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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Day Number One With A Bullet

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I stepped off the plane onto sovereign Burundi soil. I think it was something like a blast of heavy air in the face and a sandy haze hanging over the landscape. Something like the cinematic renditions of the continent with lush vegetation teeming and children running alongside the plane. I was expecting the environment to be the thing that ushered me into Africa for the first time. Instead, it was a uniformed man holding an automatic weapon.


Right about now, several people who love Karri and me very much are wiping the sweat off their palms. I don’t want to give the wrong impression. We are very safe and we are very comfortable and we are blessed to be where we are with the people we are with. Please bear this in mind while reading the rest of this post. (Especially our mothers!)

Aaaand we’re back.

The drive from the airport to our new home consisted of two checkpoints, one official and one impromptu, a larger-than-life picture of the current president, some rally-course driving by our host and new friend Trina, and a road that could mildly be described as bumpy. When you’re living in a country ranked in the bottom five for development on the entire planet, you find that there are more than just poor people at issue. In the first two days we were in Bujumbura, we learned the merits of locking car doors (people will pull your door open and grab whatever isn’t bolted down), keeping your hands in your pockets (if there was an Olympic sport in pick pocketing, Burundi would medal), and the difference between thunder and a grenade blast (a grenade is louder, incidentally).

There’s a bizarre certainty in knowing the unstable situation you find yourself in every day. It’s almost as if the tenuous balance we encounter as white people in Bujumbura is so present, it’s a security. I’m never going to be caught off guard here, because I will never be off my guard. There’s never a fear of bandits and thieves, because you know that you have no real control over their absolute existence. The only thing you have control over is your own awareness, and that’s actually rather comforting. If you enter into your environment every day with the reality of life in the city at the forefront, and the appropriate precautions taken, then you will be the safest you can possibly be.

And there’s also a trust in Christ and His providence that you can’t find in the States. We just finished a year in one of the most violent cities in the country, and we never feared for our security. Not once. But here, there’s a release to the Eternal One that I’m finding myself leaning into. I know that He is leading us, and I know He has our best in mind. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” There’s tangible weight in those words in my first days in Burundi. I’m secure in the Good Shepherd being mindful of me, not in blinding me from the dangers of my surroundings, but in assuring me that His arm is not too short to save. So today I walked through the streets of Bujumbura, and He restored my soul.

Not that this is the valley of the shadow of death, mind you. But AK-47s make me a little nervous!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Prayer Request

Friends -

A quick addendum to today's post. We just received word that our renter is not going to be renewing the lease for our house this year. We are actually very at peace with this news, and believe that God is in the midst of it. Unfortunately, however, this means that we need to find a new renter for our house.

We are taking several steps to make the house available. Please pray that God would provide the right renter for this house and quickly. We are confident that the Lord is in control, and that this is the best thing for our renter, who we have gotten to know over the past year. Pray for our renter, as they look for a new place to stay, and pray peace over them, as they are struggling greatly right now.

If you know anyone who is looking for a place to stay, please let us know. Comment on the blog, or email us. Thanks, friends!

H Hour, D Day

I love Fort Wayne. It feels like I can't get lost. It feels like it's growing up with me. It feels like it's always on the verge of something. All the people I know here are on the brink of breaking through, getting out, kicking it once and for all. They're all getting ready for that next thing, waiting for the pieces to come together, hoping that phone call, email, text message comes. And we're all still here. I don't know why, but I love that. It's familiar. It grounds me.

So when it comes time to depart, there's a security in knowing that South Side will still have ivy when I see it again, but there's a faith that something will surprise me on every return. Bandido's will have a technicolor paint job and you will be in the midst of an exciting new step in your journey. And that's why it's not too hard to leave this time. Because every time I've left, it's been right where I left it.

But Africa? Africa's a wide-open mystery, inticing, yet potentially hazardous, filled with potential adventures and misadventures. And Christ is there. That much we are certain of. He has been there since He drew the mountains from the earth, since he carved Lake Tanganyika into the crust.

And He is with the poor. They reach out to Him and He answers, like He has since the Exodus. The people call out and He responds, "I have heard their cry." And as He sent Moses, as He sent Nehemiah, He continues to respond to their cry through His people. So we're going, filling our place in the long line of people of faith who have left their families, friends, homes, careers, for the sake of the oppressed, believing that we're going to see Christ in the least of these.

So these last days before the day, I am thinking of you. I am thinking of my friends and family in Fort Wayne who are always on the verge of something. I am thinking of those of you who are endlessly on this side of your breakthrough. Fort Wayne will be here for you. It's not going anywhere. But the Rabbi is walking, and He's calling you to follow. Maybe it's time for you to set your H Hour, your D Day. Maybe it's time to step into the wilderness, in faith that the Promised Land is really Promised, that the cloud of smoke is real and the pillar of fire won't dissipate. Maybe there's a cry coming from the people of somewhere, and God is whispering, "I have heard their cry, and so now... go."