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Sunday, October 29, 2006

But then, there is always the unexpected

We watched the 1957 movie “Bridge on the River Kwai” this week, a fascinating WWII conflict of Japanese, British, and American culture as prisoners of war struggle to survive in the jungle. Many parallels to the spiritual war, to our determination to build something helpful and lasting, to the physical challenges of life on the edge of death. Many times during the movie, one of the soldiers will make a plan and then concede: “But then, there is always the unexpected.” Sometimes the unexpected is a gift. Yesterday in the midst of many things one of the kids told me there was a woman waiting in the kitubbi, our grass thatched circular porch. A number of other patients and people with problems had been by that day, and I was working on something else for a team member, so I relayed a message back out that she’d have to wait, assuming it was yet one more patient. Then our cow got out of her pasture and was kicking feistily in the yard, an Irish aid worker and his girlfriend arrived for a meeting I was late to, I was trying to settle Julia who had an unexpected fever . . . And nearly forgot her until I was walking out to the meeting and saw her still sitting patiently waiting. I recognized her as the mother of Dixon, one of our little AIDS patients who had died earlier this year. His picture was in one of our prayer letters, a frail all-eyes baby whom we pulled back from the brink of death for a while. He spent long weeks in the hospital and we got to know his mother. When Dixon died, we visited her home in a crowded muddy camp left over from the ADF days, and saw his grave. He was her fourth child, and the fourth to die, and she had been chased from her husband’s family to live with her relatives. A month or two after his death she asked me for a small loan to start a business of buying rice in Congo and selling it in Uganda, to support herself, a major problem for an HIV positive woman with no husband or children. So I leant her about $25, enough to buy rice in bulk and start growing a little business. I told her that when she was making enough profit to keep the business going, she should bring half of the loan back to help someone else. The other half I’d consider a gift. Now I’ve tried that scheme with many people who have more education, strength, resource, math skill, than this woman. And I was content to just let that little bit of money go for her survival. Months passed, I really forgot all about it, I greeted her at the hospital when she came for her regular care, but never mentioned the business. Even when I saw her in the kitubbi I assumed she would be asking for some help for a sickness. But yesterday she said quietly that she’d brought me “a little food from her business” and then pulled out of her bag a crumpled wad of notes and coins that added up to the loan. The unexpected, a gift to build my faith in redemption. The unexpected usually feels like the unwanted I’m afraid. Jonah is due back in the district on Tuesday, the 31rst, for the promised hand-over of Nyahuka Health Center into his charge on Wednesday the 1rst. Yesterday we heard confirmation of a rumor that one of the only two doctors left in the district (another two have left this year) had taken a job in Kampala with an NGO. So will Jonah really be posted to Nyahuka if only one doctor is left at the district hospital? The patient volume is nearly identical so one could see it as a fair division of labor, but I’m afraid that the general perception is that no doctor would be posted out peripherally without at least three doctors centrally. Another unexpected wrinkle. Our season of welcoming new team members (two families and four singles in the last few months) has also been unexpectedly disrupted by the impending early departure of one of our single young women, a teacher at Christ School. She has bravely endured unexpected, unexplained back pain since June and together we made the difficult decision that it was time for better medical care. Since last January she has grown attached to the community of the team and the school; she leaves without knowing if or when she will be well enough for return. A heaviness for all our hearts. Time to be reminded, the unexpected is an illusion based on our position trapped in time, the basis for living by faith. If we could see then we would know that nothing surprises God, that He answers our prayers the way we would choose if we could see all that He knows. For Him, there is no unexpected.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pediatric – Maternity Building: Construction Update (HELP!)

Our vision: Basic, essential, appropriate medical care for mothers and children living in the vicinity of World Harvest Mission – Bundibuygo. Three years ago, we decided that a prerequisite to achieving this vision (in addition to the arrival of Dr. Jonah!), is a more spacious (clean!!) building—and the Combined Pediatric-Maternity Building concept was born. Our template: a neurosurgical ward of the CURE Hospital in Mbale, Uganda where we send many of our hydrocephalic patients. We visited this facility about two years ago, got the blueprints, and began to modify for our context (expanded to ~3000 sq. ft.) Two generous donors combined to give ~$63,000….our estimate to complete the building (including furniture and solar electricity). Our Problem: Call it poor planning, if you like….mostly it is a lack of experience building on this scale. Additionally, we decided to splurge on a beautiful industrial-strength porcelain tile floor which pushed the costs far beyond our original estimates. What the locals are saying (according to one of the elders)…“This is the nicest building in the district. We’re sure glad Dr. Scott is building it...if our local contractors built it, all that money would have been ‘eaten’…" Bottom line….we’ve shot our wad of $63,000 and have the following phases yet unfinished: 1. Windows: screened with glass louvers (estim $1400) 2. Doors: interior/exterior (estim $830) 3. Final painting: (estim $900) 4. Verandah: (estim $1500) 5. Plumbing (sinks/elevated water tank/water lines/etc): (estim $2300) 6. Basic furnishings: beds (~35), desks, chairs, cupboards, shelves, trolleys (estim $ 4000) 7. Solar Photovoltaic Electric system (estim ~$8,000) TOTAL NEED: $18,930 If you are interested, let us know by e-mail (drsmyhre@yahoo.com) We would like to keep the momentum of construction moving ahead.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Return of the prodigal dog

At 5:20 this morning we were awakened by pounding at the door. In Africa, the land of rebels and thieves, one does not answer the door in the dark lightly. We crept quietly out of the bedroom with flashlights off. No one spoke, but the pounding repeated. Then Scott realized what it was: Star returned, and she was banging the screen door. He opened the door and she quivered in, cowering with shame and happiness. All alone. Whether she heard the car, the calls of her name, the kids out searching, or she just tired of running with the wild pack, of hunger and maybe abuse . . . She came home. We welcomed her with food and water, but her older “sister” Angie snarled and tried to get at the food in typical prodigal sibling fashion. There is much happiness in the Myhre house today, and perhaps understanding of the forgiveness and joy of the welcoming Father. (the pix: Angie, the elder, in the foreground..and Star, the prodigal dog, in the background)

Missing pet, some small things are important

Star is missing.  We have two yellow lab pet dogs, Star and Angie, who represent home and continuity to our kids.  We were gone over the weekend for a much-needed family break, but while we were gone there was some confusion about the care of our dogs.  Star was not tied up overnight and ran away.  She did this once before.  Since we arrived home this afternoon and found out, our kids have been searching high and low.  Luke came back caked in mud from an hour and a half of biking for miles around; Jack went on a motorcycle search with Scott; Caleb accompanied neighbor boys who are friends walking as far as he could.  They did find a couple of disparate witnesses in far flung directions who claimed to have seen her.  They are very sad.  A couple of months ago some kids threw a brick at Star and she was briefly paralyzed.  We are worried that someone could beat or kill her while she’s on the run.  Pray for her return, for our kids’ sake.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Reality Check

Yesterday I decided to discharge one of my scrawniest little patients, Jerrad.  He is the age of the toddlers on our team but half their weight (reality check number 1).  His mother had been staying in the hospital with him to get treatment, food, and milk.  She was very pregnant, so we thought at first that explained his problems (children who don’t breastfeed a full two years usually don’t thrive in this low protein culture, so when he weaned at less than a year old from his pregnant mom, he did not grow). But even with food his improvement was minimal, and he continued to have nightly fevers and a terrible cough.  So we presumptively diagnosed TB and saw a margin of improvement after he began treatment.  Then his mom delivered her next baby, a girl, and went home leaving him irritable and lonely with a grandmother.  I took pity on his bereaved wailing and decided he would be better off with his mother, so should go.

Reality check number 2:  he is my neighbor.  When I started asking about where he lived, hoping it was close enough for frequent follow-up, I found out he is the grandson of one of the elderly men whose land borders ours.  His father died this year, which now makes the whole picture make more sense.  This child with his pale hair and fragile stick-like legs, his bleeding lips and desperate whine, lives within a stone’s throw of our milk-producing cow.  Wow.  I felt that like a punch in the gut, that I did not even know about him until he was admitted to my hospital ward.  

So today we bought him his own pitcher, and I took him a liter of milk.  I was passed from one guide to the other (“here, take her to Friday’s, she’s the doctor’s wife”) skirting around the edges of our back pasture, through a cocoa grove, then houses, back to a larger path, then through crowded compounds littered with scraps of discarded plastic containers and strung with ragged clothes.  We found the house:  chalked on the side of the mud wall was “WFP World Food Program”, no doubt copied from a discarded oil tin or flour bag from our food distributions.  Jerrad clung to his mother when he saw me, probably fearing I was there to whisk him back to the hospital.  We sat for a while in the windowless house, on low stools.  They tried to get Jerrad to drink the milk I brought, but since it had been in my fridge all day it was unpleasantly cold to him and he pushed it away.

So reality checks continued:  here is a lady with a newborn infant, a dead husband, and a critically ill toddler, also responsible for several other kids, living in mud surrounded by bare dirt and weeds, smiling very graciously at my visit and thanking me for the milk.  Here is my neighbor, the one that Jesus told parables about when self-righteous people like me wanted to justify themselves.  Here is one of the most pitiful looking children in Bundibugyo and he’s growing up (or not growing) right out my back door.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wounded but still shooting . . .

Well, the showdown did not end in our favor for this round. The depth and strength of the opposition to Jonah’s presence continues to amaze us. Here is what happened. Jonah arrived late last night. Scott had contacted the relevant people to arrange a hand-over this morning. But early in the morning we got wind of the fact that they were not going to cooperate. Jonah decided that he should go up to Bundibugyo to meet the Director himself, and found him consulting with the current in-charge of the unit. Not wanting to interrupt he then went to the hospital and saw patients until 2 pm, and came back to find the Director alone. They had cordial greetings, and then he told Jonah that he was very busy that day and could not come to Nyahuka, nor could he come the next day, or the next, in fact his schedule was completely booked until November 1. People who have been oppressed tend to become very adept at passive-aggressive resistance. According to my parenting book it is the absolute worst way to handle conflict, but in Africa it is common. There are people who do not want Jonah at Nyahuka. Since he has a letter of appointment, they are now going to delay his arrival as long as possible. This is a district which is desperate for doctors. But Jonah was told to go back home and wait two more weeks. We suspect that those who have been accessing the accounts for the health center have to clean up the books and want time to do that. Meanwhile we heard that one of the other scant few district doctors (posted at Bundibugyo Hospital) is leaving, one has already escaped to Kampala, and the one left behind is threatening to quit. The mismanagement of funds, the disregard for these professionals, threatens to leave us with no doctors at all. So Jonah will return to Kampala tomorrow. He knows what he’s in for, and it is clear that the only thing drawing him back to Bundibugyo is his commitment to our friendship. He is suffering, his family is suffering, and though he believes in the call of God the roadblocks are so tangible that I know he would throw up his hands in disgust and walk away except for the memory of our relationship. I think team works that way for all of us here. The glorious pronouncements of the Kingdom pale in the fire of opposition, but the commitment to the real flesh and blood friends whom we work along-side-of pulls us through. So both sides have retreated to recoup and reload, Jonah to moonlight two more weeks in Kampala, make a little money, see his family. The District office to doctor their records and spend funds and who knows what else. By high noon on Nov 1 we should be back for round two, or is it round two hundred.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday Numbers

Here are some numbers from today: 117 = the number of HIV positive families (mothers, husbands, children) who received more food than they could carry today. 100 = the number of pounds of food that constitutes “more than they could carry”. Today was to be our last Kwejuna Project distribution, but it turned out that our supplies will allow one more monthly party. As usual Pamela had the logistics running smoothly, we welcomed Stephanie into the weighing role, Carole was able to find over a dozen of the 70 or so randomly selected mothers for our follow-up data, Scott was directing and Pat and I filled in here and there registering mothers, Luke joined the young men who help divide and carry the heavy sacks of food, in short a community effort. 5 = the number of children one of my inpatient mothers has produced in less than three years. This lady has two-year-old twins at home, and came heavily pregnant from the furthest corner of the district to visit a relative in Nyahuka a few days ago, when lo and behold she went into labor and delivered triplet girls. We are all having trouble keeping them straight in spite of color coded hats (which keep changing heads) so the Dad finally devised a system of strings tied around the wrists. All are between 1 and 2 kilograms (2 to 4 pounds). 9:30 = pm is the time Jonah arrived from Kampala tonight, and am is the time he plans to officially begin his new job as the in-charge medical officer of Nyahuka Health Center. Scott arranged for the hand-over with the District Health Office for tomorrow morning. Knowing how much passive-aggressive opposition has occurred we wonder what will happen. More on that tomorrow. 7 = the number of people on our team of 34 who are either losing too much weight (adults) or not gaining normally (children and pregnant woman). We had a “health day” on Saturday, a day-long open house of check-ups, blood pressures, immunization advice, prayer. Soberingly, a significant portion of our newest members are not exactly thriving here. We need prayer and calories. The issue is complex: partly a matter of adjusting to new foods and tastes and habits, partly the bulky nature of local foods (filling without being very nutritious), partly the reality that food planning and preparation consumes hours rather than minutes of the day’s schedule, partly the increased body demand accompanying frequent minor illnesses and moving everywhere on foot and bike. The American perspective would be: so this is a problem? But the reality is that we have to keep tabs on a person’s ability to survive here, and if we see kids dwindling we can’t ignore the problem. Life requires such effort here. Sigh. 2 = the number of team boys who turned 4 this week, celebrated by a joint birthday party complete with two cakes (a monkey and a tiger). 18 = the number of girls in the S4 class at Christ School beginning O-Level exams today, out of 43 in the class. Last year we had exactly two girls, both were in my cell group, and both were from outside of Bundibugyo. So 18 is a very encouraging trend. These exams involve about a dozen 3-hour (each) papers in eight or nine subjects spread out over almost a month. Which is to say, they are an intense experience, and all of a student’s future educational opportunities are determined by the scores. Pray. 14 = the number of kilograms Kabasunguzi Grace weighs, at age 11. That’s the average for a 3-year-old girl. She is gaunt, movement is painful, yet she cheerfully thanks me every day for coming to see her. I am praying for a miracle and doing my best to give her rational and adequate care. That’s a numerical wrap-up of Monday, sparing you any real math from my teaching 5th grade at RMS of course. JAM

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Showdown at the NK

Jonah called at 6 this morning to say he was leaving Kampala. It will take him all day to get here. Tomorrow morning will be “showdown at the NK”, Nyahuka that is, when he arrives at the health center with his letter of appointment to be in charge. I expect most of the staff will be glad, we are more concerned about the district leadership. Meanwhile today is the last day for World Food Program food to be distributed to HIV positive mothers and children through Kwejuna Project. We anticipate over a hundred families arriving shortly for a day of registration, weighing, blood tests for children, some encouragement and teaching, and then the happy departure with bags of food. A large measure of chaos infused with some sense of purpose. And just to keep life interesting, four tilers, men from Kampala with expertise in laying floors, arrived to put in the floor for the new pediatric/maternity ward at the health center. They will be staying on the mission all week while they work. Stay tuned for the stories this week . . . .

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Thread stretched but still hanging

Josh is the “new guy” who is supposed to be orienting to life in Africa and frontier water engineering.  Since he’s living alone as the only single guy, we invited him for dinner Sunday night.  As we sat down to the table he mentioned a rumor he had heard that our district’s Chief Administrative Officer (the CAO pronounced “COW” by everyone here) was about to be transferred.  Now, I can’t explain how Josh knew this juicy but of political insider intrigue, but we immediately realized that God had sent us the information in the nick of time.  The CAO is the only one able to write Jonah’s official appointment letter to Nyahuka Health Center.  Remember he (Jonah) left a couple of weeks ago in frustration and disgust when the district refused to pay him, and then there was the seemingly miraculous confluence of events where the Belgian medical consultant invited us to a district meeting in which we were able to advocate for Jonah, which ended in the entire group mobilizing that afternoon to arrange the proper pay and appointment.  But Jonah took his time in Kampala.  Late last week he sent a message saying he was ready to come.  When we heard from Josh Sunday night we realized that the window of opportunity might be permanently closing before Jonah could ever arrive.

Monday was a national holiday, and Scott was unable to contact the CAO in spite of sitting through the usual ceremonial speeches of the day.  But early Tuesday morning he went up to Bundibugyo again.  There was the CAO, sitting at his desk with neat stacks of paper, waiting for his deputy to come so he could sign out for good.  He was leaving, run out on a rail by those whose interests he crossed.  Scott asked for Jonah’s letter, he instructed a secretary to get the file off the computer and go print it, and told Scott to wait.  Though this administrative officer had hesitated greatly about appointing Jonah (he was under a lot of pressure not to do so) I guess by yesterday he had nothing left to lose.  He told Scott, if the secretary returned before the deputy arrived for the hand-over, he’d sign the letter.  That’s how close it was, the whole future of Jonah in Bundibugyo hanging by a thread.  Scott called me and I called together some of the team to pray.  After more than an hour neither the secretary nor the deputy had come.  Scott investigated and found the secretary had left her office locked, disappeared for the day.  Another attempt to passively obstruct the process?  So Scott reported this to the CAO who hand-wrote a letter, had it typed by a different secretary, signed it, and gave it to Scott to give to Jonah.

Jonah says he will arrive Monday and start work on Tuesday.  We asked for prayer from 2 Cor 4:  since we’ve received mercy, we don’t lose heart.  I admit that my heart has been nearly lost in this process, but the dramatic timing of this latest cascade of events (starting with Josh who had no idea what he was even telling us) smacks of mercy through and through.  The eight dog-bitten people are getting their tortuous series of vaccines which Scott brought back, and we expect results on the dog’s brain by Friday.  One of the patients I had felt so bad about having “died” on Friday came back alive yesterday—very sick, but not dead, so there is still hope there.  And I am pursuing the possibility that Kabasunguzi’s symptoms are all related to schistosomiasis, so in spite of her terrible condition we are also not giving up on her.  Ndyezika has shown a calm determination to persevere and will probably go back to school soon.  The battle has been very immediate, a hand-to-hand struggle this week, going one way and then the other.  We’ve been hard pressed  . . . and yet not crushed.  Our thread has been stretched, but we’re still hanging.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

9th October Email Prayer Update

Dear Praying Friends,
If any of you are following our blog you’ll know that this has not been an easy week for our team. Ndyezika, our dear student and friend, failed his lab exams.  Two of the smaller kids on the team are pretty ill with asthma symptoms, which is frightening in this remote place.  Two people have had computer hard drive crashes this week, one of whom was Scott who safely returned from his long journeys last night and today tried to fire up his rather new (6 month old) laptop to no avail.  As he traveled back he collected a desperate Kabasunguzi Grace and her mother from the purgatory of Mulago Hospital and brought her back to Nyahuka, barely alive, possibly just to die. Several other patients in my care have died this week.  Incompetent mechanics in Kampala really messed up our truck.  We are struggling to treat 8 people attacked by a possibly rabid dog.  Michael has spent hours taking a neighbor caught red-handed with stolen items from his home and elsewhere to the police, a messy but necessary step after innumerable break-ins.  The A-level biology teacher Kevin tried to hire to fill in for the teacher who left for a master’s degree decided he needed more money, and with the students about to take the exam two of our missionary team mates are now adding that to their already full job schedules.  As we shared prayer requests at our last team meeting it was clear that many have been attacked by discouragement or illness or issues with family members back in the States having surgery or crises.  And close to home, we had a rough day with sibling behaviour today.  To top it all off, tonight we heard a rumor that the Chief Administrative Officer for our district has been transferred---just when Jonah, who had left in discouragement a few weeks ago, wrote to say he’s ready to come back.  This man holds the power to give Jonah the control of Nyahuka Health Center; if he has been transferred just as that was about to happen it will be a severe blow.

Would you please pray for the life of Jesus to be seen in our weakness and in our set-backs and struggles this week?  Instead of a list of prayer requests, pray through 2 Corinthians 4 for us, particularly verses 7-11, 16-18.  The life of Jesus, the weight of glory . . . The unseen becoming clear as we persevere through our light afflictions.  I can’t explain how that should happen, but please pray for faith that it will.

The 9th of October is Uganda’s 44th Birthday.  And this month marks 13 years since we Myhres moved to Uganda.  As you think of these anniversaries, please PRAY.
Love,
Jennifer for the team

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Some sad follow-ups

Ndyezika did not pass.  I found myself crying at the news, crying for the blow to his confidence, crying for the injustice of this world where he has to struggle academically, crying to God “why this?”  Ndyezika is subdued, but later in the evening he sent me a note saying that he knows that God loves him.  So perhaps that is the answer to your prayers.  And just as we got the news God sent a dear friend who was a church leader to comfort me and pray with both of us.  Please do pray that he would not turn to things which can not satisfy to assuage his sense of failure.  And for wisdom.  The blow was somewhat muted by the fact that I had a long conversation with the lab school administrator who said only 20 of the 86 students did pass the exam, that the format and grading changed drastically this year and students nation-wide had difficulty.  He encouraged us to send him back to school to repeat the second year and take the exam again.

Yesterday was a day of attack on many fronts.  It came to light that the possibly rabid dog had bitten 8 not 4 people; the other 4 had gone to the district hospital and received no immunization, so yesterday they came to us.  We had a total of 7 doses of vaccine from Fort Portal, but the full course for 8 people would be 40 doses.  It sounds like an ethics class, but this was real.  Who gets the vaccine?  We opted for the two children to get the immediate dose, since the bite to the face was the most risky.  Scott was meanwhile scrambling to obtain more doses in Kampala which should reach here tonight.  As all this was happening I was getting desperate phone calls from Kabasunguzi Grace’s mother.  She’s been languishing in the hospital (her picture is on our site) for more than 6 weeks now getting almost no care in the notoriously abysmal public hospital and wanted to come home.  So Scott will bring her today, which feels like another defeat.  As Scott was trying to get medicine and supplies in Kampala he was severely hampered by slow and incompetent work on our truck (which was fixed at the last minute yesterday by a different mechanic than the one that caused the problems) and record-breaking traffic in conjunction with Makerere University Graduation!  And I was finding out that of my three sickest patients on the ward, two ran away to seek witch doctor advice because their parents feared that the cause was spiritual and their recovery too slow, and the third one died in the night.  All were on our nutrition program.  Of the two who ran away, one was a twin with severe dehydration that the staff and I had labored on for a long time that day to revive, and the other was a motherless baby with cerebral malaria getting good treatment but will also now probably die.  Several team members are also sick, or discouraged by betrayals and thefts, or dealing with the stresses of life in the bush, and our hearts ache for them too.

So in short yesterday was a bad day.  Last night the verses that came to mind were from 2 Corinthians 4:8-10  “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”  I know our problems do not compare to those Paul is writing about.  Still the truth somehow applies:  in our struggle and weakness and disappointment and failure the life of Jesus can be seen tangibly.  I would prefer to manifest glory by being right, wise, strong and victorious, but that does not seem to be God’s calling for us, not this week for sure.  Today, a clinging to the hope, that suffering will be redeemed.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

4th October Paradoxes

Today we celebrated 10 years since the amazing gift of Julia in our family, with an all-team plus some Ugandan friends (37 people!!) VeggieTale party. Yes, even in the remotest parts of Africa, one may find missionary children who love silly songs and hairbrush searches. It was a great evening of community for us, of games and costumes and a treasure hunt and gifts and food. Of belonging to a group of people who love us and our children. Our team finds creative gifts, either precious candles or pens from care packages or amazing finds of gap pants in the used clothes piles in the market. Perhaps the biggest gift came from a little boy we have befriended who sometimes has trouble getting his own dinner but brought Julia a box of . . . Vegetables, how appropriate, several nice pumpkins and beans plus oranges. Twice major dark clouds gathered for our daily rain . . . And then blew on over. I was thankful to God for the day. But the day started with a story which may end in death. Four people, two children and two adults, were attacked by a possibly rabid dog in a nearby village. One little girl was just sitting in her house when the dog came in and bit her in the mouth, face, arms. The adults had significant wounds in their arms from warding off attack. Actually people I talked to were reluctant to say it was a dog . . . They reported that it had the structure of a dog but they couldn’t be sure, as if it may have been a spiritual entity. It took a huge effort to call multiple people, hospitals, health personnel, track down rabies vaccine, come up with money for fuel and a vehicle to get them to Fort Portal to get the vaccine. Immune globulin was not available. With wound cleansing and vaccine only I’m not sure what their prognosis is. The police were afraid to go look for the dog but some family members appealed to soldiers to go with guns to find it. All of this in the midst of many other desperately ill people . . And then back to VeggieTales and cake. What an odd life we live sometimes, rabies and death in the morning, and silliness and icing in the afternoon. It helps to remember that Jesus was both mobbed by the needy AND accused of partying too much.

Extreme contrasts and a third way

Two meetings, two countries, two sponsors, two very different experiences. The Cush Consultation met in southern Sudan and brought together 80 participants—expatriates and Sudanese nationals (missionaries, pastors, evangelists, radio technicians, pilots, teachers, and health workers)--to examine how the Christian mission community might collaborate to reach the unreached with the good news of the gospel and the compassion of Christ expressed through the provision of safe water, simple medical treatment, and education. We slept in grass-roofed houses, ate all the organs of the goat, bathed from water splashed out of plastic basins, and met in an upainted, concrete tin-roofed structure. Our strategic planning was guided by the Spirit, because we had little or no data on the specific physical/spiritual needs of southern Sudan or the activities of which groups are actually working in the country. Three days after returning to Kampala from Sudan, I flew to Arusha, Tanzania for the Global Implementers Meeting of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Over two hundred participants—physicans, public health managers, administrators, planners and leaders from 18 countries—convened to share and look for “the way forward” to prevent and treat mothers and children with HIV infection. And though we seek to alleviate death and suffering in one of the weakest, poorest, and most vulnerable populations in the world…we are not suffering in any way at this meeting. The Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge lies at the base of Mt. Meru and looks towards the snows of Kilimanjaro. At 6500 feet we are enjoying a cool 72 degree low-humidity climate. Four choices of juice every morning, a buffet extending for 25 feet, satellite television, Internet cafĂ©, golf course, Olympic size swimming pool, and a luxurious conference hall with cathedral ceiling and microphones in front of each participant to facilitate questions and discussion. The progress in preventing mother-to-child transmission is impressive. Just five years ago the foundation had 8 sites in six countries. This year they boast over 1100 sites in 18 countries with over 2 million women tested over 5 years. The lectures are a mixture of medical, public health, and programmatic evaluation, but are generally driven by data. That data is not cheap. Millions of dollars. One presenter this morning estimated that the software developed for their project in 28 sites cost about $100,000. Midway through the third day of lectures, I am still feeling the culture shock from making the transition from one meeting to the next. This morning I was thinking that I am sort of a third-culture kid (TCK), raised in the objective information-driven highly-resourced professional world of medicine and public health, but transplanted to the church/missionary culture in Africa with a relative paucity of resources and more organic process of development. I feel like Jennifer and I have sort of melded the two worlds, but I no longer feel entirely comfortable in either. There are aspects of each which I love and embrace, but we’ve forged our own third way—doing little studies, analyzing our data, making conclusions, thinking critically—but living by faith and trying to apply the tools we’ve been given in a remote setting with compassion in the name of Christ. I suppose its not bad to feel uncomfortable, because this world is not our true Home. We are sojourners…just passing through. PS- The photos above show the contrasting accommodations: Yei , Sudan–v- Arusha, Tanzania. Keeping in mind, of course, that the Tanzania photo does not reflect the general level of development thoughout Tanzania. PPS- The luxurious accommodations in Arusha were funded entirely by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, and Bristol-Meyers Squibb—no funds from WHM.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On Truth, convicting and consoling

N. has been a neighbor of the mission for two decades, a needy man, thin, addicted to alcohol, looking for money, neglecting his family.  When something is stolen he is usually suspected if not blamed, but culture is rather non-confrontational, and most people prefer to maintain some sort of coexistence even with a thief.  Yesterday, however, he came to Pat asking for money.  Only he made the mistake of wearing a rather unique sweater that Joanna had knit for Mark as a Christmas gift two years ago.  This sweater had been a labor of love and Mark wore it proudly for a short time.  Then one night, returning from a trip, they parked their car at the Massos after dark to eat dinner before settling back into their home.  They emerged to find the car’s window broken and their suitcase gone.  In the suitcase had been, among other things, the valued sweater.  

Because of the sentimental value, we prayed for that sweater.  I’m sure others remember praying for this.  We asked God to show His power and bring it back.  Just two weeks ago at team meeting we were celebrating the finding of Pamela’s lost re-entry visa and using that remarkable gift (it had been lost more than six months ago) to remind us of God’s answers to prayer.  But in that meeting I recalled the sadness I felt that the sweater prayer had never been answered, when I had such hopes that God would return it.

So last night, when Pat saw the sweater, she alertly asked for it back.  Today Michael took the police and in the house they found Mark’s bank card (with his name on it) and some computer discs.  Rather incriminating.  The community reaction has been:  Michael has done all of us a great service.  We missionaries are not the only victims of theft, in this case it is one of the ways we are treated as everyone else.  Everyone around us had suffered the loss of many things because of this neighbor and his children.

Did we do the right thing to bring this man to the police?  Is a sweater more important than the suffering he will no doubt incur?  

I’m re-reading a great study of the life of Jesus by Paul Miller called Love Walked Among Us.  That is what we want to be, Love, walking among the people of Bundibugyo.  One side of Love is Truth.  Jesus confronted evil.  He did not ignore the moneychangers disturbing the worship at the temple, or the religious leaders oppressing the people with their hypocritical rules.   It is not loving to enable a thief to continue stealing, to walk unimpeded down a road that leads to death.  So my guess is that yes, Jesus would have called N. on this.  But it’s a heavy responsibility and one which we as outsiders can easily misapply.   And it is always easier to rejoice over the convicting Truth applied to another person’s life, than to rejoice in that same conviction in my own heart.

Truth can also be consoling.  One of my students, M.J., is a true orphan, his father died when he was only 3 years old, and his mother when he was about 10.  He’s one of my favorite kids, and I know his relatives well and know he has a hard life.  He’s quiet, taller than most, studious, but with a smile that fills his face.  Many people prayed last June when he was very ill with some sort of arthritis, fevers, joint pain and swelling.  He improved over the summer but this weekend began to have a milder return of his symptoms.  As we have built trust over the years, he finally conceded what was really on his heart.  He hears people say that his parents died of AIDS.  And he’s worried about himself.  I knew his mother and frankly I do think it is likely that that was her diagnosis, but I’m not sure.  I seriously doubted this boy could have been infected even if that was the problem his parents had . . And I wasn’t sure if he felt shame that he was being stigmatized by the gossip about his parents, or worry that he also could be dying.  But I agreed to test him to put his mind at ease.  When I brought him is negative results, I could just see his face lighten, his body relax.  The truth set him free from that worry.   We still would like to understand his sickness better, but his death sentence has been lifted.

Jesus is so much like these two stories of today:  He convicts, and He consoles.  He calls us on the way our hearts grab for life apart from Him, then He offers us life by lifting the death sentence.