Why go to Africa?

The where and the what posts that you may have already seen about our plans to move to Burundi were fairly straightforward. Mostly information about the country where we’re going, and what we’ll be doing there.  The the answer to the question of ‘Why go to Africa?” is really the heart of the matter.

The hills outside Gitega, Burundi

Perhaps fist a bit of background.

We, as a family, have faith that there is a God who wants good – not just for us, but for everyone.  We feel that we have been blessed in so many ways – which means that we can in turn try to give to others. Not because we have to. Not because we need to. Not because someone told us we ought to. But really…because we can. Because making a difference in the lives of others is really the most significant thing we can do. We believe that ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ really is not just a trite saying.

The mere fact that we have been born and lived in affluent nations, combined with the aptitudes that we have, mean that we have the opportunity to use what we have been given (resources, skills, time) to invest in others. For us, university education is pretty much a given, an expectation. For most of the world, this is not the case at all. For most, one person completing university is a rare luxury that has huge implications for entire extended families. The below two maps show where people live (proportion of population) compared to who goes to university (proportion of higher education students)

Nation size relative to proportion of world population
Nation size relative to proportion of world population
Nation size proportional to enrolment in higher education. Notice how Africa appears to almost get squished right off the face of the globe.

We believe that protecting our children is not our ultimate goal – but we aspire to raise them to be brave, not merely safe. SIDE NOTE: For a fantastic bit of insight into people living out brave not merely safe, check out the work of IJM – an organisation started after the founder was assigned to head up the UN investigation into the Rwandan genocide.  He decided that being brave and facing the horrors of sex trafficking, slavery and corruption was more important than keeping a secure, respectable job at the US Department of Justice. Here is the intro to a talk I saw him give in 2008 that I have never forgotten.


It’s not that this is some dream of mine (it never has been) that I’m dragging my family on (not at all). We are all really excited about this next step. (OK, our 2-year old hasn’t really given us her full endorsement…but I think she’s on board).

To be honest, I imagine it’s impossible to pursue this kind of thing with completely pure motives, completely selfless intentions. We, of course, see real benefits for us in this. It will be a great learning experience – for all of us. Our kids will develop a greater sense of the world – the real world, all around them. We want to grow – all of us – into a deeper understanding of life, faith, joy, and family – which of course you can’t really do without some pain, sorrow and disappointment. Do we think this is the only way to serve others, that everyone has to give up their jobs and move to Africa?


Some who were eager to join Mother Theresa in her work were told by her: “Find you own Calcutta!”  I think she knew that exotic locations and extreme-looking contributions can draw us away from places and people that we are well-suited to help right where we are.  Matthew, a Roman tax-collector turned follower of Jesus wrote this down when Jesus was instructing his followers to go and heal and help:

“freely you have received – freely give”

Alpine Life – our reality of living in the French Alps.

We seem to have become more adapted to living in the Alps.  Les Aples Françaises have been our home for almost four years now (plus 4 years about a decade ago), which is a while – and seems like a really long time for our kids. Alpine life has definitely changed who we are, and as we are in the last week or so of what is our last ski season here, I’ve realized how different things used to feel.

Alpine life here means you can go from green grass to 30 or 40 or 50cm or more of snow – in the course of a day. Growing up on the Canadian prairies we were used to snow slowly accumulating over months and months – a few cm’s at a time.  Here it’s more like 0-60 in 18hrs. Then instead of lingering around for months, the vast quantities of snow often are gone in just a few days. We can easily go from green grass in our yard to sledding down our hill, back to green grass within the same week.  The kids have learned – if you want to play in the snow – you better do it now.

It means that we have about a 15-minute drive from our house to the chairlift at the ski station at the top of our hill.

It means some days when kids are coming to school, some cars are wet with rain, and some have 30cm of snow on them – all coming from our village.

It means the kids go skiing every Wednesday with a group from our town – ski de mecredi. They also go skiing with school. There was a stretch a few months ago where Micah was skiing 4 days a week  – not bad for an 8-year-old not on holidays!

It means there is rain in Grenoble 15 minutes from our place, a skiff of snow in Uriage (2.5km if you walk straight down trails from our place) and you need chains to get up our road.  When I say ‘need chains’ this is coming from someone who learned to drive in a part of the world where you can have snow on the ground 6 months of the year. I’m not some Parisienne on a ski holiday – I’ve spent half my life driving on snow- and we have good snow tires!

my new chains. pretty exciting stuff, non?

One time I stopped in our small grocery store to pick up something on our way home from skiing. Not only was I not out of place walking into the store wearing ski-pants, but – no word of a lie – there were about 6 other people in there who were also – and only one person in the whole store was not wearing ski-attire.  (I’ll assume he had already gone home to change)

It means skiing – literally from our back door, in the yard.

It means that sometimes the weight of all that snow knocks out the power – so the wood stove becomes not only heating for the house but also the only way to warm up some dinner.

It means there is a chateau just below the kid’s school, that you can see from the park where the bains thermal (hot springs – with all their healing power) are.

It’s not all skiing and snow chains in these parts. Our region of France is actually very temperate – and summers in Grenoble are downright hot. Well, at least it seems warm to me, who grew up in a part of the world where there are more days recording -30° than there are +30° (yes – there really is such a thing as -30°. And yes – it feels as bad as you could imagine)

It means wildlife in our yard

It means there is a dairy farm across the valley that makes their own raclette cheese and sells whole milk into glass bottles that you bring yourself.

It means road signs – and the corresponding roads – that tend to be rather twisty, narrow, and steep.

It means having an acute sense of elevation  – as it has such a strong determining factor in many things – like the weather. The weather forecast is not complete without knowing the isotherme (the elevation where 0° will fall – so you know where the rain ends, and the snow begins.)

We have grown to love this place – and we will definitely miss it.