keep you updated as new information becomes available. If you have any questions please ask! I may not have all of the answers right now but I am happy to talk through what I do know with you.
Please continue to pray for South Sudan, for my team and team leaders, and for me in this time of transition.

Collaboration

I am so thrilled with the community I have found at my home church. I am excited to be pursuing membership at my local Christian and Missionary Alliance church. I still love and cherish my community in Troy, but it is refreshing to have fellowship close to home. I have been fortunate enough to find individuals within this new church who are passionate about missions and who are willing and excited to come alongside me and partner with me every step of the way. As I am still raising support it is invaluable for me to have these kind of partners helping me along the way. The team of individuals has come to be known as my “Rope Holders”, or the people who will hold me in this community even when I am overseas. They are my main connection and my core contacts who are ready to support me with consistent prayer, encouragement and practical help. I have always been one to try to do things myself, and I believe my unwillingness to hear others ideas and input with the mindset that I knew best what needed to be done (even though I was overwhelmed and clueless at times, I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t have it all together!). Please pray with me as we COLLABORATE and brainstorm new fundraising ideas and next steps.