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Saturday, February 15, 2020

A short life and a different sort of death . . . M. J. Dec 2019 to Feb 2020

Yesterday we wrote about Dr. Travis, a team leader, colleague, and friend who died on Thursday of colon cancer.

At about the same time he was dying, one of the two-month-old severely malnourished patients on the paediatric ward also passed away.

MJ was the first baby his mother had. She delivered in a small government health center, and was sent home. Only her bleeding continued post-partum, and by the time she and her family returned a day later, she was in serious condition. According to her mother-in-law (MJ's paternal Grandmother), the health center had no blood to transfuse and so she died, leaving him motherless. So this grandmother and her grieving son did what they could. They bought straight cow's milk, which is not common in Bundibugyo, and fed it to MJ.  They took him for his immunisations at 6 weeks, but no one noted the baby's weight or any problems.  A week or two later, they brought him to our District Hospital. Where we noticed he was starving, anemic himself, and extremely ill. Over the next couple of days we were able to transfuse, start antibiotics, start gentle feeds alternating with oral rehydration, start a program for his grandmother (who had a 3 year old, so had only stopped breast feeding in the last year or so) to re-lactate. We moved him from the back corner of the ward to the acute area in the front, and put him on oxygen. We confirmed he did not have serious underlying malformations or infections; he was "just" starving and reacting poorly to the cow's milk protein, causing him to loose a lot of blood in his intestines.
MJ on rounds, so thin and wasted, an allergic rash, and oxygen saturations of 73% (should be 95-100%).

He was back in that corner with the 37 on the wall . . . 

We did all we could, and he died anyway.

After two marginal months at home, he only lasted a few days in our care.

This is a story of a broken system. MJ's mother should not have been sent home bleeding. She should have received one of several medications very effective for post-partum hemorrhage. She should have been transfused, immediately and repeatedly.  NO ONE should die of bleeding, and certainly not a 20 year old in good health who just delivered a baby. MJ's grandmother should have been given advice and resources to care for him. The 6-week check should have screened his weight and pulled him into care. When he finally came to the hospital, it should not have taken an overnight wait for me to be the one to check his vital signs and find out just how sick he was.

I suspect that MJ was buried by mid-day Friday, wrapped in a cloth, with a handful of family in attendance. I suspect that once his mother died, no one really expected him to live anyway. I suspect that thousands of people are mourning Travis's death right now, around the world, and many many of us hoped he would live into old age. Besides the day of their death, there is very little in common between the two stories of MJ and Travis. But as I felt heavy hearted last night, this is what shocked me:

God knew each of them. God knew the days they would have. God knew the hairs on their heads. God loved them equally well.

I can feel sad, and even angry at the brokeness of the world, at cancer and hunger and poor supplies of blood and inadequate research. But the truth that God knows MJ and Travis and loves them both, that God is at work for good in the very moments of these deaths, that God continues in the process of redeeming all that is wrong and making it right and new? That is news so good and so big it is impossible to fully grasp. The truth that Travis and MJ could be sitting down to a banquet together right now? Also beyond comprehension, but why not? Maybe they recognized each other's Lubwisi greeting, or smile.

That's an image that gives me hope. And for Travis and for MJ, we bear witness that their lives mattered to God and to those who knew them. We go back into the battle of each day's push, bringing a little more light into dark corners and prayerfully making small bits of progress. That's about all we can do.

Friday, February 14, 2020

A good life, a hard death, a modern Saint Valentine. Dr. Travis Johnson, Feb 14 1976-Feb 13 2020

Team Bundi on my prayer card circa 2012, Travis in glasses, Amy front center holding Adian, Lilli and Patton standing on wall in back

Church this evening, pc Alanna, as Scott shared from Rev 21

Dr Travis Johnson died yesterday. Travis and Amy joined Serge to serve on the Bundibugyo team, and were immediately and rightfully seen to be gold. Fun, faith-filled, competent, eager, courageous people who would inspire courage in others as well. Our leaders had wanted to move Scott into an Area Director position, and we were questioning anyway the sustainability of distant boarding school for the duration of our kids' high school, so win-win seemed clear. Travis and Amy with their children Lillian and Patton would come to Bundi and overlap us (the plan was a year, but by God's grace baby Aidan was a much better plan so that ended up being only half a year) then they would remain as Team Leaders while we took a few months of Home Assignment to put Luke in college before moving to Kenya to work at Kijabe Hospital. We (Scott initially, both of us later) would be supervising the Johnsons in Uganda and the Nairobi team, as the Area Directors for Africa. Travis was a a family medicine doctor like Scott, an all-around medical practitioner as well as a leader and teacher. Amy was a teacher with three young children, and a passion for literacy. She had an interest in the community library we were trying to establish and so started the "Books for Bundi" program, while leading the team with Travis.

A few months is never enough to be prepared for surviving let alone leading in a remote and difficult place, with its deeply entrenched spiritual fears, physically challenging conditions, and constant turnover of personnel. Diving directly into leadership while still getting one's balance as parents is no easy task either. The way those nearly 3 years weighed them down, spread them out, brought them to Jesus is their story to tell. But they created a home and established a Sickle Cell Disease clinic, saw patients, hosted and recruited new team mates, invited interns, planned retreats, went on safari, developed friendships, facilitated reconciliations between people, oversaw Christ School, prayed against spiritual warfare, nursed pets back to health and mended the tender hearts of their kids, and a thousand other things. Some of the key partners we have now: Ann Kieser, Josh and Anna Dickenson, Michael and Lesley Stevens and others who work in the Home Office, were shepherded in by the Johnsons too. They invested in young CSB grads. Travis preached and prayed and blessed many. While on their own home assignment, the chronic intestinal irregularities that have plagued quite a few foreign workers here just didn't get better for Travis. It took time to treat parasites and decide to pursue further work-up and at the end of the process we were shocked to find out he had a late-stage small but highly dangerous cancer in his colon that had already spread. He was 37. They were just at the turning point of blossoming in Bundibugyo. And they had to cut that plan short, stay in the USA for surgery and chemotherapy.

And in spite of a less than 1 in 5 chance of living to 5 years, Travis lived 7 more years after diagnosis. The Johnsons kept their heart for Bundibugyo but were never able to move back here due to round after round of chemotherapy (62 courses), surgery (6 major and many minor), radiation (20 treatments) and immunotherapy (18). Consultations.  New combinations of drugs. Two steps forward and one back. Fasting and prayer, anointing with oil. Vegan smoothies and marathon bike rides. They went to battle with this cancer, all the while creating a stable life for their family, working at jobs, attending sports games and school events and serving on the Serge board. For most of those 7 years Travis appeared to be trim, tan, grinning, youthful, bubbling over with ideas and absolute assurance that God's goodness and love were to be trusted. Until the final couple of months, with metastases to the brain, he was indomitable. He carried us along in his hopefulness, praying for cure and extending the months.

I saw the news from Amy in the early morning, and I'm sure others did too. We decided there would be a need for some community gathering to mourn. In this place we are hard-wired to go to the grieving. There is nothing higher in priority than sitting with the bereaved. So we mentioned to a few people that we would open the community center at 5 pm for prayer and songs and testimony. Remember that Travis spent about 6% of his life in Uganda, and has been gone for 7 years. But somehow the very intensity of life makes those years loom in importance, for the Johnsons and for all of us. So when we quickly put together a plan with Pastor Kisembo (prayer, scripture, sing, speak) the chairs began to fill until there were 50 people or more. And our service went on for two hours, and probably could have continued another except for darkness. The ENTIRE Christ School staff walked up the road, even though only a handful had been teachers when Travis was chairman of the board. There were young men who had been fatherless, old women who had found an advocate. Dozens of people told their stories. Travis gave me a job, Travis gave me advice, Travis shared this verse with me, Travis invited me into his home, Travis sponsored my education, Travis told me not to worry he would help me, Travis went and looked for my sick husband and brought him home, Travis came to my house. People who felt seen and loved. Who felt connected and safe.
Scott recording testimony

clinging to Jesus, our only comfort in life and in death

The very last two testimonies, though, were my favorites. Byomuntula told a story of Amy playing a prank on Travis that involved a bowl of water balanced over a door, and a surprise dousing. He was mystified by this act of disrespect from a wife . . then mystified even more when Travis laughed. He learned that humor is part of marriage, that joy trumps order. Many people described Travis as joyful. Then Isaiah Kule spoke of the other side of Travis, his determination to help and to change, his sacrificial spirit. When Isaiah was an orphan on scholarship at Christ School, he had an opportunity to work alongside Travis by translating for him. Soon he decided to change his career direction and apply to medicine like Travis. And Travis agreed to sponsor his education through the Kule fund. He spoke of how this continued even when the Johnsons left, staying in touch, sending gifts. Then he said, "one of the last verses Travis shared with me was that God wants me to call him Abba, Father. He told me that I should stop calling myself an orphan, because I have a Father who is caring for me and watching over me, who is meeting all my needs. " Isaiah was barely controlling tears and paused to get in control. Then he looked directly at the phone where Scott was recording testimony to send to Amy and the kids. "Lilli, Patton, and Aidan, you are not orphans either. God is your good father. God is the one who will meet all your needs."
Isaiah carried this photo from about 2012, when Travis reached his home. His mom is on the right.

Wow. Travis preached to this fatherless boy many years ago, and now he is preaching back to Travis's fatherless children.
Dr. Isaiah today, with his mom again, and Gladys another very sad older lady

It hits me that this moment is what it's all about. We are here to seek out the marginal, to invest in the poor, to share what we have been given.. . . . but the truth is that we are needy and lost ourselves. And if we press into this long enough, we find those very people pouring back the love and truth to us.

Pray for the Johnson family. Pray that when they look back over life, they will have a tender spot for this place and its importance. Pray they would walk by faith even right in the thick of their sorrow and their questions.
A less outdated but still not current prayer card, the one taped to my wall

And though this story is not about us, we would also love prayer. This team has had 8 team leader families over its 30 years of existence. Three have left because of cancer at surprisingly young ages (all died). Two had children with significant needs that could not be met with the limited medical and educational resources here. Two stepped down due to extreme feelings of burn out. It has not been pretty, from a certain perspective; it feels like this job is impossible. It's a sobering line-up that is repeated in many places. We can run and hide, or we can say that until God pulls us out with something equally dramatic, here we are.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Gospel according to Desmond. And Nehemiah.

First Sunday of the 2020 school year, and Desmond is our preacher. He's a math teacher who has been part of CSB for over 15 years. Our founder said Desmond's blood is in our mortar, and what he means is that this man has held onto the values of the school through hard times and helped keep us on track. To launch the year, he brought the theme Patrick McClure chose for the teacher workshop "Rise and Build" and expanded on it for students. His usual style is to have a student or two up front with him, and as they read the passage a verse at a time, he repeats and expounds.  So today he brought up three young men, and we walked through chapters 1, 2, and the beginning of chapter 3 in the book of Nehemiah.

Desmond, Salube, and Peter, the leaders of the team!

With a large donation from December, Scott has been repairing the perimeter fencing, turning it into a brick wall to keep thieves out and maintain a safe environment for boarding school students in a very crowded urban environment. Our women member of parliament even donated 100 bags of cement, because this is a matter of protecting girls in a school that prioritises their education. So the story of Nehemiah rings true in a literal sense right in front of our eyes--20 years have taken a toll, things fall apart, and we are making a fresh start to rebuild. We're recovering from people who wanted to do harm. The last year by God's grace we've invested in lots of visible improvements in addition to the new brick sections of fencing: repaired roofs and fresh plaster, new coats of paint, replacement of all the bunk beds, new doors, new books for the library, new pots for the kitchen, and on and on. And in spite of many predictions that our 2019 problems would torpedo our students' exam performance, we celebrate the fact that out of 11 Division One (best) grades in the district, 10 were from CSB. We finished as the best secondary school in the district again, and 11th percentile nationally (better than 89% of schools in Uganda).  There is momentum and hope in these efforts.
Brick piles last week ready for the next section of fencing (it is now underway!)

Desmond took it a step further, though. As Nehemiah decides to join the campaign to restore Jerusalem, he begins with a soul-searching prayer of repentance. And Desmond challenged us to all do the same. Where do we need to tear down some damaged walls in our own lives, order to build afresh? What is God calling us to change? His example: if a student cheats on tests through the year, the teacher has no way to find out the issues that need to be addressed. So that student will reach the final national security-conscious proctored exam and fail. Don't hide, repent and let God work!  Let's not just have a nice-looking campus, winning sports teams and good grades. Yes, those are good. But what God is doing here is bigger than all that. God is remodelling lives.

By the end he had them cheering with expectation that 2020 will be a year for shining.

The Gospel is good news. When the paint is being scraped or the damaged fence pulled up, it may not feel that way. When I look realistically at the pitiful progress in my own heart, I sigh. But I believe that Nehemiah's example is true. Side by side, pulling down rubble and rebuilding, we are creating a community where glory dwells, where good prevails, where justice grows.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Choosing our Story: on meat pots and wilderness and highways and faith

This week the epic of Exodus took me through chapter 16. Literally the camping crowd of Abraham's descendants are days past what surely must have been one of the most dramatic rescues of all time, army closing in behind, deep water ahead, a massive migration of humans on the move from oppressive servitude towards a hope of a peaceful existence with their own gardens and government and worship. God had sent an obscuring cloud behind to hide them and a wind ahead to clear the path. These people had passed unscathed through the sea, waters parted to safety, then seen their pursuers drown and turn back. They had danced and sang, and three days later when they were thirsty in the wilderness God provided water, then led them to an oasis of palm trees and wells. Another week or two passes as they move further into the rugged landscape. And this is their summary of the story as they complain to Moses: "Oh, that we had died in Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."

Image result for sinai wilderness
(google image photo of Sinai)

What??? Pots of meat and easy bread?? What about the cry they had sent up to God for deliverance as they were beaten, despised, stripped of any rights, forced into hard labor making bricks and building pyramids? What of all they had seen as God threw onslaughts of frogs and hail and deep darkness and death on their oppressors, while preserving their lives, to the point that they were not only allowed to depart but given bounties of gold to just get out? What about the prior weeks of partying by the Red Sea when they walked away from certain doom?  How quickly heat and hunger change our memories.

They are in the wilderness. The space between the promise and its fulfilment. Between the release and the arrival. Between a taste of freedom and a holistic life. In other words, they are where we all live.

In that context of a harsh environment, a weary body, a questioning soul, they look back on the facts and frame a story that makes sense to them. They are now the sacrifice, brought to die. Still caught up in the religion of retribution.

In actual fact, however, three chapters prior we read the real story. God did not lead them up the coastal Mediterranean highway, though that would have been shorter. Why? Because God anticipated that an immediate confrontation with hostile national forces would have frightened them into returning to Egypt. They were not ready for war. They needed time and space to form a national identity, to learn to worship and to trust. To meet God face to face, on Mount Sinai. This was the theme of our East and Central Africa retreat two years ago with Greg Thompson, the invitation to intimacy.

Two story frames for the same situation: one based on fear, we're here to die. The other based on love, God protecting them from disaster, God inviting them into relationship.

Well, I can complain with the best of the Israelites. Last week was sopping with heavy clouds and constant rain . . but today is too hot with unrelenting sun. It's a miracle to have a son who turned 27 yesterday, and in the last year married a woman whom we love and survived his internship in orthopedic surgery . . but I felt the familiar aching complaint of distance, missing yet another birthday as we have for over a decade. There is always too much to think about, to do, always the feeling of being inadequate and a bit of a disappointment, of letting down people I should love better. There is always one more need, one more knock, one more tale of desperation from which I would avert my eyes. Woe are we.
Yes I bought a stack. It's that good.

In our Team Meetings we are now reading Eric McLaughlin's excellent book Promises in the Dark, Walking with those in need without losing heart. (side note . . to sign into a free webinar with Eric tomorrow follow this link). This week we talked about all the ways we feel weak, frustrated, angry, complaining, overwhelmed, despairing, insufficient to the task. And the ways that we react to that feeling often being to blame others or God, to complain, to control the little bit we imagine we can, to escape into small pleasures, or deny the realities that wear us down. Perhaps we are just like the Israelites--trying to construct a story where God is at fault. But that story misses the bigger story God is telling. My grace is sufficient, my power is made perfect IN YOUR WEAKNESS. Not the wilderness and the misery as making the best of a bad plot twist, but the thorny current problem as the very path that God has given us out of love. 

God rarely pulls back that curtain of explanation. We don't normally find out that the coastal road would have led to war. We just find ourselves in the literal or metaphorical wilderness, in lonely hearted longing, in long hard days, in losses and suffering. We find ourselves unable to fix a comfortable path, and that is the moment of faith. Can the wind of the Spirit blow here? Can the streams of grace spring up in this desert? What story am I living in, a tale of fear where I am vulnerable, God is distant, and evil is relentless? Or a story of mystery where God has brought me to this exact moment for a redemption I can barely understand?

Students arriving for the 2020 school year, a big reason we are in this chapter of our own story

And another glimpse into our story, patients for whom justice calls for care. A little girl with burns above, a hungry baby with a cleft lip and palate below.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

02022020 and a New Year for soul happiness

Our kids delighted in palindromes. They wore inexpensive digital watches (still do) and would watch for times and dates that were the same backwards as forwards. So today I particularly miss the excitement that would have abounded on the second of February in the year 2020 here. Nevertheless, the new year is off to a rocking start in other ways.

 Staff in front of the Admin block as we departed for the retreat

And last night back on campus as we did a prayer walk with CSB staff and team to prepare for the arrival of students today

 First, we completed a 2 1/2 day Teacher Retreat and Workshop for the CSB staff. It has been a tradition to go off-site for a couple of nights prior to the onslaught of the new school year's responsibilities, to build community, solidify vision, equip educational methods, share ideas, shore up plans. . . and have fun! This year's retreat was held in Fort Portal, and I believe all those goals were realized. We could not be more delighted to be bringing Patrick McClure into the CSB work as Director of Development. The McClure family landed a few months ago, and after some language-learning and house-settling and education-for-kids-sorting he is now coming alongside Scott in the day to day partnership with have with Christ School. Unlike us, Patrick is an actual educator and administrator with a solid background of experience in the USA. He had everyone standing, sharing, throwing footballs and brainstorming lists, lots of very participatory sessions that not only communicated content but modeled HOW to communicate content.

Patrick's theme: Let us Rise and Build, from Nehemiah, note the trowels on which we wrote the characteristics of "giant" schools (successful schools) we were committed to work on building at CSB!

We hired a handful of new staff whom we were trying to also orient to the CSB vision and mission. We are grateful for the long-term staff, in particular teachers Desmond, Salube, Peter and Kiiza who have served for a decade or more. Equally important, we now have many staff who were former students!  One of our new hires came to CSB as a sponsored OVC in Senior 1, and stayed to graduation from Senior 6. Now he's back as a University-educated teacher. Another struggled through a very small and poor peripheral school in the district for 4 years but was admitted on a scholarship to CSB for S5 and 6. He did so well he earned a government scholarship to University. And now he's back to pass that blessing on to others. This is the dream of what would happen here, that our graduates would be servant-hearted leaders who would return to transform Bundibugyo. It is slow, these stories have decade-long arcs, but we are seeing it happen.

My topic was "conflict", because whenever you put 25 teachers living and working in a boarding school day after day, there will be conflict! Many of us do not grow up learning healthy ways of "iron sharpening iron", of bringing good out of difference, but we hope that the role plays, diagrams, Bible verses, discussions . . will stick and change patterns of behaviour.
The Magistrate's court above, and walking the disputed land below

We returned from the retreat directly to court for yet another instalment of our land case, in which the elderly man who sold part of his property twenty years ago to the mission in order for us to plant trees (a generally good thing) and provide food and income for the school (another bonus) . . . because he needed the money at the time for his own kids' school fees . . . is now claiming both that he didn't mean to sell it, only lease it for three years, and that when he signed a document fifteen years later confirming our ownership during a time when we were trying to document our properties, it was invalid because of his poor eyesight. It is very frustrating to sit in court all day listening to people not tell the truth, but I suppose that's happening everywhere. We still have another session or two before the judge decides, so that could take us through a good portion of 2020.
My students clustering around for bedside teaching

From there it was back to the usual for the rest of the week. The clinical officer training college in Fort Portal decided to assign us a couple of dozen students for a month, so Dr. Marc and I each found ourselves with a little crowd of very green medical students to teach. Malaria still abounds, and this dry season has still been punctuated by heavy rain storms. The wards are full of children with anemia from sickle cell disease too, and premature babies, and infectious coughs and abscesses, and puzzling jaundice or rare bone disease. As January came to a close we have been trying to have our monthly phone conferences with the dozen or so leaders we mentor, catch up on hundreds of emails, produce reports, raise funds, weigh in on some leadership dilemmas, and care for our team here. Scott is supervising the next section of perimeter wall for the safety of Christ School students, thanks to a donation at the end of 2019, and looking at what the priority infrastructure improvements for 2020 should be. One day he took a few hours to totally re-design our hot water solar system (involving lots of work up a ladder with pipes and tools), and now we have blazing hot water for washing dishes and bathing. Yeah.

Our nutrition program is helping this 4-month-old with cleft palate

Hospital-wide CME on Friday mornings, Dr. Ammon teaching

In Uganda, January is a transitional month, the end of the longer school holiday (Dec/Jan) and the beginning of a new year of work. As we enter fully into this year, I have to admit we feel stretched and pounded by the needs around us and our own desire to push into the Kingdom work. This morning our sermon came from Matthew 22, the wedding feast, which is usually told as a cautionary tale of not refusing the invitation for salvation. But in this cultural context, the preacher said that God the father was calling together a committee to prepare for the wedding of his son to US, because the Father's heart is set on the happiness of our souls. In fact, the father sees the poverty of our souls and has provided the entire budget for the feast already. I confess that my M.O. this week has been hurry, protecting time, a sense of inadequacy, too much to do . . . not an invitation to soul happiness. Yet we have some pretty dramatic evidence that what the preacher said is true. A few large donors have boosted us into 2020 with hope of abundant provision, and hundreds of normal donors remind us that we have a prayerful community standing with us in the fray. Both are equally important signs of God's love.
Next to me in church this am, one happy soul

Enjoy the palindrome today, and be alert for the banquet of 2020.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

How to Change the World

Everyone likes to hate on facebook, but occasionally there are gems. Such as the fact that a couple weeks ago as the movie Just Mercy was released, some friends re-posted this forum in which Tim Keller and Bryan Stevenson talked about justice.  Scott and I listened to it and it so resonated with us, that we played part of it again for a team meeting.  Honestly it's the end of a pretty demanding week and I am going to share the main points Stevenson makes in order to preach to myself.

1. GET PROXIMATE--you cannot stay in safe spaces to bring justice to the world; there is power in proximity. I suppose that's the whole point of being a cross-cultural, cross-the-world, worker. If you have the education, the solid foundation, that gives you more than most, and a heart that is disturbed by the sorrows of disparity and death . . . well then being right smack in the face of it makes you take it way more seriously, and paradoxically also gives you perspective and ideas. This was a proximal week. This morning, amidst a parade of people with needs, was a 13 year old girl and her dad. She has excellent grades from primary school, and a dream of Christ School, and yet after a week of trying to find options, little hope of getting there. And while there are good reasons we feel we cannot take on more responsibility for school fees . . . the truth is that being her neighbour means we know her family, we know their limits, we remember when our daughter was 13 and needed a safe decent school here. Yesterday, I spent a good deal of the day trying to save the life of a 3-month-old infant. If I had not been on the ward, I would not have had the opportunity to think and act. Five or six hours into a ward full of sick kids, I don't always want to be there. It is easy from a distance to think I know how things should work; it is different to be in the epicenter of malaria and sickle cell and overflowing beds and be pushing fluids into a needle in a baby's bone.
This patient wishes I was less proximate

I snapped this in the first minute for a teaching slide, while we were still hooking up the oxygen, but already pushing dextrose and fluid into the intra-osseous.

2. CHANGE THE NARRATIVE--underneath the problems we see there are narratives, stories we tell to explain evident evil and often to distance ourselves, to protect our hearts. For instance, I could tell the story of the 13 year by old focusing on her male relatives' propensity to drink, poor planning, wasted opportunities, their need to take responsibility. Or I could tell it focused on the genetic burden of alcoholism, the amazing spiritual turn-around her dad had at his lowest point when Jesus appeared to him in a dream, the math of just how hard they are working to survive, or the bigger picture of the vast amount of resource (human, mineral, etc) that has been extracted from this continent impacting everything here. I could tell the story of the 3 month old as ignorance, a family that ignored warning signs of serious disease until it was too late implying they were negligent or uninterested, versus the story of how the mother wailed her distress, how her friends tried to console her to have hope as we worked. One way turns people into projects, into less-than, different-from, problems to be solved or helped. The other recognises our common humanity, the glory of each person, the complexity of how we end up with one of us having an MD and the other barely enough to eat.

3. STAY HOPEFUL--Stevenson said, it is easier to be faithful than to be hopeful. This one gets all of us in our line of living-on-the-edge work. We can force ourselves to plod through another knock for help, another day of rounds, another file and patient. But over time, it gets harder and harder to invest, to even get out of bed and face the day, unless we have hope. So many things threaten hopefulness.  For me it is often the sheer volume, the fact that my eyes can see not just this 13 year old girl's life paths but the fact that she represents hundreds, thousands of girls. Not just this 3-month-old baby's impending demise and the lack of a monitor let alone an ICU, but the fact that there are a thousand dysfunctions in the health system and ten thousand ways we could spend the rest of our lives addressing them. It gets tiring when work feels futile. Staying hopeful is a work in progress. It requires community, so that we can absorb others' cheer when ours is lost. It requires vigilance to notice the one miracle sparkle of healing when clouds of failures blur our vision. It requires commitment to look for decade steps of progress, not giving up on the day-to-day disappointments.

I had a moment of hope at this point . . notice two hours in we have some improvement. Things plummeted again soon after this though. Fragile beings make for wild swings of hope.

4. DO UNCOMFORTABLE THINGS--you can't stay comfortable and change the world. We are hard-wired to seek comfort. Even as we make ourselves proximate to difficulty, we still try to mitigate the hardship, to order our worlds to our liking. Needs are disruptive. Grief is painful. Helplessness makes us squirm. Stevenson gives a powerful testimony about how hard it is to work with broken people in broken systems, and we say, amen. SO MUCH does not work, or exhausts us, or requires unexpected extra trips to get tools or calls to find blood or time to listen more carefully. I have other things I'd rather do on Saturday morning than attend to the 5th visitor in a row asking for money. I admit that once the 3-month old yesterday was slightly more stable, I was frustrated that no nurse could be found to put in an ng tube, and just as I thought I was finishing rounds I was back searching for supplies and having to do it all myself. But as Stevenson goes on to say, we find out when we are stressed and pushed and tired and exasperated and poured out that we are not heroes, we are not saints, we too are the broken. And this, paradoxically, is good news because God promises that transformative power comes through our weakness, that in that moment God's love can change the world. As we risk being uncomfortable, we find out what the cross means.

And to summarise hope and world-changing, this week ended with a visit from Dr. Katuramu Tadeo and his wife Carol, daughter Adriel, and a couple of Carol's relatives. Sixteen years ago in January 2004, he and Luke entered CSB together in the S1 class. Katuramu was an orphan from Fort Portal, a bright young boy who found his way to education and God through a Serge-planted church and school there. Luke was the first non-Ugandan at CSB (followed by our other kids) pioneering some pretty cross-cultural education at age 10 going on 11. They bonded over Mater Desmond's math problems, graduated top of the district, diverted in A-level/University/Med School via Ugandan and American systems, but have remained friends and are both 2nd year residents now in Family Medicine (Katuramu) and Orthopedic Surgery (Luke). In the midst of that we had an Ebola epidemic, much sorrow and loss, but new hope through the Kule Leadership fund. These three young doctors all received sponsorship to medical school because of that time:
Doctors Isaiah, Katuramu, and Ammon

Because of proximity, we experienced many years of life with these three, and saw their potential. Because of people who read blogs and care, the narrative of Ebola and tragedy was changed for them, and will change broadly as they work for thousands of others. They are part of the way we stay hopeful, as they form part of our community, and as we take note of the longer arc of God's story in their lives and around us. And they remind us that our discomforts are minimal, that we are broken, that in our weakness God is at work.

Here are a few more fun photos of their 24 hours with us . . . 
I think the joy of our kids keeps us hopeful too. Adriel is a sparkly girl!

It all started in these classrooms . . Michael (in bright shirt) is now a teacher at CSB.

Teacher Desmond with wife Harriet, pupil Dr. Katuramu with wife Carol. My favorite story Desmond told: Luke and Katuramu did not only strive to learn advanced math . . they determined that all the girls in their class would pass math. And they did.

Playing tour guide to the celebrities 

Saying bye today in the taxi park

Another teacher from the early era, Madame Salube.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

2020 coast to coast, continent to continent, two weeks in!

The last hours of 2019 found us in Half Moon Bay, California, where Scott's 87-year old mom lives, a block from the cliffs that drop to the Pacific. His sister Sonja, with husband Kevin and 2 of 3 kids were in town, enabling us to tie up a year with many family events. Looking back on a very unexpected year, one of the bright spots was the opportunity to see our moms and sisters and nieces and nephews more this past year than probably the five prior combined. Having a two-part wedding and two graduations helps, not to mention a life-threatening event. We have typically arrived a few days before annual Serge meetings in Philadelphia to visit California (not exactly on the way unless you consider the relative ease of getting to the West Coast when flying to the USA compared to when sitting in East Africa) . . . but rarely to watch the final sunset of the year with such a great quorum. 

And the first hours of 2020 found us walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, a tradition of Sonja's friends, with stunning views followed by interesting conversations and a LOT of food. 

From California we stopped in Salt Lake City as we made our way East to those Philadelphia meetings, enough time for one ski day with Luke and Abby and Caleb, walks with Botu, and conversations and dinners. It's our first time to visit MARRIED children, which actually didn't feel at all revelatory because Abby seems like part of the family from forever.

(And now a small blog commercial break for better photography once again, this time from Luke

 And one iphone selfie from the slopes . . .

Twice a year our Serge Leadership meets; about 2/3 of the day we talk about big picture strategies and goals, review policies, catch up on trends, and the other 1/3 we pray. For each leader and each area. So it is a particularly Serge-y time where we can be discussing what we need to do to reach out to a more diverse segment of America, or where the Spirit is moving overseas . . . and then sharing our own stories of weariness or failure and finding prayerful support. And there are dozens of sidebars, a quick meeting with someone about a financial reporting issue or someone else about a recruitment idea.

Dinner AT the Massos . . . 

And the cake and dinner for Michael at the meetings

This time the highlight was a dinner to honor Michael Masso who wrapped up his 25 years with Serge as he returned to the USA to spend more time with family and work in renewable energy. Karen will continue to work in our home office, but it is the end of a family era. Acacia and Liana were able to attend this dinner with Serge leaders, and hear dozens of quintessentially Michael stories . . . adventures, puns, courage, simplicity, spiritual insight, pranks.  We often say that no one ever has or probably ever will save more lives in Bundibugyo than Michael, who put in a gravity-flow piped water system just in time for war to displace tens of thousands of people into camps.  We remembered the early days in South Sudan, the many family trips, the shared suffering and learning and joys. I sobbed but most of it was pretty funny and celebratory.

The re-connections with Serge friends like this dinner with Batstones, Hyltons, and Alyssa . . huge treats

Serge publications table--note that both of the featured books came from authors in our Area, Eric McLaughlin and Bethany Ferguson. Both highly recommended.

Last but not least, our USA trip stretched from a planned ten days to a full two weeks when a broken tooth required two emergency dental visits. Not a happy reason to stay a few extra days, but nevertheless a boon to have a few walks in the woods, a time to re-pack, and the opportunity to worship with our church in Sago and drop in on my dad's two remaining living siblings, Aunt Ann (with Uncle Dave below) and Uncle Harold.

Today we are back in Uganda--got to our hotel in Kampala about midnight last night, slept some needed hours, and spent all day doing errands and getting groceries and visiting some friends. Tomorrow on to Bundi. 

2020 has already been full of connection and beauty. But the vast shifts in place and person do take a toll. I got on the plane to return feeling disoriented, regretting not seeing MY mom or sister, having misplaced/lost a couple of important things along the way, feeling poured out already. Grace at the fray, I know this will be better soon, but prayers appreciated.