Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
it is the Masso's last Sunday in Bundibugyo. Kisembo continued his
sermon on giving, this time from Luke 21, the story of the widow's
paltry offering being recognized by Jesus. As with the other weeks,
the Spirit-led words worked on my heart too. I'm tired of giving the
things that are precious, the things that I feel are the heart of our
resources, like our kids and friends. So when Scott rose to spoke at
the goodbye section of the service, he pointed out that we as a team
and a community are giving our two mites as we send the Massos off to
Sudan. They are an integral long-term serving family; they have
provided our only engineering and goat-nutrition and tracking and
fundraising and community development and church-encouragement
skills. We do not send them to a new field out of excess; it is a
sacrifice. And of course the Massos themselves are embracing
sacrifice as they leave some 13 years of home and relationship and
ministry to start anew in a country that is unstable. In terms of
daily life, it will be like stepping back more than a decade to the
Bundibugyo of the mid-90's. Kisembo's sermon concluded by pointing
out the compassion of Jesus, who saw the sacrifice of the widow, and
blessed her. Tonight we cling to that reality, that Jesus sees, and
knows how hard it is to say goodbye to yet another family.
Many people spoke, including the grandmother of Kobusinge, the
orphaned infant whom Karen (and JD) took in to nurse and foster for
several months when Liana and Louisa were babies, and whose plight
drew their hearts into the motherless baby ministry. Her testimony
gave God glory, because it was amazing to her that people she did not
know who were protestant even (she was catholic) would help her!
Others thanked the Massos for the water flowing, for the teaching they
have done, for the goats and the perseverance to live here with a
family so many years. Karen and Michael also spoke, and the afternoon
closed with the elders laying hands on their kneeling family and
commissioning them to go to Sudan.
American teens in rural Africa, Julia has been an unexpected joyful
presence. She takes school and all its idiosyncrasies in stride. She
thinks spending a Friday evening in Knitting Club with a dozen girls
is fun. She thrives on the camaraderie and exercise of the girls'
football team. She still welcomes her life-long Ugandan friends on
Saturdays and giggles in games. She's responsible and kind and lovely
and smart. And she's turning 12 this week, stepping closer to being a
woman in a place where it is not easy to do so.
Like probably most American 12 year olds, she wants to invite some
friends from school to celebrate her birthday. Unlike most, however,
she does so in a place where birthdays are a foreign concept, where
being friends with an outsider carries the risk of ostracism, and
where singling out any handful of girls will lead to jealous
repercussions from the others. So we thought we had hit on a workable
solution: provide dinner for the entire girls' football team after
practice on Friday. It will also be Acacia's last practice before she
moves. The team is already a selected group of 21 girls and includes
the handful she most wants to have over. It seemed to be a treat for
these girls who have worked hard to become a team, a boost to Miss
Ashley the coach, and fun for Julia. Repeatedly when we study the
idea of "friendship" here, it includes sharing food and visiting each
others' homes. So we planned.
But then we ran into the wall of culture. Some of the teachers come
from very strict post-British boarding school culture in which the
frivolity of a special event is seen as dangerous to the seriousness
of school, and resist any special privilege accruing to the boys'
football team let alone the girls. Others suspect that any student
who visits a missionary house will take on airs of superiority that
make trouble at school. Others insist that fairness demands that no
student do anything that all are not doing. So we were told, no, it
would not be OK.
Last night at dinner, we were going around the table doing "highs and
lows" of the day, and the normally cheerful Julia sadly mumbled her
low was that she could not invite her team for her birthday. Sigh.
It has left me really struggling. How much do we ask our kids to
follow the apostle Paul's prescriptions on culture, that we do nothing
that will cause our brother to stumble, that we "refrain from meat" if
it causes misunderstanding, even if that puts a damper on a 12th
birthday? Or do we examine this whole idea of "fairness" and push
back against it? I admit I am really confused.
As humans, it seems our relationships are inherently unfair, if
fairness is defined as being the same to all. We leave to cleave. We
take more responsibility for our own children than others. When 8 CSB
A -level graduates qualified for University, missionaries were only
able to sponsor three. We are limited, but I don't think that means
we should not have sponsored any at all. Only God can be infinitely
intimate. For the rest of us, what we give to one means less for
another. And in this culture in particular, where we are perceived as
the ones with the resources, if we enter relationship with anyone,
there are sure to be others who are irritated about it. And I can't
completely blame them. Yes, there is sin involved in jealousy, a holy
person would be happy for the goodness that accrues to their
neighbor. But there is also good reason for closely monitoring
anything that smacks of favoritism, in a culture where the politics of
all relationship from polygamous marriage up to the presidency are
tainted by nepotism and corruption.
As always, we cry for wisdom! To be fair in giving equal
opportunity. To be completely just in the assignment of grades and
the offering of medical care. But to also enter the risky mess of
relationship which requires moving closer to some individuals and not
to all. To handle the repercussions with grace for the disgruntled.
To resist the temptation to become a walled off institutional concept
rather than a flesh and blood human neighbor. And to lead our kids in
doing the same.
Friday, September 26, 2008
I do not discount the power of duty, because I know my heart to be so imperfect in love. Duty means continuing on, cooking another meal, answering another knock, accepting the burden of another patient's illness, preparing another lesson or biking another mile. Yes, it would be better to do all of those things out of love, out of the joy of relationship. . . . if I play a card game with my kids because they deserve attention and it is my duty to give it, that is good. If I play because I love their company, that is better, and more honoring to them. Which is the point. We press on towards the goal of God Himself, but I confess He remains elusive and my love hobbles forward on the crutch of duty. But I believe, by faith, that that hobble is better than a sinking refusal to go anywhere at less than a flying pace, and that the crutch will one day be flung away, useless.
But not yet. So here is a summary of the day: no milk from the cow is the first bad news of the morning, who is either rebelling the lack of dairy meal (a casualty of no truck) or is pregnant (our hope). Staff meeting at the hospital, good, about 20 show up, I give a Bible study I prepared the night before on Ezra and the concept of accountability. This is in response to accusations that at least two new staff members are illegally charging patients extra fees. Interestingly this issue came to a head through a drama group who presented a public play on corruption imitating health workers, a really interesting example of non-violent protest and expression. It seems that a certain midwife was demanding 5,000 for delivery of a boy and 10,000 for delivery of a girl, also an interesting twist justified because girls bring in bride prices later which enriches the family. Hmmmm. Good discussion of all we have been given and our accountability to God, self and others. But as I'm walking away the in-charge regrets to inform me that Ammon's just-vacated house has been given to a very unreliable and dishonest worker, one of the two charging illegal fees. I feel crushed, because just that morning Scott had made a political visit to make sure that a new clinical officer was transferred here, just to keep that from happening. I try to call the management committee to protest, the chairman's phone is unavailable. The health care of the town seems to spiral downward before my eyes and I feel a strong desire to just run away rather than continue struggling with this person. I get three steps closer to the ward when the in-charge of one of our two outpatient decentralized nutrition programs approaches to inform me that the nurse who has been leading the effort quit. She had been putting pressure on our mission for extra money, which we did not agree to give. In our view malnutrition is just one of many diseases, and a salaried government health worker should not be paid extra to treat one particular category of patients just because we supply the medicine. The in- charge assures me that he agrees with me and that the program can continue without this nurse. I'm skeptical. Now I'm through the door. My most worrisome patient, whom I had arranged for a blood transfusion, I find still deathly ill. After about 45 minutes and 10 phone calls trying to trace the murky path of requisitions and order forms and transport money and people responsible, I am no closer to understanding why the person we sent to the Fort Portal blood bank returned empty handed. But I have a commitment from Bundibugyo to send three units and a commitment from Fort Portal to send the rest of the order. I hope the child in question lives long enough for the blood to arrive. Before I can see any more patients the new doctors who have been hired by WHO to serve in Bundibugyo, a huge answer to prayer, call to say they are canceling on our invitation to come and see Nyahuka Health Center and have lunch because they don't have any transportation. I don't have a vehicle either. I SMS back that the rooster is already dead, so they should come, and then arrange for the hospital truck which is picking up the blood, to get them too. Then the rest of the patients, including one little boy whose skin-and- bones pitiful state inspires us to put in an ng tube for milk, and arguing with the mother of a patient with severe burns to the hands that she has to stay until the little girl heals, that if she runs away now the girl could have contractures which prevent normal use of her arms and hands. And so on. On the way home I drop in to greet the Pierces and hear more about the unrest in the S3 class, which Caleb had thought was just boys and girls disputing with one another but which Annelise believes could relate to a particular boy who may have been a violent ring leader in a previous school trying to stir up chaos in ours. And to check up on the food procurement officer who was arrested yesterday when trying to buy massive amounts at the market across the border in Congo. It seems that the school has to hire someone to sort the problem out and free their caterer. Back home, our nutrition extension worker waits to report that the other outpatient site is also complaining about not being paid extra money, requests that I go talk to them. I promise, but admit that I'm probably not going to make it as soon as they'd like. Then our doctor guests finally arrive for lunch at about 3, just as a hydrocephalus patient and family show up in the kitubbi and the kids are filtering home from school. There are four of them, Louis, Simon, Philip and Dennis. I try to grasp that this is exactly what we were trying to do, recruit young doctors, and here WHO has done it. They are fresh from internship, former classmates in med school. And they are already frustrated with Bundibugyo, with promises not kept, with ineffective leadership, with corruption and laziness and the difficulty of doing their jobs. Scott and I listen and sympathize and encourage and feed. Mounds of rice and chicken to soothe the loneliness of being far from their homes. We play speed UNO and take a little tour of the yard and cows; we talk about our team and our life; we invite them to make this a meeting place and feel at home. As the day fades into evening they leave, to go back to Bundibugyo Town where they are managing to survive in spite of the lack of promised housing. We clean up and convince our kids that it would be great fun to eat popcorn for dinner . . .
And so a Friday draws to a close, some love and a lot of duty,
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
On Basiime Godfrey: Just heard that the doctor is very kindly arranging to get him from his University to the hospital in Kampala (Mengo) tomorrow, which is no small feat, it is about an hour's drive. We assume this means he's on the surgical schedule. We are now trying to figure out if we need to mobilize someone to go care for him post-op, since in Uganda much of the nursing care is performed by family members (he says no, but we are not sure). Please pray for him as a boy out of his element, newly enrolled in college, missing classes, going to an unfamiliar hospital alone. Thank God for Dr. Bonner who is going to such trouble to save Godfrey's vision.
On life in general: Holding on. Good moments today, a rooster and a sack of potatoes and onions and tomatoes and bananas and sugar cane and great thanks from Baluku's family as he heads off to school; greetings from Ammon and his family as he does the same. Trying to focus on immediate issues but pulled again in too many directions, and waiting for sufficient grace.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I found myself profoundly tired sitting on that church bench, and let my mind wander a moment to analyze why, reviewing the last three days. The Kwejuna Project Distribution/team meeting/visitors arriving day on Thursday, followed by the marathon Christ School Parents' Day on Friday, mingled with an unplanned visit by a remarkably talented and personable young man filming footage for a possible documentary project about Ebola whose questions dredged up hard memories and a few tears. Saturday is usually a bit of a catch-up organize cook and pay attention to kids day . . . but this week as I tallied I could think of no less than 28 visitors, 27 of whom were people that I know fairly well and share significant relationship with and truly want to attend to when they drop in to greet or talk or present their problems. The first came by 7:30 and the last left at about 10 pm. In the middle of all that dealing by phone with Godfrey's diagnosis and talking to Luke. Oh, and feeding my family and playing a game or two with kids. No wonder I feel tired.
The promise stands: sufficiency for all things, abundance for every good work. Giving extravagantly, receiving bountifully. May God multiply our small scatterings of seed to bring a richness of glory.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Basiime Godfrey, the orphan student of ours whom God opened doors to get into Uganda Christian University, had an eye exam today. A visiting American ophthalmologist had graciously contacted us by email and we took the opportunity to set up a check-up for Godfrey, who had a history of some chronic eye complaints. When Scott filled out Godfrey's pre-admission University forms, he did a physical exam and noted that Godfrey's vision was significantly impaired in one of his eyes . . . Today he finally got to see this ophthamologist and we got the news that Basiime Godfrey suffers from severe glaucoma. He is nearly blind in one eye already, and will be completely blind in both in less than five years if nothing is done. I just want to cry. First, that this boy who has struggled to get where he is now has this crushing prognosis. Second, that like Jack's heels, we did not take his occasional mention of eye pain or redness as signs of serious disease. He was boarding at Christ School when this started, we did not see him often, and his issues were one of the dozens that get put before us daily. He did not perceive it to be a major problem, and neither did we. Now much irreversible damage has been done. The doctor's schedule for surgery next week is full, but we are praying he'll be able to squeeze Godfrey in. Then later he'll need surgery on the other eye, plus daily medication. He's far from home and just starting school and worried about missing classes. After we talked to the doctor on the phone we talked to Godfrey again, and he was planning to refuse the surgery under the mistaken impression that his eye would be removed. We assured him it would remain, and that surgery was his best chance in delaying blindness.
We had just gotten off the phone with Luke when we called Godfrey's doctor. Luke is still having pain, and his MRI is scheduled for Monday at 2:30. Ashley told us an encouraging testimony of her own knee injuries in soccer, she had been diagnosed provisionally as a meniscal tear but the MRI cleared her inexplicably, and she improved without surgery. We would love to see a similar outcome for Luke! He's hanging in there pretty well, considering. He moves about campus but can not do much.
I did not expect to find the blind and the lame among the kids on my heart, nor to be so helplessly far away as they face their diagnosis and treatment. I suppose that puts me in a category in the beginning of the same passage in Luke 4: in need of healing for the brokenhearted.
Upon arrival the parents sign in at the gate and then are assigned a group tour guide who escorts them through the grounds, inspecting dormitories, admiring the agriculture projects, and being entertained and amazed by demonstrations in various classrooms. As soon as I arrived Julia spotted me, so I did a personal tour, beginning with her "knitting and crocheting" club group who had spread their handiwork on tables in a classroom and eagerly told interested parents about their creative process. From there Jack found me and pulled me into Caleb's classroom where one of the boys we sponsor, Kadima, was spokesperson for the agriculture club, and had set up a model of a three-pit system for composting. In the labs we saw a frog and a rabbit dissection in process, and students were on hand to discuss insect parts and preserved biological specimens. The cooking club had set up a small kitchen and discussed their recipes as they cooked. Then Caleb took me to his math club demo, where they used a surveying method to measure the height of a tree. All of these stations are an opportunity for the students to show the parents skills they are learning, and for the parents to appreciate the opportunities the school affords. Occasionally there is also a take-home message; in the frog lab the opened intestines were crawling with a mass of roundworms, and the teacher in charge was using this as a public health opportunity to remind parents of the importance of deworming children.
By noon most people were gathering in the student's assembly area, an open-air hall which is used for chapel. Yesterday it was decorated with balloons and flowers and crowded with several hundred parents in their best clothes. Then came the program, which went for a good five hours. Songs, speeches, poetry, traditional dance, and a long play, all interspersed with speeches from various representatives. Most of this was good even if a bit long, with striking harmonies and amazing rhythm. In Ugandan "demand" culture, it is typical for parents to present their requests and administration to answer. I realized this year that most of the major points parents make every year (we need an infirmary, there should be a school canteen for buying small essentials, the dorm space is too crowded, the library is not well used) had ALL been answered at last, with the completion of building projects and more recently even the work that Annelise has invested in the library. David gave a good speech introducing himself as the new headmaster but emphasizing from Psalm 126 that the school is Christ's, not David's or Kevin's, and that we are here to work together. He told the parents that he valued transparency and wanted to address problems openly and together, and asked for their cooperation and prayers. Scott was the final speaker, and used a passage from Philippians 2 talked about Christ-like humility.
Which was appropriate, because the only really distressing part of the day was the student council representative's speech. This boy is the soon-to-graduate son of a recently-investigated-for-fraud political leader, and he was shockingly disrespectful of the teaching staff, the administration, and even the parents. I will not repeat his allegations, but I was most appalled when he basically threatened violence, and many others were shaking their heads. Most sadly for me, one of my students was the translator (the speech was in English so he was translating for the vast majority of the parents who can not understand English). I was not the only person who cares deeply about the school and the kids there who was nearly in tears by the end. However since then I've tried to realize that the students have not learned how to express dissent and opinion in a respectful way, how to be heard while still saying what is on their hearts. They got a taste of the power of free speech and blew it. They need smaller steps of learning to protest.
This is a battle ground, and so often our hearts want to withdraw, or give up, particularly if we are under attack. Pray for supernatural love to propel us towards the unruly and the proud, the immature and the ungrateful. Jesus moves towards me in love in spite of my indifference and selfishness. Praying for the parental love to do the same.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
It is a privilege to be the conduit for international protein (milk from the UN) or American baby dolls, and to gently re-awaken body and heart in these kids.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Baluku expresses a fervent desire not only to study medicine but also to serve the people of Bundibugyo. His father who we have since learned is a "cousin-brother" to Jonah (seems everyone is related to each other in Bundibugyo if you go back far enough), says that Baluku "has the heart of Dr. Jonah." We believe the academic credentials and intellectual aptitude are "required, but not sufficient" to be a doctor. This heart of compassion for people is what we always seek as we recruit doctors for Bundibugyo. Hearing Baluku voice a desire to serve has given us confidence to move ahead with him.
So, by faith, we have made a commitment to Baluku Morris to sponsor him for five years of study at the Kampala International University Medical School. It will cost an estimated $3500/year. Classes begin October 3rd, 2008.
(We have previously raised the full amount to sponsor Monday Julius at the Mbarrara University Medical School for five years through the Dr. Jonah Kule Memorial Leadership Fund, but don't have any additional funds beyond the need of Monday Julius).
If you would like to contribute towards sending Baluku Morris to medical school, you may send a gift to World Harvest Mission (see the sidebar links for how to contribute by snail mail or by electronic transfer) designating your gift for the Dr. Jonah Kule Memorial Leadership Fund. And then begin praying for him...it is a long hard road full of barriers - frustration, distraction, difficulty, and even despair. He'll need an army of prayer warriors backing him up.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Pregnancy is not mentioned; school success is minimized; happiness is
hidden. There is a strong fear that attracting attention will lead to
negative repercussions, jealous relatives or malevolent spirits will
notice the good fortune and respond with curses.
After so many years, I fight the creeping insinuation of cultural
fears. We publicly prayed for sports to be part of Luke's adjustment
to RVA, and very unabashedly rejoiced that Luke made the JV soccer
team. He played his first game Saturday, a 1-1 draw. After the game
the boys were still full of energy and the joy of the game, so a
"friendly match" was organized to play a second unofficial round.
Luke was able to get out of his wing position which he does not
prefer, and be a midfield striker. He scored three goals, and had a
blast. The last time he dribbled down the field, though, it seems an
opponent in frustration clipped his knee from the side. Now he has
what may be a significant injury. We are not sure, very hard to tell
from this distance. Were we wrong to be so glad about soccer?
Yesterday I posted about the blessing of frequent communication.
Since then, not a single SMS has been able to leave my phone, I keep
getting the cryptic "no network support for messages". What? The
combination of knowing our kid is injured, and being powerless to
respond, is painful. Of course we are contacting his guardians by
email, and praying that this is just a bruise and not anything serious.
Much in my heart just wants to say: how much more? Can't we just fly
under the radar and be at peace? All this may seem trivial, but in the
context of grief and separation, and some hard times with people we
care about at home, it seems like Satan is on the attack.
The response of faith: God's truth abideth still, His Kingdom is
forever. I admit the posture of hiding sounds more appealing than the
posture of advance, so we need faith.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Next, Bwambale, a child I personally thought would either die or be whisked away in the night by his tired mother. He came with dangerously severe kwashiorkor, and an also-malnourished little sister. Soon we realized that he was much worse off than she was, and slower to respond to milk, because he also had sickle cell anemia. It took over a month but his swelling finally subsided, new skin finally appeared under all the peeling patches, he finally took interest in the world. Meanwhile his sister also began to thrive, so his mom is now lugging home two heavier kids.
Mbusa's mother brought all four of her kids to live on the ward for the last few weeks, because she had no one else to help her care for them. He smiled mischievously as we prepared his discharge today, and his sisters clamored to have their picture taken too. They will probably find home rather tedious after all the excitement.
And then, Gloria. Gloria's lethargy on admission was heartbreaking, and her mother's almost as significant. And no wonder: this mother was from another part of the country, had had her 3 month old infant die this summer, and now was watching her 2 year old dwindle down the same path, and she was going through all this basically alone. In the 32 days of her admission, Gloria's father only came one time to see her. In spite of all that, she departed 2 kg heavier than she arrived, with a new hold on life. And her mother did some hard thinking about her own situation and decided to take Gloria back to her ancestral home in hopes of both of them surviving. I pray they will.
Lastly, Rick Thomas, getting his third lease on life, discharged and well when he could easily have been dead.
Their beds were being refilled before they could even bundle their belongings out the door, but for a moment there was joy over these slow saves.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Scott has posted a flicker set of pictures taken around the RVA campus, for those who have never been and would like some context (click from sidebar).
Saturday, September 06, 2008
I am grateful for the easy final leg of this trip, the respite from the road, after many many hours and jolts to and from Kenya. We are physically and emotionally spent. Driving away from Luke as he stood watching us leave under a tree at RVA was perhaps one of the low points of our life (and we've had a few lows, so that is saying something). We were all crying, and it was all rain and no rainbow at that moment. I am now dully sad, and Scott is beginning to recover, but watching him as a father part from his first-born son was brutal. We all (even Luke) still believe it was the right step. But it was a hard one. We are particularly anxious about his soccer try-outs which have proceeded daily this week. Like most boys who grow up in Africa, Luke loves the game. He is not alone. There are still over 50 boys trying to fill the 15 JV and 15 Varsity spots. The opportunity to be on a team was a huge factor in his desire to give boarding school a try. We of little faith feel the parental angst of wanting this good thing for our child and fearing it will be denied, and the ambiguity that if he makes the team someone else's kid won't.
And all this sorrow comes in the context of a year of goodbyes. Many readers of our blog have also been following the blog of Dan and Nancy Macha, missionary colleagues in WHM. Nancy died of breast cancer in Philadelphia as we arrived at RVA, and her funeral was held as we drove away. I suppose the terrible finality of that parting should put ours into perspective, and it does to some extent. But both are reminders that this world goes not well, that things are not quite right, that the separation which began when Adam and Eve hid in the garden plagues us to this day. Whether it is for a school term or half a life-time, we grieve the loss of fellowship, of joy, of presence when we part from those we love. Both partings may not have happened, or at least been delayed, if we were not walking this difficult road of mission. And again, both remind me that it is one thing to accept the cost for ourselves, but quite another to accept it for Luke who now lives in a dorm instead of a home, or for the Macha kids who now have no mother to turn to on earth.
So here we are, back in Bundibugyo, relieved to be home but slightly uneasy and guilty that we should feel the respite of resettling without a sixth of our family. And a hundred times a day our thoughts turn eastward, feeling the weight of the almost three solid days of travel that lay between us. We need the memory of the rainbow.