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Saturday, November 14, 2020

60 years + 60 hours--Grateful for Scott David Myhre


I opened a drawer today looking for something, and saw this, with 1990 written on the back. We lived in Chicago for residency, and Scott was wind-surfing on Lake Michigan. Fast forward another half of his life-so-far, and he's just turned 60 in Bundibugyo. 

Here he is with our team on his birthday (except for one family who was sick), plus a couple of kids who grew up with ours. . . having just spent the evening cooking us all pizza in an oven he built himself. Having made a special delicious slow-rise dough himself too, and a good bit of the toppings, including pesto from his garden. Not to mention built a lot of what you see in this picture, and mentored all these people, and fixed everything in a kilometer radius, including plumbing and electricity and motors and humans.

So the two photos, the first one showing his fun spirit of adventure and athletic capacity and love for the outdoors, the second showing his life of serving, pretty well sum it up. Everywhere we go in Bundibugyo, someone knows Scott and has a good story.

60 is kind of a big deal. Just living to 60 for someone who has been shot at in war, run for his life, been exposed to Ebola in more than one epidemic, climbed the three highest peaks in Africa in some dicey conditions with a touch of pulmonary oedema, survived an explosion or two, been in some car accidents on very dangerous roads, had to pull me out of an ocean current, camped with lions and elephants moving through, fought off hyenas, killed cobras, received threatening letters from rebels, received threatening letters from a couple of evil men, challenged tribalism and stood up to bullies, had malaria and a run-in with the flesh-eating strep, and just gotten all of us out of more danger than I can even remember . . . 60 is remarkable.

But what is even more remarkable is to have walked through all that with grace. Kacie on our team had the grand idea of gathering 60 letters from people for his 60th birthday. She ended up with way more than that. We have barely begun to read through the album, but God's timing could not be sweeter. After the intensity of bad maternal outcomes and loss, this letter album was a beautiful reminder of the richness of community that God has given us. I think Luke quoted from "It's a Wonderful Life", no man is a failure who has friends. It does boil down to loving God and your neighbour, and Scott embodies that. He's thoughtful and faithful, and the kind of person who has spent those years going out of his way to drive someone where they need to go, lend someone money, evaluate someone's injury, pay attention see what is needed and just quietly do it. Often at personal risk and cost. People have noticed, and it is gratifying and humbling for me to see this love poured back to him that he has poured out for others. He's not just tough, he's tender, and lots of people have been blessed.

But mostly, me. 40 years and 2 months ago, he pulled up in his car and offered me a ride to church. We've been friends 2/3 of his life now.  Hoping for more than 3/4.  I suppose if we made it this far, what's a little global pandemic? 

For a few years in the 2000's, Mark and Kristen Vibbert were managers of a high end safari tented camp in the Semiliki game reserve. They invited us to celebrate Scott's birthday and our half-anniversary as their guests. This year we decided to splurge and go back on our own (COVID discounts) and so last weekend we had two glorious nights away. This is a place where you can hear and see birds and read books and eat well and be at peace. 

Of course no Myhre adventure escapes the requisite "will we make it" moment; but in addition to all the above Scott can 4WD through some serious mud, and after a couple hours' delay we made it past a line of about 20 trucks stuck in both directions. 

Just so you know that not EVERY day is will-we-make-it, we had over 48 hours of luxurious rest.

Happy Birthday to the man who is sold out for justice, who fights for the poor, who shores us all up with his resolute can-do spirit and his unflappable belief, who engages with issues, who captures beauty in photographs and carpentry, who can drive through anything, climb anything, bike anyone into the ground, perform surgery and make dinner and preach. Wish we could have celebrated with friends and family from all the decades of his life, but thankful for the letters and for our team here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Living the 11th hour in a troubled world: 11/11/2020, Pandemic day 236 in Uganda, bracing for cheer

 The 11th hour is upon us. 

This story is about this woman, and death, and faith. Keep reading.

Today's remembrance holiday commemorates the end of WW1 102 years ago. Poppies blooming between crosses, larks singing where guns once pounded, capture the hope that time and beauty heal the wounds of war. By pausing today, we acknowledge that war has taken a toll, that death and evil invade and distress, but also that sacrifice and love prevent their triumph. That's why we honour our veterans. 

In the USA today, we have our government casting doubt upon the legitimacy of our democratic process, even though ten lawsuits so far have been concluded with no evidence of fraud. The secretary of state implied that the incumbent president who lost the popular vote by 4-5 million votes and the electoral college by 279 to 214, with 45 votes still to be finalised in Arizona, Georgia, and NC, will continue into a second term. There were 139,855 new coronavirus cases yesterday in America and 1448 deaths, both exponentially increasing. Here in Uganda we have a steep rise as well, and our first confirmed COVID death from our own Bundibugyo hospital. As dire as all that sounds, I suspect 1918 was worse as the flu pandemic raged amidst the brutalities of WW1. Still, good emerged, but only after a lot of sorrow.

Today, my Bible reading included one of my all time favourite verses, one that pretty much sums up the history of now. 

In this world you will have trouble; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

Two truths that do not blend easily together, a troubled world, and a cheerful confidence. Sorrow and hope. A world that keeps throwing punches, and a God who says it will all be OK.

It's been one of those weeks. Monday, as I was finishing staff Bible study looking at the covenant God made with Abraham (side note, but who would choose circumcision for a 99 year old man who was unable to make his wife pregnant? God stacks the odds against the outcome we pray for sometimes to make it so dramatic) . . . Dr. Isaiah came to find Scott. His sister-in-law was bleeding, after a difficult C-section, and there was no blood in the hospital. They began arranging to send her to Fort Portal for blood, but before they could load her into the ambulance, she died. Meanwhile Scott was pulled in to see another woman in labor because she came with an ultrasound diagnosing twins, which was quite believable since she was very large. He re-scanned, did not see twins, baby was OK, but labor was stalled, so planned to take her for a C-section too. Only there was: NO sterile instrument set (insert 3 hour delay), NO sterile gowns or drapes (do without). Once she was in theatre her Blood Pressure was 221/150--sky high-- not the ideal time to have gotten the first set of vitals. She was hyper-reflexic, heading into ecclampsia, so this was suddenly life and death. NO medications for the ecclampsia, or the hypertension. Anesthetist UNABLE to get the spinal so he just dosed her with ketamine until she was moaning less. I think you get the picture--an extremely non-ideal situation. If we wait for the ambulance to get her to Fort Portal, or to get back with blood, she's going to be dead. So Scott went ahead, a really really hard case due to all the missing things and her obesity. At the end, she just started bleeding even more (not surprising in ecclampsia, which messes with clotting), so he re-opened and tightened up and re-sutured. By now her BP was 70/40, pulse 120's.  The baby was great so after a quick resuscitation I had handed the little girl off the maternity nurses and stayed to keep praying, taking BP's, prompting more IV fluids, more oxygen, calling the returning ambulance whose driver pretended to be almost to Bundi but had actually not even started to return yet. Post-op we got her BP up a bit with the fluids, had her on oxygen, propped up her legs, waited and waited. Finally the blood arrived and it was nearly dark by the time we had it running in. She was opening eyes and moving, and we were relieved. As we went to bed, we got an encouraging report from the on-call doctor. And a half-hour later, she died. Two maternal deaths in one day. I'm not sure we had even had two this year prior to this, except for a woman with advanced AIDS. Babies and children die almost every day, but not mothers. We were all devastated. As I looked back over the weekend, I realised at least one child had died each day due to lack of blood supply. Extremely discouraging, particularly when our regional blood bank is projecting statistics to the country of functioning perfectly.  In the last couple of weeks, I've had to declare several children dead as they breathed their last in front of me, and pretty much every time I come to rounds I find someone missing. 

In this world you will have trouble.

Ten days ago, when we were in the capital to pick up Michaela, we witnessed a horrible accident. As we drove down a main city street, a matatu coming towards us hit a motorcycle taxi. Two women on the back of the boda fell off, one into the path of the matatu. We watched her body bounce on the pavement and then the matatu run over her, wheels crushing her abdomen and chest as it jolted on. The matatu driver sped away as we pulled off the road and ran to the body. We cleared her airway and held her neck in traction, she was still breathing but unconscious, with blood pouring out. A crowd quickly gathered and grabbed her from us and loaded her onto the back of a small truck, to rush to a hospital. I know she died. This is a country without 911, without accountability for wanton vehicular homicide, without emergency options.

In this world you will have trouble.

I think the accumulation of death this November is just too much. Too much blood, too much trauma, too much impotence to change. We're in a disaster-level rainy season, and there were more floods on Friday. We got a two-night weekend respite for Scott's birthday, but spent hours stuck in a line of mired trucks on the muddy road, and nearly didn't make it. We came back to a tormentuous crop of intensely itchy bug bites. Our team is grappling with the rising coronavirus, and we are wading through murk in trying to create liveable protocols with almost no testing or data. Today was supposed to be our final court appearance, when the judge would announce his decision about the attempt to grab back land we as a mission bought 20 years ago for Christ School gardens. The son of the couple who sold the land is a policeman with power, and decided to try and invalidate the sale 14 years after the fact. It has been in the courts for six years. This morning when we arrived in town, the judge said he needed more time to consider the case. Not a good sign. Our friend, neighbour, and former worker was walking home Saturday night after dark and got mixed up in a fight of some sort on the road, which a soldier decided to break up with bone-breaking force. Literally, he clubbed our very slight, fragile, hundred-pound, 50-something friend so hard he ended up with a broken arm. So that was another day, getting xrays and Scott putting on a cast. The main young doctor who has been working with us quit last week too. So every day is longer, and the days we devote to our other jobs as Area Directors and Team Leaders leave the hospital even less covered.

In this world we have serious trouble. Flood-level trouble from injustice, misinformation, greed, corruption, broken systems, crazy weather, just plain evil.

But, Jesus said on the night before he was killed, "be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." It didn't look like a bloody surgery on an important part of Abraham's body was going to give him an heir. It didn't look like a bloody execution on the cross was going to defeat evil once and for all. It doesn't look good right now that we lost two bleeding post-CS mothers this week, or multiple kids with malaria and anemia and seizures and infections. It doesn't look hopeful that an off-duty soldier can whale on a pedestrian with bone-breaking force, or that a judge can take more than six years to decide that after the proceeds of a land sale were used by a dad to put his son through college, that son can't claim to invalidate the sale. It doesn't look like we're on the evil-defeating side when our patients die, or when we are just kneeling on the asphalt holding a bloody anonymous woman. 

The 11th hour is decidedly where we live. There are poppies and larks at times, but those grow and sing amongst the graves. Jesus has conquered all evil, all broken systems, all bleeding and disaster, but we're still living in the last hours before we see that reality on earth as it is in Heaven. "Be of good cheer" is less a breezy greeting and more a bracing command that goes against the grain, that determines to look deeper than all we can see. 

Monday, November 02, 2020

The night before elections; what makes for our peace?

Luke 19: Now as he drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Today’s reading in my Bible-in-a-year plan, unrelated to US elections tomorrow, but appropriate. I can imagine Jesus in America, watching and weeping. The chapter prior he has been saying some pretty uncomfortable things, and I quote: “Shall not God avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.Who is crying out day and night in 2020? Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the Kingdom of God.What is the state of our children in 2020?Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.Is this what we hear preached to the self-justifying and satisfied top 10% of the world economically? It’s what Jesus said to a young man who had wealth, power, and a moral majority type of record. There is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.A bitter acknowledgment that being together with family is not the ultimate metric of God’s will. Then Jesus reminds the disciples that he is going to Jerusalem to be scourged, mocked, spit upon, and killed, but on the third day he will rise. 

Overall, the things that make for peace seem paradoxically uncomfortable. Justice for the marginalised. Gentle welcoming of children, access and acceptance and love. Radical voluntary distribution of profits to the poor rather than all-holds-barred accumulation. Willingness to forgo our own families, even. Walking with Jesus into suffering. Risking everything because we know the cross was the pivot point of evil’s defeat. All of these show an acknowledgment that there is something of such high value that the pursuit of that reality ultimately changes all our metrics. 

(In fact, the rich-young-ruler who has money, power, and social embrace contrasts a few paragraphs later with the tax collector, who has money, power, and social opprobrium. Both encounter Jesus out of curiosity, restlessness, seeking. Both receive his attention, and engagement. But the tax collector, a figure of some ridiculousness climbing a tree, ends up grasping the message. He not only delights in Jesus’ banter, welcoming him to his home, he goes the extra step of announcing reparation plans. The crowd is scandalised, God is pleased.)

Tomorrow, and for the weeks and months and probably years to come, we as Americans are a country deeply divided. I think Jesus weeps over our churches as he did over the rich young ruler, deceived that power and money and superficial ten-commandment checklists were the ultimate measure of success. I think Jesus would be reaching out to both the law-abiding ruler and the law-breaking tax collector, whoever the equivalents are today, and finding places to demonstrate compassion. 2020 is already a year with mortality such as we have not seen since world wars. How will we rise? The way up is down, as always in the teaching of Jesus. Love, the kind that casts out fear. Realising we ARE those little children who are welcomed, accepted, seen, enough. Then taking that love out sacrificially to others in justice and generosity. 

Because no matter whom you vote for, it is pretty much guaranteed that people you love are listening to a completely different set of narratives. We all think ours matches the truth best, and it’s our job to struggle with that, to check sources, to observe, to not ignore the uncomfortable dissonant sayings and events. But even when we land on what we think fits Jesus’ values best, a huge percentage of people even in our close circles will decide differently. And the only way forward into 2021 is to keep working to address that gap without using shame or fear or coercion or hate. Jesus does not shame, name-call, punch, shoot, exclude. Jesus joins the conversation, the meals, with penetrating questions and a readiness to heal.

Let’s start with the simplest exercise in that kind of kindness: the COVID pandemic disproportionately affects people who are old, who are overweight, who are hypertensive, who are poor, who are minorities. So if you don’t fit into those categories, every time you put on a mask and wash your hands and limit your own freedom of movement and association, you do so to care for others. Simple as that.

Tomorrow and beyond, let us pray with Jesus for the things that make for peace, even as we walk with Jesus on the path of the cross. Every time we rest on the fact that we are loved and cared for by our Father in Heaven, and can therefore confidently consider the common good of our neighbours . . . well, that's a step towards peace.


Attending to the good we have gained; and remembering the souls we have lost

 First, some good news. In the world of 2020 we must PAY ATTENTION in order to keep a heart that is still open and hopeful. Friday night, just before midnight, we picked a new teacher up at the airport in Entebbe. A former teacher reminded me we were doing the same thing 18 years ago . . .but honestly it feels remarkable this year. Michaela joined Serge in March in the last week of in-person anything. She graduated virtually with a degree in education. She went to a pre-field orientation that ended in quarantine when multiple participants got sick with coronavirus (not her). She raised support in the biggest economic stress-time of the last decade or more. She got tickets within a month of the airport opening after almost 7 months of completely closed borders. She got the required negative COVID test within 72 hours, the on-line 3-month tourist visa to enter, the forms for health and for the brief landing in Rwanda all filled out. And she made it to the airport in spite of her parents' car having a catastrophic collapse within 2 miles of the Atlanta airport, after a two-hour trip to get there. She made all her connections in spite of a delayed take-off. And when the online trackers showed her last leg as "canceled" last night . . . it wasn't. She cleared the process so fast that she was basically right behind the flight crew, wheeling her tower of suitcases into the full-moon night.  

We actually insisted on being here as this year has us on edge that surely something disastrous should occur . . . but no, instead the weekend found us at a peaceful guest house, with two teachers (Lindsey who has finished a year of her 1.5 year commitment came to Entebbe too), pinching ourselves. It worked. Our first post-COVID arrival has occurred. I believe she's the first brand-new Serge worker to join East and Central Africa since COVID. So, take a moment to pay attention with us and be grateful. 

Note the sign: children/wild animal zone. These two teachers are ready

The guest house, Lindsey, and Michaela


And second, some poignant remembrance. This is the weekend around the world when the church in medieval times chose to particularly remember the saints and members who had died. A bit like Memorial Day, but not just for the military, for all of us. I think this is a holiday that should resonate and gain some traction in Africa where ancestors are an important and respected part of life. As Christians, we believe our dead still exist in some form awaiting the final judgement and resurrection. So a day to remember that our community extends beyond the present moment to include those who went before us is healthy and good. For us, that is most achingly our fathers, then so many others, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends. And here in Uganda, our first close colleague and friend Dr. Jonah, who died of Ebola on December 4, 2007.

So when we passed Melen, his widow, on the road unexpectedly Wednesday on our way to Chapel at Christ School, we were sad to have just a brief conversation. We had not seen each other since before the lockdowns. She runs a nursery and primary school here in Nyahuka still, but spends most of her time back in her home area of Kasese. After chapel, we went to Alpha (her school) to greet her more properly. To our amazement, this time she came with her youngest, Jonah, born a few months after he father's death in 2008. We had not seen Jonah in a few years, as he is usually in boarding school or Kasese and not Bundibugyo, and we were usually in Kenya. So we were unprepared to see this nearly-teenage young man looking so much like his father. All the grief of those days, all the struggles we shared, the rare gift of a genuine cross-cultural connection, flooded in. I know I had tears in my eyes just looking at him.

Yes, the space between past and present, between the heavens and the earth, between the souls we love and have lost and the people we love and are with, is thin. And for the unseen cloud of witnesses, we are also grateful.

In the end, both welcoming a new missionary teacher and remembering a friend who died come around to the same thing: paying attention to what is true, so that our hearts bend towards hope.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Losing and gaining, voting, and thoughts on the soul: #COVID-19 UGANDA day 214

For what profit is it to a human (greek: anthropos, one of humankind) if one gains the whole world, and loses one's own soul? Or what will a human give in exchange for one's soul (greek: psuche, breath of life)?

This was the passage I read this morning, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Which particularly struck me as I have seen adds and articles on opposite sides of the political spectrum urging us to vote, lest we lose the soul of America.

Ironically, the query from Jesus falls in a passage where he is speaking to his closest followers. The preceding block of narrative starts with the tragedy of his cousin John's beheading. He tries to get away to grieve in solitude, and is followed by crowds, whom he receives with compassion, teaching, healing, and feeding miraculously. This leads to a scene where Jesus demonstrates his power over the chaos of the storm, and then scenes of sparring with the religious establishment, culminating in a crucial (yes, cross-related word intended) climax of the journey towards Jerusalem where he explains to his followers that he is NOT building an empire or a religion by conquering the Romans or the Temple hierarchy, but instead he is headed towards death and intends to build a community on them. It's a lot to take in. Not only will he die, but he tells them that anyone who wants to follow him must also deny self and lift up the cross, the instrument of death.

It's a far cry from a philosophy of winning.

And yet, the promise is, that by doing so we gain our souls.

Nursing and mothering, two soul-stretching works!

In 2020, what does it mean to get down to the core of who we are? More on this as the readings settle, but I would highly recommend The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby for a four-century overview of history and faith in America, which I just finished. Much of what we hear now about riots, law and order, abortion, individual rights and responsibilities, fear . . . was said 50 years ago. And before. It is informative and chilling, to read. 

I think people of faith grasp that evil is afoot in our world. That is the testimony of every prophet, the experience of every person. Paul writes to us about the principalities and powers, unseen systems with demonic undertones and human complicity that justified painting this continent of Africa as a _hole to be exploited, or a dark mass of ignorance to be corrected, from slavery and colonialism to conflict minerals and debt. I don't need to list the evils afoot in 2020, but it breaks my heart nearly every day to hear that my kids in Utah are worn down by rising COVID, that an older relative died, that families can't gather safely for Thanksgiving, that we are still apart, that two of the young moms with malnourished children had not eaten anything themselves in several days until other families around them on the ward realised they had no food and shared. There is a thick heavy web of profit-at-all-cost thinking about our world from the powerful. Evil seeps into the way the world works all over the globe, both individual sins and systemic brokenness. Both-and, both abortion-as-convenience, and sub-rate gerrymandered school districts. And on and on.

The question is, what does Jesus ask us to do? 

A place Jesus asks some of us to carry crosses

And the answer is, take the cross-way, the hard-way, the risky way, the suffering way. . . not because the cross and suffering are the goal, but because they lead to life.  Sure, there is the option of losing your soul and grabbing for glory, fame, honour or ease on the world's terms. But that verse harkens back to the one I call the scariest in the Bible, Psalm 106:15. People were complaining, and testing God. "And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul." 2020, and every year, are times of testing. What do we want so badly that we would risk withering our soul?

It is every American's job to think about that. Some will vote one way and some another. I think this gives us a good frame for decisions. Are we voting with courage and willingness to personally pay a price that allows for the common good? Are we living in a way that only makes sense if love is the final destination of the universe? Are we refusing to be manipulated by fear or greed? As a person who is not hungry or sick, I realise that is easier for me to say than for others to say. But I do think that evil is insidious and deadly, disguised as CS Lewis wrote so eloquently as Screwtape's urgings, tapping into our own sinful me-first tendencies and augmented by millennia of clever evolution. Yet over those same millennia, countless people have raised their children, planted crops, bandaged wounds, freed prisoners, helped the lame to walk and the blind to see, liberated concentration camps and painted masterpieces. All of that takes a conscious choice about values. Choose a cross, choose life, and find your soul.

And after voting, fill out a go form for Serge. Plenty of work to do here that will fill your soul.

Your choices matter to these little ones

Sunday, October 18, 2020

School is back, sort of . . . #COVID19-UGANDA day 212, Lamentations, and Cautious Hope

 After 7 months of abrupt school closure country-wide, the country of Uganda allowed schools to reopen on Thursday 15 October. 

And by reopen, we mean, only the "candidate classes" preparing for national graduation exams:  Primary 7 (PLE Primary Leaving Exam), Senior 4 (O-Level or UCE Uganda Certificate of Education equivalent to grade 11 in USA, almost high school), and Senior 6 (A-Level or UACE Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education equivalent to a tad beyond high school, maybe a year of community college), plus final-year University students. For our team in Bundibugyo, that was big news. While we work holistically in church planting, Bible translation, education, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, health, literacy, sports, youth outreach . . .the single institution for which we are responsible soup to nuts is Christ School Bundibugyo. 6 grades of O and A level, 350+ students, and perhaps the most significant and lasting impact over the last twenty years. 

On March 20, we had to send all our students home, only half-way through first term (Ugandan school years are calendar years). For the first couple of months, we lived in limbo of expecting imminent resumption of normalcy. Our staff put together packets of study materials that went out to students, and participated in some radio-show teaching organised eventually by the government, and even a pilot program to use What's App for the Senior 6 students to try online learning. But in a place with intermittent electricity, almost zero personal computer ownership, little capacity to buy internet data, with about 2/3 of households having a cell phone but few of those with internet capability . . well, online learning was pretty much impossible. As month after month passed, we all felt the sorrow of how places of poverty fall further and further behind. Even a pandemic does not level the world in effects: the people who live in low-resource places still suffer the effects disproportionately. 

As the lock-down dragged on, Patrick (our Director of Development) and Mike (pastor) began a program of staff development. Taking advantage of the space to invest in staff without the pressure of students, they worked several days a week to teach teachers how to improve their teaching, and to mentor them through Gospel studies. While we mourned the delay in school opening, we do see the beauty of that time. Patrick and Mike had barely begun their terms when COVID hit, and this gave them lots of time to build trust and relationship with staff. Ann joined in too. What was definitely evil in this world God enabled us to turn to some small redemptive good.

Let us take this moment to THANK all of you who support Christ School. Almost all of our 365-club donors (the general subsidy of $1/day that allows us to charge affordable tuition to Bundibugyo parents) and the OVC scholarship donors (full tuition for ten per class who are orphaned and most vulnerable) continued to give in 2020, in spite of COVID, in spite of recession. That meant that even without parents paying, we could give staff 85% of their normal salary.  Every single one stayed with us throughout the closure. I believe we are the only school that continued staff programs, and the only private school that will be able to reopen now. That is not because we are somehow immune, somehow better . . . it is because we are connected to prayerful generous people.

Which brings us back to this week.  Our staff worked hard to prepare. We procured hand-washing stations donated to schools and brought them for each classroom, thermometers for the gate guard and infirmary, soap and bleach. The desks were rearranged to be spaced 20/classroom instead of 40, dividing the senior four students into two streams (double the class time for teachers but OK since only 1/3 of the school is back). Dorms were reopened also with limited students so they could spread apart. The kitchen staff began purchasing food. On Wednesday our team and the entire staff spent about an hour and a half on a prayer walk, asking God to be present, to protect, to work, to bless each aspect of student life, from the classrooms, chapel, dorms, football pitch, admin block, infirmary, gate, staff apartments, kitchen. At the end, Patrick showed us our certificate from the District Education Officer that allowed reopening: we scored 97%, highest of the 200 or so mostly government primary and secondary schools in Bundibugyo.

And on Thursday, the allowed 64 Senior 4 and 6 candidates began to trickle back. You might think after seven months they would be banging on the gate to get back in, but in reality, most people probably didn't believe it would actually happen. Families are no doubt still scrambling to assemble fees. People are no doubt nervous about the safety of the idea for their children. Waiting to see what happens, what others do. Transitions are difficult and gradual. As of today, about half had returned. The government's plan is to ignore the missing second half of first term, have a shortened second term now until Christmas (normally May, June, July) and another abbreviated third term January and February, with O-level exams in March and A-level in April. No plan yet for how to mesh that with the return of S1, 2, 3, and 5, or how to coordinate back into a calendar-year pace.

Scott and I walked down to the CSB church service this morning at 8 am, as we had all of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. And while we rejoice in reopening, the sobering reality of what 2020 has wrought weighed on us. A gloomy morning dripped rain. Students sat one-per-bench, wearing masks, staying apart. It was a bit difficult to understand the speakers, or even connect emotionally with half-covered faces. Offerings were brought cautiously, songs were limited to three students leading from the front. The atmosphere was subdued. No hint of the normal energy of praise and worship, no lighthearted joy. And yet . . . Desmond preached from Lamentations 3, and Patrick and Scott both emphasised the same paradox. This year has brought our world loss and sorrow; nothing can separate us from God's love. We wait in faith.  Not the worship we are used to, which made our hearts heavy for these kids, for this continent. But a sign of resilience and hope nonetheless. Faithful staff. Courageous students. High stakes. The most seriously we have seen precautions taken yet in Uganda.

If the virus gets into a boarding school, we could be shut down, or worse, people could die. If we can stick to our SOP's (standard operating procedures) and teach with masks and hygiene and distance and caution, another 64 kids can take their next step in being the leaders who will serve Bundibugyo with skill and humility.  

Join us in praying for Christ School Bundibugyo over the next nine weeks. That we and our students would deeply experience the truth of the prophet Jeremiah's words: God's mercies are new every morning, God's faithfulness to us is greater than COVID or recession or insecurity or poverty or danger of any kind.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

58 years, 204 days of COVID, and Worth as a Fact without Conditions

Yesterday Uganda as a 20th century independent post-colonial country turned 58. Uganda, of course, existed from the beginning, and the people who live and congregate and cultivate and celebrate here have done so for millennia. Still, the modern state and I began our trajectories together in 1962, and it turns out we have a lot in common. African roots, European influences, British colonisation, and a delight in passion fruit, have shaped us both, and in less than a week we Myhres will celebrate the 27th anniversary of moving to this country and continent. 

On a bike ride today, I took a road I had never traveled. And it reminded me of just how significant the last 27 years have been in Uganda's 58. 

Full disclosure, I took this road because I was hoping for an easier trail . . . Scott is a biker and I am a wanna-be who has been trying since I was 18 and met him to keep up. Sometimes on a weekend he graciously invites me to join a ride. Yesterday's Independence Day holiday did not really happen for us: it just meant working harder with fewer staff, coming back to some hard phone calls with people we had hurt, then catching the end of a burial of a young man our kids' age whose dad was an early friend of the mission. I know I was depleted (and have been) so after eggs and coffee this morning we loaded our bikes on the car and parked in town so we could take a winding dirt road that hugs the mountain roots from Bundibugyo to Kikyo.  We both thought we remembered it being more reasonable than it was (which stands to reason because we last rode on a motorcycle and it's been more than a decade . . ). 7 1/2 miles doesn't sound long until you know the rough terrain, the steep climbing, and the minimal function of my gears. It was gorgeous and some fun, dramatic views into Congo, maroon cocoa leaves and little purple sprinkles of wild flowers, greeting surprised people, crossing streams.  But at the planned turn-around I decided I couldn't face repeating all that up and down in reverse, and needed to find a road into the valley and hit the paved main road, while Scott turned back along all those buttressing spiny roots of the mountains to reach the car and then take the main road to meet me. My route was a little longer but easier. Anyway, as I sailed downhill, I passed lots of homes that took me back to our earlier days. No bricks, all wattle and mud-walls, no electricity lines, quiet, no radios blaring, birds, greeting, families grouped around shelling beans or drying cocoa, long stretches with no one at all. While I found it peaceful and nostalgic, I also realise that Uganda has embraced a warp speed of change in 27 years. Ubiquitous cell phones, electric power, pavement, piped water projects, "permanent" (brick, cement) building materials, cars and motorcycles, schools and churches multiplying, doubling population. I love the simplicity of the old days, but I also love the fact that we can treat malaria with a very effective new medicine, and that dozens and dozens of young people go to university every year, and we have a local-language Bible and radio station. Bundibugyo was always on the margins of the Kingdoms that preceded the British, and on the periphery of the colonial system. So in 2020, I think we're in our best place yet. When we pray, Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven . . . this is what we mark with another year. That's a longing for light, a determination for goodness to rain, to reign. 

Two new Ugandans going home from NICU

Congratulations, Uganda.

And though we have poured ourselves into this place and called it home, we will always be straddling our American and African attachments. So on the same day we marked Uganda's Independence, we read an excellent editorial by the author Marilynne Robinson. It was called, "Don't Give Up on America." The gist was, the spirit of our times teeters too close to resentment. Our polarising leaders and our own fearful hearts lead us to fan anger, disappointment, alienation, suspicion into a bitter hostility. And that makes the trust in reality, in truth, very difficult to muster. Which we need in order to work together for the common good. My favourite part of the essay, though was the beginning, which I will quote here:

What does it mean to love a country? I have spent most of my life studying American history and literature because of a deep if sometimes difficult affinity I would call love. Deeper, though, is a feeling like a love of family, a hope that whoever by whatever accident or choice falls under the definition of family will thrive and will experience even a difficult life as a blessing because his or her worth is a fact without conditions.  . . . Human beings are sacred, therefore equal. We are asked to see one another in the light of a singular inalienable worth that would make a family of us if we let it.

That is grace right there.  Worth as a fact without conditions. That grace creates a family, a community, a church, a country if we let it. That grace turns a difficult life into a blessing.

Not giving up on America, or Uganda, or the human family. 

Vote, call out truth, and work for change. On Friday we lost two babies and a preteen child who all should have had better, faster care. The root causes of that lack are deep and complex, and not easy fixes. Those children had worth as a fact, no conditions needed to be proven for them to deserve life. Justice failed them. We've come a long way, but there is room for so much more. What if money was allocated fairly? What if jobs were filled with people of integrity? What if all girls learned to read? What if we had the courage of knowing that only God's opinion of us matters? My Bible reading this morning was the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. If there is anything that shines out of those chapters, it is this: God's ways are not ways of spotlights and force, they are ways of goodness that only make sense when we see the bigger picture of a universe arcing towards justice and mercy. What if we prayed for those who treated us spitefully, and doubled down to work behind the scenes for those who asked too much of us?  

In Uganda, or America, that would make the next anniversaries in 2021 something to celebrate.

Cocoa trees, closest thing we get to Fall

Tuesday, October 06, 2020


 200 days of 2020 have now been spent in near-continuous alertness to disaster. In fact, Uganda's version of the pandemic is better than most. Our mortality rate hovers just under 1% (reported deaths/cases are 82/8965 . . which of course is not in the least bit reflective of actual deaths or cases, but the best we can do). We spent 5 months in a severe lockdown (for a long time, not allowed to drive in a car except to work at the hospital a few miles away, no movement beyond foot a few hundred yards to local markets, no churches, schools, restaurants, gatherings of any kind) with a flat curve. In the last month we're now opening a bit just as cases start to escalate, but nothing like the USA. And yet . . . the sense of impending doom lingers. If one of our team mates draws the 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000 straw, there is not a lot we can offer. Most days are spent in a miasma of respiratory virae under the hot heaviness of an N-95 mask, for which we are thankful. Help is limited, money is tight, medical supplies are sparse. It weighs.

Yesterday for instance, the morning report announced 16 sick babies in NICU (accurate) and 95 on Paeds ward (less accurate, but we probably did see over 70). When you consider that they have not been reviewed, or had vital signs, the charts are little lined paper books and the labs disappear for days, so each one is a blank slate of figuring out who-what-when-where-why . . . it takes a lot of energy. No one died on our watch, so there's that, and the sickest children from last week were all rebounding: a ten year old with cerebral malaria who had been unconscious with abnormal pupils, a six year old with severe malnutrition and anemia listless with sickle cell disease, a six-month old twin pair with pneumonia. We even discharged a 6-week old who had been critically ill on oxygen for days with a bronchiolitis. One of the preems came back looking great. We strive to hold onto those moments of thanks. Because it's otherwise a sea of insanity. It's hard to bounce from a preteen with unexplained ascites to a 1 year old with an undiagnosed complex syndrome to another kid strolling in with a massive neck tumour to then next dozen who have received variously incomplete courses of malaria treatment that needs to be rectified to a follow-up for low weight gain. A student appeared, I spent extra time on patient #3 making it a learning opportunity, he then disappeared for the rest of the day and I never saw him again. Referrals departing, referrals returning. An unexpected big-wig arriving to teach the staff about HIV diagnosis. Parents asking for discharge. A district official popping in for his own kid to get a check-up for the most minor rash. It's relentless. I am very thankful for Dr. Isaiah, without whom I might still be there lying on the floor (actually there's so many people, the floor is pretty much covered, so I'd be lying on some patients).

Scott meanwhile did two surgeries and all of OB rounds, all of which was quite life-saving, and still had time to help me get through the last few kids. We were just pulling out onto the road about 3:30 pm to get home in time for Scott to have a meeting with some of the other Area Directors when my phone rang. One of our key partners, Clovice, was at a smaller health centre with his wife. They had been at our house on Sunday with anxiety about her upcoming delivery, and Scott had checked her term pregnancy with an ultrasound and BP and reassurance, but now she was in labor and it was impossible to understand on the phone. We decided to drive straight to the health centre, and once there we confirmed she was in potential trouble. The young volunteer recent-grad doc had done his due diligence. So, forget the meeting or a drink of water or anything else, we piled her entourage and luggage into our vehicle and turned around to go back to the hospital.

It turns out that a few phone calls and a 5pm-ish timing makes for better-than-usual emergency care. Long story short, with a quick C-section and a bit of resuscitation and a few harrowing moments, the outcome was a delightfully perfect little girl and a happy dad. Mom will be happy when she feels better. 

Back to the wall: five minutes before that phone call, I was DONE. I find myself reaching the limit and resisting the stretch. And yet when it was a friend, a faithful person, a family who are not just names or diagnoses but real people, we didn't hesitate to add on a couple more hours. By 6 we were reaching home again, and by 6:05 someone was knocking on our door, and the wall was back up. 

So, truly we need transformation ourselves. Me mostly; Scott is solid. I know it is a scarcity mentality, a lack of faith, a mental wall that feels the need to be protected from one more problem. In the irony that so often accompanies life, per request of the Medical Superintendent we started a staff Bible study series on Monday mornings. On whom? Abraham. So, I was teaching about faith and courage and the unknown and sacrifice and stepping out at 8 am . . . while grumbling about exhaustion 8 hours later. Sigh. Yet, limits are also OK. They are human. They are part of the design of creation. 6 days of labor and one to rest. Three score and ten and then eternal rest. Another paradox, that we are called to embrace faith and sacrifice; we are called to let go of being superhuman saviours. I think we want inviolable lines that excuse us from the hard work of having to hold onto both of those truths. In this moment, have faith and push on, in that moment, say no and turn off. Both are valid and we won't always get it right. Which is why we need grace just as much as we preach grace. 

200 days down, unknown days to go, and asking for an infusion of courageous can-do spirit, and of peaceful let-go rest.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

God in the time of Coronavirus: churches in Uganda reopen on day 198

 I have to hand it to Bundibugyo: church resumed today after a six month moratorium. And they managed to be scientifically cautious and faithfully joyous in the proper paradox.

As per national guidelines, a church that would normally be skin-to-skin crowded, children flowing in and out, a veritable sea of aerosols and sweat, with no particular concern for time, was transformed. Worshipers arrived and lined outside to wash hands with soap and water. Then they were registered (in case contact tracing needs to be done) in a numbered list with a limit of 70, with their temperature taken and recorded. Each number corresponded to a chair. Everyone wore a mask, and sat in their carefully spaced assigned seat. Mid-service, a deacon moved around and sprayed everyone's hands with alcohol spray again. The government limited services to two hours, and they began and ended exactly on time.  The elder leading the service gave public service education on COVID prevention measures. Masks were pulled under chins for singing which was probably not 100% wise, but otherwise the protocols were quite strictly adhered to. Surely if this level of decorum, order, spacing, caution can be achieved in Bundibugyo, no one should be excused from trying.

Our building is a spacious community centre with excellent airflow, no screens or window panes, a high roof, huge double doors on three sides. It was a sunny day with strong breezes. And whether  everyone was just curious or so longing for fellowship after a long drought or afraid of being left out, I don't know, but we went at the normal time things would start to trickle towards a start and found ourselves #64 and 65, a near miss, with the choir in full swing. 

Note the assigned seat numbers, Bundimulinga Presbyterian Church of Uganda

Yes, we sang, and danced, and had offering and announcements and prayer and a sermon. We waved from our seats instead of greeting by handshakes and hugs all over the church as usual, and the offering buckets were brought to us instead of allowing a crowd to swarm the front. But the feeling was festive. The praise was heartfelt. A widow who had recovered from illness gave a passionate testimony and donated a basket she had made. And the texts were picked to be relevant to the current situation:

Deuteronomy 31-be strong and courageous, God is with you.

Leviticus 13-sensible words about leprosy prevention by case identification and isolation, with a little history from the pastor who remembers his parents talking about leprosy care and elimination here in the 1940's and 50's. Quarantine is Biblical.

2 Kings 5 and Matthew 8-two leprosy healing stories, with the point that Jesus heals, that no disease is too hard for God to disrupt, that we should not hide but come with hope to find healing.

When did you last hear a sermon on Leviticus 13?

All in all, it was a very encouraging morning to see the community that has been hammered with isolation, anxiety, potential disaster, come out in faith and respect science while looking to God to work. The world should take note.

Oct 4 Jewels: 24 years of Julia, 198 days of #COVID19-UGANDA, and a lifetime of love

 For all the 24-year-olds in 2020, we your parents bleed in the paradox of apologising for this relentless year of sorrows, and resting in the hope you represent.

Like most of the years since she turned 17, we are missing Julia's birthday. Her milestones like 18 and 21 were spent with kind community, but no shared continent with us. Today she has a brother whose break in the tortuous special forces training program for two days miraculously aligns. This is where the cross scratches our shoulders and weighs our hearts most. But in 2020, I suspect this is true of SO MANY. Grandparents unable to travel, parents unwilling to risk exposure, kids unable to have school friends, venues shut down, it's a year of wishing and yearning. This Oct 4 finds our Julia in a country beset by pandemic, with the president hospitalised and the future shaky. She's in a world where relentless exploitation of resources for wealth has damaged the environment, and where injustice has been subtly and sometimes blatantly encoded in the very fabric of society. Like many in her cohort, she's working two part-time minimum-wage jobs that don't give her health insurance, studying on the side for grad school admissions, sharing a modest house in a modest neighbourhood to make ends meet. 

Most recent photo, pc Lena from the farm, stolen from instagram . . 

two more farming photos from the newspaper article, pc Kadejeh Nikouyeh

At Maxie B's when we visited  a couple years ago

But: she IS working, studying, communing.  And here is where hope comes in. Because amongst the 24-year-olds are growing proportions of people who value a job for its meaning more than its benefits, who invest in causes that increase equality and justice even if their own power or wealth are not established, who hold onto the importance of community and faith. Who are asking hard questions and not accepting the easy answers. 

Julia gives us hope. Her first job is at New Garden Park Farm (link for recent newspaper article), a church-based community agriculture project that combines many of her passions: food for the hungry, working alongside East African immigrants, creating a healing God-filled space with the beauty of nature, encouraging parishioners to care for creation, experimenting with sustainability. Her second job is at Maxie B's, a bakery-coffee shop that provides connection and celebration. She's thinking about how to be part of the goodness of God to real people in real time. She embraces friendships across a diversity of colour, age, belief, identity. Her fridge is full of homemade concoctions, her porch is blooming, and her brother helped her rehabilitate an amazing hand-me-down espresso maker for her barista side-hobby. Her rescue-dog Chance and her fuel-efficient Prius and her broad rimmed hat go with her everywhere. She's intentional and prayerful and free-spirited and organised and deliberate and reliable and openminded. In all the best, sunny, ways. Growing up as an outsider and growing up in the faith informs who she is, but she has taken all those crazy experiences and become her own person. One of my life-long prayers for her was based on the end of Luke 2, that she would grow in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men. She's smart and insightful, healthy and strong, and I know God and humanity keep finding more new things about her to love. We certainly do.

moving day, pc ??, she's a strong woman!

With Caleb at his Ranger grad; he gets to see her today too!

So on this October 4th, we celebrate her once again from afar. And this being 2020, let me end with two quotes from reading the papers this weekend. The first is from Viola Davis, whose movie about the blues singer Ma Rainey is coming out soon. She reflected on how the character's joy, her comfortableness in who she was, rubbed off on her as she acted, and said:

 "I have to remember that I don't have to barter for my worth. I was just born with it."  

That is about as clear a statement of grace as I have read, and it reminded me of Julia. She was born with worth, and we could not love her more. The second is from an article about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, where the author reflects that the two things she learned from reflecting on the justice's life were gratitude and good work. Being thankful re-sets our focus in this year of so many losses. Writing this blog post is an act of choosing to be more thankful for MY daughter than I am sorry for myself that I'm far away. A life of gratitude to God and good work for others is a fair summary of our aspirations:

Justice Ginsburg was a human being, an incredible woman of valor. And her passing can remind us that while there are no political saviors, we all can work to save the world. God alone saves. Yet, we, fragile humans that we are, do the work we are given to do - whether as lawyers or politicians or preachers or teachers or doctors or florists or writers or waiters or clerks. And we do our part for the common good. When we do what we are called to do well, wherever we are called to do it, with courage and grace, we contribute to the healing, the salvus (the word salvation comes from the Latin word “to heal”) of the world, what the Jewish tradition refers to as “repairing” the universe. God is the Savior, the Healer, the Great Physician, the Comforter. But we help save - as repairers of the breach, the bringers of peace and grace, the seekers of a more just world.

So here's to Julia, and all the 24-year-old women out there who are working for the common good, repairing the breach, bringing grace, breathing peace, and seeking justice. 2020 shall pass, and the road ahead is yours.

Julia in Bundibugyo 1996 (same tree, same chair, same yard still here but no Julia)

with brothers, 1997

Julia with Bear, and Jack, 1998 or 9

Bear in 2020 after Chance got hold of him

When they got to wear the birthday button for breakfast on the special day

Here are the two photos I have taped to the wall over my desk:

Learning photography with her dad

Our one time to all be glamorous together, Nov 2019

How I still think of us