Inauguration into Burundian Mamahood

9 Jul

We have been back in Burundi about a month now and I am slowly getting used to being a Mama here in this beautiful nation. There has been quite a lot of ‘new things’ to get used to compared to being in relatively peaceful UK suburbia. I was awake feeding Caleb one night when the whole house started shaking – an earthquake or tremor that was pretty strong compared to others we have felt here. The floor to ceiling crack in our bedroom wall got slightly wider, but thankfully the wall didn’t fall in. Another night our guard messaged Claude to tell us there are possibly thieves banging on the gate as a distraction to other thieves entering at the back of the house. Another night our guard told us there were gunshots. Claude went outside, and my mind went into overdrive thinking the far away shots were outside the house and where can I hide Caleb. Contrary one sunny afternoon I was with Caleb in the garden and there were three very loud gunshots…turns out the police were killing a neighbour’s mad dog.

However, my main induction into being a Burundian Mama was the Guhekereza (to put the baby on the Mama’s back) party that took place a couple of weekends after we arrived. Here in rural Burundi, this party usually takes place when the baby is a month old and signifies that the Mama can go out to work again. I am informed that sometimes this party or significant event happens just one week after birth, as the Mama must go out to hoe to get food to eat. So we were a little late doing this party, as Caleb was over 3 months old. Other than our wedding it was the first major party Claude and I had planned and hosted. We took it as an opportunity to invite and get to know neighbours and the administration here in our new town and we decided to cater for 50 people. We hired a big green tent from the army so that people didn’t have to sit in the hot dry-season sun. Two bicycles delivered 50 plastic chairs that we hired from a local hotel. We hired four big charcoal cooking stoves, four big saucepans and 50 plates with knives and forks. A local man came to start cooking, along with our helpers, at 6am and by 1pm the food was ready to serve. Crates of Fanta and bottles of water sat waiting to be passed out once the party started.

Traditionally ‘igitenge’, local African material, is worn so outfits had to be planned and a tailor in Bujumbura made a 2-piece outfit for Ruth and some dungarees for Caleb. Claude had a token piece of igitenge in his suit jacket so that we matched! The day before the party we went to the local market to buy the material that is used to hold a baby on the back and also the sheet material used to cover the baby from the sun.

Not many people had arrived by 1pm, the time we had asked people to come, so we waited until 1.30pm when there were still only a handful of people. But not wanting to delay any longer the ceremony started. Caleb was almost asleep in his pushchair as nap timings were all out. I had no choice but to lift him out of the pushchair praying that he would be settled despite his tiredness. The ceremony started with me, Caleb and the other Mamas present sitting on a grass mat in the middle of the tent. Singing and clapping started which continued throughout the whole ceremony – the words of the songs explained the different stages of the ceremony and were often ad-libbed to make it unique and personal to our story. I should add here that about an hour before the ceremony started Claude realised we needed someone who knew how to do the singing as it is very key to the ceremony. Someone suggested a Mama who lives down the road…so Claude went to ask her if she could come to the party and lead the singing and thankfully she came! Such a lovely joyful lady and it felt like we had always known her. While sitting on the mat we were served a Fanta and had a drink.

As the singing moved into the next stage of the ceremony, we all stood up and Claude placed Caleb in a winnowing fork (wicker basket) and then lifted the basket high up in the air as a symbol introducing Caleb to Burundi. He was lifted to the North, East, South and West and his big eyes looked on in amusement!

Next was the moment I had been waiting for – to have Caleb on my back. We had done a very mini ceremony in the UK after a thanksgiving for Caleb at the local church and Claude had put Caleb on my back to show family and friends what happens in Burundi. So Caleb had been on my back once, but I had been waiting for this Burundian ceremony to officially put him on my back. The Mamas gathered around me and helped to put Caleb on my back and tie the cloth material around my chest to hold him up. Caleb didn’t cry and it didn’t take long for him to fall asleep! Once he was on my back the Mamas started dancing and it was such a joyful moment.

It was then time to leave the compound and go out into the ‘world’, remembering that this ceremony signifies the first time the Mama will go outside her home boundary since the baby was born. I was given a hoe and Claude was given a tool for cutting grass and shrubs. Claude led the way, followed by me and Caleb and then the rest of the visitors. We went out onto the road with the sounds of singing and clapping.

The neighbourhood children gathered around and the red dusty dirt was kicked up as we walked a short distance. Caleb slept on, now oblivious to the ceremony, and the hot sun beat down on us all.

Claude had to cut a branch off a shrub and carry it back into the compound using the tool he was carrying. The tool (umuhoro – pruning knife) is only used by men and so this act signifies the strength and protection of the husband.

We then all proceeded back into the compound where I had to start hoeing. This signifies the woman’s responsibility of caring for the home and providing food to eat. I hadn’t practiced holding the hoe and bringing it down into the ground firmly, and with Caleb on my back it was quite a feat to manoeuvre especially with the pressure of everyone looking on. The gate was left open with a growing audience of local children coming to see what was happening. A small hole was dug and then both Claude and I sprinkled seeds – beans and peas – into the hole (a week after the ceremony there were bean and pea seedlings sprouting up!). The singing and clapping continued as we walked along the row with me hoeing and us both sprinkling seeds. Poor Caleb was slipping down my back with each time I lifted the hoe up and down. The ceremony haltered for a few minutes while all the Mamas gathered around me and helped me hoist a sleeping and sweaty Caleb back up my back and the cloth tightened around him. I still have not managed to master the technique to keep him tightly on my back for longer than 30 minutes…how these beautiful African Mamas do it all day I just don’t know!

The singing and clapping restarted and we walked up through the tent where some guests had decided to sit and drink a Fanta and not be in the hot sun. Claude led the way into our house still carrying the branch of the shrub and his tool. I followed behind with Caleb now tightly, or so I thought, on my back and then the Mamas and some Papas entered into the lounge. The pruning fork, branch and the hoe were safely deposited in the hallway and then we joined the other guests in the lounge and the singing intensified and the Mamas started traditional dancing with arms raised high in the air. The Mama from down the road, who came to help with the singing, got out a whistle and it was such a joyful five minutes of dancing, with moves that can’t be explained with words…you will just have to come to Burundi to experience it! Caleb slipped down my back once again and again he was hoisted back up my back and the cloth tied even tighter than before.

The singing, clapping and dancing ended and the Mamas spontaneously hugged. It was a beautiful moment. We went back to the tent and sat down. I perched on the edge of my white plastic chair as Caleb was now very firmly tied to my back and I didn’t want to squash him with the back of the chair. Plates of food, which was now cold, were carried out to each guest and more Fanta was served. Once the meal was finished the speeches started. Caleb decided to wake up when Claude was giving his speech. It took me a while to untie the cloth and move him off my back, by which time Caleb was crying quite loudly competing with Claude and his speech. Feed him was the advice from the Mama sitting next to me and the looks from everyone else in the tent. My tailored outfit had been designed to be breastfeeding friendly, but I had not practised undoing the zip, lifting the layers and feeding Caleb. Add to this the pressure of everyone looking at me, Caleb now screaming and Claude continuing his speech. I quickly redid the zip up and carried Caleb to the house to feed him in private. The speeches were over around 3pm and some guests started to leave as they had travelled far… and then more guests started to arrive. African Time! Plates of very cold food were served and the Fanta continued to flow. Caleb had more cuddles and the children who had all been peeping in at the gate were invited in to share the leftover food from one big plate (which was one of my favourite parts of the whole day!). By 5.30pm all the guests had gone, the soldiers had arrived to take down the big green army tent and the saucepans, plates and forks were being washed.

And so there you have it, the Guhekereza party in Burundi!

 

 

 

 

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Maternity Comparisons

1 Mar

I am a lady-in-waiting, 39 weeks and trying not to count days. It has been an interesting pregnancy journey, being in two very different countries and such a diverse cultural experience for something that is so common and normal throughout history and across the world. I thought I would try and share some of these differences and similarities.

39 weeks pregnant

‘Working’ experience

My maternity and neonatal experience in the UK started when I qualified as a pharmacist and worked in big London hospitals in both the maternity and neonatal intensive care units. Highly specialised medical care for both mother and baby. Pre-term babies as early as 24 weeks gestation were cared for and the miracle going home day celebrated by both family and medical team.

My first maternity experience in Burundi was very different and very raw. A rural health centre. One nurse. Many women. Beer. Pre-term death. Two births at once. Dancing. Mess. You can read about it here. And then the medical clinic at The Cries of a Child NGO opened and on day one a baby girl was born. The Mama called her Rusi (Ruth)! What an honour. You can read about it here.

Pre-pregnancy

In Burundi the value on having children is very high. It is normal and almost expected culturally to have children quickly after getting married. If a baby hasn’t arrived within the first year of marriage or at the least being pregnant by the end of the first year there is something wrong. Claude and I made a decision to wait a little while to try for a baby so that we could continue to get to know each other and our cross-cultural ways, but also due to travel plans and a prayer tour around a Nation. During this first year and a few months of marriage (pre-pregnancy) I would be asked time and time again about children and why we don’t have a child. Random people would stop me on the road and ask. People in churches would pray for me laying hands on my stomach without asking permission. I had a tiny insight into the stigma and pain that childless couples in Burundi must carry day in and out.

In contrast the UK culture is so much more private with only close close friends asking whether we want children or not. There was no presumption.

Pregnancy

Last summer we were in Burundi and found out we were expecting a baby. Excitement, but if I am honest this was laced with fear for me. Pregnant in Burundi. How will I cope? What about the healthcare? The nausea was hard in the hot humid heat. I spent days in the house lying down. I felt such a wimp. African women are so strong. Pregnant and out hoeing the field all day with another child on their back and carrying home harvested food on their head. No sick-leave from work for them.

Sharing the news

This is one of the biggest differences I have experienced. In the UK people usually share with close family members when they find out that they are pregnant and then make it ‘public’ after the 12 week scan. Facebook announcements with scan pictures and arty pregnancy shots are the norm these days. In Burundi people do not talk about it. Yes, people share with close family members, but other than that it is not discussed. It is deemed strange to ask someone if they are pregnant and people don’t ask you! It is only when the bump is really obvious there will be some comments. I found this so odd and somewhat awkward. I was sure people were thinking that I was a very lazy white person as I wasn’t helping carry boxes when we moved house and my baby bump wasn’t obvious enough for them to know the reason. Claude explains that there are different reasons for this including superstitions or jealously leading to witchcraft curses on the unborn child.

Antenatal Care

In the UK antenatal care usually starts at week 8 of pregnancy with a ‘book-in’ appointment with the community midwife. Full blood and urine tests are checked; weight, BMI and blood pressure are measured; and lifestyle, mental health, future tests/scans and plan of care are discussed. The appointment lasts about 1 hour and at the end you have a copy of your own maternity hospital notes ready for future appointments as well as leaflets full of information to digest at a later time. Ultrasound scans (echography) are booked for 12 weeks (dating scan) and 20 weeks (anomaly scan) in the UK and if there are no further concerns there are no further scans.

In Burundi, I wasn’t really sure of the system. There are no community midwife services. In the capital city, women go to see an Obstetrician (if they can afford it). Rurally, it is nurse-led care in the local health centres. At around 8 weeks I went to see an Obstetrician in a private hospital in the city based on recommendation from other ex-pat friends. I waited in the queue for over 2 hours with many patient women with varying sizes of baby bumps. The Dr welcomed me and congratulated me on being pregnant. He confirmed I was 8 weeks pregnant based on dates and wanted to do an ultrasound scan to check things were well. Following the scan, he checked blood pressure, weight and ordered blood and urine tests. The consultation was probably 20 minutes in total with limited information explained. Ultrasound scans are usually performed at 12 weeks (dating scan), 22 weeks (anomaly scan) and 32 weeks (final check for birth) in Burundi. All the consultations with the Dr are paid for and an ultrasound scan is approximately £7 on top of the consultation cost. Sometimes women will go to get an ultrasound scan at other times during the pregnancy just to check things are going well.

Often in rural health centres there are no opportunities for ultrasound scans and nurses check the heart beat of the baby using an ear trumpet (Pinard stethoscope) and monitor blood pressure. When I was 20 weeks pregnant we moved upcountry to a new house. I visited the Obstetrician in the city at 22 weeks for a scan and again at 32 weeks to get a letter for the airline to be able to fly back to the UK. From 24 weeks I went to get my blood pressure measured and urine tested at a rural local health centre every month or so. Claude measured my baby bump (fundus) and we plotted the measurements on the growth chart.

Screening Tests

I think one of the biggest differences between antenatal care in the UK and in Burundi are the huge number of screening tests that are available in the UK. In Burundi other than determining blood group, blood sugar level, ultrasound scans for birth/growth defects and screening for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B I was offered no other screening tests for diseases. In comparison, in the UK there are tests offered for all of the above plus Down’s, Edward’s and Patau’s Syndromes. Additionally, there are tests for sickle cell disease, thalassaemia and other haemoglobin disorders.

On arrival back in the UK, I have had tests for gestational diabetes, screening for Zika virus due to Burundi being moderate risk and a further growth scan due to some concerns. All is clear thankfully. I so appreciate being followed closely with good healthcare, but each mention of a test gives an arrow of fear that has to be dealt with. Have we over complicated things?

Advice

Advice about everything – food to eat and not to eat, what to wear, what not to carry, exercise, tiredness and rest etc. occurs in whatever culture you find yourself in. People, usually Mamas, offer their experience and wisdom and stories and advice. Often there are contradictions from one Mama to another. In Burundi there are limited resources of written information – no leaflets or books on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding or sleeping. Information is shared from one woman to another. From generation to generation. Story-telling. In contrast in the UK there are books and/or websites dedicated to every possible thing in relation to pregnancy, childbirth and children. There are also classes to attend and hospital tours to go on.

Bump size comments

Comments on bump size in the UK – you look small, are you small for dates?, oh what a big bump, gosh it’s all baby maybe it’s a boy, the bump is low so it’s definitely a girl, you look ready to pop, when is the baby due, … In Burundi the comment is generally – you are big! Which is a compliment whether you are pregnant or not!

Finding out the gender

We have decided to keep the gender of the baby a surprise for the delivery day! I have been so surprised by the comments. In the UK people have praised us for being able to wait to find out, as it is quite unusual not to find out the gender. In Burundi, for people who can afford to have an ultrasound scan they all find out the gender. The Dr was shocked we didn’t want to know and asked Claude twice whether he was sure he didn’t want to know the gender. Our friends were flabbergasted and just couldn’t comprehend that we didn’t want to know. I am not saying either way is right or wrong. It is a choice every expectant couple has to make.

Home visits

At 36 weeks the community midwife in the UK does a home visit. I think this is a relatively new thing and I imagine it is to screen for possible child safeguarding issues. The midwife was with me for a considerable length of time to discuss a birth plan, labour and postnatal care as well as doing the routine antenatal checks – blood pressure, urine test, feeling the baby’s position and listening to the baby’s heartbeat. Claude was amazed at this level of care and the ability to ask questions and have them answered in a thorough way. Postnatal care also includes home visits from both a midwife and then a health visitor. In Burundi, home visits are not performed and I have been with a friend who had recently given birth to wait for hours in a busy clinic for her to have a c-section wound checked. And on another occasion we trailed around a number of children’s clinics to find one with neonatal vaccinations available for her 2 week old daughter.

Involvement of Papas

In Burundi the baby’s Papa does not enter the delivery room and can rarely be found at the hospital or health centre prior to the arrival of the baby. In the city it is becoming more common for men to be involved in antenatal care, attending an ultrasound scan appointment with their wives. Usually women will have a female birth partner with them – mother, sister, aunt, friend – who have all had experience of giving birth. But at the time of delivery the birth partners are not present in the delivery room – only the medical staff.

In the UK it is common for men to be involved and present in the delivery room at the time of birth. Claude is up for breaking his cultural norm and be alongside me in the delivery room!

Wholeheartedly

29 Aug

Two months ago Claude and I finished a prayer tour of Burundi. We went to the 18 Provinces over a 7-month period. Throughout the tour we have prayed a small prayer that God gave us from a retreat centre we went to in Wales last August. Ffald-y-Brenin is one of the most peaceful and powerful places I have ever been to. The presence of God led us to our knees in the small stone chapel and on the hillside by a tall wooden cross. The Caleb Prayer for Wales is a 7-line prayer with each line based on a verse or verses in the bible. The biblical character of Caleb didn’t pray this prayer, but it is based on the character of Caleb and how he followed God with all of his heart. You can read more about the prayer; it’s origin and how many people throughout Wales prayed it daily for a year, in Roy Godwin’s book ‘The Grace Outpouring’. After our time in Wales, we were inspired to pray this prayer over the Nation of Burundi. We contacted Ffald-y-Brenin and got permission to translate the Caleb Prayer into Kirundi and encourage people to pray it in Burundi. The Ffald-y-Brenin staff also told us that they would join us to pray for Burundi! Wow.

During our prayer tour of Burundi we have prayed the Caleb Prayer for Burundi by ourselves, with individuals and groups. We have prayed with Pastors, Priests, Bishops, and the Archbishop. We have prayed with Governors and Administrators. We prayed it with police chiefs while we were under arrest (true story). We have prayed it in big Cathedrals and tiny prayer rooms. We have prayed it on mountaintops and at borders with surrounding countries. The prayer was prayed at the National Day of Unity in January. My favourite was praying it with a beautiful group of faithful prayer warriors in a tiny room at the back of a church. We were sitting on mats on the floor with babies crying and it was super squashy and hot. It was raining outside and sometimes it was hard to hear each other speak. But oh did we pray for Burundi. We sang and danced and prayed. It was so special and humbling.

Praying the Caleb Prayer in unity with church leaders

One morning back in April we sat reading the bible outside our hotel room. It was the day before the most challenging day of the whole tour. We had no idea what was ahead. And together Claude and I read Joshua chapter 14, which shares the story of how Caleb receives his inheritance of the land Hebron that was promised to him many years before. God started to speak to us through these verses. I want to share these thoughts and maybe it will help you to understand some of the reasons why we have spent 7-months traveling and praying for a Nation!

Wholeheartedly

Caleb is known as a person who followed God wholeheartedly. In Joshua 14, three times we read how he followed the Lord his God wholeheartedly (verses 8, 9 and 14). Wholeheartedly = With complete sincerity and commitment (Oxford Dictionary). Caleb is so sure of his relationship with God and his commitment to follow him all the days of his life that he tells Joshua “I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.” (verse 8) This challenges me. I want to follow the Lord my God with everything I am and everything I have, but some days I’m not following wholeheartedly. When God asked Claude and I to travel to each of the 18 provinces in Burundi to pray, I didn’t respond in my heart with a wholehearted YES! If I am completely honest I really wanted to settle and have a home. We had been travelling a lot during the first months of marriage and the thought of visiting 18 more places and sleeping in many more beds was not my idea of fun. I was reluctant in my heart. And then the fear…for both of us the real deal dark crippling fear. I can’t write about the reasons why, but there was fear. What is going to happen? People told us not to do it. They shared their bad experiences. But both Claude and I knew that obedience was the key and so we chose to follow God’s call as wholeheartedly as we could.

Walking the land

When Caleb was 40 years old, Moses had spoken to him and said, “The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance…” (verse 9). There is something so significant about walking the land. OK, we had a car and we drove 1000s of kilometres over the 7 months. However, in each of the 18 provinces we put our feet on the ground and walked the land.

Entering one of the provinces

Receiving a promise of inheritance

Moses gave Caleb a promise of inheritance. The land of Hebron, which he walked on when Moses sent him, Joshua and 10 other Israelite leaders into the land God was giving them to make a report about the land and the fruitfulness of the land. The promise came because of Caleb’s wholehearted character. It isn’t just about walking the land, this has to come with a wholehearted following of God. Like Caleb, we want to receive a promise of inheritance, not for our own benefit, but to see the people of Burundi rise up into the inheritance they have as children of God. It has to start with people following God wholeheartedly.

Remembering the promise and asking

In Joshua 14 we read how Caleb remembered the promise of inheritance after 45 years and asked Joshua to give it to him. “Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day” (verse 12). Caleb faithfully treasured the promise in his heart and waited many years. He didn’t forget. And he asked for the promise to be fulfilled. He asked for his inheritance. Burundi is hill country. Apart from the capital city that sits in a plain by Lake Tanganyika, Burundi is all rolling hills and big mountains! So we join with Caleb and ask God for the hill country. For the salvation and transformation of people.

Receiving the inheritance

Caleb received his inheritance. “Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance.” (verse 13) Wow. Sometimes we have to wait many years to see the promises from God fulfilled in our lives. Caleb was 85 years old and had waited 45 years to see the promise of the inheritance of Hebron fulfilled. He had followed God wholeheartedly over all these years. We have to keep following God wholeheartedly.

No more war

The promise was fulfilled and Caleb had his inheritance of the land of Hebron. We then read, that April morning, the last line of the whole chapter and story and hope rose in our hearts, “Then the land had rest from war.” (verse 15b) What an incredible end to the story. Rest-from-war. Our desire to follow God wholeheartedly and continue in obedience to prayer walk the land of Burundi was ignited afresh. We want to see our fellow Burundians follow God wholeheartedly. We want to see a Nation at rest from war. We want to see transformation and radical revival.

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And now we have ‘finished’ we don’t know the impact our walking of the land has had. It was an act of obedience and faith. It was done as wholeheartedly as possible, although please hear me there were times we grumbled and wanted to give up. We trust that the Caleb Prayer for Burundi will continue to be prayed across every Province.

And now we have ‘finished’ we don’t want to become complacent. No, more than ever we have to seek God with all of our heart so that we find him and share him and follow him more wholeheartedly than ever! What about you are you following God wholeheartedly? What about the promises He has given you? Remember you may have to wait many years…

Packing list

12 Jun

A week ago, Claude and I, once again packed up our things into the car and set off upcountry to finish our prayer tour of this beautiful Nation in the heart of Africa. Four remaining provinces to visit, three in the North and the rural part of Bujumbura that sweeps around the capital city from the lakeside up into the mountains. The number of beds slept in continues to increase and the adventures add up. There really is so much to see in this small mountainous country, perhaps I will share the top tourist travel locations once we have finished this tour.

Fifteen years ago this month, my friend Jules and I did the Tour of Mont Blanc starting in France and walking 180km over 10 days into Italy, Switzerland and back to France. We booked the flights before we read the guidebook, which meant we walked before the season started – there was still lots of snow, even in June, campsites were shut and we nearly ran out of food. But it was an incredible adventure. Still my best of the walking kind. We got bad sunburn, our bodies ached, but the views were incredible…

Ruth, 15 years ago, on the Tour of Mont Blanc

We each had a 65litre backpack into which we fitted (or attached to) a tent, camping mats, sleeping bag, a camping gas stove, saucepans, dried food for nearly 2 weeks, clothes, toiletries, chocolate, coffee and walking poles. We were hard-core. It felt like everyday we carried a bag the same bodyweight as ourselves, although we never actually got to weigh the bags. I thought I would have blisters on my feet from the walking, but it was the blisters on my back from the backpack that caused me more trouble. It was completely worth it for so many reasons – sense of achievement, the beauty of creation, people we met, sharing stories en route and when we got home.

This current adventure is somewhat different. There is no guidebook or set route to follow. And we don’t have to fit all we need into a 65litre backpack, phew. We have been reflecting on how blessed we are to have a car. To fill the boot (trunk) with our belongings and comfortably travel from Province to Province. We share the testimony of how God provided a good car for sale and then people blessed us with the finances to buy that car. God knew the journey we would be doing and how the car would help us fulfil His plan. Our car has climbed up steep mountain dirt roads with huge stones on. It has crossed bridges made from rickety planks of wood. Friends laid hands on our car, prayed and anointed it with oil and we continue to praise God that we don’t have car problems upcountry!

Claude inspecting a bridge before we crossed over in the car!

We have still been trying to limit what we take with us on each journey and somehow the packing gets easier the more times we do this. In case you ever get asked to do this adventure, these would be my tips of what to include on your packing list other than the usual things you would take on a journey:

  • Mosquito net – we learnt the hard way getting badly bitten due to a holey net in a place we stayed. Claude can expertly sleep wrapped up under a sheet, but I feel like I would suffocate myself so prefer a mosquito net. In one province we used our own net and managed to tie it from curtain rails and a clothes stand, but then had to remember to duck under the string every time we walked past the bed!
  • Cafetiere and coffee – Burundian coffee is amazing and we love it every morning. Always good to have with you in case the hotel or place to stay doesn’t have coffee or a means of making good coffee.
  • Scented candles – I feel at home if a place smells nice. Candles also really help if there is no electricity!
  • Radio – Claude loves listening to the news in French or Kirundi so we travel with his radio. It is really helpful to know what is going on in the country and/or world. If it is French radio I don’t register that he is listening because I don’t understand any French so will talk away to him. However, if it is Kirundi I am aware that he is listening to something. Language and the brain is a funny thing.
  • Pillows – this is a luxury and somewhat embarrassing walking into a guesthouse carrying a packet of pillows, but what a joy to put ones head on the same pillow each night.
  • Plastic sealable food bags or container – so helpful to put that special bar of chocolate or some peanuts in. There are lots of ants and cockroaches and rats everywhere so trying to avoid these little visitors. We had cockroaches in the bed in the middle of the night a few days ago… not good. Claude is a hero and spent nearly an hour killing the cockroaches that had mysteriously entered the room in force, while I held the torch from the bed!
  • Playing cards – there is a lot of time in the evenings (6pm) onward so unless we are visiting with people or there is a football match showing, then the entertainment is me beating Claude at cards – we do definitely need to learn some more card games for two though!
  • Bibles – we love giving a bible to someone who doesn’t have one. We haven’t purposely gone looking for people, but God has prompted us every now and then in a church to ask someone if they have a bible and when they say no, we are joyfully able to give them one.
  • Water filter – we try to filter water when we can to reduce the cost of buying water and also reduce the plastic consumption of buying bottled water. It is not always possible – especially if we hear there is a lot of sickness from water or we get freaked out when the water in the tap is very brown!
  • Jerry can with petrol – sometimes there is a fuel crisis and petrol is not available. We have taken a 20litre jerry can with petrol in on some of our journeys, however, the smell of petrol in the hotel or guest house rooms was getting a little too much. We couldn’t leave the jerry can in the car due to the heat. There has been occasions when we have queued for petrol…

The queue for petrol in one of the provinces

Packing lists and journeys. They go together. Like moving house and boxes. They go together. One advantage of moving so much is the regular opportunity to de-clutter. To tidy up. To clear out. To reduce again. To get rid of stuff. I don’t like lots of stuff. But I do like a home or to feel at home.

I have been thinking of the bigger journey we are on. The life journey. From this earth to another place. A better place, if we know Jesus and have the hope of eternal life with Him in heaven. What do we need to de-clutter from? What do we have on our packing list?

I am reminded of what Jesus said in His famous Sermon on the Mount about Treasures in Heaven:

Don’t keep hoarding for yourselves earthly treasures that can be stolen by thieves. Material wealth eventually rusts, decays, and loses its value. Instead, stockpile heavenly treasures for yourselves that cannot be stolen and will never rust, decay, or lose their value. For your heart will always pursue what you value as your treasure.” Matthew 6:19-21 TPT

So what are these ‘Heavenly treasures’? They are eternal realities. Loving others and doing good. Revealing truth, and bringing Christ’s light to the lost. (Taken from notes in The Passion Translation).

I am so challenged to love people more. To love. To speak the truth. To be light in the darkness. To love. LOVE WINS. Always.

I need a new packing list. To start with love and end with love. For every journey.

Marriage… a year on

13 Feb

We celebrated one year of marriage on Sunday. And what a year it has been…

 

7 countries

15 airport visits

38 beds in 27 towns or cities

2 wedding blessings in 2 countries

9 weeks of mission school

8 kilograms gained

We’ve made it! One year. And we are rejoicing. Not just at the fact we have reached this milestone, but at the sheer awesomeness of God who brought us together and continues to draw near to us as we draw near to Him. What an incredible adventurous journey when we say a big Yes to God and seek to obey Him each and every day. We couldn’t have planned it if we tried to, but as we yield to Him the Maker of Heaven and Earth, we are seeing doors open and breakthroughs happen, in our lives as well as others.

Two different cultures have come together and we are creating our new culture. Which we pray is a kingdom (Godly) culture.

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Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no-one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

I love how God loves marriage. It is His idea. I love how our earthly marriages are a picture and foretaste of the greatest marriage to come. I love how we get to share in this. And as marrieds on earth we have such a responsibility to model this picture in a world that struggles with marriage and commitment. Francis Chan, in his book ‘You and Me Forever’, puts it like this:

“Our marriages also play a significant role in His great plan. We are called to paint such an attractive picture of marriage that it causes people to long for the coming marriage with Jesus. God calls us to display the love and humility of Christ through our marriages.”

Don’t misunderstand me; our marriage is not all sunshine and smiles, like the fairy-tale movies make out. Oh no, it has definitely been the biggest transition of my life and there have been challenges and tears and even some anger. Long before we got married, even before we met, I was quite certain marriage was hard and cross-cultural marriage was harder. I even found myself saying, “I’ll never marry a Burundian!” Before, we got married; I asked close friends to pray with me and break any negative vows I had spoken over myself about “never” and “very hard”. It was refreshing when different friends prayed over us both and spoke the words, “Cross-cultural for you will be easy” and this is what I have re-spoken time and again, especially through tears when things seemed tough!

For those of you who know me, I am independent. I have been for years. Five years ago I left family and friends and came to Burundi alone. Getting on buses and motos and surprising Burundians with my independence and courage…of course I wasn’t alone as during that season I held on to God and my faith grew in ways I couldn’t imagine. God blessed me with amazing friends and people who see me as family, in addition to incredibly dedicated family and friends back in the UK who faithfully pray and cheer me on. I am also super organised and love to plan. My first primary school teacher told my parents that I had the gift of administration, even at age five the gift stood out. And suddenly in my 30s I have had to adjust to not be totally independent and now planning involves two people! In no way do I want to be dominant or leading our relationship. It is not what I believe God intended for marriage – the husband is the head of the family (see Ephesians 5:22-33). At the same time, I want to use the gifts God has given me and Claude is amazing at encouraging me to plan and organise.

We recently realised there is another deeper level to some of the struggles we have had – the underlying effects of the culture we were born in: a Western (past) colonising country resulting in a subconscious lack of trust and an African (past) colonised country resulting in a subconscious dependency. It is great we have had this revelation because now we can pray specifically and encourage each other with the opposite – deep trust and authentic leadership.

Until I got married, I didn’t realise I was quite so fiery when it comes to conflict. I don’t like conflict, never have, and I always avoided conflict with friends in the past, opting for the draw away quietly method, but not letting go. However, I hate being in conflict with someone and would lose sleep over it, so my response within marriage has been to get all the frustration out in one big (sometimes angry) burst. While, Claude’s temperament is to be quiet, draw back and process…which in turn has resulted in me getting more frustrated and saying even more things I don’t want to or should not say! But we are learning to come to some sort of middle ground and always try to “not let the sun go down on our anger” – well, talk calmly before going to bed, as the sun goes down at 6pm every day in Burundi.

I am so thankful for the three months we had at the beginning of our marriage living in a house together so we could get to know each other, learn to live together and have some fun…before the season of community living and travelling and being experts of literally living out of suitcases. If I am honest when God first asked us to continue being transient and pray around the country I was a little disappointed. I love adventure, but for the first major time in life I really wanted a home, a house to make our home. To unpack the boxes that are in various locations. To live ‘normally’. I guess it is the wifely nesting instinct which I’ve not experienced before. Interestingly, Claude and I have more joy, more unity and more love for each other when we are being obedient to God – which currently means living out of a suitcase, sometimes in other people’s houses or in cheap hotels, and speaking in churches, offices and prisons.

Perhaps the most transforming thing I have read is in Francis Chan’s book (see below) in a chapter titled, ‘Don’t waste your marriage, marriage in light of our mission’:

“He [God] has given us a clear mission–to make disciples. Yet Christian couples can most typically be found holding hands and skipping through life, ignoring the battle that rages around them. We have made happy families our mission. That is not the mission that Jesus gave us, but we try to justify this idolizing of marriage because it’s what we want.

As we have been saying, marriage is important, but it’s not the most important. When we focus on what is most important, our marriages will thrive because they will be functioning according to their design.”

We are seeing our marriage thrive as we step out in obedience to God. We don’t want to skip through life holding hands and miss out on the mission Jesus gave us. We know it won’t always be easy and there will be hardships, but we know as we persevere through these trials we will grow.

As we look to Jesus and press on towards the goal for which he has called us heavenward we have another revelation about what marriage is for. Tim Keller in his book ‘The Meaning of Marriage’ answers his own question asking what marriage is for with:

“It is for helping each other to become our own future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us. The common horizon husband and wife look toward is the Throne, and the holy, spotless, and blameless nature we will have. I can think of no more powerful common horizon than that, and that is why putting a Christian friendship at the heart of a marriage relationship can lift it to a level that no other vision for marriage approaches.”

He goes on to say:

“What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness. You’re committed to his or her beauty. You’re committed to his greatness and perfection. You’re committed to her honesty and passion for the things of God. That is your job as a spouse. Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing at being married.”

I love this. I’m super challenged by this. Are you? What is your mission in marriage?

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Suggested Marriage reading for those preparing for marriage or newly married or perhaps even for couples who have been married for years:

  • Love Across Latitudes: A Workbook on Cross-cultural Marriage by Janet Fraser-Smith (definitely for people in a cross-cultural relationship, but I also think it has some really practical discussion points for people from the same country/culture).
  • The Science of a Woman-The Art of Manhood by Eric Smith (this is really descriptive about the physical side of marriage so don’t read until you are married or nearly married!!)
  • The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller (quite academic)
  • You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis & Lisa Chan (probably the best marriage book I have read).

A journey of obedience

15 Jan

Five years ago this month I packed two suitcases and got on a plane to Burundi having said a big “YES” to Papa God to step out to the unknown of a missionary life overseas. Recently, I was asked to share some of my story and I’ve found myself reflecting on this journey of obedience. I couldn’t have planned or written the story myself, but God has clearly weaved this beautiful, and sometimes painful, journey into existence.

The resignation letter… I remember so clearly sitting with my boss, at a big London children’s hospital where I worked as a pharmacist, with the letter shaking in my hand. I passed it to him and when he read the letter he asked me what am I going to do when I leave. I didn’t know. I guessed something to do with mission, but there was no clear plan, and if you know me I always have a plan. A plan for the day, a plan for the week, a plan for food, a plan for holidays, a plan for gifts, a plan for church activities, a plan for… And here I was without a clear plan for the next step post resignation. My boss handed me back the letter and encouraged me to keep the letter until I had plan. We played ‘pass the letter tennis’ for a few minutes as I shared that God had asked me to hand in my resignation. And there I had done it.

Preparation time… After finishing at my favourite job, I moved to All Nations Christian College and did a three month En Route to Mission course with an idea I would go to Burundi as a missionary. God was so kind as amongst the 13 students on the course there was a man from Burundi. A little confirmation that I was in the right place at the right time. From there I went to Burundi for a month to visit organisations and then on to Mozambique where I did Iris Global Harvest School for the first time. God knew I needed to receive His love and be completely transformed and forever changed so I could serve Him here in Burundi.

Feet on the ground… I arrived in Burundi with a two-week plan to stay with Burundian friends C&C. The two weeks turned into 7 months and I not only immersed myself in the culture, but learnt the language and what stepping out in faith looks like. Looking back God gave such a grace for that time. I remember the laughter I caused the family with my screams when the rats (well probably big mice) ran over my face in the bed, the visitors, the different foods and the day I got caught in the floods and had to be carried over a river.

Overcoming fear… Sometimes our journey requires us to overcome fear. It was a few days after the family first let me out by myself. I came back from town on the bus and as I walked across a dirt school playground a young man who had tried following me from church on numerous occasions was suddenly alongside me. Fear. The real deal fear that chokes at the neck. He had found me. I turned around and half-ran half-tripped back to the main road and just jumped onto a passing moto taxi. The next day I had a choice – do I go out again by myself or let fear control me? I was reminded of a key life verse:

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 (emphasis mine)

So I decided to not live in fear, but as a child of God walk in confidence and knowing my inheritance that I could ask God to hide me supernaturally if the young man was there.

Angels all around… I will never ever know the number of times angels have protected me here in Burundi. One day clearly sticks in my mind. I was driving my good friend and her new baby to the vaccination clinic. They were both in the front passenger seat with no seatbelt. It was a clear good road and I think I was driving about 45mph on the dual carriageway. A bus parked at the side of the road pulled out and started driving across the dual carriageway in front of me to turn the other way. I slammed on the brakes, but knew we were not going to stop in time. My only option was to shout “Jesus”, and the next thing I knew the steering wheel had turned and the car came to a stop a finger gap from the turning bus. A miracle.

A move to the mountains… A year later God moved me up into the mountains to serve the beautiful TCOAC (The Cries of a Child) family. There are many previous blogs about the joys and tears of being on the frontline in a rural Burundian village. Babies needing milk as their mamas had died in childbirth. Opening a medical clinic and working on logistics such as no fuel for the generator and the generator needed for the oxygen machine with a baby heavily dependent on oxygen! The journey there was clearly God, but there were days I literally started to pack my suitcase to leave. And then God’s gentle whisper, “Don’t run away” and I reluctantly unpacked my bag. That is where I really grew, in character, in using my gifts, in leadership, and in learning to trust. And of course, it was in my obedience of staying that I met Claude!

Journey of obedience… So what is the point of me sharing all this? I think I am so challenged about obedience and continuing to walk on this journey of obedience and want to encourage you on your journey. Obedience is the highest form of worship. If we love God we obey him (see John 14:15,21,23). At church yesterday morning, the preacher spoke from Genesis 12 and how Abram had to be obedient:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12:1-2

We often want the blessing and our name to be made great, but OBEDIENCE comes before the blessing. Please hear me, I have many stories of getting it wrong, of being disobedient, of falling short, and messing it up. Pray for me to hear God and to walk in obedience! Pray for Claude and I to hear God and to walk in obedience so we can be a blessing to the Nation of Burundi!

Claude’s culture shocks

30 Oct

I thought it would be interesting to describe the culture shocks of someone leaving East Africa for the first time and travelling to Mozambique, South Africa and the UK. Don’t worry Claude has given permission to share these thoughts.

Another language

I thought the culture shocks for Claude would start when we arrived in the UK, but no they started in Mozambique when we arrived there in June. For the first time Claude was in a country where he couldn’t speak the language – both the local tribal language and the National language. Claude has been to Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya before, but has never had an issue communicating as he speaks and understands Swahili, English and Kinyarwanda. In fact Claude speaks 4 languages (or 5 if you include Kinyarwanda which is very similar to Kirundi) so I didn’t really think about communication and language being a problem. Within a few days of being in Mozambique and being out in the village or market, I saw the frustration and anger of not being able to communicate rise up in Claude. Of course, being a fellow African, the local Mozambicans thought he would speak Portuguese due to his black skin that made the frustration even worse. I am really thankful that Claude had this experience, as now he understands what it must feel like for a visitor to Burundi who does not speak French or Kirundi. Now in the UK, Claude continues to tell people that English is his fourth language after Kirundi, French and Swahili, but I am convinced his English is now second!

The ocean has salt

The first weekend we were in Mozambique we walked on the beach in Pemba. Claude dived into the Indian ocean and came up spluttering and said, “Urgh the water is soooo salty!” I replied telling him of course it is the ocean. It was a shock for him and he didn’t expect to taste the salt in the water. Why would you, if you come from a land-locked country with only a fresh water lake, which does have little waves and sandy beaches?! He proclaimed he would never again go in the ocean due to the salt and also how blessed we are in Burundi to have good fresh water! However, the next weekend he did go back in the ocean and thoroughly enjoyed snorkelling and looking for fish!

Fast roads

From Mozambique we flew into Johannesburg for a 2-day transit. It was about 9pm when we left the airport in a jeep driven by a foreigner who was not sure of the way back to the accommodation. Claude was sitting in the front passenger seat as I didn’t even think about this being a new experience for him. Within minutes of leaving the airport we were on the vast Johannesburg motorway (highway) network. As it was late there were not many vehicles, but those that were there were driving very fast. Claude was completely terrified of the speed of all the vehicles coupled with a driver who kept looking at the GPS on his phone! In Burundi, and other East African countries it is very hard to drive fast because either there is too much traffic or the roads are not suitable for speed. I found it scary, so for Claude who has never been on a motorway before I can’t even begin to imagine the fear.

Weather talk

Within the first few days of being in the UK, Claude quickly realised why every British person talks about the weather! We had the heating on in August and were wearing t-shirts in October. In one day, Claude changed his clothes 3 times due to the changing weather. In Burundi, it is either the rainy season where it rains each day and you may need a sweater and definitely an umbrella. Or it is the dry season where it is hot and dry.

Dog walking

Claude was so surprised to see people walking dogs of all shapes and sizes along the street and even in and out of shops and restaurants! The biggest shock came when we went to a National Trust on a bank holiday Monday and saw a St Bernard dog (aka Beethoven) wearing shoes on his front paws and being fed an ice cream cone! In Burundi, there are only a few dogs and these are mainly owned by the rich or foreigners and are used as guard dogs. They live outside and are not seen being walked in the streets.

Old buildings

Claude has been so fascinated seeing Castles and old houses. In the village where my parents live there is a house from the 15th Century. We visited Cilgerran Castle from the 13th Century and Cardiff Castle from the 11th Century.

 

Claude at Cilgerran Castle, Pembrokeshire, South Wales

Cars and car parks

It didn’t take long for Claude to notice all the different brands of cars in the UK, and the newness of these cars! It has been something that I have noticed more than ever, probably because of Claude’s comments, but there really are a lot of lovely new cars in the UK! I guess in London was the most eye opening with BMW, Range Rover, Audi, Porsche, Rolls Royce and Mercedes lining the streets. Whereas in Burundi the advert, ‘The car behind you is a Toyoto’ is very very accurate! Claude was so excited to sit in a brand new Landrover and be driven in a BMW and Audi! And then there are the car parks where you have to pay, especially in touristy areas where the cost seems so high. All very different to Burundi where you choose to voluntarily give the young man helping you park the car a gift if the car is safe when you return from shopping.

The people of London

We spent a week in London visiting people and being tourists. We went to the British Museum and marvelled at the Ancient Greek Temples and artefacts. I commented on how amazing everything was including the museum building itself (I think I was experiencing some reverse culture shock) and Claude’s reply was, “But just look at all the people – they are making a museum themselves!” with people from many nations speaking different languages. Everywhere we went in London, Claude was fascinated by all the people and happy that he wasn’t the only tourist!

The Queen’s House

Claude’s favourite place in London was Buckingham Palace. He was so excited to be at the Gate of the palace looking through the railings. He just couldn’t believe we could be this close to where the Queen of England lives! Security is so strong in Burundi that we are not even allowed on the road leading to the road where the leader of the country lives. Most civilians have not seen the house from a distance, never mind stand at the gate.

Buckingham Palace in London

Dessertspoons

Claude describes with a big smile how when he first arrived in the UK he didn’t understand why there was a spoon lying horizontally at the top of the place setting on the table. He watched other people eat and saw the spoon stay there. Then a big dish of apple crumble was brought to the table and his eyes lit up as he realised what the spoon was for. Now he is well accustomed to the extra spoon and is excited when he sees it! However, we did have a discussion a few weeks back whether it would be wiser to decline dessert so we don’t know what we are missing when we are back in Burundi…I quickly told him it is better to make the most of dessert while we are here and deal with the lack when we are in Burundi! We do have dessert in Burundi, but you generally don’t need a spoon – fresh fruit or a piece of cake!