Divine Love

NOTE: This post - written by Susan - was originally posted on our team blog: www.mccropders.com

What I’m about to tell you is a love story.  This is one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever experienced.  It involves unconditional love, costly sacrifice, incredible patience and perseverance.  But this is not your usual love story.  This is the love story between a young a very  sick little girl and her older brother, and I have been deeply blessed to have seen this love story up close.

5 year old Divine came to our hospital at the end of December and was admitted for severe malnutrition.  Really, really severe malnutrition.  For weeks, she lay in bed, barely conscious and barely alive.   Her mother was unable to stay at the hospital, and since our hospital requires each patient to always have a caregiver, her brother was given the job of caring for little Divine.  From that point on, her 12 year old brother, Moise, was always at the side of her bed. 

He did jobs that I have never seen any 12 year old boy do before; change his sister, clean up diarrhea, wash and clean his sister, feed her, give medication, and sleep next to her (in the same bed, often with other patients) in a very crowded room filled with lots of fussy, malnourished babies and toddlers and their care-givers.

Weeks after she had been admitted,  I walked into the room one day and found her sitting up in bed.  I was shocked.  She still had a feeding tube in and was still on oxygen…but for the first time, I felt like she was going to make it.  For the first time she was interested in playing, and even though she was extremely weak, she was determined to pick up blocks and try to throw a toy at me.

Divine had a type of malnutrition that is a bit deceiving to those of us that don’t have a medical background.  She actually looked a bit chubby.  Her body was puffy and swollen, due to a lack of protein.  As she was fed a high protein formula through her feeding tube over the next few days, her swollen body dramatically changed. She suddenly had a tiny little body that looked like pictures that I have only seen in my high school textbooks of holocaust victims.  Just looking at her tiny little skeletal frame, my throat would tighten and would get choked up.

  Divine is special.  She has some developmental delays, that mean that although she is 5 years old, she has never walked and has never clearly spoken.  I feel certain that if Divine had the help that we offer in Western countries;  therapy, special education, healthy food etc. that she could thrive.  However, there’s not much aid for special kids like Divine here in Burundi, so I can only imagine that most days Divine sits on a mat in their mud hut, neglected, while her single mother is out working in fields, fighting to get enough food to feed her hungry kids. 

  Almost every day for 4 months, I visited Divine and played with her.  Moise was never far from her bed.  Boys his age should be in school and outside playing soccer with their friends, but Moise patiently sat by her bed, tenderly caring for his weak sister. 

He was never embarrassed of his sister, but would clap and cheer and rejoice in her progress.  During those 4 months, we saw some amazing changes in Divine.  She grew stronger, was eating more, was more talkative, was working with our hospital’s physiotherapist, and was actually able to start walking with the aid of a walker. 

Of course, she had some setbacks, like coming down with malaria and another infection.  In spite of the tough times, it was exciting and rewarding to see her gain weight, strength, and see her play and smile every day. Moise became a strong voice and an advocate for his sister, pushing for his little sister to get more physiotherapy time, and be able to borrow a walker.   

  On April 12th, after so many months in our malnutrition service, Divine was discharged and Moise carried her home…we would later learn just how far he had to carry her!  Both Dr. Alyssa (our pediatrician) and I never had the chance to say goodbye to them before they left, so the  following weekend, the two of us along with my 10 year old son Micah, set off to try to find Moise, Divine and their home.  It took about an hour of driving, a few wrong turns, and then about another hour of hiking on little dirt trails following an old man with a machete before we found them. 

They were a little shocked – and honestly a bit scared – that a group of 3 bazungus (white people) just showed up at their home,  but after offering gifts of beans, rice, Busoma cereal and a soccer ball, they were much more receptive to us!

  This family lives in unbelievably extreme poverty. Their house is made of home-made mud bricks, a grass roof, dirt floor, and that’s about it. To a person walking by, you would say that they have nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I would have totally thought this had I not gotten to know Moise and Divine.  What I learned is that while they are the poorest people I have ever met, they are rich in other things. 

If I’m honest, it’s hard to imagine anything for Divine other than a dismal life filled with a lot of suffering, pain and hunger.  However, I have to remind myself that our Father loves Divine so much more than Moise or anyone else does or ever could.  That pain, sickness, and poverty don’t get the last word. That the sacrificial love that Moise showed for his sister, is merely a poor reflection of the divine love God has for little Divine, and for every single person on this earth.

      This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers {and little sisters} 

1 John 3:16

Grandma & Auntie Nora’s visit

Well – i think a lot of people just lost one of the major reasons for not visiting us: “It’s too hard / far / tough of a journey.”

My mom and my aunt – who I think one can agree are not currently spring chickens –  just left after about 2 1/2 weeks with us here in rural Burundi. So unless you’re older than them (which would put you in your 90’s),  it’s a bit harder to say the trip would be ‘too hard.’

We had a great time – honestly not ‘doing’ a lot of things, but just allowing them to see, and experience what our life and work is like here in Kibuye.  This isn’t the first long trip they’ve made together to see us. They visited us in Kazakhstan, they came to see us in France – in fact when they were in France when Alma was born.

They did what they do best, what they’ve been doing my entire life, and let’s be honest – for a long time before I was born: showing kindness and love to others.

They spent as much time as they could up in the hospital wards – playing with the kids, helping to bring some joy and happiness to the children who have otherwise rather dull and depressing days.  Let’s be clear, the kids in the hospital are getting great medical treatment (in many cases life-saving) from people who treat them with love and respect, treating them as fellow people created in the image of God. However, for a kid, hanging out in the hospital for days, weeks, or even months on end can be a bit much, so any distraction is very welcomed. 

They went up to the cafeteria in the hospital, just to have a cup of tea, and hang out in the hospital.

They tried their best to bumble through interactions where they had no language skills, but merely defaulted to smiling, and laughing, and showing kindness.

They read to our kids, to the kids at school, and made who-knows-how-many treasure hunts in the yard where the prizes were small things they brought for the kids from Canada.

They came with us to the market in Gitega, buying sacks of flour, and rice, some cloth,  and clothes for the kids in the hospital.

there’s mom sitting in the Land Cruiser while I run into a ‘store’ in ‘downtown’ Gitega.

They made cinnamon buns, sang songs that I remember from my childhood and did their little ‘parlour-trick’ games that I remember spending I’m pretty much years of my life trying to figure out.

Our family lives a life that is in many so rich, and rewarding, and interesting  – but it does come at a cost.  Some of those costs I think we as parents bare the hardest, others we have actually put on our children, and definitely there is price to for the life we lead that is paid by our friends and family – most notably our parents.  I can only imagine how hard it is to hear your kids say “we’re taking your grandchildren away, for a number of years, to the other side of the world” only to be updated a few weeks later with “there was an attempted military coup, but don’t worry the bullets went right over our house.”

I think that’s why it feels so meaningful, so affirming, so life-giving when those closest to us tell us in all honestly “I can see why you’re here. I’m glad you’re here. I’m proud of you for being here. I think it’s great that you’re here.”  I guess because there are lots of days when we question why we’re here. When we question whether it’s all worth it, and if were delusional when we thought that God really wanted our family to move here, or if it was all big mistake.

Those are the times when it’s so welcomed to have someone say “good job – keep it up.”

So a good time was had by all -and on the way to drop them off at the airport we even got a chance to stop by the lake.

So here’s a picture of me and Mom & Auntie Nora, with Lake Tanganyika and the mountains of D.R.Congo behind us. 

Tanzanian holiday

During our Christmas break we got the chance to see some more of this beautiful part of the world when we went along with some teammates for a few days of camping just across the border in Tanzania.

there was a lot of this…

It takes almost 4 hours to drive – plus at least an hour at the border for 14 people to get through the various steps on either side.(One of our fearless travelling companions Audrey also wrote about the trip on our team blog)

But once you get there- it sure is pretty spectacular.


pesky, pesky, pesky – monkeys

Basically it’s so beautiful – that you feel like you’re at some kind of private tropical resort – but really we’re just camping a few hours south of our place.


Our family stayed in one large safari-style tent which had a tin-roof overhead, and a little bathroom out the back with running water and a toilet – plus two kids in a tent outside under a thatch roof.  It was great – there was a real bed inside, and it was (just barely) possible to keep the monkeys out of things.



Since we were there the week between Christmas and new-years – it was Jonah’s birthday.  So in honor of him turning 15 we pulled out a big Toblerone someone had given us as an imported treat – and realized that you can actually make a pretty good candle-holding and easily divisible birthday cake out of a giant Toblerone.


I think these are the kinds of experiences that are so formative in kids lives – and our kids love these kinds of get-away’s.  Hopefully now that we are a bit more stable here in Burundi – we’ll be able to get out and expore more that we were able to in our first year or so.  There is so much natural beauty around us, and so much to see. Only God knows how long we’ll end up living in this part of the world – but it sure seems like a great opportunity to see amazing thigns that we’d hate to not take advantage of.


Christmas in Kibuye (the second)

Well we have just  (yes – over two months ago I realize) celebrated our second Christmas here in Kibuye.  Seems strange in many ways – that we have already been here for a year, that we have made this place our home that we visited for the first time when we arrived here on the day of the coup attempt back in May ’15.
Here’s what Christmas has felt like – at least for me:

Christmas Day after church photo
One of the things that I’ve realized being here is that so many of the external indicators, so many of the environmental signs of Christmas are completely absent here. This is not just something that you notice at Christmas however – oftentimes I will find myself actually completely confused as to what season of the year it is – as I’m used to temperature, weather, length of days (like the <8 hour days of Alberta in winter and ~20hrs of daylight in late June), leaves on the trees, activities (school year, holidays, skiing, etc.) and so much more all giving clear and constant indicators as to what time of year it is.  Here however, since the temperature really doesn’t change at all throughout the year, being 2º off the equator means the length of days doesn’t’ really change, there are no stores to have Boxing Day, Les Soldes!, or Black Friday like in other places we’ve lived. There is no radio, or places that start to play Christmas music. There are no ornaments, decorations, or signs up on houses, buildings, churches, schools.
Honestly at one point when we decorated the house and started playing Christmas music I had a strange feeling like we were pretending it was Christmas – like we were having some kind of “Christmas in July” party.  One of the things I’ve realized is how much of what we think of as “christmas” is so completely connected to the cultures and climates of parts of western Europe and some places in North America exclusively.  Snow (snowmen, snowflakes, angels-in-the-snow, sleigh-rides…) are so prevalent in songs, pictures, and stories of Christmas that we really start to think that it’s normal. Yet of course the VAST MAJORITY of the world who would celebrate Christmas in December would have none of those things.
Our local church did have a special service on Christmas Day, there were even some decorations, and special songs. However the concept of the season of Advent leading up to Christmas itself – or any other “we’re approaching Christmas” event’s were utterly and  completely absent around us.
a new pair of BUJAMA’s !
The other thing that really became clear was that some traditions are just held so much stronger than others. Traditions are funny things.  It’s just something that you do more than once, really. If you go out for supper to for Chinese food one New Year’s Day with your family, and then you do it again, and then even once or twice more – it starts to feel like a tradition. If you stop doing things – they can cease to be tradition. They morph, and they change.
But man, do i have strong memories of so many Christmas traditions. Sledding in the cold. Skating on the frozen lake. Gathering with as many cousins as we can.
My mom’s family has a strong Norwegian background – and our Christmas traditions seems to bring those out more strongly than any other time of year. The drinks, snacks, foods, smells, tastes.  The sight of a tree with candles lighting its simple decorations of woven straw, carved wood, and paper. The singing of carols in Norwegian as we join hands in a circle around that tree. The visiting of the Jüle Nissa, the seemingly unlimited lefse. Christmas Eve candlelight service at church.
So yes – Christmas seemed a bit strange this year. I think last year I didn’t notice it as we were temporarily staying up here in Kibuye (we thought) – squatting in someone else house, and wondering if the violence that drove us out of the city was going to calm down again (which – in hindsight, it actually did) or risk flaring up (I get the feeling that risk won’t go away for a very long time).
However – there was lots of events that did make it feel like it was Christmas.
The kids put on a pageant in church – which was a huge hit. Apparently at least partially due to the fact that the idea of a Christmas pageant was completely unknown to the several hundred people crammed into our church that morning.
There was singing and dancing and costumes – Matea and Anna were the French narrators and we had our Kirundi language tutor translate. We sang in Kirundi, French and even threw in some English.
They did a dress rehearsal the day before on Christmas eve – followed by some time all together reading familiar passages about that first Christmas, and singing some of those songs that seem to be so closely tied to this time of year.
The next day in church it was almost overwhelming how badly people wanted to get a good look at what was going on.
Then we had Christmas together as a family – sitting in pyjamas, opening presents. Some home made, some locally made, and a few items that we had brought over a when Susan’s parents came.
In the afternoon we went up to the hospital with a bunch of our team and some visitors – for carolling, visiting, handing out some presents to kids in the peds ward (dolls, toy cars, hats) and reading the Christmas story.  We did this last year also – and I think this may be one of those things that turns into a tradition.
So did it feel like a normal Christmas for me?
But in some ways it was so much richer. No overwhelming constant messages from a consumer-culture. No rushing around for things.
No shopping, no malls, no parking-induced anxiety attacks, no running around, no scheduling of multiple events. Just us, our kids, our community here -and real Christmas.
I honestly have no idea what our kids will think of as a ‘normal’ Christmas when they’re my age – but hopefully these years will help to form a sense of what Christmas is not.

Imyaka ibiri / deux ans / two years

after supper we had a celebratory-two-year desert. Appropriately enough- pineapple upside-down cake

Well – as of today we have now been in Burundi for two years!

Two years ago today we stepped off a late-night flight from Edmonton (via Montreal & Brussels) to walk across the tarmac at the Bujumbura airport.

It feels like we’ve lived so much in that time – lived so many experiences that it must be more than a mere 24-months worth.
Some have been incredibly joyful, some gut-wrenchingly sorrowful.
We have camped out in the beauty of breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls and natural hot springs.
We have had our kids hide under the bed as large-calibre guns fire their bullets directly over the house.
We have experienced friendship, loyalty, and sacrifice from people we had known only months.
We have felt more frustrated and mislead and taken advantage of than ever before.
We have seen people who find such whole-heartedly joy in worshiping God – and have heard stories of betrayal by those claiming to follow Him.
We come face to face with poverty, malnutrition and physical suffering on a daily basis to a level that I had never before witnessed in my life.
We get to be part of a team that, despite all that seems to be working against us (and that list can often feel very long), is a small part of God’s redemptive work – fighting poverty, feeding the hungry, curing the sick.
We’ve sat in places with dirt floors and mud-brick walls, and we’ve somehow met up with ambassadors, diplomats, and the first-lady herself.
We have been inspired by our Burundian friends and colleagues – who can possess incredible resolve, determination.  Who keep their Faith that God is making all things new when it’s hard from a human perspective to see that it’s true.
And I’m pretty sure I can honestly say that I’ve personally shed more tears – of both sorrow and joy – in the past two years than perhaps the rest of my life combined.
Two years ago I’m pretty sure I’d heard the sound of a gun fire perhaps a few times (and honestly, that would have been in my Outdoor Education class trip to a firing range, and when my brother Phil was skiing biathlon) – and soon after we arrived, and for essentially the whole time we lived in Bujumbura – it became almost a daily occurrence.
Honestly – there are still days that are so hard I feel ready to quit. Days where cultural misunderstandings, differences in approaches, and just plain hard things make me want to pack it all in and go home.
But for now- this is home.  This is where we feel God has called our family. There is so, so much work to be done here – and for now we get to be part of it.
For those of you who are perhaps new to our story – or if you want a bit of a re-cap – here’s how the last 24 months have gone down:
March – we get all packed up and say good-bye to friends, family, Canada, & snow
We arrive in Buj and live in temporary housing for the first month – starting to look for a car (which proved to be an incredibly hard thing to do)
We move into our house – the ruling party announces that the President will run for a third-term, and the protests and violence start.
Already some ex-pat families are leaving as embassies and some NGO’s start to pull out people.
I start teaching my MBA classes – having to avoid road-blocks and clashes between protesters and police getting to and from HAU.
A failed military coup takes place – and we drive up to Kibuye
After staying about a week and in discussing with others – we decide to drive to Rwanda, hoping we can stay there for a couple weeks while things settle down.
June, July, August
We stay at the mission station in Kibogora, Rwanda while things in Burundi continue in much the same way. Elections are announced, delayed, boycotted & disputed. Violence continues. While in Rwanda we kept up homeschooling the kids, they played with new found great friends, we swam (and camped) in lake Kivu to relax, I made several trips back to Bujumbura (including one time where I ended up getting left there with no ride, the immigration office closed down with our passports inside and there were rumours of an impending rebel attack), we had surgeries (x3), and I got involved with the local university trying to help out as I could. We go for a hike through the canopy of the rainforest for Susan’s birthday.
Sept – Oct-Nov
We move back to Bujumbura Aug 30 since things had been settling down -there had been several weeks without much noticeable violence. The night after we arrive – gun-battles start up again in opposition neighbourhoods not far from us.
I get back to teaching my MBA classes at Hope Africa University, and have been asked to take on more responsibility on the admin side becoming Directeur Pédagogique (VP Academic).
Since HAU is unfortunately in one of the neighbourhoods experiencing a fair bit of conflict – clashes, fighting and attacks are essentially always in the back of your mind. Checking twitter for reports of attacks before deciding what road to take home.
My classes – which are supposed to start at 6.00pm as it’s an executive-style MBA for people working full-time – keep getting pushed up as people are too scared to be out after dark.  Finally after having to stop mid-class three times in two weeks due to gun-battles really close (including once when the students hit the floor and crawl into the corner as I’m lecturing as shots ring-out just on the street outside the window behind me) we move classes to a spare room at our house, since our neighbourhood had remained relatively peaceful.
The violence continues – with the sound of grenades and AK-47’s audible from our house essentially every night.
It feels like everyone in Bujumbura is starting to accept that this is “the new normal” – the tension, in uncertainty, the angst, the rumours. Oh so many rumours. Rumors of rebel bands training across the border in Congo, of people recruited out of refugee camps, being armed and amassing together somewhere in the jungle.  Rumours about the government. Rumours about what laws or rules are about to change. Rumors about who is involved in what, who’s been arrested, who’s disappeared -and most of all. what the heck is going to happen next.
We realize that since this does appear to be the new normal – we are going to put our kids in school. Because of the security issues, deciding on either the French School (close enough to the President’s office that you pass barricades, and road blocks, and soldiers with huge guns stationed just outside the wall of the school yard) or the Belgian School (which is a bit further away, and means it could be harder to get to if things heat up – meaning we may not be able to get to the kids if there is a large flare-up in fighting while they’re at school). We visit l’Ecole Francaise on Dec 10 – the only reason I remember the date is because I remember what happened the next day.
Dec 11
The next day we are awakened at exactly 4.00 by the sound of explosions, and gunfire. Lots of it – and big ones. It continues throughout the day, and as news starts trickling out over social media it seems that some unknown rebel group(s) conducted coordinated attacks against three military bases in different parts of the city. The sound of fighting can be heard from our place for about 14 hours straight. So much shooting. So many grenades. Then every so often something much larger than a grenade. Then the sound of guns much larger than the typical AK-47. Then a slight pause. Then more shooting from a slightly different place. At one point I things had calmed down a bit and I was standing in our yard talking with our Serge East Africa director – who happened to be in the US. He was saying that they wanted us to leave town the next day – as soon as it was safe to do so.  As I was standing in the yard talking to him the relative calm was pierced by what sounded like larger caliber guns, closer to the house – immediately followed by the instantly unmistakable sound of bullets whistling overhead.
Once we could leave – we headed up to stay in Kibuye for what we thought would be a few weeks. Hoping to return home to Bujumbura just after Christmas.
compared to the previous year – 2016 seems almost uneventful. On a security call on new years eve it was decided that Serge did not want our family to return to Bujumbura.
 That was hard.
Working at Hope Africa University was what we had come to do – and having to leave a place that had finally felt like home was really hard. After looking at our options – it was decided that we’d move permanently to Kibuye to join the team working at Kibuye Hope Hospital where there was a huge need for administrative oversight. We moved Jan 13.
 I tried to pursue my work at the Hospital – but we were faced over and over with month after month of false starts, missed deadlines, broken promises and more.  The kids kind of slipped into the school here with the other kids when we got here.  Jonah broke his arm, and we almost got a monkey,
Susan quickly found a very acute need at the hospital working with the kids in the paediatric ward – including a lot of work with the kids in the malnutrition program.
We had our first ever visitor as our friend Karen came from France.
In May we attended our first Serge mission-wide conference in Spain and then got to spend some time back in France seeing friends and spending time in some of our favourite places.
In August we made the incredibly hard decision to have Jonah enrol at Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe, Kenya (mental note: never say “never”)
The other kids are now fully part of the school here which now has 19 kids in it between kindergarten and 7th grade.
Susan’s parents came for almost a month
Which pretty much brings us back to today.
 Two years in.
I’m not sure there is anything else to say about that. I’m pretty sure there’s really very much at all that I’d change even if I could.
We are so thankful for what we’ve been able to see, and do, and learn and experience here in this place.  My great hope is that we could have a tiny sliver of the impact on Burundi – that it’s had on us.