I’m the closest thing to Ronaldo you’ll ever see

One of the things that never seems to get old for the kids who live on the hills around us here is, well…us.

Despite the fact that there has been a pretty significant number foreign missionaries here for quite a few years, making dozens and dozens of trips back and forth from our houses to the hospital every single day…it never gets old. Every time we attract hundreds of stares, dozens of shouts of “muzungu” (white person) and a lot of yelling out of English phrases.

These conversations I take to be indicators of what the English classes consist of around here.

There are some things that seem very common. Like “and you” being used not as a follow-up-question but some kind of statement you make. As in:

child “goodmorning-eee, how are youuuuuuuuu?”

me: “I am good. How are you”

child: “Fine thank you and you.”

me: “I am good”

child: “Finethankyouandyoo”

{lather. rinse. repeat.}

I think learning their 3rd language via rote repetition in a classroom of 100+ students makes it hard to decipher dialogue. One time a child ran up to me and say: “goodmorningteacherhowareyoufinethankyouandyou” as if it were actually just one word.

Anyway, one of the things they really like to do when any of us guys is out for a run is to yell out which football star they think we look like.

Jason is Messi. (OK – actually just yesterday I mentioned this to a Burundian who knows him (Jason, not Messi) and he agreed that Dr. Fader was in fact a PERFECT COPY of Messi – and people would not be surprised to find they were brothers!)

hmmm. OK.

Ted is Marcelo. (obviously)

(OK……that one is actually pretty close)

I seem to be Ronaldo.

Always.

And just so that we’re all on the same page here, in case you haven’t seen either me or Ronaldo in a while, here is the similarity we’re talking about:

Photo by Isabella BONOTTO / Update Images Press / AFP

Clearly, your first reaction to the above is “I can hardly tell the difference.” or “which one is you?” One is a middle-aged dude living in the middle of rural Burundi, the other is one of the greatest footballers (or the greatest…according to him) to ever play the game. (Hint: I don’t think Ronaldo would wear a hat as it would wreck his beautiful hair)

For kids who live here in Kibuye, however, many of us have a rather distinctive look. We tend to stick out a bit, as evidenced below by my niece and my daughter:

So when they see me, compared to everyone else living on this hill, I suppose, well…. close enough (?)

The other day as I was running down one of the narrow hard-packed trails of clay that wind through the hills here, and yet another kid yelled out “RONALDO” I was struck by something. They think I look like Ronaldo, because, I actually am the closest thing they’ve ever seen to him.

If you’ve only ever seen maybe 10 people in your life who are not Burundian, and 5 of them are guys (me included), then I guess of those 5 it is entirely plausible that I literally look more similar to Ronaldo than any other person they’ve ever seen. And honestly, I am more of a doppelganger for him than anyone they will likely ever meet in their entire lives.

It got me thinking of how followers of Jesus are supposed to look like him (Jesus….not Ronaldo). Our actions and words should look like what Jesus would be doing.

That thought tends to trouble me, as I quickly realize how short I fall of that. But, then I think of the kids on these hills that truly believe I look a lot like Cristiano Ronaldo. If all you have ever seen looks a lot the same, then if there is someone who looks a bit different, even just a bit, it can be noticeable.

So what’s the point? I guess that in some ways followers of Jesus can find some solace knowing that we don’t have to look exactly like Jesus for a hurting world to see a difference. There is a lot of heartache, pain, suffering in this world, and if we deal with it in ways that feel just a bit different than others, it may be noticeable. There are a lot of people gritting their teeth to get through hard things, taking others down to get ahead or even just clawing after things for themselves. If we even try to respond to this world with grace, hope, love… that may be enough for some to see the difference. We don’t have to be perfect- we already know that. But also maybe we can just to look a bit different, to be different enough.

Jesus said that the world would know his followers by how they love. Not because of our ability to argue and debate the truths that we hold. Not because of the amazing ways we can communicate the message of the Bible. Not because we collectively have put out great art, or messages, or music, or anything else (as good as those things are). Not because we build huge buildings, or can gather huge crowds, or coordinate our political influence.

Simply, how we love.

That’s something I can find solace in. If we look like Jesus, even I think just a bit, because of how we love people, it may be so distinctive that we’ll stick out. You see, if we respond with love to those who love us, that’s not such a big deal. That doesn’t make us stick out. But what about that guy at work who you know threw you under the bus when he was backed into a corner? What about helping the mom who let her two kids kick the back of your seat for a trans-Atlantic flight get her heavy suitcase off the carousel? What about showing grace to those who tell you you are doing a bad job at: work/raising kids/being a good spouse/being a good child?

I hope and pray that I do a better job at that than I used to, and that throughout my time on this earth I will continue to improve in that. But until that point where I no longer struggle to be selflessly kind to everyone around me (aka…when I’m dead) – I can rest knowing that perhaps incomplete is close enough to make a difference. Imperfect is better than nothing. And a bit like Jesus may be the ‘bit’ that others need to see. Just to be perfectly clear, I should not be content to stay where I am. I should hope, pray, and try to be more loving every day of my life. But, also I don’t have to beat myself up for not being all the way there. Yet.

I can find solace in that.

(That, and the fact that I can always fall back on my career as a body double for ole’ CR7 if the need ever arises.)

uh…so he’s 18 (?!)

{OK…so this is just over a month late – so I guess really the last of my mea culpa series of posts…where I post things way too late. that’s my fault. mea culpa}

Well – as of now (yes…a month ago) we have an “adult child.” To be honest I”m still not sure how I feel about that (and not entirely sure even what “adult child” means)

(not sure why the chair he was sitting in to blow out 18 candles made him look like it was 2)

Jonah turned 18 at the end of December, where we were once again spending a few days down in Tanzania.

This is the 4th year Jonah celebrated his birthday in Tanzania, this year we decided since we were staying to spring for a 2-bedroom cabin instead of camping like we normally do.

A lot of people kept asking him if he felt old, but no one seemed to be asking us if we felt old now that we had a child who was an adult (!)

Sometimes it feels like there’s some kind of weird pressure on certain dates that are deemed to be significant milestones (turning 16 or 18, 25-year anniversary etc.) and to be honest, that makes me feel weird.

Are we super excited about the fact that this human we brought home from the hospital a cool December day in Grenoble, France has turned into the young man he is today? Completely.

Am I always just a bit proud that people say we look so much the same, and even that his mannerisms take after me. yes…totally, to be honest.

motorbike riding in dry season…leaves it mark on you.

Are we amazed at what God has shaped this person to be, through honestly a lot of pretty tough things in the first 18 years of his life? Absolutely

Are we all getting tired of me asking and then responding to my own semi-rhetorical questions? 100% yes!

In case you, like us, have lost track – here’s what Jonah (and his sisters) looked like when we moved to Burundi in early 2015

But 18 is in a lot of ways a big deal. Besides being legally considered an adult, this year he finishes high school, moves away (OK, moves further away for longer), and starts a significant new chapter in life.

Side note: we /he would appreciate prayer for clarity for this next year. Jonah still is waiting to hear back from some schools, and has several options open, but nothing decided yet.

Jonah is a kid who has learned what it means to adapt and to embrace new things. Born in France, grades 1 & 2 in Canada, grades 3-6 in France, 7-8 essentially homeschool in Edmonton, Bujumbura, Rwanda, & Kibuye, then 9-12 in Kenya. He’s lived in peaceful Alpine villages, ducked under beds while tracer fire whistles over the house, and was taking transatlantic flights on his own in 9th grade. He’s taught himself a lot of things and has been privileged to have experiences and go places that have opened his eyes to this world in ways that I had not until I was double his age (at least)

So here is to our now eighteen-year-old son! He is kind and thoughtful, brave and caring, and so clever. (note: writing about your own child in a public setting like this is a hard thing. I really don’t want to sound like a parent who is constantly bragging about how great my kids are like they’re some kind of trophy I have. I also don’t’ want to come off like I’m overcompensating for hard things and difficulties by only pointing out strengths. But, the full honest truth is that I am very proud of Jonah -and all our kids. )

So anyway, here are some images to remember what the past 18 years have been like.

Back to School – 2019


{This should be the last of the MEA CULPA SERIES OF POSTS _ where I post things I should have written a long time ago… yeah…that’s on me.}


These years are strange. We have two kids who go to school about 20 meters from our front door, and two kids who go to school 2 countries away.

Two kids in Kenya

Jonah and Matea are back at RVA, a place they love. Which is great. It doesn’t make it easy on our family that they’re away, but it’s definitely easier. They have incredible support systems there – their dorm parents, teachers, friends, our Serge teammates, etc. It really is amazing -but it’s not here.

dropping them off at RVA

This year is Jonah’s last year at RVA, last year in high school, likely his last year in Africa (…for now). (There is so much in that last sentence that I can’t believe is true)

Dropping the kids off at school is honestly kind of an unexplainable experience. They’re surrounded by people who love and support them, in a place that allows them to thrive probably better than any other place I could think of anywhere. Their ‘strangeness’ as third-culture-kids / missionary kids / kids who don’t really belong anywhere – is the strong tie that gives them something meaningful in common with every other kid at their school.

there may be a lot of years between these two, but there’s a lot of love between them too

Matea is in her second year at RVA, 10th grade. She is thriving and growing and has a great group of friends.

I always said I’d never be the kid of Dad who would embarrass their teenage daughters in front of her friends…no… wait.
Scratch that.
I said I would do that at every opportunity available.
Yeah…that does sound more like me.

One of the great things this year is that our kids are not the only ones from Burundi at RVA this year. Ella and Anna from here in Kibuye joined them this year as did a friend from Bujumbura who our kids know quite well especially since we spent three months together when we evacuated to Rwanda when we first arrived.

MEANWHILE BACK HERE IN KIBUYE

Micah and Alma are back at the school here. The school we look at out our windows, that sits basically at the end of our yard, just across the vegetable garden. It’s a place where every teacher is either “Aunt” or “Uncle” and the classmates are this strange combination of friends/neighbors/surrogate-family

Micah is in 8th grade here, meaning this is his last year at this school, in theory he’ll be heading to RVA for the next school year (!)

Alma is in 3rd grade here in this, the only school she’s ever known. What’s odd is not just how unique the school is, but how our kids honestly believe it’s completely normal.

So that’s what back to school 2019 look(ed) like for us.

Alma is {still} 8

NOTE: this is part of a series of blog posts that I SHOULD have written long ago. Events and things that I do want to share with others, and have a record of for us. So here they are – woefully late…and that’s on me.

mea culpa.

So our youngest is now 8.

she decided for her birthday to have a FANCY SUPPER – so everyone dressed up – and had a candle-lit 4 course meal.

That makes five birthdays in Burundi! Before that it was two in France, one in Canada, and then here.

Here are some pictures of what she was up to this last year

visiting the orphanage
reading outside…with a nosy friend reading over her shoulder
when she lost this tooth, she refused to just pull it out. Partially she loved keeping it in, just barely hanging on – so she could do this.
impressed by hippos
learning how to harvest rice down in the valley
finding a new friend on a hike
learning to do new things
borrowing a friends bike with fancy lights

So – that’s a pretty good look at what Alma has been up to for about the last year or so

Aaand. Here are some older pictures of Alma … Just because

two

Washing Feet

NOTE: this is a cross-post from our team blog www.wordanddeedafrica.com that was written by our intern Alexis. Since it’s about Susan and her work at the feeding program I thought I’d share it here …but you really should be reading that blog!

Every Monday and Friday women and children from all over Gitega province walk to the hospital, sometimes from homes that are many hours away, to receive a meal and a 1kg bag of busoma from the hospital feeding program. And each Monday and Friday from 10-12:30, Susan and Annick set up a station in the corner of the feeding program pavilion to meet with people. Mamas (and a few Papas) come with problems and questions of all kinds. Susan shakes each person’s hand and listens to their concerns. She measures tiny arms and checks for other signs of malnutrition such as blonding hair and eyelashes, puffy cheeks, swollen bellies. Many of the people have questions about topics besides just malnutrition. Their eyesight is failing – can she get them in to see the ophthalmologist? Their baby has a bump on his head – should they see a doctor? Their child has been having constant diarrhea – can she give them de-worming medication? Sometimes people tell her about how their roof leaks in rainy season, that they are unable to buy notebooks for school, have no blankets to keep their child warm or no ability to produce milk for their infant. As Annick translates, Susan responds to each person to the best of her ability, knowing when someone really needs to see a doctor and when there are other ways to help. She gives out a blanket here, a jar of milk there, buys a hand-woven basket from a widow who needs that money to get through the week. She listens and responds, and even when there is nothing she can do to help, still at least someone has listened to them with a compassionate ear.  

Annick and Susan meeting with people at the feeding program
Susan with a baby that she helped to relocate and support after the baby’s mother died



The other aspect of what she does is basic wound care. Sometimes others from our team come and help with this, like myself, Stephanie, who is a trained nurse, and some of the older kids on the team as well. Susan has visitors bring Band-Aids, gauze, disinfectant spray, and antibiotic cream over from North America. Equipped with these items in her first aid kit, we do our best to clean, disinfect, and cover the various wounds that people present us with. Some of the wounds are terrible to look at, dirty and infected, caked around with dust from the roads, still unhealed from the time of injury many days or even weeks prior. 

A few weeks ago I was feeling discouraged about how much our wound care was actually helping. That day I had peeled off a Band-Aid from a wound I had cleaned and dressed the week before, and seen that it had barely healed. This is not at all an uncommon occurrence. Later that day, I shared my discouragement about this lack of healing progress with Dr. Rachel. She informed me that malnutrition is a large contributor to why many of these injuries heal so slowly. She told me that some of these injuries are systemic and that our care will not cure them without the underlying cause being remedied. Yet, Rachel also encouraged me by reminding me that the wound care that we are providing has more purpose than just treating the wounds themselves. It also demonstrates to the people who come that there is someone out there who cares enough about them to touch their dirty feet, their sores, and their imperfections. To clean them. To tend to them. Having someone take the time to care for them in this way can provide a different kind of healing to many of these people who may not receive that kind of interaction regularly. Susan told me once that one of the main reasons that she provides wound care is to build relationship. I can see now how caring for someone’s wounds can build relationship and trust even without using words. This is huge for those, like me, who can’t yet speak much Kirundi. 

Much of what I end up doing when helping with wound care at the feeding program is cleaning people’s feet. For these people living in desperate poverty, shoes are uncommon and they work daily in rocky fields and walk long distances down hard, dusty roads. Thus, many of their injuries are on their feet and it is very hard to keep those injuries clean. Using saline and gauze we clean out each wound and proceed to wipe away the layers of dirt around it before applying a sterile Band-Aid. About a week ago, while cleaning around an ulcer on someone’s ankle, an image came clearly to my mind. Can you guess what it was? The image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I heard a Tim Keller sermon recently in which he said that in Jesus’ time touching someone else’s feet was considered a task that not even servants were allowed to be told to perform. From poverty and the dirty, dusty roads of Israel, people’s feet became so mangled and filthy that it was beneath the duty even of a slave to have to wash them for someone else. Yet, Jesus does it. 

John 13: 2-5 and 12-17 (NIV) says:
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

In this passage, the king of the universe stoops down and washes the feet of those that he loves so much, even though they are about to betray him. And he commands us to follow his example and to do the same. The wound care that Susan and others are doing at the feeding program is a very literal way to follow that command. Though in most situations, “washing someone’s feet” may not look like physically taking their foot in your hand and scrubbing, in the case of the work that is being done by people providing wound care at the feeding program, it does literally mean just that. What a beautiful and concrete opportunity to physically do for others what Jesus has metaphysically done for us.