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Thursday, August 30, 2018

OVC's--Caring for Orphans and Vulnerable Children

four preems in one incubator today . . it doesn't get much more vulnerable than this

James 1:27 says "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." 

Active mercy, and deliberate counter-cultural living.  These two threads twine together when God's people pour their lives into the most vulnerable.  So many Kingdom parables talk about the small, the overlooked, the fragile, the margins.  

There are countless ways to love orphans and vulnerable children (and widows), but lately I've been asked a few times about our Serge East and Central Africa approach, so here'a a brief overview.  

Embracing presence:  we go to the places where the orphans and the vulnerable live.  Most measures of childhood risk light up the maps of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as India and South-East Asia.  That's where we are, in the villages and city streets, in the hospitals and schools.  We're not sending ideas from afar, we're walking alongside.

Empowering community capacity:  our primary method of visiting the orphans and vulnerable is to provide the means for their extended family to care for them.  This can look like food supplements for surrogate breast-feeding aunts and grandmothers when a mother dies.  Or dairy goats for families with HIV.  Or house-building for widows caring for children.  Or producing a locally sourced nutrition supplement, so that the weekly gatherings provide touchpoints for care and education and function as a support group for the weary (see here and here and here).  Africans have been caring for their orphans and vulnerable kids for millennia; we're not here to change that but rather to bow to justice in sharing what we've been given.

Breaking generational cycles:  one of our biggest projects, which has been a battle for every inch of progress, has been Christ School Bundibugyo.  The school subsidy allows students from one of the poorest places in Africa to receive the best education in the district.  But we also provide full scholarships for about 20% of the student body through the OVC program.  Most of our teams have a strong educational component to pass skills on, and we attempt to focus on the most marginalized as we do.  This enables the last to become first, which is a Kingdom-coming moment.  

Seeing individuals:  across our countries of work, our teams have set up sponsorships for individual OVC's.  God sees first, and we follow.  Today alone, I had texts from three different young people whom we've sent to laboratory school, medical school, and nursing school.  Others have become math teachers or pastors or seamstresses.  Our teams want to be the catalysts that change lives, for those who would have otherwise had no dream of such opportunity.  And we see them now turning back to their communities to seek out and bless others like themselves.

Safe places and fun:  orphans and vulnerable kids need counseling.  They need after-school programs, tutoring, discipleship and sports.  They need coaches and pastors and teachers and friends.  They need skills training and support.  Just one person in a child's life can prove to be the channel of belief, fostering potential, cheering them on, giving them an alternative to the hard losses in their lives. It's so much fun to see a pack of kids playing football or drawing pictures or listening to stories.

Survival:  much of our Serge area works on a very basic level to just enable children to survive, to provide safe deliveries so they won't become orphans, to provide decent care for their illnesses, immunizations, growth monitoring, clean water and sanitation.  Day and night, we're working with our local partners to care for the most vulnerable.

There are excellent organizations that run orphanages; Serge is not one of them.  Quite a few of our missionaries are adoptive parents, which makes sense as the same people whose heart for the hurting propels them across the world also tend to want to give a home to an individual child, but we are also not an adoption agency. The places we work are mostly very traditional in culture, with an extended family network to absorb their orphans and vulnerable kids.  So we have chosen to focus on community-based efforts to strengthen capacity and build resilience, to enable children to remain integrally part of their culture while also having enough to eat and a decent education.  It's not the only model, and there are always exceptional circumstances that look different, but generally that's our modus operandi.  

Jesus tells us that as we pour ourselves out for the least of these, we actually in some true but mysterious way encounter him in the process.

Pray for our workers; the fractured systems take a toll, the reality of vulnerability means we see too much death.  Follow some of the links above if you want to join in a material way, putting your resources into high-impact places.  And consider what kind of true religion you seek.  According to James, it's not about winning political power and influence, but visiting--actually GOING TO--the orphans and widows.  We need teachers and coaches and nurses and nutritionists and artists and therapists and pastors and counselors and builders and engineers and probably gifted people we haven't even thought of.  Here's the link to find out more!

A few OVC's from my world today . . . 

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Advice to Oursevles

This is an imaginary letter from people we work with in East Africa to us . . . garnered from our own plentiful mistakes when we have had friends who were brave enough to tell us what we needed to hear.  It is compiled here to help all us North Americans listen and learn. It has nothing to do with this photo, but I like this photo . . 

Dear Cross-cultural worker -

We want a partnership with you, and we see you have a lot to offer us.  You have great training, and you believe in what you are doing here.  We respect that. We like the way you've brought your family to our place.  So let us tell you a few things that will help you have an impact and enjoy your time.

Short answer:  it's all about investing in relationships.  

As you come, we assume you aren't going to stay long, so we often hold back.  We also fear that you don't particularly like our food or houses, which seem inferior to yours, so we're reluctant to reach out to you.  You might think God told you to come here, but He didn't necessarily tell us!  So you need to come into our place FIRST asking questions about whether you are needed and where, and how you can come alongside us.  Then you will need to do the work to come across to us.  If you plan events where we can interact on equal terms, if you can share food with us, if you can stop and talk to us, if you can ask questions, it builds a bridge with us.  It makes us feel seen as human beings. 

When you come, learn our language.  Know about our country, notice good things about it, write some positives in your blogs and letters showing that you actually like this place.  Don't make everything sound desperate.  Don't make it sound like you're the only one working, all alone, taking credit for everything that happens.  Mention us. Pray for our country too!

God is merciful, and even though God is just, God doesn't keep a scorecard of everything we do wrong.  Sometimes it seems like you notice every single deficiency and call us out on it.  You even seem surprised when things end up going well in spite of our mistakes, as if it doesn't make sense since we didn't do it your way.  Try to understand our limitations, try to adjust to new ways.  Ask us about our family obligations, ask why we need time away, ask who is depending on our salary, realize that we don't have a buffer like you do.  Notice what kind of schooling options we have for our kids, and how it's different from yours.  In fact many of us are sacrificing to work with you, but we aren't admired for that, and when we go home no one buys us dinner or lends us a car, instead they ask us for help.

We do appreciate all you've given up, but think about it this way:  you sometimes want to complain to us about how hard it's been for you, yet your lifestyle here is still far above what we can hope for.  So don't expect us to feel too sorry for you.

Sometimes we will have conflicts.  All people do.  Here, we don't feel comfortable being as direct as you are. If you want to correct or change something, pull us aside and tell us quietly, never shame us in front of others.  When you show anger, we can't hear anything you have to say.  If it's something really hard or big, please find a person we can both listen to who can mediate for us.  That's how we do things here.

Our favorite things:  when you come with a commitment to teach, to pass on your role, to give us your skills, to invest in training us. When you treat us as equal partners, when you notice us doing something right and point it out, when you ask our opinion and we can see we have something to contribute.  When you introduce us with respect, or tell others to listen to us, let your children play with ours.  When we can pray for each other.  When you remember us after you leave, and keep in touch.

Thanks for listening,
Your friends who put up with you for the last 25 years

Friday, August 24, 2018

Wobbling but steadfast

Who remembers these toys from our childhood?  I suspect my 50-something friends . . .  Weebles wobble but they don't fall down. They were little people with rounded, weighted bases, who tipped but popped back up.  

Kind of like us in real life now.  One of the constants of this season:  being thrown off-balance by unexpected change/problems/issues/sorrows.  This morning, for instance, one intern was so sick the nurses in the Newborn Unit had hung an IV drip, and even though she said she would still try to work she clearly had to go home (not that we would want someone with that level of gastroenteritis touching babies even if we weren't compassionate), the other intern is supposed to be on his last day and was unreachable until afternoon, all the new clinical officer interns were called to a half-day meeting, one medical officer (like a resident) got sent to a month-long training and the other had to leave for a family funeral, the medical students went to clinic, and my colleague was a couple hours delayed on the road.  Meaning that out of our team of 12, one lone clinical officer intern who wasn't in the meeting, and me, were left to round on, do vital signs, write notes, draw blood, talk to parents, for 32 NICU and about 30 more Paeds ward patients.  Or take this week: we found out that our medical licenses got lost in the cracks of ever-changing medical superintendents, one of us went to considerable effort to gather evidence-based support for following the Kenyan protocol for a certain type of patient but the team decided to just do what they have always done anyway, one of our kids had travel delays and later found out (unrelated) about a misunderstood missed deadline, I was scrambling to get the final edits on on the 4th Rwendigo book, all our kids are in significant transition as Julia wraps up her last week at Spring Lake Farm in Vermont and prepares to move to her Fellow's Program in Greensboro, Jack moves into his apartment with Cru friends at Duke (where he has no bed), Luke continues to figure out being an ortho intern, Abby (Luke's girlfriend) seemed to have one apartment after another fall through (though she finally got a place for her NP Trauma Fellowship), and Caleb got transferred to a different platoon that means he'll spend two of the next three months in additional training and field exercises.  Then there are wobbles one doesn't expect to make such an impact, like the death of one of our family friends Dr. Fred Hubach who represented the stable foundation of my childhood. There was a day when riots made the road our teams were traveling in Uganda impassible, and then an embassy notice went out to expect street protests in Kenya too. There is the daily scan of the Ebola news, praying the epidemic does not reach Bundibugyo or Nyankunde (so far it hasn't, which we are thankful for, though the total cases have risen to 103).  There was the afternoon I spent catching up our mortality database, feeling sad about the babies who have died.  Then there are the small things like going to worship practice, and the leader has decided I need to add the electronic percussion on the keyboard, which I've never done, so it was kind of stressful.  Or the fact that the lady who does two half-days of housework for us while we're in the hospital left for the week.  Or the bizarre announcement that after changing our residence to WV two months ago, the 911 coordinator decided to change our address number (we're on a little gravel country road but for some reason 3413 will eventually have to change to 3317 . . . ).  Or the constant cross-cultural nature of everything.  Nothing earth shattering, just the constant pushes and punches that knock you off your groove.  And all the above is this week alone.

Wobbling, righting, wobbling, righting.

One morning this week I was really struggling, particularly discouraged.  I knew that the constant hits throwing me off-balance had resulted in a pretty poor attitude.  This verse jumped out. "Create in me a clean heart, O LORD, and renew a steadfast spirit within me . . . that the bones You have broken may rejoice."  I need a new, tender, heart, a renewed steady spirit.  And the promise is that even the broken parts will eventually rejoice.  

The weighted bottom of the Weeble is what keeps it popping back up, and the weight in our lives is that anchor called hope, that leaning into a dimension where the spirit is being refined like silver.  Honestly the prayer for a steadfast spirit and clean heart DID help with the next day's punches.

We're all little Weebles trying to testify to glory.  

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Post-Parting Blues

Post-parting blues may be the theme of life.  Humanity left the garden of peace, harmony, purpose, community (the photo from our beach retreat above reminds us of Eden) for a life marked by fracturing.  Our hearts were created for continuity and presence; they feel crushed by the reality of partings.  I don't think I expected to be hit with this so hard as we returned to Naivasha this week, but in retrospect it makes sense.  We pray over and pour into the people we serve, and one thing I've learned about prayer this year is how it catches one up on another's story, how it cultivates tenderness towards them.  So after a week of intense immersion in actual palpable relationship (not just virtual or spiritual) with 140 people we love, the parting was rough.  And augmented by saying goodbye to Jack (AGAIN).  He had an amazingly rich summer with our Kibuye team working on engineering projects, and the gift of an intersection point between family and work is no small gift.  His work also enabled him to serve as the 5-to-7 year old kid program leader at the retreat, and have meals and talks and fun with us.  I'm so thankful.  But the taste of the old days when our Serge life and family life went hand in hand makes this post-parting week even harder.                       

So. . . since that aching pit-of-the-stomach emptiness is part and parcel of August for many in the world, schools starting, kids leaving, vacations ending, new jobs and programs .  .  here are some ways that we see God giving us grounding to make it through those blues.

1.  A theology of parting and hope.  This book Every Moment Holy (thanks to friends) is a beautiful collection of bringing meaning into the every day moments of life, the behind-the-veil deeper realities.  I've been reading the section about missing someone, which reminds us that even that sorrow can make room in our hearts to invite God to change us, to fill us, to make something new, to open space to love others.  We don't deny the missing, but we do expect redemption even in this.  And we do see that Jesus walked this path, and continues to walk it with us.

2.  A discipline of meaningful work.  Truly our days of hands-on concrete patient care and teaching do give us a sense of rootedness and place, of being part of a community of good.  The partings are not meaningless, they serve for the good of someone.  Teaching our interns, performing surgery, attending to fragile patients, all fill our days. 

3.  Inviting others into the space.  What a treat that Alyssa, one of our Burundi Team Leaders, was able to spend some time with us in Naivasha this weekend.  The Ickes family next door, our church friends and worship team.  God continues to send us others even as we miss many. The emptiness can be an opportunity of sorts.

4.  Phone calls and photos.  The wonders of technology, seeing Jack reunite with Caleb whom he had not seen for well over a year, and climb mountains in Alaska.  Talking to Julia and Luke on the phone.  Hearing from our moms. Emails from many others.  Don't let me ever take for granted the fact that I can text Utah while writing a blog post in Kenya.  

5.  The long term view.  Ultimately we know that all these partings are temporary.  The great cloud of witnesses still wait in another dimension.  And in this world, time will carry us back to most of the people we miss today.

As always, this is a pep talk to ourselves, but let's remember the ones we love and encourage each other to press on with hope.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Invitation to Wilderness: Serge East/Central Africa 2018 Retreat

 Over the last two weeks, we hosted Greg and Courtney Thompson and their family to a brief experience of Africa combined with speaking to our East and Central Africa Area in Serge for our Area Retreat, held every 3-4 years.  We invited them into some wilderness, and then they showed us that God invites all of us.

Greg spoke from Exodus 13, a passage I think I've tended to gloss over.  In verse 17 we are told that even though the way to the Promised Land could have been easier and shorter, God led them through the wilderness of the Red Sea, the desert, the thunderings of Sinai, the hunger and snakes and years of camping.  There the people were stripped of clarity and control, he said, as an invitation to intimacy with God.  

Powerlessness and confusion?  Well, we have that in abundance as we cross cultures, make a thousand mistakes, struggle to understand and be understood, to order and bless in the face of chaos. The shocking proposition he laid before us:  God actually brings us here for our good, to embrace us with protection and presence.  We need to be shaken out of our little kingdoms of comfort to cling to the only love that matters. 

In fact the entire narrative is one of a lover and a beloved, a growing confidence and warmth that actually transforms us into people whose potential for reflecting beauty and truth into a broken world brings about the vision of community we long for. Communion with God and with each other, spilling over into acts of justice and mercy for all.  We trust the path even when it leads through suffering, because it leads to intimacy with God.

It was over a year ago when we began dialoguing about this retreat.  In the meantime the Thompsons walked through some wilderness of their own, ultimately deciding to leave the place they have loved and worked in for the last two decades and move to Memphis to be part of the movement towards beginning to heal the centuries of racial injustice in America.  And in the meantime our people in Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Congo, South Sudan, and soon Malawi have walked their own wilderness paths of grief and loss.  We faced miscarriages and wars and Ebola nearby and temptations and failings and loneliness and the mundane daily stress of feeding a family and caring for others.  But over the last week, we all came together to worship and pray, to strengthen and encourage, to ponder anew the God who pursues us even when the path feels obscure and the higher purposes cloudy.  

We are so grateful, to them and to the dozen others who came to speak to us.  We had 6 days of retreat, including Team Leader training on topics from vision to paperwork.  We had a panel of Kenyans express to us what it is like to be shamed by us, to be isolated or treated unfairly, good hard things we needed to hear.  We had long-term Serge wise people speak to us about evangelism and loving others and ministry from weakness and transforming communities.  We had spirited worship and a communion service on the beach under the stars. We danced and drew, swam and ate and ate some more.  We celebrated.  We commiserated.  We finally hugged goodbye and went on our hundred wilderness paths back to beautiful stretching places where God woos us to be loved.

Thanks to all who prayed for this time, and do keep us in your hearts as we return to the journey.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Deeper In

Eugene Peterson writes about the post-resurrection fish-fry Jesus threw for his followers.  History has just pivoted on the point of the entropy's reversal.  Shouldn't His followers be in the Temple?  Or making speeches?  Instead, they are back to their boats, throwing their nets, water and wind and night air and the rhythms of their occupation. Peterson comments on this Gospel, "John shows Jesus getting us deeper into this world than we ever thought possible, not getting us out of it."  The resurrection life is not a ticket to the ethereal, it is a gritty existence with traction in this world's dust and sand.

This week we were back into the depths of life in Naivasha.  Biking to work at the hospital, plodding through presentations of patients, teaching interns, grabbing oxygen and working to bring breath back into babies, listening to hearts and lungs, making phone calls, arranging for scans, considering diagnoses, talking to parents, explaining differentials, keeping alert to fluctuations in jaundice or weights, being called to the operating theatre, Scott intervening to save mother's lives and me trying our best with their babies.  After two months in the USA I was surprised by how immediate the immersion occurred.  Within minutes it felt quite normal.  More than that, I was surprised by how much I really do love messy impossible health care for marginal children.  Teaching the nurses and interns how to calculate a dose or recognize a seizure (always a little disturbing to reach into a crib on rounds to examine a baby and be the first one to notice they are convulsing . . ).  For Scott, teaching them to do an ultrasound, to follow the course, to extract a breech, to safely complete a C-section.  In spite of all the misery, there is also the sense:  this is what we were made to do.

Following Jesus into Naivasha is following deeper into this broken world, not finding ways to escape it.  Hands-on, blood and reality.  Deeper into life even to the point of death, not instant solutions and controlled endings.  Jesus met Peter and John and the others in their boats after a futile night of their normal work.  We pray He meets us in the corridors of a District hospital, leaning over beds crammed with doubled-up patients, facing the futility of chromosomal errors and lungs filled with muck.  

Following Jesus deeper in pulls us away from people we love, which is the hardest part of all.  But we aren't alone, far from it.  I'll close with some photos of the perks of being on this journey with others.
Three Wheaton college students and Professor Scott Ickes (who worked with us in Bundi), here for the summer to study the impact of women's work on flower farms and in the tourism industry on their ability to breast feed their babies . . extremely important topics.  

One afternoon I took the three college students staying in our house to Crescent Island . . one of the beauties of Naivasha, which you can see in the background.

Another night, dear friends from Virginia passed through!  Summer is the short term mission season, and they were with a church group headed to support a Kenyan school and orphanage.  John and Mary are truly like a brother and sister in their connection to our family.  Pretty crazy to meet them on this side of the earth.

And even though the majority of the weekend we spent working, today was a real Sabbath.  Playing the piano for worship, making waffles and ice cream for our neighbors the Ickes's and our house guests, remembering community and celebration.

Quiet time in the afternoon, deeper in.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Until we sit under the vine and fig tree . . . .

Today a goodbye to my two dear friends was disguised as a birthday party for Liana, who graduated a few days ago from high school and takes off for America in a couple more.  We sat around the table at a very nice restaurant, dressed in our best, circling to share 18 things we love about Liana as we reach the end of her 18th year, sampling each other's food, toasting and reminiscing.  As we got ready to leave, Karen was so intent on being sure we had a good hugging goodbye that ONLY THEN did it hit me, this is the end of an era.  Not only Liana, but Karen and Bethany are leaving.  How did this happen so fast?

Michael was a single guy engineer in Bundibugyo in our early days in the 1990s, who went back to the USA and proposed to Karen (best move of his life) then brought his bride to be our neighbor.  We have walked through pregnancies and deliveries, evacuations and decisions, school and church, vacations and ministry together for over 20 years.  Bethany joined us in the early 2000's and has been part of our teams or working while studying from the US or a bit of both for the last 15.  Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya.  Countless prayer meetings, walks, insights, care.  When we moved to Kijabe I never expected to get these two friends back in my daily life, but the war in South Sudan and the needs at RVA and Moffatt Bible college and the friendships we held and our kids' lives meant we became team mates again.  Even moving to Naivasha they have been intentional faithful friends.  I am 17 years older than Bethany, and Karen is just about in the middle of us, but we feel like close classmates or sisters, with different personalities and gifts but similar joys and motivations and goals.

Now the Massos are beginning a long slow transition to juggle the needs of all their kids and family, which will see Karen spending more and then most of her time based in Philadelphia with Serge.  Bethany is heading back to start a PhD in clinical psychology at Fuller, with research in community based resilience-building for trauma care.  Their lives continue to arc with ours in commitment to the marginalized of East and Central Africa, and in connection with Serge.  Still, it is the end of one era, one that seems quite pivotal in our life.  

In college we gathered our own "Africa Team" with a vision for serving together.  A few of us did, but over the decades I've seen God's grace in building His own teams and bringing amazing people into our lives (and us into theirs) to show us more of His love and grace.

Here's to friends who stick with you over the hardest times of life, and to life-long commitments in spite of distances to come.  In church this morning our leader read Zechariah 3, a vision I don't remember noticing too much before, but the scene is Heaven, and Satan is accusing a man named Joshua who represents Israel.  God steps in to rebuke the accusations and personally provide clean clothes and a promise that points to Jesus.  And the sign will be "In that day declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree." (v. 10) . The defeat of evil is pictured as a picnic in the shade of grape vines and a fig tree, sweet abundance of food and fellowship.  That's where we are headed, and I have to believe I'll see more of that in this life with these two, and in eternity unending.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Re-Entry Repeated, it never gets easy

Here is why it never gets simple to live a fractured life.

We should be experts at this, but sometimes the reality just smacks us in the face once again.  I'll describe a bit of it here so you can remember not to glorify the exotic cross-cultural worker life too much.  First, there is the aching grief of goodbyes.  Our kids are now ages 20-25.  This is a stage of independence and accomplishment and they are all admirably brave in navigating those realities:  moving across countries and states, finding apartments, buying plates and beds, writing papers, finishing labs or exams, changing drivers licenses and car registrations and insurance forms, dealing with medical care and taxes, connecting with churches and friends.  They do 99% of this without our input.  And that's hard.  Sometimes it's nice in your college and launching years to know that your parents are within a day's drive, or could show up for a weekend or attend an event or buy you a meal.  So being immersed in a fraction of that for two months and then flying several continents and 8000 miles away hurts. 

Likewise our moms are in their 80's.  This is a stage of independence and accomplishment of a different sort, they are plucky and resilient in their own brave ways, driving, cooking, connecting, serving, supporting, exercising.  They lean a little on our sisters, and on their friends and community, but they also live 99% without our input.  And it's also hard to know that we can't show up for a doctor's appointment, or take them out to a meal, or surprise them for a birthday.  Neither expected to invest their lives in mothering and then live with such little contact for so many decades.

So the return starts with hard goodbyes.  There is a little suspended out-of-time journey of darkness, video screens, cramped legs, meals on trays, that I actually love (movies and food and dozing and no responsibility).  And then we land right into the chaos of the airport in Nairobi, where luggage is being randomly thrown on two different belts and taken off by any and everyone, trying to find our bags (we did), and we drive in the darkness of a throbbing city and up the Rift Valley escarpment and it feels like home as we are embraced by old friends and team.  But we're tired and jet lagged and pretty quickly the sheer onslaught of minor difficulties reminds us that we aren't called to ease.

For example, in our 48 hours back, we found:  our internet modem exploded and had to be replaced (trip to the Safaricom shop and about an hour of forms and reboots), our toilet is leaking so the bathroom floor is wet (at least we have one), our clothes left in the closet have rat droppings enfolded and chew marks (laundry, traps) and our shoes molded, someone tried to break into the front window (they broke it but didn't get in), our houseworker who cleaned while we were at the hospital one day a week quit because a family she worked for previously returned (sounds small, but trusting someone in your home with everything for two years and then returning to find her unavailable was sad), the path we ran/walked on for daily sanity has been closed off by a wall of rock and thorn (for security they said, so now we have to find a new longer route around), in our absence our landlord did projects with our water tank that destroyed our little sustenance garden (we'll have to replant and wait), and we are sharing our home for the rest of July with college students on an internship (which is big-picture great but of course another change to come home to). Kenya also decided after we left in May to give two months for all foreigners to do a biometric registration exercise (as our friend says, in the days of Caesar Augustus . . ) so we barely made the deadline of spending our second day back going to Nairobi to report with our documents and be counted, which is always a stressful and unknown process.  Scott almost lost his life to a speeding motorcycle going the wrong way on a divided highway we were crossing as pedestrians. The Massos and Bethany are departing for a long season, and we will say goodbye tomorrow.  They are some of our best and longest-term friends.  More grief.  All to say, that from moth-and-rust-doth-corrupt realities of a two month absence to re-orienting to life that has shifted in significant points while we were gone, re-entry is HARD.  

And that's just the background stuff.  There are already so many Serge issues with teams and the retreat that we've tried to keep up with while in the USA (and it was much harder than one might think to keep our minds/hearts divided and focused back here, so we dropped a lot of balls), so we are hitting the ground running but already feeling out of breath.  Plus we haven't even gone back to the hospital until Monday, where no doubt there will be new people to work with and habits, rounds, meetings, medicines, etc. will have changed and we will be disoriented and catching up from behind once again.  I probably can't remember any Swahili.  Sigh.
There are bright spots for sure, a dog thrilled to see us, a comfortable bed and mosquito net, new neighbors who are also old friends come to spend six months on a research project, meals proffered and community restored.  We do love and choose this life and work.  But some weeks the cost is more evident, and more steep, than others.  Jesus said it would be, we just like to forget that.

Thanks for journeying with us by reading and praying.  And remember that if we're this disoriented by a transition we've made uncountable times (though it's always a little different), redouble your empathy for all the people we lead for whom this cycle of loss and learning and the constant imbalance of re-entry hits hard.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy Independence Day America(ns)!

Today the USA celebrates Independence from Britain, which is something all three countries where we have spent our life have in common.  All three countries had people living in them who to various extent welcomed the first British explorers; all three could not have foreseen the impact of the influx of humanity that would follow, and probably if the had they would have taken a more violent resistance earlier. In America, this day was organized by the British-origin and other European-origin people who over the course of a century and a half came to see themselves as Americans, who espoused noble ideas about freedom and truth for themselves and rejoiced to have the opportunity to implement them.  Independence day celebrates their achievement of those goals personally, and then in fits and starts for other immigrants from all over Europe, Asia, Africa, the world, though the outworking of that equality is still not complete.  Like many current Americans, our roots include immigrants from many places, those seeking economic opportunity, those fleeing injustice, those looking for religious freedom, those who were imported against their will.  Very little of our ancestry comes from original Americans, the people who were driven from their land by our other ancestors.  This makes America different from Kenya and Uganda; the relative extermination of the indigenous people within East Africa was less extensive, so the independence celebrations are more about throwing off colonizers rather than celebrating the colonizers throwing off the distant king.  It gets complicated as soon as you start thinking about it.  

Anyway, today we remember our American roots, and thank God for AMERICANS.  Yes, the mixed bag of people from all over the globe who inhabit this vast land and in spite of everything are basically full of kindness.  The last two years have not been our most shining moment for graciousness and maturity on the world stage.  But when you come to America and interact with Americans once again, you are reminded that the basic cultural values of this place DO shine.  Willingness to help, to be involved.  Generosity.  Courage.  Idealism.  Faith.

Today then a tribute to the hundreds of Americans who support us, who love us, and who have made these two months of "home assignment" a pleasure.

Day three or so in the country, wish we had snapped a photo of the Stemplers.  Ellen has been our power-of-attorney, handling all our paperwork, logistics, banking, taxes, mail, etc etc etc for way over a decade.  A hidden part of missionary service, the person who quietly and effectively has our back.  She's moving, so we had to go through that filing cabinet in her basement and throw most things out and re-sort.  She's still going to help, but we can't use our Virginia address anymore . . .

Our main purpose of travel was to celebrate Julia and Luke's graduations.  So a shout-out to the professors, bosses, friends, deans, etc. whom we did not even know but who watched out for our kids.  And to the families in both Durham (Harteminks) and Charlottesville (Turners, Woods, and others) who were ESSENTIAL when you live a continent away.

Then there are the random-acts-of-kindness people, like the woman (mother of a classmate we happened to meet in the restaurant and eat with) turned towards another guest in the back of this photo who picked up the bill for graduation lunch.  That kind of unexpected generosity reminds us over and over of God's goodness.

A thanks to the many families who let us descend upon them across the country.  Some we had barely met but were friends of our kids, others were relatives we had not seen in years, others were supporters.  (The Harries family in Annapolis above)

My Uncle Joe, Aunt Patsy, cousin Janet.

Scott's Aunt Lynn and family.

Jack's room-mates mom made space for all of us as we passed through.

The Bolthouses always lift our spirits with their fun and kindness.

A friend of Luke's gave us tickets to a MLS game!

Another Duke friend who showed us around her city and squeezed us into her family's house.

Not only college kids need "sponsor families"; Caleb has been blessed by the Hatters in Alaska and we were delighted to spend an evening with them.

Cathy takes the cake though . . . for not only supporting us for years, but offering a cabin on a remote island in a wilderness lake, complete with air-miles to get to the nearest town from Anchorage, boat transport to the island, various things we would need including moose steaks from her freezer, stories of real Alaska and a warm welcome.

The Shadids in Chicago, heart friends for decades.

Scott's residency partner, our friends Fran and Larry. 

Emily who hosted all of us on short notice after only having moved into her house the week before.

And of course family cared for us deeply, including the Aylestock Family reunion last weekend:

These two friends drove many hours through many challenges to be with us in WV.

And our church here in Sago, WV, who gave us this flag for Caleb and who greet us with warm hugs and sincere interest even though we disappear for months to years.  Happy 4th of July from us to all our fellow Americans, with prayers that this year we turn a corner back to our ideals and away from fear, isolation, or greed.  God has blessed us through you, and together we can bless the world.