Saturday, December 27, 2008

Noeli Nziza

On Christmas morning, I called a local restaurant to see if they were open for the holiday. We had just arrived back from some travel and didn’t have any food in the house. Our inclination was to be a bit concerned. In the States, you’d be fortunate to find most anything open on Christmas Day, and the places that are open will usually be staffed by resentful, non-tenured employees. So, we decided to call first, so as to ascertain both the status of the restaurant and, potentially, the demeanor of those with the good fortune of answering the phones at 10am on Christmas Day.

“Hotel Ubuntu. Bonjour.”

“Bonjour. Est-ce que vous ette… um… Je voudrais… er… sigh. I was just calling to see if you were open.”

“Oui, oui, monsieur. We are open.”

Now, I can only describe the tone of voice with which my query was answered. It wasn’t cheery or helpful, nor was it mean or resentful. The tone carried with it an underlying message.

It said, “Why on earth wouldn’t we be open?!?”

Which brings me to the heart of my (somewhat tardy) posting for this, my first Christmas away from the candy canes, commercials, and cold fronts of Indiana. Growing up, I had a constant sense of anticipation for Christmas morning. My siblings and I once snuck downstairs in the wee hours of the morning just to see the presents under the tree. We fell asleep in the glow of my mother’s spectacular annual arboreal creation, restless with excitement for the daylight and the sound of ripping paper. As I got older and older, I slept later and later, but I always had a sense that Christmas was coming, and just in case I would forget, the stores and TV ads made sure to remind me.

But here, in Burundi, my observation has been that Christmas looks quite a bit different than in the States. Walk around the city like Karri and I did on the 25th and the shops will be open, the vendors will be out, a lot of people will be working. Maybe they can’t afford to close; maybe they’re just used to working on holidays. And there are loads of holidays in Bujumbura, holidays for Christians, holidays for Muslims, holidays celebrating military victories, holidays commemorating political assassinations. Christmas falls right in line with the rest of them, maybe with a bit of a shot in the arm for commerce in light of some extra gift giving. But the celebration isn’t broadcast in neon lights like back west. Burundians will go to church (if they’re Christian) on Christmas Eve and possibly Christmas morning. They’ll have a meal with their family, exchange some gifts, and that’ll be it. The big celebration, so I was told by one Burundian friend, is New Years, which I am really excited to see.

Now, I questioned why, in a country that is predominantly Christian, the celebration of the birth of the King of Kings is regarded as a second class citizen to the purchasing of a new calendar. But perhaps the truth of the matter is that the celebration just doesn’t look like what I’m used to. And what am I used to? I’m used to noise. I’m used to motion-activated pine trees that gyrate and sing “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.” I’m used to a constant barrage of commercials that insist that what I’ve purchased for my loved ones is sub-par compared to this lovely set of steak knives. I’m used to the sound of the masses squeezed together at the doors of Wal-mart, planning the most efficient circuit around the store, only to be squeezed together all over again at the checkout lines. I’m used to all that noise, leading up to an evening spent with my fellow believers, lighting a candle and singing what carol? That’s right, kids. “Silent Night.”

Karri and I went through an advent reading schedule this year. We spent the month leading up to Christmas reading Scripture each day, psalms of joy, prophecies of hope, promises of peace, and celebrations of love. Advent, which means “arrival,” has been celebrated for centuries in the church as a way to prepare our hearts for the coming Messiah, and by joining in that tradition, we connected our hearts with the hearts of the people Jesus was born into. These were people who were desperate. They were brokenhearted. They needed hope, joy, and peace because they had none. And their prayers were the lines we occasionally sing this time of year.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lowly exile here
Until the son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

I was invited to speak at a Burundian friend’s house church two weeks ago. Karri and I sat in the living room of a woman whose husband worked on another continent to support their four children. My friend pointed to two girls who desperately wanted Bibles but couldn’t afford them. And then I met Sandrene. Sandrene is a widow, and the mother of five children, and is HIV positive. She looked at us with tears welling in her eyes and told us she had been asking God who was going to take care of her children when she dies. And she felt God say to her, “You children will not be abandoned, because I am their Father.” I opened the Bible to Luke 3 and read to this small group of believers, “Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For unto you in the City of David, a Savior has been born, and He is Christ, the Lord.” And I told them that their hearts and the hearts of those people who cried out for Emmanuel in Israel two thousand years ago are one and the same. Christmas means that hope has come for the hopeless, joy for those filled with sorrow, peace for the embattled, fearful, and broken. And I saw Sandrene close her watering eyes and nod.

Christmas has been more real to me here than ever before. Now, I desperately miss my family and I miss the snow and I miss the candles and “Silent Night.” And I don’t want this to come across as a rebuke of Christmas in America. It’s easy to say “Well, Christmas is just too commercial. We need to get back to the true meaning.” Normally, all that conversation prompts is a nice, hearty helping of guilt along with your Christmas turkey. But this year, I got to share Christmas with a people who are looking for hope all the time. I got to look at the birth of the King through the eyes of Sandrene, and without all the noise, my ears were clear enough to hear her crying out for Emmanuel, God with us. And in each of our countries, cities, neighborhoods, families, there are Sandrenes. There are people who need hope, joy, and peace. Maybe if we lifted our voices like the angels before, declaring the birth of a Savior for all people above the din of the other noises, they’d be filled with wonder like the shepherds long ago.

So Merry Christmas, Joyeaux Noel, and Noeli Nziza to you and yours. May you be filled with hope, joy, peace, and love as the Messiah enters your world, and may you be the heralds of good news of great joy to the Sandrenes all around you.

Let earth receive her king.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My New Diary

(copied from the opening pages of my new diary.)

I am now the proud owner of a Chinese diary, purchased in a Chinese-owned, fixed-price store on Avenue d’Uprona in Bujumbura, Burundi. I am writing in it with a pen from Fellowship Missionary Church, on Tillman Road a few hundred yards from a Wal-mart in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This pen has traveled farther than many of my friends and family.

This diary probably has some sort of typo or defect, which is why it has ended up here in East Africa. In fact, this diary came with a pen of its own, a black plastic click pen that, when clicked, extends the ball point just a millimeter beyond the shoddily-cut plastic end, rendering it nigh useless but for filling the handy leather strap where it was meant to reside. Hence the replacement pen from Tillman Road.

Burundi is the middle child of the world.

It seems that all it receives are the hand-me-downs of its older siblings to the east and west. Recycled tee shirts from your senior spring break in 1992, stationary with typing errors, electronic appliances that are nicked, defective, or simply no longer in their prime fill the markets and storefronts, and the people lay out their hard-earned, yet meager earnings to purchase these international leftovers. The disdain emanates from the older siblings as they watch their old toys trotted out and fought over.

The younger siblings here on the continent receive doting care from the new colonial powers, showering them with international aid, business connections, advocacy on the global stage, celebrity endorsement. This comes from a not-so-subtle sense of guilt that they messed something up. There was clearly an error somewhere in their history of raising these uneducated children with dark skin. Somewhere there was neglect, an abandonment, where the kids unleashed violence and atrocity on each other while mom and dad were too busy with their careers.

So they sent their youngest kids to military school, a school where their leaders become tyrants who whip them into shape at the cost of their rights and freedoms. They shower their babies with money and misplaced affection because they’ve been through so much (and there’s now a motion picture out chronicling their neglect.)

And all the while, the middle child sits, not early enough for oldest-child advantage, the recipient of the same abuse and neglect as all children, but without the endearing baby-face of the youngest that brings about pity and attention.

So here I sit, with my most-likely-flawed hand-me-down of a diary, from a Chinese store on a potholed Burundian thoroughfare. Maybe it’s not so bad to be the middle kid. You learn more quickly to learn things the hard way. You develop creativity and vision to make do with what you have. Maybe Burundi just needs to embrace their “middle-kidness” and stop trying to be the all-important eldest or the spoiled youngest. Maybe if Burundi learns to stand on its own, it will grow up just fine.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Reflection

My beautiful wife finishes her last paper this week. In a matter of days, she will be Karri DeSelm, MBA. Those three letters are the culmination of two years of life, two years that have redefined the way we see the world. We chose to move away from home, to leave jobs, to say goodbye to friends, to entrust the expansion of the Kingdom in Fort Wayne to our sisters and brothers in Christ, and pursue the cloud of smoke, the pillar of fire that we saw spinning before us.

We did this because we believe something about the world.

We believe something that has brought us the most inexplicable joy, the most severe heartbreak, the most soulful doubt, and the deepest sense of wonder that we’ve ever known in our lives.

We believe something about the world that requires faith, hope, and love from us every day when we leave our house and take the Burundian air into our lungs; an air that is laced with the dust kicked up by unshod feet, the drifting scent of exposed garbage and over-worn clothing, and the exhales of a nation who have learned to shoulder their poverty every day.

We believe something about the world that is discarded as foolishness by the skeptical unbeliever and the overly comfortable believer alike.
We believe something about the world that was proclaimed by a host of angels to a group of shepherds, who may as well have been Burundian cassava farmers, Kurdish nomads in Iraq, or homeless, abandoned men and women on the benches of Love Park in Philadelphia.

We believe something about the world that forces us to shout defiantly into the seemingly endless chasm of injustice, of systemic evil that allows Herod or President al-Bashir to wipe out entire generations, that causes doctors in Bujumbura to strike for a liveable wage while our guard’s father, brought in vain to a now-vacant hospital, lies in his bed with only over-the-counter medicines to mend his broken body.

We believe something about the world that is heartened by the words of Isaiah, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”

We believe something about the world that was believed by a teenage girl on a donkey with a social stigma on her head and a baby in her womb.

We believe something about the world that was difficult to believe for Jews under Caesar, difficult to believe for the innocents who hid in their homes in Rwanda, difficult to believe for the brokenhearted mothers who lost their children in the streets of West Philadelphia.

We believe something about the world that means changing the way we eat, the way we dress, the way we talk, the way we drive, the way we vote, the way we cry, the way we worship, the way we commune, the way we read, the way we dream, the way we suffer, the way we give, and the way we resist the powers of this world.

We believe something about the world that affirms the God of Genesis 1 and 2, of Job 38 and 39, of Isaiah 49 and 60, of Revelation 22.

We believe something about the world that, in this season of advent, causes us to look at all of the hurt and brokenness in the world and take up the posture of the people of God for generations – expectation.

What do we believe?

We believe He’s putting it all back together again.

And why? Why do we believe this when all the darkness in the world seems to conspire together and snuff out any possibility of hope? How can we believe this when the Caesars of the world seem titanic, when the Herods of the world seem more violent, wealthy, and unwilling to change than ever before? What news, what headline could possibly justify the complete reorientation of our lives around the singular vision of the healing of the nations when they insist on furiously raging together? Why do we believe this about the world?


Unto us, a child is born.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The tour...

Since the chances of hosting any of our dear loved ones from the States is slim (though we'd love to have you!) we thought we could give you the virtual tour of our home. Jim and I live with two other ladies (the same age as us) - Wendy and Jillian. They live upstairs and we live downstairs but the open spaces are communal.
This is the front of our house...
...and the side yard pretending to be a jungle...
...and the downstairs porch...
...I decorated the living room myself...well, let's say I rearranged the furniture and planted a few plants...which I noticed our guard/gardener already replaced because they died...
...and the dining room with Jim in it. (I forgot to photograph our bedroom. It is just a large room with a bed and a bed-net and lots of closet space... And the occasional mass invasion of a biblical plague of grasshoppers.)
Moving on to the upstairs, we have the best feature of the house -the balcony. We spend many hours on both sunny days and in amazing rainstorms sitting here, reading, praying, typing. It's an incredible view, with Lake Tanganyika on the horizon hedged in by Congo.
And finally, here is a view of our gate and driveway from the upstairs porch.
I'd like to also introduce you to Selius, who works with us full-time as a gardener/landscaper by day and a guard by night. (He goes home each weekend). He is kind enough to put up with my Kirundi as well, since neither he nor I speak French and he doesn't speak English.
This is Emmanuel, who is a great cook and keeps us well fed! We had a great time cooking together for Thanksgiving yesterday. (Though he doubted my measuring skills once or twice since we don't have measuring cups of any sort.) But he stuck with me and it all came out great!

This is our cat Kumusi. He came with the house. He is very little but we do feed him, I promise!

As a final stop on the tour I'd like you to meet our friends. We like to refer to them as the 'creepy Burundi statues.' As you can see, we get a lot of mileage out of them during social events at our house...

(we are 'American Gothic,' the painting - get it?)

Our friends - Meg and Isaac:

There's a spare bedroom upstairs if anyone wants to come for a visit!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Update Letter - Winter 2008

Friends –

Hello again from Bujumbura! The snow and frost have come for you, our friends and family in the West, but we continue to be showered with sunshine and African rains here in Burundi. Alas, we won’t see snow again until nearly 2010! I’m sure you’re probably planning your holiday gatherings: who’s going to cook the turkey (we’re going without that this year as well!), when to build the first fire of the year in the fireplace (if you haven’t already), what to buy for that special someone (may I suggest some fine Burundian coffee beans from your nearest Starbucks?). We’re also preparing for the holidays here in Africa, and thought it appropriate to send you our season’s greetings along with an update of the latest news and events in our tribe. If you haven’t been keeping up, our blog has lots of stories and pictures to bring you up to speed.

HOME: We recently moved into a new house in a neighborhood called Kibenga, just south of the neighborhood where we formerly dwelt, at the end of a long, bumpy dirt road and 50 meters from a primary school. The house we lived in before is a guest house, and we were always meant to find housing of our own. We are living with Wendy and Jillian, friends of ours from World Relief. They live in the upper floor of the house, and we live in the ground floor. We live quite communally, but it’s nice to have a place where you can retire for a little privacy. The hallmark of the house is the upstairs balcony, which gives a beautiful view of Lake Tanganyika and the Congolese mountains, and is lovely while reading a book during a mid-afternoon rainstorm. We’re working out hiring new house staff and learning how to get around in this new context, as we’re living without a safety net, so to speak. But we really enjoy the new place, and it’s fun playing peek-a-boo with the curious young faces that peek out of the school’s gate each morning.

WORK: Karri is working hard at finishing both her graduate work and a five-year business plan for Turame, the microfinance institution where she is serving. (See story below) She’ll be finished with her classwork in December, becoming Karri DeSelm, MBA. And not a moment too soon, as her desk is quickly piling up with new tasks and responsibilities, shuffled into place by a Turame staff that is already convinced of her irreplaceable qualities. Jim is continuing to work with Church Mobilization at World Relief, and has been able to preach and worship with the staff here in Bujumbura, as well as upcountry in Nyanza Lac and Gitega. He continues to write music and has found a new joy in keeping the blog lively and interesting for you, the humble reader.

CHURCH: We continue to grow connected to our church here, PTI, and have begun to feel like a ‘regular member’ rather than a guest. We marvel each week at the diversity of attendees – Burundian, American, Scottish, British, Canadian, and many other Africans from across the content whose lines have crossed in Bujumbura. Pastor Emmanuel only grows dearer to use as we interact with him and he shares his passion and vision for training up young pastors in Biblically sound theology and shaking loose some of the ‘religious dogma’ which plagues denominations here and creates division, rather than unity, within the Church. In Burundi’s church, denominational, and ethnic context, it is a daunting task but one he continues to ‘suffer’ with great joy.

PRAYER: Our hearts are still constantly with you all at home and we grieve and rejoice with you as we hear stories of what is going on in your own lives. Thank you for all the prayers; we know they continue daily. All of the prayers for possible challenges of living here have been answered faithfully by God. We ask that you pray for God to continue to open our eyes, seeing and engaging Burundi in the way that God sees it. We pray that we do not miss opportunities to form relationships and love others that God is putting before us. Please also pray for the Church here and its divine role in bringing about peace in Burundi and refusing to engage in continued power struggles and violence. Pray the Church will have the courage to take a lead in ensuring the 2010 elections are peaceful.

SUPPORT: As a final thought, our fundraising support still stands at only 50%. World Relief will continue to send us funds through the remainder of our internship despite our support raised, but we would be indebting ourselves to them once we return to the States. Because of this, we’re thinking and praying about the wisdom of returning home early and cutting our time here short in lieu of going into a good amount of debt. We deeply do not want to end this experience early, and are asking humbly for you, our friends and family, to consider supporting us once again. We know the holidays are upon you, and you’re making choices about gifts, parties, and charitable giving, and many of you have already given very generously.

So our proposal is this. We welcome your support if you have not supported us yet, and if you have done so and wish to do so again, we thank you very much. We’ve included at the bottom of this letter a link to a site where you can donate and a form you can print and mail. If, however, you are willing, we ask that you pass on this letter to someone else we know, someone who might be interested in supporting us this holiday season. Our contact list is only so long, and we’d love to increase awareness about Burundi and God’s work in it, along with our donor base. If you’re receiving this as an email, forward it! If you’re reading it as a blog, tell someone about it! Let’s bring the warmth of Africa into people’s hearts this winter, and keep the DeSelms in Burundi!

We miss you all, and cannot wait to worship with you again. May the God of peace enrich your season greatly with peace and dreams of peace. May you experience the love of a God who took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. And may you find new ways to take on the flesh of Christ himself, and incarnate His love, joy, justice, and mercy in the world around you. Let earth receive her King!

Grace and peace,

Jim and Karri DeSelm

I recently had the opportunity to have a long conversation with the Gitega (the central province) Branch Manager, Gerard, and also travel with him to visit community banking groups consisting of 30-45 members (90% women). In our conversation, Gerard shared the story of his life, how he came into development, and “fell in love with Burundians” – his own people – later in life and felt called to serve them through microfinance. His English seemed to miraculously improve as he told me with excitement of the banking group that had managed to save over $1,000 (a huge feat!) and of those coming to him with lists of potential members begging for Turame to bring services to their province. He told me about asking permission of each one of the community leaders in the new regions in which Turame hopes to expand, and of how permission was granted with enthusiasm at each request. He told me of the challenges urban dwelling Burundians face – high living costs and expenses – and of the challenges of encouraging women in their ability to adequately manage their business and take higher loans in order to expand and increase their profit. He told me of the many consequences of the long war on the people – loss of businesses, assets, and even cows who once provided free fertilizer to crops. Now people suffer to rebuild their lives. Farmers cannot afford the high expense of chemical fertilizer and are failing to produce a harvest that can sustain their families.

And then I saw hope – in the faces of women and men who continue to take Turame loans. After the meeting prayer and sharing of the ‘Word’ through translation clients told me of their increased income which allowed them to send all of their children to school, to feed them without problems, to pay back their loans with ease. They were making plans for their future, plans for their children. One widow told me her children would not be alive if Turame had not come because no one would loan her money. They were proud and had dignity and confidence. Isaiah 1:17 came to me in clarity: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” In a new and real way the work I am doing everyday in an office behind a computer connected with its true purpose. To seek justice, to restore dignity, to serve those in need, to worship and glorify God with my work - to see the Kingdom of God growing, unstoppably, throughout Burundi.



To SUPPORT US BY MAIL: (Click the image and print)

…And what a feast it was…

Outdoor Porch + Burundi + Mosquitoes + Shaved Legs (desensitized) + Laziness (to go retrieve bug spray) =

Unfortunately my choice, without thinking, to wear a skirt to work the next day equally horrified my colleagues, who decided I was sacrificing myself so that the rest of Burundi could be unbothered by mosquitoes for the evening, as it seems they all heard about where I live that night…

Don’t worry mom – they claim that malaria infected mosquitoes only do their blood sucking between the hours of 2 and 4 am. Lets just hope these mosquitoes weren’t on U.S. east coast time…

Friday, November 7, 2008

Open Letter To Mom - Part III

As far as daily life goes, we get up around 6 every day. It kinda blows my mind that we get up so early, but the sun sets at 6, so we’ve been going to bed pretty early. We get up and have breakfast, which usually looks like fruit salad, toast, and coffee. We’ve found a pretty good bean to use a local coffee shop, so our habit is still nursed here in Africa. Sometimes I knock up a tasty egg concoction with onions, peppers, and salsa. You just have to clean up quickly, or the ants will get breakfast as well.

We get picked up by our offices at between 7 and 8. Karri’s been keeping really busy with Turame. They’re giving her some human resources work, story writing, and other documentation, and Wendy shares some of her massive workload with Karri, also. I get to the office and have some quiet time, read, practice French, and prepare for whatever gathering I have to prepare for. Sometimes it’s a talk for the kids on Tuesday, sometimes it’s picking music for the team at PTI (our church), sometimes it’s translating Kirundi hymns for the staff devotionals here at the office. My boss, Sophonie, has been away quite a bit, so it was pretty slow starting off, with not a lot of direction. But now we’ve got a bit of momentum, and I’ve got a better sense of how I can serve here. I’m gonna put together a guitar workshop and take it to some of the upcountry locations, start working with the musicians here in Bujumbura, and help formulate a vision for the staff devotional time. I’ve had the sense that the more available I am, the more opportunities I will have, so I’m not really running around just to get busy. I think that would be a waste, and I’d end up doing a bunch of stuff that I can’t say no to when the things God really wants me to do come around. Now I think those things are starting to develop.

Lunches are always a highlight of our day. We sometimes go to a little café, just the two of us. But most days, Isaac, Jillian, Wendy, Karri and I head over to this place just fifty meters (metric, you know!) from the World Relief office. It’s called (creatively, as are all shop names here in Burundi) “Coffee Shop.” This isn’t the coffee shop we buy our bean from. In fact, the “Coffee Shop’s” coffee isn’t all that great. Go figure. But their food is really good and really cheap. So we’ll get brochettes, (which are kebabs in french), omelettes, or croissants, and sit in the open air dining room, chatting about life, politics, work, and weird topics you wouldn’t think could occupy an entire conversation.

We head back to work, more of the same, meetings and study, and head home around 5 or 6. Sometimes, I head home a bit early and study or read at home. This is partly because I’m more comfortable there and partly because I like to be around for Enock in case he needs anything. SO I usually take a mototaxi, which is just a guy on a motorcycle that I flag down. They wear bright orange vests so you can tell the taxis from the regular Joes like Isaac who just own a motorcycle. I negotiate a price, which is necessary because, as a white man, I’m overcharged by over 100% initially. You’re expected to bargain, which means walking away sometimes. I’ve never actually walked away and had the driver just give up. He always drives up to me again and tries another price. I can get a ride for between 500 and 700 francs, which is between fifty to seventy-five cents. That’s still probably two to three hundred francs more than a Burundian would pay, but hey, I’m a muzungu! Then I hop on the back of his bike and hang on! It’s a great way to travel in the city if you’re alone, partly for the cost, and partly because you get a great breeze to cool you off. Karri opts for the Mutatu buses, which I mentioned in an earlier blog. That costs right around a quarter, and the price doesn’t change for us white folk, which is nice.

We get home and figure out our evenings doings, which normally involves some lovely meal from Enock and maybe a night out with friends. Sometimes Karri has homework to do, sometimes we just watch some movies, sometimes we walk over to a friend’s house house and chill there. It’s always different, but we’re normally in bed by 11 or 12. Then starts a new day! It’s the little things that make us love it here, though. It’s rain storms in the evening, or discovering a great new cultural event to participate in. It’s listening to Burundian drummers, or the trilling of birds that I’ve never heard before. It’s finding that one connection with someone who speaks a different language, that one wisecrack that passes through the cultural limbo and causes you both to guffaw in pleasure and approval. It’s being with the poor every day and wrestling with where we fit in the scope of the kingdom with them, being forced to decide if the banknote you’re about to pass will actually be a just a fish rather than a fishing pole, and whether that’s ok for today. It’s greetings with kisses, handshakes, half-hugs and whole hugs, learning new words in Kirundi and seeing delight in someone’s eyes when you make your feeble Western attempt to repeat. It’s eating real food, fish caught by fishermen in Nyanza Lac, beef raised by herders in Gitega, mangoes from our neighbor’s tree. It’s remembering that God can be in two places at once, moving with the sun from the church in Ruziba to the activity center in Fort Wayne.

So that’s life for the present in Bujumbura! We’re living a full life here, and know that Christ has seen fit to graft us into his body here. Still, we miss home, then smell of fallen leaves, the quick inhale of that November morning air that gives you a shiver, and that instinctive hum that comes out like a reflex when you hear those words, “How about a fire in the fireplace tonight?” Give all our love to the family, and know that our hearts are still with you, and you with us. Love you!!!


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Burundi Fun & Beauty

DRC Mountains from across Lake Tanganyika

Showing off... I can do that too...

Very high jumping...

Jim bringing the house down with his skills of ROCK

Burundian Drum Team

Karri teaching a thing or two about drumming

Jim introducing us at Enoch's rural church

Karri & Enoch in front of the bricks Enoch bought to build his future home


Amazing Moth!

David with jack-jack and Sam - the dogs we lived with at Trina and Seth Chase's home

Karri & David - one of the youth who is actually a twin... I think this is David...

Jim, Karri, Isaac, & Wendy celebrating Wendy's Quarter Century Birthday

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Power of Example

Today is the day – the historic US elections. I must say that it is quite a different experience planning to participate in my civic duty while in Burundi. We (Jim and I and American friends) made it to the US Embassy (across the street from my office…. But don’t try to take pictures – I’ve already been threatened by the security guards there keeping a watchful eye…) a few weeks ago to cast our absentee ballots. For me, this year has been quite unprecedented as I cast my first primary ballot ever in Philadelphia, attended two ‘Obama’ rallies to hear him speak (one of which I will never forget as we – the crowd – took over the streets of downtown Philly on foot), and finally cast my presidential vote while living in Burundi. I would say I have thoroughly fulfilled and enjoyed my ‘civic duties.’

This morning found Jim and I awake at 5:30am and out the door to our friends’ house. Brandon is Canadian and Duncan is British but still they agreed to host the mini-election party since our invitations to the Ambassador’s party never arrived. I could go on, noting the nose-almost-pressed-to-the-TV screen position I took up on the floor, the tears I couldn’t hold back during Obama’s acceptance speech… but that isn’t why I’m writing.

I wanted to mention the power of America’s example in the world – good or bad. And today it was the former. Not because the US elected Senator Barack Obama (okay, well, it was great for that reason too!) but because I have had a Tanzanian, a Kenyan, and multiple Burundians say to me today that the US is setting a wonderful example in the world regarding the democratic process. In the African Great Lakes and East Africa region it seems almost fictional to hold an election in which there is no ballot stealing, no threatening of voters, no riots – rather, a simple voluntary concession to the winning candidate. That is it, done deal. John McCain retires for rest to his Arizona cabin. No mobilizing supports to take over the streets, no assassinations. These are the contrasting pictures those around me are drawing.

As they have shared these thoughts with me my immediate reaction is to correct them, to remind them of the debacle of the 2000 elections, to explain the influence that corporate America has over the political system, but I don’t. And, in hindsight, I am glad. I am proud of America today and its ability to run a democratic election that ends with a speech about unity and solidarity, rather than violence. I am proud to know that my vote counted in this election (given my extreme confidence in our US postal system and the Burundian US Embassy…). We must be aware that as the US, we are always setting an example – whether good of bad. Today it is a good example that is likely to have ripples of influence far beyond what we may ever know.

Burundi is facing an election in 2010 – and by ‘facing’ I mean approaching an event that brings apprehension and fear into the hearts of the country’s citizen, who hope and pray for peace but find such ideals have a marred track record in Burundi. But the Burundians around me are discussing a new hope in the example they see in America. It can be done. And it can be historic – just as our election is today. Wounds can be healed and new faces can replace the old.

As Christians we understand hope – we know the author of hope. And as the Church – worldwide – we must share that hope of peace, of resurrection, of renewal, of transformation, with a world peering desperately into the darkness for a light. The Church is still the Body of Christ, the light in the world. No politician can ever fill this role. But as the Church we must play a positive role – the role of the peacemaker – demonstrating the values of the Kingdom of God. I believe there is a large role for ‘the peacemaker’ in the realm of politics. May we, I, step forward with courage, and follow Christ, the Prince of Peace, even into the depths of political turmoil.

“And I knew that as they were sitting in, they [the students doing sit-ins in the South] were really standing up for the best in the American dream and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy, which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.” – MLK; “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” – 3 April 1968

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Open Letter To Mom - Part II

The expats we’ve been hanging out with have been strewn throughout the blog, but here’s a rundown of some of our closest friends:

Wendy – Wendy works for World Relief in Baltimore and gets sent out from time to time to help with different organizations like Turame. She’ll be here for about the same time we will, and we really love hanging out with her. She works extremely hard, and occasionally finds time for a game of Phase 10 with her friends.

Isaac – Isaac was on the plane with Karri and me from Brussels. He’s an MK who grew up in Mozambique and just graduated from Virginia Tech. We tease him mercilessly for being young and being single and being perky, but he’s actually extremely smart and well-traveled. Whenever we have questions about international affairs or travel, he’s quickest to chime in with his experience. He’s a joy to be around, even though Karri threatens him with physical violence every once in a while.

Jillian – Jillian is here for two years as the Church Partnership coordinator here in Burundi. She came from a ministry in urban Washington DC, running an after-school homework help and alternative recreational center for the youth of the neighborhood. She’s got a big heart for those kids. She’s also a fiery personality and a straight shooter. She’ll set you straight if you’re off the map, and she’ll love you while she’s doing it.

Brandon – A Canadian who loves waking up in the morning, putting on classical music, and drinking a good cup of coffee. When we hang out with Brandon, we’re either going to a great restaurant, normally a place called Ubuntu which has the best pizza in the country, or hanging out at his place watching Planet Earth, a nature-type series by the BBC. But whatever the activity, it usually also involves listening to his music collection (he has impeccable taste) and talking about the stuff we love to talk about: world politics, environmentalism and development, emergent Christianity, art, just brilliant, brilliant stuff.

Duncan – Hailing from the UK, Duncan is one of the few people who speaks faster than my wife. He splits his time between Bujumbura and his place upcountry, working in agriculture development. Duncan is very easy to be around, loves the Lord, and is quick with an anecdote.

Adam - A terrific guitarist from Liverpool who works for a Belgian organization that de-mines African countries. Burundi is pretty mine-free right now, so they’re focusing on collecting and dismantling small arms. He and I like to grab a drink at Circle Nautique, a club owned by a Frenchman named Jean Luc, after rehearsing with our musical ensemble. Adam is dating…

Martina – A singer from Italy and photographer for the UN. Martina has one of those voices that works so well on French torch songs, with that thin tremolo of a vibrato and crooning style with long, arcing approaches to notes. Karri says she reminds her of the main character from the movie “Chocolat”, a free spirit with a zest for life and all things beautiful. She’s also passionate about cheese.

Fabien and Jenny – Fabien is a Frenchman and a great guy, who plays and sings in the band occasionally. He’s what Adam refers to as a “mutterer,” meaning his French is so French, it’s nearly indecipherable, but he’s a lot of fun to hang out with. He’s dating Jenny, a South African, who works for Accord, a mediation and conflict resolution organization. Karri has had a great time chatting with Jenny, and they have a lot in common.

Matt and Daniella – Matt’s from Kansas and works at the Embassy. You can tell he really loves life, and volleyball might be his favorite part of life. The story goes that he had pined for Daniella, an Italian girl who works for the UN, for months, and she finally noticed him. Now they spend as much time together as they can.

We also frequently run into Christy, Suzie, Meg, Tomas, Fred, Estelle, Maria, Mohammed, Steve, Andres, a veritable United Nations of friends, and I'm sure I'm leaving people out. We hang out at the beach, catch dinners, spend evenings sitting around eating good food and playing music. It's a real joy to be around such a diverse and interesting community.

-To Be Concluded!-

Friday, October 31, 2008

Open Letter To Mom - Part I

"You know, sometime when you’ve got time, I’d love to hear about some of your just personal stuff, like...where are you living and what’s it like? How are your jobs going? Are you building relationships with the African staff? Who are the ex-pats you’ve been hanging out with? Your blog gives us great stories, but the mom in me wants to know the mundane stuff too,’s the food? Have you gotten sick at all? How do you get around – primarily by bus, walking, moto? Silly stuff, I guess. Anyway...just curious!" - Email from my mom

Mama –

There’s just so much to say about the details of life here. I’ll do my best to give an adequate description! We’re living right now at Seth and Trina Chase’s house, which is in a more upscale neighborhood, or cartier, of Bujumbura called Kinindo. It’s the World Relief guest house, and it’s really beautiful. The yard is huge, full of trees and plants you’d never see in the States. There’s a volleyball net in the backyard, which the youth group enjoys every Tuesday. The grounds are kept up by Jean Marie, our day guard and gardener. He doesn’t speak English or French, but is extremely friendly and works very hard. Our security system, however, is canine in nature. Jack-Jack, a yellow lab named for (who else) Jack Bauer, and Sam, a golden retriever (makes me miss Alex!) named for Samwise Gamgee, patrol the yard and alert us whenever someone is at the gate. Burundians generally are pretty afraid of dogs, and even though these two guys are more in the “lick-you-to-death” category, many of our guests find them pretty terrifying.

The inside of the house is terrific, with five bedrooms and three bathrooms. There’s a great front porch, where we hold the Bible Studies for the kids and share meals on cooler evenings. There’s lots of room to be private, but we’ve been relishing the chance to live communally with our roommates. We’re living with two girls named Wendy and Jillian. Wendy works at Turame with Karri and Jillian works at World Relief with me. Isaac, another World Relief intern, lived with us for a while. We have had a great time sharing our lives, our food, and a lot of good laughs with these, our new friends, and we’re really seeing how great it can be to open ourselves up to this lifestyle. In the States, it’s easy, almost encouraged, to be isolated and see your house as your “castle.” While I totally get that, I think we may have lost some of the joy of community by retreating too far into that mentality. Just the practice of sharing your meal with someone else, even strangers, is really working on my heart and connecting me with these people on a level that I haven’t experienced in a while.

Our meals are prepared by Enock, our cook and housekeeper. He’s renowned throughout the expat community for his culinary prowess. Some of his specialties are a tremendous salsa, peanut soup (one of Karri’s favorites), fajitas with homemade tortillas, the best scratch bread in the country, and the “Enock Special,” a concoction of sausage and stewed veggies over rice. Enock has really great English, and serves as our Kirundi liaison between us and the two guards, Jean Marie and Andre. It’s really bizarre going from an apartment in West Philly to living in a situation where your meals are prepared, your laundry is done, your bed is changed and made, your bathrooms are cleaned, and anything else you need done is seen to. It feels kinda wrong at first, but it’s expected for expats to employ Burundians in this way. If you don’t, you’re looked down on for keeping your wealth to yourself. Enock is a great guy, and through his job here, he’s been able to begin building a house for his family, begin saving for his wedding, and have the financial freedom to focus on his other job as the pastor of a local Burundian congregation.

- To Be Continued! -

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ode To A Mukeke

I found myself a wee bit hungry
Had a grumble in my tummy
Had only Monopoly money
To find a meal that satisfies

We ambled to a small café
Requested “Le carte, sil vous plait,”
When mine eyes espied the Mukeke
Served grilled along with Frenchie Fries

“Pardon, monsieur!” I called in French
“But what is this specific dish?
I’m interested, but do not wish
A dish gastrointestinally unwise.”

“It’s fish, my friend!” the waiter spake,
“A fish we take straight from the lake!
I’m certain that this meal will make
A most enjoyable surprise.”

“I’ll have it, sir! How about you, honey?”
“I find you not the least bit funny.
I’ll not eat fish, nor cow, nor bunny,
No food that runs or swims or flies.”

“I’m sorry, dear, it slipped my mind,
Fish makes you turn the shade of lime.
What would you like, beloved of mine?”
“I think I’ll just have Frenchie Fries.”

He bustled off to fetch our meal
And there we sat, both quite gentile,
Anticipating a great deal
The aromas that began to rise.

Then in a flash, the food came in
I grabbed my fork to dig right in
When, on descent, to my chagrin,
I nearly speared the fishy’s eyes.

Yes, eyes, I said, for right before me
The mukeke, in all its glory,
Lay head to tail, presented wholly
Tucked in its bed of Frenchie Fries.

“Oh, dear,” my lovely wife said quick
“I think I’m going to be sick.
I thought that fish came like a brick,
Not straight from lake to grill to fries!”

“Nor I,” I murmured, not quite right,
For I had taken my first bite
And found myself in great delight
At what had passed by my canines.

The fish was tender, spiced so well
I ceased my fretting ‘bout the tail
And pulled my second bite pell-mell
Away from fishy’s ribs and spine.

My wife tried to ignore my feast
Not enjoying in the least
The odor from the noble beast
That fell before my forkéd tines.

I finished what was facing out
Then grabbed the fish by tail and snout
And flipped over the noble trout
For one more side it had to prize

And when the sequel of my meal
Came to a close, there lay the tail
With spine and ribs connected well
To fishy’s head and beady eyes.

“Me oui, monsieur,” the waiter said.
“Surely you will eat the head
A local wouldn’t be caught dead
Leaving a morsel like that behind.”

And there upon my eyes won out
Because I could not help but doubt
My willingness to morsel out
The beady, bulging mukeke’s eyes.

“I’ll pass, my friend, and please forgive
My sad unwillingness to live
As locals who gleefully shiv
The head and munch with joy inside.”

My wife made an attempt to grin
Alas, she’s vegetarian
And never will take for a spin
A meal that still retains its eyes.

We paid our bill and walked away
And e’er will I recall the day
When I first dined on Mukeke
Served grilled with Frenchie Fries.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nonviolence and People Smarter Than Me

These days, I've been reading the book of Isaiah. And I can't seem to shake the impression that God isn't too keen on war... or violence at all, for that matter. Now, I know that this is a hot issue, and a lot of you all may have some fairly strong opinions, but I thought I would write a posting about what I've been learning about the long history of nonviolence and the people of Christ. Thing is, if I go shooting my mouth off, I'm liable to say something foolish... probably already have. So instead of ranting like the goofball I can be, I thought I'd share the thoughts of some of the people I've been reading.

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and full of violence” (Gen. 6:11) - from the Flood

“This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots… When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (I Sam 8:11,18)

A couple stories of military might being minimized, perhaps showing that God’s desire is for power, vengeance, and tolerance for violence to be God’s and God’s alone

Egypt’s army being swallowed by the sea (Exodus 14)
The walls of Jericho being toppled by trumpets (Joshua 6)
Gideon’s army being whittled from 32,000 to 300 (Judges 7)
A shepherd boy saying “No” to the king’s armor and defeating an entire army with a slingshot (1 Sam 17)

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isa. 2:4)

“Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isa. 9:5-6a)

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nation. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matt. 5:10)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek, also.” (Matt 5:38) – encouraging neither violence nor passivity

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43-45)

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, the weeds also appeared.
The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where did the weeds come from?’
‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the what and bring it into my barn.’” (Matt. 13:24-30)

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole word, yet forfeit your soul?” (Mark 8:34-36)

“With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matt. 26:51-52)

“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)

And of course, we have the Messiah, Jesus, led like a lamb to slaughter and hung from a cross, subjecting himself to the sword and abstaining from bringing the sword himself.

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” (Rom. 3:15-17, Paul quoting Isaiah)

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God…” (Eph. 6:12) - sounds like the only breastplate we need is righteousness…

And now let’s hear from the saints of the early church.

“Celsus exhorts us to help the Emperor and be his fellow soldiers. To this we reply, “You cannot demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests.” We do not go forth as soldiers with the Emperor even if he demands this.” (Origen)

“The professions and trades of those who are going to be accepted into the community must be examined. The nature and type of each must be established … brothel, sculptors of idols, charioteer, athlete, gladiator … give it up or be rejected. A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God.” (Hippolytus, 218 AD)

“I do not wish to be a ruler. I do not strive for wealth. I refuse offices connected with military command. I despise death.” (Tatian)

“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools… now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the crucified one… the more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers.” (Justin, martyred in 165 AD)

“We who formerly formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.” (Justin)

“Emperors could only believe in Christ if they were not emperors – as if Christians could ever be emperors.” (Tertullian) whoops… sorry Constantine.

“The divine banner and the human banner do not go together, nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the Devil. Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: the Lord has abolished the sword.” (Tertullian)

“Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.” (Tertullian)

“Seneca spoke of venting one’s fury: ‘We check manslaughter and isolated murders, but what of war and the much-vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples?’” (Pliny)

“Murder, considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse.” (St. Cyprian, 200-258)

“I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors… It is not right for a Christian to serve the armies of this world.” (Marcellus the Centurion, a saint who left the army of Emperor Diocletian in 298, and was executed while praying for his persecutors.)

“I am a soldier of Christ and it is not permissible for me to fight.” (St. Martin of Tours, 315-397)

And a few words from Dr. King.

“A nation what continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our houses and threaten our children and we will still love you. Beat us and leave us half dead, and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

... and we will still love you.
... and we will still love you.
... and we will still love you.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

“BLENDING IN” in Burundi

For all of you who plan to travel to this beautiful country, I thought I would offer a few pointers in case you would like to blend into the local population…

1) Stop, gather around and watch any activity that is going on. If they are paving the road, line the streets and watch. If they are putting up or repairing an electric pole in your neighborhood, gather around the pole and watch…. for as long as it takes. If someone is painting a new sign on his business, support him by hovering below him, watching his every move. Try not to get too distracted by a muzungu (white skinned individual) that passes by you. If this occurs, you will be forced to make a choice. Stare at the street paving or stare at the muzungu. Tough call.

2) If you live anywhere outside of Bujumbura, and see a “muzungu” passing in a car or by foot, be sure to stop whatever you are doing, turn, and stare blankly until they have disappeared into the distance. Yes, this means stopping mid sentence in the conversation you are in. And make sure you have only a blank expression on your face. Try not to blink. (Jim and I decided the kind of looks we get from everyone – young and old alike – when we pass by in the rural countryside is comparable to a man strolling stark naked past your house playing one of those ping-pong paddles with the rubber ball attached. Yeah, that kind of a stare.) And get as close as you can get, continuing your blank stare. The object is to make them feel as uncomfortable as possible…

3) Hold hands with your friends in public, especially if you are a man. From primary school age all the way to the eldest of the elders, if you have a good friendship with another man or woman, hold hands while walking and don’t be afraid to put your arms around one another. (I find this delightful!) Also when shaking hands hold on for as long as it takes the two of you to finish a good long greeting. ATTENTION: Once you are married DO NOT touch one another in public – ever. No holding hands, and especially no patting the back or rubbing a shoulder. Come one – get a room!

4) If you are riding a bicycle up a large mountain, you can grab onto the back of large semi-trucks and let them pull you up the mountain for free. As many as 5 of you can fit along the back. (Participate at your own peril.)

5) If you plan to start a business, catchy names I would suggest include “Nice Stuff” and “Good Price.” A good slogan for a new school may include “We struggle for excellence.” (Of course, I’m not making fun. These names just make me giggle. This is coming from the girl who currently only speaks ONE language.)

“Karri Bathes with Beautifully Bare Burundian Babies and Women in Natural Hot Spring”

*pictures coming soon*

How’s that for an attention grabber? So, here is my premiere entry into OUR blog. I get to tell you all about our amazing weekend in RUTANA, a southern province of Burundi.

We packed seven people into one large vehicle (Jim, myself, a Belgian, a Brit, an Italian, and two French expats) and headed out Saturday morning. Ten minutes into the trip the winding uphill curves compounded by the side facing seats got the best of me and nausea set in. Luckily, our new friends were very gracious and gave me the front seat for more than half the trip.

The passing scenery was beautiful – lush green mountainsides geometrically configured with plots of tea plants, banana trees, coffee plants, and other unidentifiable veggies. After about 2 ½ hours we found our sign – “The source of the Nile” – and headed down a dirt road into rural unblemished Burundi hillside. (More about the Nile later…) We reached a makeshift roadblock to the “natural reserve” guarded by two gentlemen, one which agreed to serve as our guide. A guide is an essential element in not only leading you but also keeping the swarms of Burundi children from overtaking you. While the beautiful curious faces aren’t daunting, the constant demands for cash are quite exhausting. He hoped in the car and directed us where to park – facing a breathtaking view of two 90 degree angled cliffs leaving enough of a gap to overlook the lower elevations and mountain ranges of Burundi all the way to Tanzania. After relieving myself near a tree (which is tricky when Burundian youth hover transfixed on you from a distance) we ate our picnic and then trailed off after our guide.

He first took us down the mountainside a ways (I must admit, I was a little nervous he intended to take us all the way down what looked like the Grand Canyon with no trails) and then stopped to let us marvel at the beauty, swaying over the edge of the cliff, taking a few camera shots that could never tell the full story of the glory we were surrounded by. We then agreed to his offer for a 30 minute walk to another site.

This led us a down a dirt road and through villages – homes built of unfired bricks or mud or cement, surrounded by intricately woven fences. Jim and I discussed what we perceived as the difference between poverty and rural living. While we are only outsiders looking in and cannot yet understand what life really looks like for Burundians in various areas, here we felt a peace and tranquility. It seemed the people knew and delighted in the beauty they were surrounded by, at peace with a lifestyle of subsistence farming and slow days. Perhaps it is still poverty and much development is needed in terms of education and infrastructure, but it is not the choking poverty of an urban shanty town. And then we were there.

Suddenly before us, as we stood on top of this mountain, we faced a 270 degree view of Burundi and Tanzania, low flat lands and mountain ranges melting into the horizon, our toes on the edge of a small canyon. When we called out to one another our echoes reached us multiple times, reflected by both the surrounding cliff walls and the pack of children perched on a nearby cliff chanting our shouts back to us. I breathed deeply, feeling every detail of life melt away. I am continually amazed when I encounter new wonders of the world, to think about God creating Burundi, a place I had never seen in full until this weekend. I somehow forget God’s creation extends far beyond what I have seen, what I have known. Its like believing you are a true connoisseur and lover of Picasso’s work and then discovering he his “blue period” and being blown away all over again.

We sat and wandered, enchanted, until the light was slipping and we knew he had to return to find a hotel (you don’t want to be driving long distances in the dark – security and road safety) in the nearby town. We arrived in a small town with a power outage but nice, simple accommodations. (Bed net and all!) After settling our stuff we scavenged for a ‘restaurant’ for dinner. We found a guest house that technically served dinners, but after a rousing conversation in French, bits of Kirundi, and Swahili it was clear customer service was not high on their list of priorities, so we moved on. After ordering six chicken dishes (which came with a complimentary chicken heart) from a different place, we ventured to the town’s center to have a drink and wait. While we were there the power returned to the town amidst applause.

The dinner was good – hot and filling. Jim and I enjoyed sitting around a table listening to our French speaking friends converse, slipping from French to English with ease. Alas, we pray that will be us very soon. We spent the remaining hours of the evening reclining in a circle at our guest house, listening to Jim and Adam strum away on the guitar while Italian - French speaking Martina crooned away to classic French and English tunes.

We awoke to a light rain and very cool weather. It was incredible to snuggle under 2 blankets while sleeping! There is no sleeping under the covers in the Buj as it stays fairly warm even into the night. (Jim really enjoyed not sweating this weekend!) After a good omelet and Nescafe (not so good) we packed up and trekked out to a new adventure - to find the “Southern most source of the Nile” – a claim to fame in Burundi. We arrived, were met by a “guide” (I’ve realized ‘guide’ simply means any man arriving on the scene from the area who will show you what you ask and be paid a small fee in return.) and ventured 20 feet down a hillside and… there it was. A small vertical cement slab with a plastic pipe jutting from its face leaking a trickle of water. Hmmm. That’s right – not only do they claim this little stream of water is the source of the Nile (actually just a stream that may source Lake Victoria in Uganda, which is the actual source of the Nile) but they found it necessary to cement it up and filter it through a crude looking pipe. (We decided it would be more impressive if they at least created a statue of a Sphinx whose mouth could trickle out the water.) After ‘marveling’ at this natural wonder (wink) we hiked up a short peak ontop of which was a miniature monument of a pyramid in “honor” of the source of the Nile and its “significance” to Egypt. The view was beautiful, as were the children who scrambled up the pyramid in their bare feet, laughing at the Americans who attempted to climb its “summit.” A young child with a herd of little goats wandered by. Ahhh. I took another deep breath.

Finally, we took off to our final destination – a natural hot spring. After “triangulating” the directions we received from various Burundians to ensure the info’s validity, we arrived at the hot spring. There were two pools set down off the road, the larger of which was designated for men and the smaller one (less than 1/3 the size of the men’s) was allotted for women and their many children. They were used by the community for bathing. The two other girls and I ventured down a rocky path and stepped up to the edge of the pool. There 3 women (of three generations) in the pool, along with a baby, all bathing themselves and one another. We stripped down to our bathings suits, which I’m sure they found equally as humorous as three “muzungos” arriving on the scene, and stepped into deliciously warm water. We made quick friends with the women, smiling a lot and communicating with hand gestures and broken Kirundi, while playing with the baby who was transfixed by Martina’s white fingers. We soon learned that the middle-aged woman was the mother of both the younger girl and the baby (her mother was also in the pool with us) and had a total of 10 children. At that moment they all suddenly appeared, stripped, and got into our little hot spring. Again, lots of smiling and giggling. It was an incredible moment of female bonding mixed with intrigue and curiosity. I must say, I never dreamed I’d bathe with bare-naked Burundian women IN a natural hot spring in my first month here.

After the relaxing dip, we all pilled back into the truck, which was, by now, swarmed by onlooking Burundians, and pulled away. Ah, it was an amazing weekend.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Let's Get A Slow Clap Going

Okay, please notice the title of this blog. Now please notice who has been posting on this blog. My wife is brilliant, beautiful, eloquent and insightful, and I cannot get her to post on this blog to save my life. So I'm appealing to you, the listening public, to convince her. We're gonna get a slow clap started through the comment function of this posting. If you want to hear from Karri Kathryn DeSelm on this blog, just post a comment that says "CLAP." We'll see if we can get her out here. I'll kick it off.

PS. - I'm pretty sure your comment won't show unless you have a gmail account. It's free, and I really love reading your comments. So if you have posted a comment and it didn't show, that may be the problem. Sign up, and let's hear those claps!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An Anecdote

I’ve been approaching most experiences during my time here in Burundi with a sort of “Let’s see where this goes” mentality. I find you’ll never have adventures unless you try things you might not fully understand. You never know what you’re going to hear, see, or learn. You never know what this person is going to say, do, … or try to sell you.

So two days ago, I was meeting Karri in front of the Turame office, where she works. We were going to take a Mutatu Bus (I’m not positive that’s how it is spelled, but you won’t be able to tell the difference, so that’s how it’s spelled!) back home at the end of a long day. Mutatu Buses are great, as long as you’re not claustrophobic. A one way trip costs around 28 cents, so to make the trip worth the cost, they pack the thing. Now, “bus” is a fairly fluid idea in this circumstance. Imagine a 15-passenger van, filled with 20 people or more, poorly maintained and driven through a city with practically no traffic laws, and you’ve got the idea of a Mutatu. You can meet all kinds of great people on them, though. And you kinda have to, because they may be sitting on your lap.

Karri and I were just leaving the office when a young man approached me. Not terribly unique. As a white person, you are generally approached several times a day by strangers, usually looking for money, but sometimes just looking to practice English. This young man shook my hand, I greeted him in French, and he started firing away in le Francais. Slightly abashed, I redirected the conversation to English. “If it pleases you, I would like to have a conversation with you.” A conversation, eh? We’ll see. “I’m sorry, but my wife and I are going home now.” “I understand. Can I make an appointment with you to have a conversation?” As he opened his leather bound appointment book, I was simultaneously considering politely excusing myself and seeing where this thing went. My curiosity won out. I made an “appointment” for him to come by the World Relief Office in two days at 3pm. I highly doubted he would show.

We started to head for the market and strange people sitting on our laps, when I noticed that he was walking beside us. I rationalized, “He may just be in the market for a little English. Let’s see where this goes.” I strike up a conversation, and he dives right in. His name was Gilbert (pronounced ZheelBEHHHR), he was from Congo, he was a student in the University, he was visiting family here in Bujumbura. A student! He must have just wanted to practice! He follows us all the way to the Mutatus, and we chat about his family, sports, and the weather. His English is good, and there is little for me to correct. I think his appetite is sated when I climb onto the bus. I shake his hand and he says, “Wednesday, 3 o’clock!”

Well, Wednesday night, I’m sitting at home. My beautiful wife arrives and tells me, “That guy stopped by today for your appointment. He went all over looking for you. I told him you probably forgot and made a new appointment for tomorrow morning at 10.” Now, to be fair, I honestly did forget. I mean, the appointment I made with a guy on the street for what I thought to be a language practice wasn’t high on the radar. So the next day, I receive my visitor promptly at 10am.

I offer him tea, and he accepts. I ask about his family, and he says they’re fine. Then he starts talking about his “mission,” which involves “raw materials” and “someone for to buy.” I start to decipher what he’s referring to, and as best I can tell, he has some raw materials that he’s trying to find a buyer for, and he’s hoping I know someone. “What are these raw materials?” I ask. He doesn’t know the word in English, says it in French and I don’t understand. I ask him to write it down.

He writes on my scratch piece of paper, “Iranium”

Uranium? This guy is wanting me to find someone to buy his Uranium? I tell him I work for an NGO that helps poor people. You want to talk to a scientist. He doesn’t understand the word scientist. I apologize and say, basically, “No, I don’t know anyone who would be interested in the Uranium you are selling.” He understands, and I start to walk him out. In one last ditch effort to sway me, he says that the “Iranium” has been “treated” and he has a “small paper” to show me. He pulls out a photocopied picture of what is clearly a schematic for a B-O-M-B. It has abbreviations for kilotons. It has fins at the end of a cylinder. This man was asking me if I knew anyone interested in buying weaponized uranium. “Nope. Sorry! Well, thanks for stopping by!”

I walk him to the door and say goodbye. I will never know if Gilbert (sorry, ZhilBEHHR) actually had access to those materials. It could have been a scam. He could have been a liar. Honestly, I don’t care to think about it. But remember the moral of this story, children!

Make new friends. You never know when you might need some “Iranium.”

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spoke Too Soon...

Friends -
Unfortunately, the couple who decided to rent our house just contacted us to let us know that they won't be taking the house after all. It wasn't a decision based on the house, it was based on their job situation and deciding not to relocate to Fort Wayne at all. So we have some more praying to do! Please, please, if you know anyone who is looking to rent a place, let us know by emailing at

Grace and Peace!

Saturday at Club T

The sun had thrown an orange and red blanket behind the mountains of Congo. The water, warmer than usual, was being churned into waves by the satisfying breeze that had simultaneously made the hot day bearable and caused the volleyball to fly in all sorts of unexpected directions. We had settled onto towels on the sand with our drinks, new friends and old friends alike, and Brandon began regaling us with stories from his summers as a tree-planter north of Vancouver. Apparently, this is a Canadian legacy; university students take several weeks of their early summer to go out into the deep forests of the North and replant the land that the logging companies harvested that year. It gives them income to pay tuition and satisfies the governmental mandates to ensure that their country’s natural beauty and resources are not depleted. Never heard of that in the States… funny…

Beside my lovely wife and I were some new friends. Steven, “the white Kenyan,” laid on his back, half listening, half dozing through the story. He grew up in Kenya, and Swahili is practically a first language for him. He works for the Assemblies of God here in Burundi, and hustles for the volleyball harder than anyone on the beach. Perhaps not as hard as Matt, who works at the US Embassy. He wasn’t listening to the story at all. He was too busy organizing another game, this time with anyone who still has the legs to play at this point in the afternoon. Estelle was enjoying the conversation, though. She enjoys most conversations that give her a chance to practice English. We get a few French tips from her, and discuss which languages are hardest to learn. We’ve got friends from South Africa, England, France, Canada, Italy, Scotland, and we realized that we were two of only four or five Americans there.

The conversation drifted back and forth from French to English, and I occasionally let my eyes drift to the cityscape of Bujumbura to the south. It sprawled to the East along the lake, southwest to the mountains, capped by the white walls of the university. I looked back across the water. No hippos today. Oh well. On the volleyball court, there’s a guy I don’t know who can really thump the bal. So I watch him smack another one, this time right into Matt’s face. His sunglasses fly off, and we all howl in laughter and approval.

An airplane soars overheard. We’re only a few kilometers from the airport, so you can make out the tail colors. Brandon shouts, “AIR BURUNDI!!!” As far as I can tell, the joke is that the Burundian airline only has one plane, so whenever it flies overhead, you cheer it. Everyone laughs, and I look at Karri. We’re both thinking the same thing.

There are moments in my life where I’m really happy, moments where I’m with great people doing great things (or a great deal of nothing!) that restore my soul. It may be sitting in a living room with the gang from Eastern, laughing that painful, tearful laugh that you wish would keep going for the rest of the night. It may be hitting that moment with the musicians from FMC where the creation is ringing with the sounds of eternity, and we fall into sync with enthusiasm and gratitude. And if I’m aware enough, if my eyes are open enough to see it, I’m caught up in the idea of heaven. I start to understand when Isaiah describes the Kingdom manifested here on earth, how it involves food and wine, friends and family, stories and songs. It’s a feast. It’s a community. It’s a wedding. And if I can catch it, I can feel the vibrations of heaven on earth in those moments.

So my eyes meet my wife’s eyes. We’re sitting on a beach in Africa, surrounded by mountains and surf. The sun has disappeared and the reds have gone purple. The heat has dissolved into a delicious dusk, and the drinks are cold. And we’ve got friends from all over the globe sharing stories in all sorts of different languages and accents. They’re teaching us about things we never knew, reminding us that God’s world is huge and America is just a corner of it.

“We’re blessed,” our eyes say to each other. “This must be the life of eternity.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Answer to Prayer

Friends -
Thanks to all of you who prayed for the request I posted a few weeks ago. We now have a renter for the house, and we're thrilled. God provided in His perfect timing, and with His perfect will. Continue to pray that the details will be worked out in the coming days. Thanks all!


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Headlines

So, I'm a verbose person. And the fact that I just used the word "verbose" proves it. There are loads of cool things happening right now, and I could easily write a whole posting on each of these things individually. (Probably will at some point or another!) But I'm going to flex my summarizing muscles and give you my best shot at being succinct. Isn't there a proverb about fools multiplying words? I'm pretty sure there is. The thing about me and being wordy is... aaaaaand there I go again.

--------NEWS FLASH----------

Jim and Karri DeSelm, new interns at World Relief Burundi, have joined PTI (Partners Trust International), a local church with emphases on multiculturalism, discipleship, and local pastor empowerment. The pastor, Emmanuel Ndikuumana, leads this church which is led in French, English, and Kirundi. Jim has joined the worship team, playing guitar and trying not to be too white. The couple have also committed to serving the youth group, a vibrant community of around 20 students who try not to laugh as they butcher the French language as they teach out of the book of Romans.

Jim DeSelm, a local staple at Philadelphia coffee shops, has transplanted his musical stylings to the African Continent. While continuing to work on his own compositions, he has joined with an ensemble of ex-patriates from around the world to make music. Adam, a guitarist from Great Britain, Martina, a chanteuse from Italy, and Fabien, a husky-voiced Frenchman, are just a few of the new musicians Jim will be working with. They will be playing a show this Friday with selections from French folk traditions, South American jazz, and the works of Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. The artist may also have his African solo debut!

A nasty cold has been circulating through the Chase house in Kinindo province. Symptoms include congestion, sore throat, headache, overall snottiness, and a lot of wadded up tissues. Rumored to have begun by Isaac Barnes, a World Relief intern, it passed first to Jim DeSelm, and then to his wife. Karri, a beautiful young lady, even through her sniffles, was quoted in saying, "I dink ibs de duss," which our research experts can only assume has something to do with a new anthrax scare, or something even more horrifying. Jim has recovered fully, and Karri seems as though she will pull through, but we remain ever vigilant!

Karri DeSelm, soon-to-be MBA, Eatern University grad student, and general foxy lady, has made quite a splash at World Relief's microfinance institute, Turame. In a recent staff meeting, DeSelm was invited to facilitate a discussion about Problem Trees, a topic which she was recently educated on in Philadelphia. Reviews of the discussion were overwhelmingly positive, and DeSelm has been invited to facilitate more discussions in the future. Brains, looks, personality... her husband must be a lucky man.

A tiny yet threatening hippo tried to encroach upon a man's meal last week. The man was quoted as saying, "Back off, tubby. My fajita!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Un Cafe, Sil Vous Plait

So, Burundian coffee is pretty good. And when you’re sitting in a coffee shop in Bujumbura, sipping the local bean, smiling genially at the baristas who can’t seem to stop staring at you, trying your best to get by on the little French you have, why not write a blog and wax eloquent for a little while?

Two days ago, I had a chance to sit down with Ngaira, the country director of World Relief, to discuss how I could serve the community in my time here. He’s one of those men who you would want to sit and listen to for hours on end. He’s a man of medium height, with broad shoulders and a distinguished face. He wears glasses and a shaved head, and when he laughs, he laughs a broad, tooth-filled laugh that raises his normally baritone voice an octave or two. When he speaks, his voice is very expressive and drenched in a wisdom that commands respect. We shared our passions with one another, something he does with anyone who comes to serve with him.

One place our passions intersect is the role of worship in a community. At World Relief, we have a staff devotional time every Tuesday and Friday. It’s a simple time of singing, teaching, and prayer, done mostly in Kirundi (the primary local language). Ngaira shared his a dream for these gatherings, that they become more accessible across cultures, and that the worship become a transformative discipline that draws our hearts closer to the Father and one another. “I will admit my bias. I’m a worship guy,” he said.

Worship in Burundi is deeply connected to the Christianization of the country in the mid- to late 20th century. Western missionaries from extremely conservative theological standpoints brought the Gospel of Christ, along with their views on the length of ladies’ dresses and men who wear earrings. They also brought their hymnals, and these songs have been translated and sung in churches for decades. As we in the States can testify, as a nation becomes predominantly Christian, there is a correlative hollowing of the faith into a well-rehearsed religiosity.

Burundi is, by some estimates, over 90 percent Christian.

That is not to imply that the great hymns of the church have been stripped of their truth, or that the Holy Spirit has ceased to bring resurrection through the church of Jesus Christ. It simply means that, like in the States, there are many Christians here who know the right moves, pray the right prayers, and sing the right songs without truly opening their hearts to Most High God. Ngaira’s dream, and mine, is that we at World Relief would be a community who worships passionately, with the door wide open for the Spirit to move, rebuke, encourage, inspire, and unite.

So I’ve been praying this Scripture over my time here at World Relief, a text that was shared at the first devotional gathering:
“May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our god rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us –
yes, establish the work of our hands”
Psalm 90:16-17
The temptation for me would be that I jump headlong into the conversation, throwing around my American spirituality and my American culture like they are the only perspectives that matter. But this is a work that can only be accomplished by humbling ourselves to the purposes of God the Father, that He would impart the vision, and that the vision would establish the work of my hands. So I’m moving slowly, watching, praying, learning, and waiting on the Lord to say “Whom shall I send?”

Maybe by then I’ll be able to say “Here I am, send me!” in French.