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Friday, August 31, 2007

Anniversary Adventures, part 2

2007 is a big year in our family:  Scott and I already celebrated our 20th anniversary.  But since we were married the year that both sets of parents reached their 30th anniversaries, that means that 2007 is a major Jubilee.  Scott’s parents are hosting us as well as his sister’s family for a week in Switzerland to honor their 50th wedding anniversary.  Yes, you can suspend all pity for the next week, we are headed to a chalet accessible only by train in a mountain valley near Interlaken.  I do feel a twinge of guilt, but then again many of the images of the presence of Jesus involve parties and wine, celebration and feasting. . . . So we leave behind our team and work and fly off tonight to a long awaited week of reunion and beauty.  I only wish we could have enjoyed this milestone with my parents as well.  

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sarah and Ashley Arrived!

We headed out to the airport this morning with Stu and Ruth Ann Batstone, big hugs and much thanks, even from our kids, as if we had been family or friends all our lives.  Their visit was a tremendous help to us and a good time of bonding, therefore the goodbyes were a taste of the continual cycle of loss when we leave family and friends.  Sigh.  But as soon as we sent them waving into the security checkpoint for departures, we went downstairs to arrivals to await the entrance of our two newest team mates, teachers Sarah Reber and Ashley Wood.  Though we had met Sarah briefly once we wondered if we would pick them out right away—but it was no trouble since they wheeled carts balanced with oversized cardboard bike boxes.  Those have to be our women!  We ran up for hugs.  After unloading at the ARA and breakfast we dragged them right off to Kampala’s craziness, rubble and bodas and jostle and sweat.  Scott introduced them to the bank so they could cash checks, and then took them to the grocery store at the mall.  Our afternoon strategy is sun to re-set the body clock, and a cold pool to stay awake!  They are lots of fun already.  So goodbye and hello in the same day, trying to remember how disorienting and foreign it is to land here for the first time, the next two years an unknown and no doubt stretching long ahead.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Kampala Days

Life in the city:  throbbing, dusty, colorful, congested.  We’re in Kampala for a few days of errands.  A typical list might look like:
  1. Go to the bank.  All transactions in Uganda are cash.  The highest bill is worth about $30 and rare, mostly we deal with bills valued 50 cents to $5.  So spending thousands of dollars on construction, or nutrition, or training seminars . . . Means getting loads of cash.
  2. Buy medicine—we routinely supplement the government’s meager supplies of everything from gloves to antibiotics.
  3. Buy groceries—besides tomatoes, eggs, potatoes, and flour . . . Almost all our food is purchased out here.  So we load up on two to three months of everything from staples like pasta, butter, cereal, and baking powder to luxuries like frozen meat and fresh oranges and apples.
  4. Shop ahead for the next several months of team birthdays, gifts for visits, school supplies like paper or notebooks.  We have one FANASTIC book store in Kampala where we could spend hours. . . And usually treat ourselves to a few new good reads.
  5. Meetings—though we live and work in Bundibugyo, any other major organization we partner with bases itself in Kampala.  So whenever we are in Kampala a day here and a day there disappears to meetings with Ministry of Health, or Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, or UNICEF, or  . . . .
  6. Fix the car—whatever quirks and issues have jostled to the surface over the last few months.  This time it was the turn signals.
  7. Medical care—anything that requires labs, vaccines, or specialists . . The resources are ever improving in Kampala.  I spent most of the last two days trying to connect with an ENT doctor (I would get to the hospital, they’d say he had an emergency, come back in an hour, etc.) .  Finally today I had a hearing test and thorough exam with a very spiff operating microscope.  Evidently in spite of my continuing symptoms of fullness, mild occasional pain, echo, decreased hearing in my left ear since I perforated my ear drum with a bad infection in early May, there is nothing visible or measurable wrong with me now.  Scott is vindicated, who also has been examining my ear and declaring it to look healed and normal.  It was a day’s investment but I’ll continue to have patience and hope for full healing.
  8. Reservations—no purchasing plane tickets on the internet or by credit card over the phone . . . You have to go to the office of the airline.
  9. Paperwork—we almost always have some sort of passport or immigration issue to attend to.  This time I’m renewing my expired passport (another decade gone by!), and we had to get Luke’s pass renewed, and renew our National Park passes for another year.  Tomorrow Scott will be picking up finger prints and criminal records for team mates who are renewing their work permits.  Think lines, delays, bureaucracy.
  10. Miscellaneous:  everything from spare parts for the airstrip lawn mower to searching for a meter “yardstick” for school.

A super-efficient American might be able to knock all that off in a good long ten hour day with a Target, a phone, appointments on schedule, and a good car.  Here in Uganda we can spend all week and still leave things undone.  Traffic is horrendous as the city has burgeoned with unplanned growth and swarms of cars, potholed roads and non-functioning lights.  Lines are long.  One can easily be sent from office to office, or told to come back.  Essential parts are missing.  Every errand can generate two more.  We find ourselves frazzled and grimy and often grumpy by the end of the day.  But then the reward:  restaurants!  Going out to eat, something we can not do in Bundibugyo.  The day is redeemed by candlelight as we sample Thai or Indian or Belgian food, relaxing as a family, thankful for abundance.  

Sunday, August 26, 2007

In Quietness and Trust

The week in Jinja was all we hoped for.  Physically we had great rest, away from the constant press of needs and sorrow that weighs us down in Bundibugyo.  We had clean beds and quiet nights, three meals a day prepared by someone else without any struggle on our part, gardens for sitting and praying and meditating, sunshine to invigorate our soppy souls, a pool for splashing and playing and connecting with the kids, spectacular sunrises and slow evenings that slipped into darkness by Lake Victoria.  Socially we had a good stretch of days to be with our family and our team, singing and praying, listening and learning, and having riotous silly fun in a summer-camp kind of way in the evenings.  Spiritually we had challenging teaching about faith, pointing us to the grace of God, leading us through the reality of forgiveness and the impact of grief.  One morning we all sat in a circle around the room and put to words the sadness and anxieties and difficulties we anticipate in the transitions ahead (9 of 16 adults on the Bundibugyo team finishing terms and leaving in the next year . . . ), and then talked about hope and how we could see God drawing us into intimacy with Him through these losses.  My personal analogy was that we feel as team leaders like the parents of adolescents who are gaining independence and moving on (those who are leaving to go into other work or ministries) yet suddenly have found ourselves unexpectedly pregnant (getting ready to receive and nurture 5 new team mates in the next few months too!).  The last half of the week was focused on approaching God as our Father in conversational prayer, using solitude, silence, and Scripture to enter into true communion with Him.

Many people prayed for this time, and from the little I’ve heard from others it was significant in the hearts of other team mates too.  We were greatly impacted by the ministry of the Batstones and Donovan Graham, visits like theirs are quite rare in terms of coming along side us in Bundibugyo and then pouring themselves out for us in leading the retreat.  I’m sure that the prayers of many paved the way for powerful work of the Spirit.  And the kids (21 of them!) were happy too, having a program put together by four Ugandan pastoral/youth workers from a large church in Kampala.  We are grateful for God’s abundant provision of wise counsel and peaceful rest.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Repentance and Rest

(from our prayer update)
The summer ends for us in Bundibugyo tomorrow, and the last week has been full.  Thanks so much for your prayers for us.  We have seen God’s power and mercy even in the last few days as CSB teachers have been challenged and encouraged by Donovan Graham’s teaching, and as our team has walked with Pat through the dying days of her dear friend who succumbed yesterday to AIDS ( see below).  Today we tie up loose ends and clean out our propane fridges and pack up our cars as we prepare to leave en masse tomorrow.  Due to incessant rain and soggy airstrip we are unable to fly some of the people out, so we have to squeeze into available vehicles.  

PLEASE PRAY for the next week.  Jesus set a pattern of withdrawing from the crowds to pray, and to teach His disciples.  We need both in the next week:  rest, relief, restoration, prayer, and solid community building time away from the pressures of daily life.  Pray for Donovan Graham and Stu and Ruth Ann Batstone to lead us in “repentance and rest” as we study Scripture, eat food that someone else cooks, take walks, bask in some sunshine (we hope!) and swim with our kids.  Our team is facing a year of many transitions with half of the long-term “core” families and almost all the short term singles moving on from Bundibugyo.  Though others will be coming, the transitions are in the forefront of our minds and hearts as we go into this annual time of retreat together.

Thank you for your prayers, which are just as needed in times of retreat as they are on the front lines of Bundibugyo.  We are grateful for you.
Jennifer for the team

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Letting Go, breaking through

Pat’s dear young friend M. died today, just after midnight.  She was 26 years old, a widowed mother of two little girls.  Pat (and we!) met her in 1993 when we first came, and she was a 12 year old girl going to church.  Something about her touched Pat’s heart, and they developed an almost mother/daughter relationship over the years.  She grew up, she married a soldier, and then he died and left her with two children and a virus.  She died of AIDS, but also of fear, of prejudice, of secrecy.  She died of the injustice that makes a girl overly desperate for a relationship, she died of the injustice that means a person as sick as she was was being cared for on the floor of a minimally equipped health unit instead of in a state-of-the-art ICU.  

But she did not die alone.  Over the past few weeks she finally allowed her friends like Pat to delve back into her life, to get her the diagnosis long suspected, to take her to the clinic.  Her self-sufficiency and willfulness melted away before the relentless pursuit of this disease.  Once a healthy plump girl, spunky and lively, musical and laughing, she shrunk into a weak jaundiced figure with a shuffling walk, and finally needed help even to turn over in bed.  And she had help, lots of it.  Pat spent hours and nights with her, bringing her into her home for care, taking her to the hospital.  Her young twenty-something girl friends tirelessly sat by her side.  Her older mother wore herself out.  

 Over the last few days M. was increasingly uncomfortable, restless, breathing more quickly.  Her CD4 result came back:  79, terribly dangerously low.  She stopped eating and drinking, pulled out her IV lines.  By yesterday morning even her  mother was ready to give up, so they brought her home, laid her on Pat’s lap on a mattress on the floor of her simple mud-brick room.  In the confusion and busy-ness of this summer and this week in particular we weren’t sure this was right, this was the end.  Two other AIDS patients of mine came into the hospital as wasted and near death as M., but recovered.  So we respected her family’s decision to bring her home (M herself was no longer coherent) but Scott and I went to visit, and Scott put in a home IV for fluids and antibiotics and even gave her pain medicine.  We sat with her, and Pat, and her friends, and prayed.  About 10 Pat called to say that she had pulled the IV out again, but we would wait until morning to restart it since she was no longer dehydrated.  But then just after midnight, we got another phone call to say she had died.

AIDS represents so much of what is wrong with our broken world, but in spite of it all in Africa sometimes we can see the beautiful picture of a community responding to pain.  Yes, some of the crowd of people that came to visit M. before and after her death were merely curious or looking for gossip.  But most were sincerely moved by her suffering, and here that is expressed by physical presence.  By the time the sun was well up this morning over a hundred people were warming themselves over the coals of the compound’s fire against the damp morning air, sitting shoulder to shoulder on benches.  Later I counted 26 people (adults) sitting in the 6 x 8 foot room with her body, our legs tangled, our hips pressing together.  Dozens of women sang hymns most of the day.  At least five different pastors came to pray and give sermons to the growing crowd.  By late afternoon there were at least 500 people.  It was long, and crowded, but that is Africa, everyone must have their say, and the more people that are there the better.

A number of family members also spoke, but Pat was the only woman and the only “friend” invited to say something.  She begged people not to live in fear, and very boldly declared that M.’s rapid decline was not the result of witchcraft, that God knew the number of her days.  When Pat emphasized how she longed for people to know the freedom from fear that comes through Jesus she got down on her knees in the muddy courtyard.  I heard people gasp, cluck their tongues.  They were listening.  A little window of life and hope on a day of sadness.

It was nearly 5 pm by the time the crowd moved towards the graveside, in this case (after long negotiations through the morning hours) M. was buried on her own land, land that Pat had helped her obtain after her husband died, which was a ten minute walk from her mother’s home.  We stood around the gaping grave, administering first aid to hyperventilating and fainting friends.  After a few more prayers and songs the thunk of dirt clods on the thin plywood top of the coffin, the sound of finality, dust to dust, mud to mud.

The picture of AIDS today is raw, unadorned, sagging skin and yellow eyes, labored breath and weeping friends, wide-eyed orphaned children clinging to relatives.  But that is not the whole picture—hundreds of people in solidarity, singing praises in spite of suffering, testifying to the unseen reality of eternal life in the midst of muddy death, caring for each other, this is also part of the picture of AIDS.  Like a swingset in the graveyard, like a bloom in the desert .. . Love is going to break through (Chris Rice).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Prayer and reality

Yesterday can only be described as :  full.  After the usual morning chaos of getting everyone up, ready, breakfasts and lunches to go . . . I headed to the hospital to try and see all 37 inpatients and organize those who needed food for Stephanie to serve, before coming back up to the community center for the Kwejuna Project food distribution.  We asked the Batstones to come and pray for the women in small groups.  It turned out that we had a record day:  164 women!  We used to think anything over a hundred was nearly impossible . . . My favorite part of those days is when mothers come from the HIV testing room with negative results on their toddlers, and we can rejoice together.  My least favorite part was asking one woman about her child as we registered her, and she got tears in her eyes when she had to tell me the baby had died last month.  That’s how it is, a sense of rescue tempered by the grief of loss.  Ruth Ann and Stu were troopers, taking over 20 prayer sessions.  They found the women and even some of the older kids willing to share their problems, their aches and pains, their anxiety about the future.  I find that in that situation as a fix-it doctor and a can-do American, it is challenging to believe in the reality of the spiritual transaction of prayer being of value in a desperate person’s life.  Meanwhile as Ruth Ann stayed on to speak and Pamela to organize the actual distribution of oil, beans, salt, and a small transport stipend (I told her that each month the challenge of the crowd increases, but she manages to stay amazingly organized and able to serve), I came back home to check on kids post-school and make a massive amount of bread for the next couple of days.  As that dough was rising we had a previously scheduled check-up for a team member who has been sick before going down in the afternoon to meet with the Barts and Pierces about some issues related to housing and transition at CSB.  We had just about finished that meeting when someone came with an urgent message that a baby had been dropped and “something was coming out of his head”.  Envisioning brains spilling through a skull we rushed back up to the community center to find a 3 month old twin who had slipped out of his mother’s hands in the transfer of babies with her other kid . . . But only a little lump of swelling, nothing serious.  Good.  At that point it was almost 5 and Scott had to go to Bundibugyo town to pick up someone trying to get here to advise us about solar power for the new ward, so I stopped by to check on the Gray family with three sick boys.  All had the same nasty GI bug that swept through other sectors of the team last week, but were beginning to improve.  We paused to pray for a reconciliation meeting Rick was holding with a couple whom we had nearly given up on, a real answer to prayer.  While we were doing that Karen rushed in to say come quickly, Michael is hurt, and it turned out he had a corneal abrasion from an accident with some pliers . . . He’ll be OK, but it did look pretty impressive when I bandaged his eye.  As they left I was delighted to notice that some mysterious angels had cleaned up my kitchen while I was gone in meetings, something that does not often happen to me, so I’m ready to keep our guests forever.  The evening was complicated by Scott as chairman of the board at CSB trying to deal with the solar power consultant and attend a good-bye party for the deputy headmaster Katajeera who is returning to school for two years for a Master’s degree.  Thankfully Scotticus the cook had chosen yesterday to invite Luke and Caleb to do a cooking lesson, so they contributed half the dinner, and by 8 we were all enjoying a fantastic meal with Donovan Graham and hearing about how much FUN he had leading a seminar that morning for Christ School teachers, on the concept of seeing students as beings created in the image of God, and how that impacts style and content in the classroom!

So, a full day, but one in which I sensed God moving in CSB teachers, in Donovan’s excitement, in Pamela’s hard work, in the massive response of women, in the heartfelt prayers extending love to them from the Batstones, in the preservation of Michael’s vision, in common ground in meetings, in hope of reconciliation in this Ugandan couple’s marriage, and even in the very Biblical joy of a good feast at the end of a long day.  Prayer meets reality on days like this.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Parenting By Grace

Stu and Ruth Ann Batstone testify to the Gospel by sharing their experiences with parenting, and drawing parents to see themselves as sinners in need of God’s power to love their children.  Saturday we asked them to lead a seminar on parenting, and invited about 40 couples (80 people) to come and participate.  The cloudy morning and the Saturday market bustle meant that by 10:30 only a half dozen had arrived for the 9 am meeting . . . And I wondered if we were making a big mistake.  But within the next half hour everyone congregated and I counted 86 participants!  It was one of the most diverse groups we’ve ever had together for Biblical teaching—church leaders from five denominations were present, as well as headmasters or senior teaching staff from 6 schools, another contingent of people associated with WHM extension work, and a strong showing from the health center.  I enjoyed seeing some very young couples, whom I have known since they were younger than my kids are now . . . All the way up to graying elders.  And God surprised us by drawing in two of the men whose repentance (conversion?) we have been praying for for years.  Children are essential, the goal of every family is to have many of them, successful children who care for their elders.  So this was a hot topic.

We began the day by asking two groups of four volunteers to act out a typical household morning, and evening, to demonstrate parent/child relationships.  Improvisational drama is a strong point of this culture—the skits were dramatic and captivated interest as they acted out their heart-felt issues: parents unable to provide school fees for their children, not enough food to go around, lack of respect from the children, and on and on, with lots of accusation and argument.  In the discussion that followed various people gave their ideas about the main problems and then we probed:  does that happen in your places?  Why?  Some of the older men blamed laziness, lack of hard work by parents.  But one of the younger pastors gave me a lot of compassion and insight when he described how shaming and stressful it is as a parent when your child comes home saying that he needs a few shillings for something at school, and you can’t provide it.  The reaction is to bluster and blame, to send the child away with condemnation or excuses, and eventually to turn to alcohol or begin absent as a way to escape that painful reality.  

Then Stu and Ruth Ann each gave two talks, aimed at probing parental hearts.  This was not a “how-to” set of lectures, not a “fix-your-children” approach.  Instead they tried to show parents that our call is to love our children, to teach and guide them, to not provoke or exasperate them, to deal with them as God deals with us.  And we fail daily, more than daily, hundreds and thousands of times a year.  But the good news is that God uses broken families full of sinners to bring His Kingdom into this world, and He forgives and changes us.  They used the stories of the Isaac/Rebecca, Jacob/Esau conflicts, and of Hannah’s heart-wrenching prayer, to really connect with families here.  Our homework was to ask our children “how do you wish God would change me?”  That’s a dangerous question.  One of the most interesting parts of the day:  Scott ran home to get something and decided to ask our kids that while he was there.  Then he came back and gave his testimony, describing the four things Luke immediately said, which were all very true though hard to hear about anger, unfairness, putting work before family.  Since people know us very well, they were very engaged with his honesty.  In this culture, such a conversation is pretty hard to imagine.  So we ended and prayed and wondered what was happening around the family fires last night.  Maybe the first seeds of parental awakening to a different way of relating to their children . . . Maybe the seeds of a hunger for Jesus in our need.  

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mundri and Lui, a Visit to Southern Sudan

Here are some impressions of Southern Sudan, if one is even allowed to have impressions in only three days of travel  . . . A vast, green, flooded, flat, forested, harsh, muddy land (in the rainy season, which is peaking now) dotted with people of determination, history, hope.

Seven missionaries from our team flew from Bundibugyo to Arua (Uganda, for customs) then to Mundri, in Western Equatoria, Sudan.  We were hosted by veteran missionaries David and Heather Sharland and the Episcopal Church of Sudan.  The Sharlands have been in Africa about twenty years and in this part of Sudan the last 8, and in spite of some harrowing close calls with bandits and bombs they have managed to develop close ties with their Anglican church counterparts, and poured their passions into agriculture and village health.  Michael and Scott met them on their first trip to Sudan almost a year ago, and Michael has been in touch with David over the months.  The Sharlands work in Lui, which is 25 km east of Mundri.  They asked the Massos to consider Mundri as a potential WHM site.  The ECS has been in Mundri almost 90 years, established under a slave trading tree by a Dr. Fraser who then went on to build some amazingly solid (in every sense of the word) schools and a hospital in Lui.

A few adventures, and then the summary.  Adventures first:  to reach Mundri town from the airstrip requires crossing the Yei river, which at this point in the rainy season is about fifty yards of fast-flowing brown water and debris.  The bridge was blown up during the war, so groups of 15 or 20 people pile into an old wooden row boat that is tied to a rope, and a very strong man then pulls you hand over hand across the flooded waters.  We were received royally, politely.  There is a dignity and pride that people have not lost in the war.  They are looking for help and partnership but they have their own sense of mission as a church to rebuild their country.  Lots of tea and talk in a small mud-walled kitbbi, then a walk through the local school, which was not much more than crumbling mud walls and a few pole benches.  The cathedral, however, is very impressive.  At this point in the tour the government official arrived with his ivory stick and suit, and announced that the river had reached the highest flood stage since 1983 (the beginning of the current north-south conflict, so a definite point of reference in everyone’s mind) and we would not be permitted to cross back over that night.  This was a bit upsetting to our host David whose wife and other friends in Lui were expecting us . . . And to us, since the car and our back-packs were on the other side of the river . . . But we saw God’s hand giving us more time in Mundri.  We ended up in a guest house consisting of a dozen or so tukuls, the Sudanese version of a small square hut with a thatch roof.  Our church hosts fed us, then we all sat outside in chairs in the dark and asked questions about peoples’ life stories, culture, marriage, land, crops.  Stranded by floods in a small town, a dot on the vast map of Sudan, but with our team of friends and a very gracious church group.

The next morning we first learned to brush our teeth with a local stick when we saw everyone else doing so . . .and then walked around more of the town, clinic, schools.  It was a bit of history to see some of the “returnees” already settled temporarily in schools, and another 118 dropped off by the IOM (UN agency dealing with displaced people) that morning, after flying from Khartoum and being trucked to Lui.  Peace is growing, though no one knows for how long.  Those who fled the war are now coming back to resume their lives among those who stayed.  Both suffered.  

By mid day we headed back across the river, which had ebbed back down slightly, then bounced the rutted and puddled 25 km east of the river to Lui.  This town is smaller, but had more of the mission influence in the last century.  Again we met remarkable people, smiling and competent and determined, working with very little.  Again we sat and drank tea and ate rice and beans with church leaders, listening to their problems and dreams.  A highlight for me was to tour the Samaritan’s Purse hospital where people I’ve met worked under very strenuous conditions during the war.  We stayed in little mud tukuls again, and visited also the Sharland’s home for more fellowship.

Impressions:  much like Bundibugyo when we first came (no cell phones, no fridges, long roads, few varieties of goods) but in other ways much further ahead in terms of Christian impact and international aid attention.  The church is a much more pervasive institution and means of reaching the people with mercy ministries, and longs for that.  English is the medium of instruction and communication, a big plus for Americans.  WHM would be partnering with a wise mentoring missionary couple and some amazing Sudanese Christians, very appealing.  Because of Samaritan’s Purse’s legacy, the training schools, the supplies I saw, and the much lower population, I did not sense the medical needs being as great as those in Bundibugyo and I know they would be much more intense in other areas of Sudan.  But we came away thinking this would be a good place for WHM to start, particularly with the handful of schools already formed and functional whose teachers need encouragement and training.  The trip allows Michael to gather data and pray and form ideas to present to our board in the Fall.  Stay tuned!

Thanks from Ndyezika

He says “Thanks for your prayer.  Everything went well on my side.  At least I was able to finish very well.  Have a good day!”
Just wanted to pass that on.  We won’t know the official results for weeks, and he still has the oral and practical to go.

More thanks:  The Batstsones (Stu and Ruth Ann) and Donovan Graham arrived well this morning, looking fresh and clean and cheerful in spite of a very dare-devil skip-the-wet-spot half-runway landing . . .

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Back Home

The Sudan travelers are all back home, and thanks to a slight decrement in rainfall we even landed here in Bundibugyo, with a dramatic splash.  More on the whole trip later but it was a fantastic opportunity and we are very positive about this direction for WHM. In a few hours Stu and Ruth Ann Batstone and Donovan Graham will also land . . . Hopefully just as smoothly.  Also many have replied about Ndyezika—he won’t know the outcome of his exams for weeks, possibly a couple of months.  Sorry there won’t be immediate feedback.  The next phase will be oral and practical exams in the capital on Aug 19 and 20.  THANKS.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Bundibugyo Travel Trials

Seven of our team members packed their daypacks for a 48 hour sojourn to southern Sudan yesterday (Michael & Karen Masso, Kevin Bartkovich, Kim Stampalia, Bethany Ferguson, Pat Abbott, & Jennifer). Heading for Mundri (a solid possibility for the site of WHM’s next Team to be launched) to assess the needs, scout out alliances, and even explore potential living situations. Michael managed to finagle a unique itinerary to southern Sudan, avoiding altogether a return to Entebbe which is usually necessary to clear Immigration. Instead, MAF agreed to fly from Bundibugyo directly to Arua (Uganda’s northernmost airstrip) where they would re-fuel and an Immigration officer would check passports there. A beautiful and efficient plan…which did not account for rain. Sunday saw a record rainfall for Bundibugyo. By Monday morning our little grass airstrip had standing water in several places. Last November, one of MAF’s Cessna 210s got stuck in the mud on the grass airstrip. With that memory vividly in mind, MAF radioed that they would land at the airstrip near Karugutu’s Semiliki Safari Lodge…two hours drive from our airstrip. So, our seven adventurers (plus the five Pillsburys, Michael’s sisters’ family) riding atop Michael’s pickup truck, traversed the Rwenzoris. They found two MAF planes waiting, one for the Sudan travelers and one for the Pillsbury family who headed back to Entebbe after their visit. Jennifer called from Arua to say that they cleared Immigration without a problem. So, as they say in the spy movies, our intrepid travelers are “going dark.” We’ll have no communication from them until they return Wednesday afternoon. Pray that we wouldn’t be in darkness (and wetness), but that the sun would shine so that our air field could dry up and allow them to land near home (and avoid that extra two hours of road travel) tomorrow.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Spirit Moves, Sunday in Bundimulinga

A long and full church service today: most importantly, Chase Fletcher Gray was baptized, along with a dozen or so other babies and toddlers, and one newly-professing adult woman! But before we got to the main event, there were some very encouraging moments of lively worship and the spirit moving. The elders called all the children to the front for prayer as they have begun doing the first Sunday of every month (look for Jack and Julia in the crowd, and I mean CROWD of kids). Later a young man stood up to confess that he had taken a wife without proper permission from his elders . . . And though he loves her he wanted to be forgiven for going about it rashly. Another stood up to confess that he had been in conflict over school fees with the mission for a long time but God had finally brought about full forgiveness and reconciliation, and to affirm that Michael also stood up and hugged him. Those along with the newly converted woman and Charles Katajeera, who gave a testimony of God’s goodness to allow him to go back to school for a two year masters’ degree (after which he plans to return as deputy headmaster again at Christ School), were all called up front for special prayer, as you see above. It was an encouraging Sunday, so see God at work in hearts in real ways.

PS Don’t forget to scroll down and read about Ndyezika needing prayer . . . Many have already replied and we are grateful to know that his prayer support spans the oceans and reaches the heavens . . .

Wheelchair for Kabasunguzi, Intern Legagy

Two summers ago, Kabasunguzi Grace came into our team life as an emaciated little girl close to death. That summer interns Carol and Laura spent time with her at the hospital, reading books and bringing encouragement. Kim and her visiting aunt became involved too in her emergency transport to a referral hospital. After months of frustrating care and diagnostic difficulty, treatment for schistosomiasis of the brain seemed to arrest the progression of her disease, but she was left blind and crippled. Nevertheless, with good nutritional support and medicine she improved and finally went home from the hospital. We have continued to keep up our relationship, mostly because she’s one of the cheeriest people I know, with a sense of humor that even my limited Lubwisi allows me to enjoy. This summer I took our current crop of interns to visit her at home, and we left with the idea of the interns going in together to build or purchase her a wheel chair. Before they left they obtained one for her in Fort Portal and sent it back to Bundibugyo. Yesterday we went to deliver the new wheel chair, which will allow here to be moved around outside rather than lie on a bed in her little damp and dark mud house! And we bought a radio, so she can hear the news and music even though she can’t see. I wish all you interns could have heard her delighted laugh . . .but a picture will have to suffice. THANKS.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

On Exams by Faith . . . .

We first met Ndyezika Edison when he was about 11. He was living in a tiny mud room with his mentally disturbed brother, orphaned and on his own. His father had long ago died, and when his mother remarried the new husband did not take Ndyezika in, as commonly happens. He had been befriended by the Herrons, and we sort of inherited the relationship. I have a picture of him our first Christmas (1993), sitting on our couch with a big smile because we had bought him used tennis shoes. He became a great friend to our children over the years as we sponsored him in school and generally looked out for his life. We’ve been with him through significant life events, and he with us. He entered Christ School’s inaugural class in 1999. Academics have always been a struggle, though he is a diligent student he probably has a learning disability of some sort that would have been diagnosed and treated in a better world. Here he has just put in plain hard work, repeating years of school until he could get it right. In all that he remained humble and hopeful, very popular with teachers in spite of his low grades, because of his great attitude. He became a Christian, and we have seen real spiritual growth. After graduating from Christ School we sponsored him in a training school for Laboratory Technicians. There he again struggled with the testing, repeating years of study. My kids love him so much they even convinced my mom to sponsor his last year of school when we were running out of resources and patience ourselves! Now he’s at the end of the school road (again), awaiting the final exams which will qualify him to work as a lab tech in Bundibugyo. He can do the work—he’s been working in our lab on vacations for several years, and does a great job. His ability to perform the tasks is clear, but he can’t get a government position and salary to to this work unless he passes the tests. And exams have been a life-long struggle for him.

Monday to Wednesday August 6-8, and Sunday/Monday August 19/20 Ndyezika will sit for the final qualifying exams for becoming a laboratory technician. The first three days are written tests administered at his school, the second two days are oral and practical exams at the national referral hospital in Kampala.

Would you please join us in praying for him??? We love this boy, and we believe he will be a solid part of the Kingdom of God in Bundibugyo, serving patients and loving God. Our parental hearts have watched him persevere through failure and continue to try. He has, as far as we know, consistently chosen the right path, caring for his widowed (again) mother and for his siblings, acting honorably towards a young woman he would like to marry if he can pass exams and get a job (he’s 25 now). Please implore God to give Ndyezika the ability to remember and write what he’s learned, to not panic, to have favor in the examiners’ eyes. Maybe others will pay bribes, maybe the whole system is corrupt, we don’t know. But we remember when Jonah had to take the University entrance exams twice, and by God’s grace he was allowed to pass the second time. Please pray that Ndyezika would not fail.

Lots of other important things are happening here. I am accompanying the Massos and some other team mates to Sudan the very days Ndyezika is testing in the coming week. We are setting up ministry opportunities for Stu and Ruth Ann Batstone and Donovan Graham, who will be with us for much of the rest of the month to engage people in issues of education, parenting, the Gospel, and grace! There is a major Kwejuna Project distribution a week from Monday. Scott is starting to work with Pat (hopefully) on a new program to increase outreach and education in villages related to HIV and AIDS. Christ School and RMS are in the final weeks of the term of school, with exams and projects and goodbyes pending. But nothing seems as crucial to my heart right now as Ndyezika passing exams.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Of Rain, Rainbows, and Pilgrimage

Rain, Rain on my face
It hasn’t stopped raining for days.
My world is aflood,
Slowly I become one with the mud.
-Jars of Clay

This song has been playing on our ipod and in my mind over and over this month, as day after day the sun is obscurred by heavy clouds, the rain comes in drenching downpours or incessant drizzles, thunder rumbles through the night, puddles accumulate in the roads and paths. The greyness of the sky and the dampness of the earth leads to a heaviness of spirit. We have also been in a marathon summer of events, visitors, opening the new hospital, patient volume increasing, new grants approved, interns, discipleship, prayer, vision for new fields . . . In other words it has been a lot of work and our tiredness of heart matches the weather a bit. Though we’re thankful for amazing victories (like the water project opening, or the generous response to our nutrition infant diaconal fund need) we are slogging through the mud at this point.

So when the sun slipped under the clouds at dusk on Thursday as we made our pizza, and illuminated a rainbow over our house, we had a small taste of Noah’s feelings. There is a promise, there is hope. This rain won’t destroy us, these trials won’t overcome us. In the midst of cloud there is beauty and color.

We gathered yesterday to pray for Sudan as a new field, which I will be visiting next week with some of our team. My heart is drizzly with the anticipation of the different directions our team will head, as we launch some members towards new places while a core of us stay behind to press on here. That is our goal, that is our vision, but it still is painful. No one is leaving very soon (well, except Bethany!!), but we know it is coming. As we prayed though, the Spirit reminded me that pilgrimage is not wandering, pilgrimage has a destination. We are all heading towards the same place, even if one path goes through Sudan, and another through America, or Bundibugyo, or Congo, or Kampala . . . . We are not heading apart but ultimately back together, a converging point.

Somehow the rainbow symbolizes that too, perhaps those ethereal colors placed high enough in the sky for many to see, a common and glorious destination.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

August 2007 Prayer Letter Available!

Our latest prayer letter is now available for downloading...
See the right sidebar for "Downloadable Prayer Letters" (in pdf) format.
For those of you on the snail mail list, you will eventually receive it...but this is the only place you can get it with pictures in living color!