Friday, April 15, 2011

What I Learned in Burundi



1. Every trip seems longer when you're on bumpy roads that keep you from reading, sleeping, or sitting in one place for very long.

2. If you're on a dirt road that turns to mud because of all of the rain, and you come to a hill that you keep sliding down despite 4-wheel drive, all you need is the equivalent of $2 to pay about ten youth and one old man to push your car up the hill.

3. If your battery dies because you made a five minute stop but left the lights on, you can probably find someone who will take the battery out of their car, connect it to your battery using wrenches and only charge you $2 for the service.

4. Rainbows are worth stopping for.

1. No matter how little water you drink, you will still have to use a drop toilet an average of three times per day.

2. Wood and cement floors are vastly preferable to tin ones that ominously creak and bring up horror stories you've heard of people falling through drop toilet floors.

3. Not just any drop toilet will do. At schools visitors are only allowed to use the teacher's toilet (not the students) and at some churches there are VIP toilets for pastors and visitors that are cleaner and which have less steep and/or more solid flooring. If you start walking towards the wrong one, you will be gently guided towards the correct toilet even if it's farther off and you just really need to go now.

1. Everyone is building something. It could be a church a school or a clinic, but everywhere we went there seemed to be bricks, stones and people working away.

2. Building is cheaper in Burundi because they can make there own bricks. The soil is ideal for brick making and, unlike Rwanda, there's no law against cutting down trees to use to fire the bricks.

3. In some places the church members bring stones for new foundations each time they come to church. They carry them on their heads, drop them off in front of the new building site, and, when enough have been gathered, they start building the new foundation.

4. Everyone contributes to the building of a new church. Those who are able make bricks, build the foundation and walls, etc. Those who don't have the physical strength bring food to feed the workers. Each family in the church donates bags of cement, tin for the roof, or becomes responsible for buying a window or a door. In this way the Friends Church in Burundi is moving towards its goal of eventually having a church on every hill.

BECOMING FAMOUS (at least with the pre-teen crowd)
1. It's very easy to collect a mob of people. Simply walk through a school yard or any other place there are children and you will instantly become the center of attention. (Note: this apparently only works for white people.) You may feel like the pied piper as everywhere you go, you will literally be trailed by 100's of children.

2. Shake one child's hand, and there will be a hundred more waiting. Maybe not as good as being asked for an autograph, but it definitely makes you feel loved.

3. Break out a camera and all chaos could ensue. If the flash goes off, be prepared for squeals and loud exclamations. If you make the mistake of showing some of the children the picture you just took of them, you will soon be mobbed by others wanting to have their picture taken too.


1. Evangelism:
Stories are told of men walking two full days in order to reach a church plant location, preach for the weekend and then walk home again.

Leaders are being trained in every church to teach small groups and eventually become teachers and pastors at new church plants.

Churches look for where people are coming from on Sunday mornings. Some church attenders walk an hour or more to Sunday services. Their home communities become the next targets for new church plants.

Pastors take one day a week to visit families in their communities, they take believers along with them who have experienced God's power in their lives, and through their testimonies new families are coming to Christ every month.

2. Education:
Almost every church we visited had a primary and secondary school on its grounds. Often times the church would start the school, and the government, after seeing the good work the school was doing, would provide funds to expand the school and pay more teachers.

At Kibimba there is also a theological training school and a technical school which teaches woodworking and mechanic skills.

The yearly meeting also sponsors a yearly VBS program which thousands of children attend.

3. Health: Many churches also have a clinic or a hospital on their grounds. They serve their communities by providing much needed services especially for pregnant mothers and those with HIV/AIDS.

1. Building:
Missionaries directed the building of many of the first churches in Burundi. One missionary didn't have use of his legs, but that didn't slow him down a bit. He had such phenomenal arm strength that he was able to walk around using his crutches. He could also easily climb onto walls and help with the building there. In order to make it easier to supervise the work, he had the church and the school built as one building.
2. Saddened by Death: At one missionary station we visited the graveyard where missionaries who died on the field were buried. There were the graves of two young children who had died soon after birth. There was also the grave of a missionary who had died during a hunting accident. While hunting he and his hunting partner came across a leopard. As they backed away from it, he tripped and the leopard sprang on him. His partner shot the leopard, but the bullet went through the leopard killing the missionary. Very sad for all involved.

Don't have a step ladder? No problem, just use the pulpit. Don't have money to buy a drum set? No problem, just make your own.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

October 2010 Newsletter

As the Thomases prepared to leave on furlough, we began to talk as a team about how to reassign some of their responsibilities here in Rwanda. Debby asked me if I would be willing to be involved with Ubuzima Moringa, the kingdom business that she has been working hard to get started for the past year or so.

The goal of this business is to provide nutritious moringa leaf powder at an affordable price to the many people in Rwanda who are in need of more vitamins, proteins and minerals in their diet. This is a kingdom business that strives to reflect God’s kingdom through the product it provides, through relationships with investors, employees and customers and through its business practices. The proceeds from this business will mostly go towards the Discipleship for Development projects that the Rwandan Friends church is facilitating.

So far, trees have been planted, staff hired, a small production facility has been built and many other first steps have been taken to establish this important business. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Currently we are trying to gain approval from the Rwanda Bureau of Standards (RBS) to begin selling our product in Rwanda. We hope to have approval by the beginning of November so that we can start marketing the product and finish our larger production facility.

Right now my tasks include meeting with employees, helping with goal setting and training, meeting with RBS in order to align our production system and final product with their standards, helping to market moringa powder for sale in larger markets, and meeting with some NGO’s to see if moringa can be used in feeding programs, especially those for people with AIDS.

I’m excited to see how God will use this business to improve the lives of Rwandans and to spread his good news. Please pray with me for quick government approval of our product and for the success of this business in the coming months.

In July a team from Friendswood Church in Texas came to see the work EFM is doing in Rwanda and to help with VBS at Kumbya. Brad Carpenter and Molly Black were two of the Kumbya conference planners and they also facilitated the team’s visit. I had the task of planning breakfasts for 25 people during the week-long conference. At the end of the week, we were sad to say goodbye to the Thomases as they returned to the states for a year-long furlough.

In August, Molly and I began interviewing 58 teachers from four different primary schools in and around Kigali. After determining each teacher’s level of English, we divided them into two classes: beginning and intermediate. It’s exciting that after only one month of teaching, we’re already able to see improvement in their English.

During the first week of October, Molly and I stayed with the Denhams in Kidaho and helped them to assess the progress of about 60 teachers at the three Friends schools in the North. On average students improved one level on a nine-level scale. It was good to see how much teachers’ English has improved since we began teaching in February. At the end of this month we will award certificates to those teachers in the North who participated in the English training.

June 2010 Newsletter


The second term is almost over, and since school started in February there have been several unexpected changes. The first is that mid-way through the second term one of the teachers at George Fox School of Butaro decided that he would rather go to university in Uganda than teach. As a result, I agreed to take on two of his English classes and a biology class until a replacement could be found.

Also during this second term the Denhams and I traveled to the Friends school in Kemembe near the southwestern border. We assessed the teachers and talked with the headmaster about the possibility of sending teachers to their school. After looking at various possibilities, we decided to suggest to the church that the Denhams finish this school year at ESK in Kidaho and then move to Kamembe to work with the teachers there during the next school year. In June this decision was approved by the church’s executive counsel.

The third change is that Molly Black will be joining the English teaching team in August. After much deliberation, the parents of the African Jungle Christian School decided to lat down the school in June. Molly decided to finish serving her two-year term by working with teachers in the Friends primary schools in the Kigali area. At the end of this term, I will be moving back to Kigali to work with Molly. The Denhams will cover the three schools of Kidaho, Rugarama and Butaro during the last term of this school year. I am sad to be leaving Butaro where I have been so warmly welcomed, but glad that our efforts can be multiplied and spread to other schools.

For the last seven weeks of the second term I have had the pleasure of teaching Biology three times a week to the freshman class. It has given me a better understanding of the challenges and difficulties faced by teachers here, especially in the areas of class management and lack of supplies and materials. In teaching, I have also become an expert on the endocrine system and on reproduction of plants and animals.

In April the whole team was able to spend a long weekend together on the shore of Lake Kivu. It was the last time that we were able to be together as a whole team. We did a shortened version of the Discipleship for Development foundations workshop. It was a fun, relaxing time of being together, and we all came away with a better understanding of the Discipleship for Development methods and philosophy.

In May we said goodbye to Drew Miller and Johnny Kaye. They returned to Oregon to prepare for University in the fall. Then in June, with the closing of the African Jungle Christian school, we said goodbye to Liz Wine. She returned to Kansas where she will take a position as a resident director at a Mennonite university. Now the Thomases are making their final preparations for departure at the end of July. They will return to Oregon for a year-long furlough. During this time their children will have their first experience of American schooling. Pray for them.

In June I was able to return to Kigali for several days in order to help close down the African Jungle Christian School. It was a bittersweet time working side-by-side with many of the parents and students whom I served during my first two years in Rwanda. Next year the students will be in many different places. Some will be home
on furlough, others will attend the Kigali International School, and some will be homeschooled. Molly Black, one of this year’s teachers, will join the English Teaching Team working with teachers in Kigali.

February 2010 Newsletter


During the last three months I've found out just how limited my own strength is. I find myself exhausted from trying to put together an English program from scratch in a place where communication, travel, and scheduling are all challenging tasks. My to-do list keeps growing and so does the number of relationships that must be nurtured and maintained. My stamina is depleted by constant transitions; frustration crops up due to lack of communication and fuzzy expectations; and I fight a constant battle to maintain flexibility in the face of plans that seem to often go awry.

If this English teaching program depended totally on me and my abilities, I'm afraid it would fail to live up to expectations or would soon fall apart. However, I'm confident that it is God's program, and that he is the one maintaining it and forming it into an instrument to be used for his purposes. He doesn't expect me to make everything happen. This program doesn't rely on my strength but on his. How reassuring it is to know that God is holding it all together and that at those places where I feel most inadequate, ill-prepared or just plain exhausted, that's where his strength comes through and where his power is made perfect.

As the English program coordinator I can often fall into the trap of believing that my role is central and that this program is relying on my creativity, my knowledge and my strength. But over and over God reminds me that it is his program. He is at the center keeping it all together. I don't have to strive and strain to make it happen; I simply have to rest in Him and be obedient to take the next step, to do the task at hand, and to rely on his strength rather than my own.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cooking Dinner

Staying with the headmaster's family means that I have the benefit of his wife's wonderful cooking. Last Saturday I finally had time to watch as Mama Shaka (women here are called by their oldest child's name) prepared the evening meal.

First let me describe the work area. The kitchen is a separate building from the house. This is a good thing since wood and charcoal fires are used and there's not much ventilation besides the door. There are two places in the back for wood fires with three stones around each one to put pots on. Above this area is a rack to dry wood to be used in the future. There are also several charcoal burners. During the preparation of this evening meal one wood fire was used and two charcoal burners. There are no tables or other raised surfaces -- all preparation is done on the ground, either in the kitchen or outside, while sitting on a mat or a low bench.

Dinner preparations began around 5:30 p.m. On the menu was meat in a meat sauce, fried sweet potatoes, peas and local greens (called dodo), rice, and chai (hot tea with milk).

Mama Shaka and one of her sister-in-laws began by peeling the sweet potatoes while the house worker started the chai by boiling fresh milk with water on one of the charcoal burners. The other charcoal burner was heating up and on the wood fire the peas were being cooked.

Next Mama Shaka got a tray of rice. She picked through it removing rocks. After washing it she put it on the second charcoal burner to cook. At this point the peas were removed from the wood fire and the meat was put on to boil. More wood was added and my eyes started to water from the smoke. Next she added the tea to the milk and water mixture and set it aside to be strained by the house worker into a large thermos. Charcoal was added to the burner and Mama Shaka put oil in a pot to heat up so that she could fry the sweet potatoes. While those were cooking she peeled and cut four large tomatoes and four small onions for the meat sauce, checked the rice, removed some of the coals from that burner and added some more water to the rice to cook a bit longer. She also had time to feed the baby while she waited for everything to cook.

(In the meantime the house worker cleaned the yard and took down the laundry and the sister-in-law washed the dishes from earlier in the day.)

After around 20 minutes the sweet potatoes were removed from the oil and the oil saved for future cooking. The meat was removed from the wood fire, the broth saved in a pot and the meat cut into small pieces. The meat was then cooked in a pot with some oil on one of the charcoal burners. The rice was removed from the other burner and the dodo was put on to boil. After the meat had been cooked for a while, the oil was drained off and the tomatoes and onions were added with some salt. Slowly the broth was added until it had cooked down into a nice meat sauce.

Once the dodo had boiled, the water was drained off and the house worker squeezed out the rest of the water by hand. Then the dodo was cooked with four skinned and sliced tomatoes, two small onions and some salt. The peas were added and it cooked for a little longer before being put in serving dish.

At 8:00 p.m. after two and a half hours of cooking we sat down to a delicious dinner, well worth the time and effort.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Our Little Car

So, what do a small stick, a metal bolt and electrical tape have in common? They were all used last Saturday to fix our car on the side of the road. Matt, Gayle, Bonaventure (ESK headmaster) and I had gone into town to pick up Bonaventure's wife from a women's meeting and get some things from the market. As we left the church where the women had been meeting, Matt all of a sudden couldn't put the car in gear while the engine was on. After spending several minutes trying to figure out how to release the hood, he was able to take a look at the engine. Matt discovered that the clutch cable had broken in the past and been repaired with a piece of rubber that had broken off due to the heat of the engine. He determined that he could temporarily fix the cable by attaching something stiff to it using electrical tape. Unfortunately there was no tape in the car, so we sent Bonaventure off on a taxi bike to buy some. He came back just as it was beginning to downpour. Matt had to pay a young man about 25 cents to hold his umbrella while he taped a stick and a mettle bolt to the cable. The fix worked and we were able to finish our trip to the market and return to Kidaho without further mishap.

A little background on the car:
It is a Suzuki that Dave bought for us last fall. Some money had been raised to buy the Thomases a new car, but instead they decided to rebuild their engine and use some of the left over money to buy a car for us, the English teachers. Dave spent some time looking for a something that was in his price range and that could handle the road between Kidaho and Butaro, which is a very bumpy dirt road. He finally found this car. It didn't look like much on the outside, but when he had a mechanic look at the engine, he decided that with a little bit of work it could be a good car for us. It ended up taking three weeks of work -- some body work, a new paint job, some work underneath, and fixing the electric windows. Luckily there was a church worker who was able to accompany the car to the mechanic and make sure that they did the work well. The weekend after I arrived in December, the car work was finished (for the time being), and at my first team meeting I was brought out to see my "present" which had decorated by the Thomas children, and I was given a set of car keys.

Having a car opened up a new possibilities. However, this included driving in the midst of Kigali traffic, stopping and starting on the 1000 hills of Rwanda, and doing my best to remember after 7 years of driving an automatic how to drive a manual car. So you can imagine that I was a little hesitant at first to drive my new car much.

I drove the car for the first time in December during the 4 hour trip up to Butaro. Half of the way the car was packed with 5 full-grown -- three church leaders and Brad sat in the seats, and Dave sat in the back "trunk" area. I managed to miss the many pedestrians, motorcycles, bicycles and other vehicles that crammed the roads, and, for the last 50 minutes, I successfully navigated the dirt road from Kidaho to Butaro without mishap. However, I was pretty tired and happy to turn the keys over to Brad for the return trip to Kigali.

My second trip was into Kigali town center. During that trip I locked the keys in the car, but was able to pay someone $2 to get them out for me. In the process I discovered that the car is not that difficult to break into.

Since then I have driven the car many times with only minor problems. We are hoping that it will provide at least two years of somewhat reliable transportation for the Denhams and I and that when something does go wrong it can be easily fixed (perhaps with just a stick, a bolt and some tape).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Teaching English Program

One of the things that I've been working on during the last month is an overview of what the Teaching English Program will look like. For those of you who are interested, I'm posting the text of that overview here. Tomorrow I will be sharing this with the Yearly Meeting Action Planning Committee (of course they will get the Kinyarwanda version that I'm presently having translated). My hope is that it will give us a common understa

Now that the Rwandan government has determined to change the language of education from French to English, the continued success of the Rwandan schools depends on the ability of their teachers to use English. Many of these teachers have very limited English and will need help in order to become proficient enough to conduct their classes in English. All teachers stand to benefit from more English instruction even if they are currently considered proficient by government standards.

The Rwandan Friends church has four secondary schools in which teachers need more English training. Through EFM, American Friends churches have agreed to partner with Rwandan Friends churches in order to provide English teachers for this program for the 2010 and 2011 school years. So far three long-term teachers have been recruited to work with teachers in Kidaho and Butaro and two short-term teachers have been recruited through June of 2010 to work with teachers in Kigali.

Teachers are recruited for this program based on their willingness to serve and their calling to teach English as a ministry and as a way to impart God’s love to others. While there are many ways to be in ministry (evangelizing, preaching, serving, giving, etc.), those involved in this program will strive to minister through teaching English and building relationships with teachers and others in their school’s community.

Mission Statement:

Our purpose is to help teachers in the Rwandan Friends Schools become proficient enough is speaking, hearing, reading and writing English that they may teach their subject well in it. In the process, we want to give them the skills they need to continue learning English even after we’re gone. We also want to enable them to improve their methods and skills as teachers.

Methodology Statement:

Every aspect of our program will reflect God’s love and truth and will be considered ministry. This includes classes, observations, relationships, living situations, etc.

Our program will focus on content related vocabulary that teachers need for their every day classes.

Our program will be student centered. As much as possible we will assess individual needs and tailor content to fit with what teachers need most to learn in order to be effective.

Our program will focus on all four content areas: reading, writing, speaking and listening. We will periodically assess these four areas in order to show progress and identify teachers’ weaknesses and strengths in English and where they need to focus their learning.

Our program will use language learning projects in order to empower teachers to develop their own learning programs so that they can continue to learn English even after this program is over.

Our program will use interactive methods of teaching in order for students to put into practice the things that they are learning. This may include but is not limited to, conversations, games, debates and multi-media presentations.

Role Descriptions:

Program Coordinator

Work closely with school administration and teachers to develop an English teaching program that fulfills this program’s mission as stated above.

Help with program design. Make sure there is consistency between programs at all three schools.

Develop assessment tools and reporting procedures.

In conjunction with school administrators, develop annual or bi-annual reports to be given to the Yearly Meeting.

Recruit and assign teachers to schools and approve their schedules.

Encourage and support program teachers – spiritually, relationally and professionally.

Teach English classes to teachers in Friends schools.

Build relationships with teachers and school administrators and regularly pray for them.

Maintain communication with English teachers. Plan meeting times and facilitate communication between program teachers, between teachers and other EFM team members and between teachers and school staff.

In conjunction with school administration, award certificates to teachers who complete levels of the program.

Long-term Teachers (1 yr. +)

Administer assessments and report progress to school directors.

Plan courses and individual lessons that will focus on all four content areas while also addressing teachers felt needs.

Observe teachers in classroom and give feedback.

Provide structure for language learning projects.

Provide opportunities for teachers to listen to a native English speaker in class, small group and individual settings.

Teach English classes to teachers in Friends schools.

Build relationships with teachers and school administrators and regularly pray for them.

Encourage teachers to learn English and make it as interesting and enjoyable as possible.

Short-term Teachers

Provide conversational practice for teachers.

Teach short courses (1 month) in areas of interest.

Help with English club lessons and/or activities.

Help with assessments and program planning as able.

Work with individuals or small groups.

Assist with PILOT method teaching.

Assist with language learning projects

School Administration

Provide necessary support personnel: school/community guide, support teachers, language helper, person to schedule observations, etc.

Provide incentives and the time for teachers to attend English training.

Work with the program coordinator and program teachers in order to establish a schedule and to maintain consistency between programs at all three schools.

In conjunction with program coordinator, develop annual or bi-annual reports to be given to the Yearly Meeting.

Build relationships with program coordinator and program teachers and regularly pray for them.

Provide space for classes and necessary equipment (i.e. blackboards, desks, chalk, etc.)

Limit outside expectations placed on program teachers so that they can fulfill the mission of this program and keep this program and its ministry as their top priority.

Communicate well with program coordinator and teachers. Let them know quickly about problems or concerns. Inform them of schedule changes, vacations and holidays. Explain to them, or assign someone to explain to them, the many things that Rwandan teachers may already know, but which they will have no idea about. (Grading system, discipline, teacher etiquette, etc.)

Where necessary, provide housing for program teachers.

Give feedback in regards to program effectiveness, assessment techniques, ways to improve the program, etc.

In conjunction with the program coordinator, award certificates to teachers who complete each level of the program.

School Teachers

Participate in assessments and classroom observations.

Regularly attend English classes and put into practice what is learned.

Plan and implement language learning plans and complete homework/practice assignments.

Provide feedback in regards to skills/vocabulary needed, ways to improve program, etc.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Butaro and Kidaho

Yesterday I was able to travel to the two schools where the Denhams and I will be teaching English. All classes except 12th grade are to be taught completely in English this year. The government has provided some training to teachers during the school vacation times and most teacher's studied some English during their schooling. However, many still need a lot of help with pronunciation, content specific vocab., and becoming more proficient in reading and writing. This year's seniors will be the last class to take their national exams in French. In 2011 all teachers will be given an exam in English which will determine if they are competent enough in the language to continue teaching. Here's some brief information about both schools.

20 - 25 teachers
600 students with plans to increase enrollment to 700
The school offers three majors: Two are in the sciences (Physics, Chemistry & Math and Math, Chemistry & Biology) and the third is Human Science (History, Economics & Geography)

This is the school that the Denhams will be at. They will be living in a guest house attached to the headmaster's house.

This school is about 2.5 hours drive from Kigali on fairly good roads.

BUTARO: CGFB (College of George Fox Butaro)
25 staff -- 11 teachers, 2 watchmen, 7 administrators (principles, dorm parents, etc.), 4 cooks, 1 cowboy (yes, they have their own cows)

500 students from grades 9-12. (They used to have 7th and 8th graders also, but the government recently decided to move these grades to the primary schools so that they would also be considered part of free public education. Next year 9th grade will also move to the primary schools.) Students come from every province of Rwanda. Their families are usually poor farmers so the tuition at this school is lower than some.

The school offers two majors: Human Science (History, Economics & Geography) and Accounting. For the accounting program they use a computer lab, but due to the age of the computers only seven are still working. Computer Science is a class that is offered to most students. They do theory in the classroom during the day and then actually use the computers in the evening when the generator is running.

Butaro does not currently have electricity, but the school has a generator that is turned on every evening from 6:30 to 9:30. This provides electricity to the school, the local Friends church, the pastor's house and a few other locations.

This is the school that I will be working at. I'll have a room in the headmaster's house. Here is a picture of me with his wife and six children.

After reaching Kidaho, this school is another 45 minutes on a somewhat bumpy dirt road. Busses only travel back and forth on market days (Wednesday and Thursday), so people who need to travel other days pay a moto about $6 for a ride. However, we have a small car that we'll be using to go back and forth.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Returning to Rwanda

On December 3rd I left the Northwest, but instead of heading straight to Rwanda, I made a stop in Minnesota to visit some friends. First I was able to spend two and a half days with the Bennetts. I had taught Megan and Mellissa at the missionary school in Rwanda and it was great to see them and their family while they're home on furlough. I was able to help Barb with a Rwandan dinner at their church, help out in Megan's 5th grade classroom, hang out with the girls while Garry and Barb went out, and build a snowman in the beautiful snow.

Then I went to visit a good friend in Minneapolis. Aimee and I have been friends since highschool. We both went to George Fox and I was able to stay with her in Seattle before I left for my first term in Rwanda in 2006. While I was in Rwanda, she married Jeremy and they moved to Minnesota where he is from. It was fun catching up, seeing the chickens they raise in their back yard, getting a tour of their house which they are remodeling, and hanging out with Aimee at a craft sale.

On December 7th I left the states to return to Rwanda. After 24 hours of flights and layovers, I arrived at the Kigali International Airport and was greeted by the Thomases, the Carpenters, Molly and Liz. It was great to return to 78 degree weather, my old house, and new, more comfortable living room furniture. The last few days have been busy with learning Kinyarwanda, helping Molly and Liz out at the school while Johnny and Drew are in Kenya, running errands and having meetings. Next week Dave, Brad and I will be going to Kidaho and Butaro to visit with the school headmasters and the area administrator. I'm looking forward to moving to the Ruhengeri area, probably in January, and getting started with teaching English.