Joy Overwhelms and Often it Endures: The Fruit of the Spirit in Burundi

By Alyssa Pfister on February 21, 2017

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

–Hebrews 12:2

When Trina discovered she was pregnant for the fifth time, she hardly dared to hope that she might actually have a living child.

Her four prior pregnancies had all ended with the death of the baby due to preterm delivery in a land with minimal care available for premies. But someone told her that there were now specialist doctors at Kibuye Hope Hospital and maybe they could help. So just two months into her pregnancy she traveled to Kibuye to see Dr. Rachel, a Serge OB/Gyn doctor.

Rachel provided care for Trina throughout the pregnancy, which is quite unusual here in Burundi as most women don’t see a doctor for obstetric care. Trina was willing to make repeated trips to Kibuye in the hope that her baby’s life might be saved. She received injectable steroids to help her baby’s lungs mature and the obstetrics team was able to prevent delivery until 32 weeks gestation.

The tiny three-pound baby girl was immediately brought to our new NICU for pediatric care. The struggle wasn’t over then, though. The baby girl suffered so many complications during her two-month long NICU stay. She had repeated infections (including, unfortunately, those she caught in the hospital) and jaundice requiring phototherapy, necrotizing enterocolitis from her immature gut, respiratory problems due to immature lungs, gastroesophageal reflux, and difficulty gaining weight.

Trina’s milk supply waxed and waned likely due to the stress of each new challenge with her baby. Every day, she brought her baby to the scale to be weighed, and it seemed like more days than not the baby had either lost weight or only gained a tiny amount. Trina watched other premie babies come into the NICO and go with uncomplicated courses and healthy, quick weight gains. She also saw babies who sadly died from some of the same complications her baby had. Some days she despaired that her baby would survive or would ever reach the necessary weight for discharge.

But slowly, painfully, with two steps forward and one step back, Trina’s daughter began to improve. And just before Christmas, Trina joyfully brought her daughter home. How the neighbors and family must have rejoiced to see Trina with a living baby in her arms at last! Trina brought her baby back to clinic this week and the baby is gaining weight and has fully recovered from all her complications. Both Rachel and I were overjoyed at this happy ending which is can feel all too rare here.

Sometimes joy overwhelms us in a moment, but often I think it is more like the joy of Trina or of Jesus–a joy that endures. Trina hoped for months for the joy of bringing home a healthy baby. She endured heartache, shame, fear, even boredom through the long days and nights in a hospital bed with her baby. But finally, her hope became reality and her joy was full as her baby was healed.

Jesus also endured much pain and suffering–the ultimate suffering on the cross–because of the joy set before Him–the eternal joy of sitting with His Father having finished His work of redeeming the world.

As a pediatrician in one of the poorest countries in the world struggling with limited resources and frequently difficult outcomes, it’s easy to forget about the joy set before me as a follower of Jesus. But because of the cross that Jesus endured in bringing us redemption, the joy of healing such as for Trina’s baby is only a foretaste of so much more joy to come. By fixing our eyes on our Savior, we can endure the chaos and brokenness around us and rejoice in our salvation looking to the day when healing will be complete for all.

Alyssa Pfister

About Alyssa Pfister

Alyssa lives and works in Burundi, East Africa, as a medical pediatrics doctor caring for patients as well as teaching and discipling medical students at Kibuye Hope Hospital and Hope Africa University. She loves living in community with her team and serving with the shared vision. You can follow her team at mccropders.blogspot.com. Alyssa is a graduate of Wheaton College and East Tennessee State University.