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Friday, October 31, 2008

Bearing and Inflicting

More Pain for the Congo
"Fierce fighting between government and rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo has caused a humanitarian catastrophe, the Red Cross says." (BBC)  For those whose family members live here on our team, let me assure you that while we are within 10 miles of the Congo border, our neighboring part of the troubled North Kivu province is to this point unaffected by the fighting further south.  Laurent Nkunda leads a rebel force which has over-run numerous towns and now stands at a cease-fire within a dozen miles of Goma, the provincial capital.  The history here is long and complex and I'm sure I don't understand it.  For the last decade eastern Congo has been de-stabilized by the pillaging of both rebel and government militaries.  Some of this relates to the post-genocide flight of the Hutu militias into Congo, triggering the influx of Rwandan and Ugandan troops to protect ethnic minorities, the overthrow of Mobutu, our own frights with the ADF, the rise of Kabila the elder and the succession of Kabila the younger . . . but lots of it also has to do with the fact that this is a monstrous country with zero infrastructure and vast resources being exploited by Europeans, Americans, Chinese, other Africans, anyone who can get a piece of the wealth.  Meanwhile on the ground ladies wrapped in kitengis who look just like our friends (and some are probably related) are trudging down roads once again with anything salvagable bundled on their heads, trying to decide whether IDP camps within range of the Nkunda rebels are less safe, or more safe, than the towns held by the government.  The UN troops stand in the middle hated by all, particularly the population whom they are unable to protect.   And children continue to die of TB and malnutrition and gastroenteritis, on the run, unable to access care that most of the rest of the world takes for granted.  The IRC (International Rescue Committee) has done commendable research to point out that 4 million people in the DRC have died as a result of this ongoing, ever-shifting war . . . and very few of those deaths were battle-ground bullets.  The death toll is being borne by civilians once again.

Corruption Kills Too
"Uganda has lost 25bn Ugandan shillings ($12m) of Global Fund money due to concerns over poor accountability, according to reports this week. The Global Fund has refused to release a second $10m instalment from the $36m pot it allocated for HIV/Aids activities in Uganda in 2003 because it was not satisfied with how initial payments have been spent, reported New Vision. " (from The Guardian)  When the people who are supposed to work for the health of a country divert aid, pocket money, obscure accounts, and generally use the Global Fund as an opportunity for personal gain . . . the poor, once again, suffer.  Donors have cut Uganda out of funds that could assure that children like Mbabazi in my post below receive medicine.  When a culture turns a blind eye towards truth, children suffer.

So missionaries who talk about sin sound pretty old-fashioned, fundamental, out-of-touch culturally, intolerant.  That is because we fail to see the logs in our own eyes, so let me first say that the power and greed and deception that plague Africa are the same germs of evil that plague my own heart.  But that is not a reason to pretend they are not germs.  At the root of today's headlines:  sin.  One group that panics and wants to assure its own survival by raping and murdering another.  Shady cobalt deals that rape the environment and steal from the poor.  A view of reality that justifies using resources for personal ends with no accountability.  We see the same dynamics in families, in tribes, in local politics . . but when they reach proportions of international attention, the effect becomes more clear.  Sin kills.

Pat read us a prayer this week that beautifully sums up the response of the Cross to this mess of a world: Lord, let me bear more pain than I inflict.  Amen.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Today's Needs

We are directed to focus on the needs of each day, one at a time.
Richard, whose body is riddled with painful tumors, being sent to the
bowels of Mulago hospital on a quest for life-saving chemotherapy,
armed only with hope and a hundred dollars. Daniel, whose intractable
vomiting notches his skeletal frame closer to the grave daily in spite
of milk and therapy, 4 years old and 13 pounds, we cry out for his
healing. Basemera, weaned too early, her body swelling from lack of
protein. Mbabazi Kristine, struggling against both TB and AIDS, a few
pounds of humanity frail in the face of those two foes. Kabonesa
Malyamu, in spite of being unable to wrest enough to survive from the
dry breasts of her ill mother, still looks at the world with hope and
trust as she smiles at me every day and sips her milk. For these and
the dozen others whose lives hang on the edge, we ask for today's
mercies, for swallowing without pain, for absorption of food and
medicine, for warmth in the rain and the comfort of familiar arms, for
laughter and respite and safety and wholeness.

More Nostalgia

This is a week of remembrance, and several glimpses of the
orchestration of a light-clothed heaven-stretching Being, working
above and beyond and behind the scenes of time (Psalm 104, from Pat's
prayer meeting . . . ).

My neighbor's oldest wife, who stays in Congo most of the time, came
for a visit, trailing her 10 year old twin boys. As they kicked a
soccer ball around in the yard with Jack and Julia, it dawned on me
that these boys were born in our car, delivered by Scott who had been
trying to get them to the hospital in labor all those years ago.

In chapel the S6 students came forward for prayer, before they begin
their final period of University-qualifying exams. There are only
about a dozen of them, and many have been with the school all six
years and we therefore know them well. One is one of our sponsored
boys. Another is a former m'lm orphaned boy who became a Christian at
school. One of the girls is the daughter of one of Bundibugyo's
freedom fighters, a man who led the rebellion many years ago that
threw off the domination of the Toro Kingdom, and who has inherited
his charisma and leadership. But I was mostly focused on three girls
who were in my cell group for several years in their O-level days. I
am not a very notable evangelistic missionary. In all my years here, I
have only had the privilege of being present with about 10 people as
they became Christians. That's OK, we are a body and I am more of a
hand, touching, feeding, healing, typing, than a mouth or a head who
preaches and sees conversions. But those few are important to my
heart, it is a remarkable experience to watch over months and even
years as a girl weighs her beliefs and takes the courageous step of
change. Two of those three girls from my group who stood yesterday,
nearing graduation, were among those who made professions. I have
seen genuine faith slowly blossom in both, and I am grateful.

Physical and spiritual new life, a good legacy. And the two come
together sometimes, too, in Kwejuna project. Yesterday was a very
trying day at the health center. We are in the midst of Child Health
Day outreaches, meaning that most of the staff has been deployed to
villages to dispense vaccines and vitamin A and deworming tablets.
The malnourished and HIV-infected seemed to pour in in their absence,
lots of new admissions and new patients. I was very stretched by the
onslaught of patients and the exodus of staff, if Pat had not plugged
on I might have given up. So it was another gift from God to review
two of our last patients together, bright spots that made our tired
and hungry and grouchy faces smile. Sera Sedrack had been admitted
last month in a pitiful state of starvation, which led us to discover
that his mom was HIV-infected, his sister had TB, and he was somehow
free of both diseases and just hungry. Now many packets of milk and
days of monitoring later, he's unrecognizably rounded, from 5 kg to
7kg as he returned for follow-up, and his mother and sister are
getting treatment. The second was Crispus, whose PCR results just
came in. His HIV-positive mother had been screened in pregnancy, took
her drugs, delivered her son, fed him only from the breast for six
months, and brought him for viral testing as instructed. He was
negative! In fact all the results just in from last month's Kwejuna
batch were negative. So he will wean while he's safe, and hopefully
live a long and joyful life. And his mother will be followed and
treated and hopefully get to live many of those years with Crispus.
And these families will hear the good news of God's love for them at
the same time they see the evidence in the care they are offered.

Which brings us back to Psalm 104, the transcendent God who rebukes
oceans and spins moons, also directs rains for the grasses and trees
and vines that make the oil and wine and bread that bring beauty and
joy and strength to the heart of man (14-15 in the middle). Decades
ago he new that Nalongo would be in labor, that Winnie and Farida
would be searching for truth and meaning, that Sedrack would be hungry
and Crispus would be threatened by HIV, and He brought together the
people and fuel and pills and money and books and love to reach each
of them.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fifteen Years

October marked our fifteen year anniversary of living in Uganda. As
the month draws to a close I was thinking about this, about the
changes in our neighborhood over the last decade and a half. More
mbati (tin) roofs instead of grass. More vehicles, motorcycles, and
bikes. More kids. More schools. More people wearing shoes. More
buildings, shops, paths, roads. More trash. More choices, for us and
others. More expenses. More organization. More communication. More

Our newest team mate, Nathan, will land tomorrow. When we landed 15
years ago this month, we sat forlornly on our pile of bags outside the
somewhat decrepit old Entebbe airport as the sun rose and smoking
cooking fires filled the air. Luke was an infant being swarmed by
what I thought were malarious mosquitoes (they were lake flies,
harmless, just annoying). We had no phone, no contacts, and no plan
for what to do if our team did not pick us up. Several Ugandan
drivers approached us, but we kept hoping that someone who knew us
would show up. We had heard of the Sheraton Hotel and so were about
to try and hire a taxi when a blue pick-up pulled up two hours late,
and Atwoki, the Ugandan mechanic who served our team over many years,
jumped out. It turned out that both Dan and Betty were sick with
malaria and therefore had to send him. . . we went back to the
Namirembe Guest House, back then a very simple place with common
bathrooms and hostel-like bare accommodations and Ugandan food, to set
up Luke's pack and play and try to get some jet-lagged sleep in the
heat. No A/C, no fans even. To make a phone call telling our
families we had made it we all went to the lobby of the Sheraton
(which was why we had heard of it before arriving), a past-its-prime
somewhat dingy place at that time, where the only international line
was located for pay. No cell phones, no internet. No bottled water,
few sodas. Then Lynn Leary took us shopping--no grocery stores, no
mall, just a 4x8 foot duka, opening onto the sidewalk, where we bought
flour and oil and salt and sugar. The biggest treat was Ribena, a
juice-like drink. I think I still have the shopping list Lynn wrote
us in pencil on a legal pad, detailing all 20-some items available for
sale in the country. Thankfully the Herons went to Kenya in those
days and came back with huge rounds of cheese, which a thousand
kilometers later we divided up to share. When we finally got into our
4-wheel-drive vehicle to drive west, the road soon petered out into a
dirt track. It took two LONG days to get to Bundibugyo. People waved
and stared. A passing truck was a rare event then. We waved back.
This was to be our home, and I remember how stark and National
Geographic it looked.

But I also remember driving into the mission for the first time, and
looking up. The mountains. My heritage is Appalachian, West Virginia
Hills. Somehow in all the anticipation and discussion it had never
dawned on me that we would be living at the foot of Africa's third
highest mountains, the Rwenzoris, where equatorial snow rises above
the palms. Some people feel a sense of belonging in the city, by the
ocean, in a suburb, on a plain. For me the ridges populated by
insular clans, the rivers running down, and the green hillsides rising
up, felt like a gift of beauty and security. My Dad's favorite Psalm
was 121, which happened to be my reading today in Peterson's year-long
Psalm devotional. Driving into Bundibugyo 15 years ago with a baby
and trunks and little else, the hills reminded me that our
transcendent God gives unexpected gifts.

And that, though much has changed in 15 years, He has not. The
glaciers have receded but the mountains stand, unmoved.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Arm youselves

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger, is one of our favorite all-time books.  Jack is currently reading it, and left it on our bed (ever a favorite nesting spot) so I picked it up and re-read the first chapter in which the narrator describes his near-disastrous entry into the world as a blue and lifeless newborn baby until his father knocks over the non-resuscitating doctor and picks him up, commanding him to breathe.  The chapter ends with these great lines:
If he were to begin the account, I believe Dad would say what he said to Swede and me on the worst night of all our lives:
We and the world, my children, will always be at war.
Retreat is impossible.
Arm yourselves.

Real Risk: Roads

From today's Ugandan newspaper (New Vision) with a front page picture of a car smashed by a bus:  
According to Police records, the death toll from road accidents shot to 2,334 last year, up from 2,171 in 2006. In the last 10 days, 90 people have died and hundreds sustained injuries in bus accidents.
The Police blame reckless driving, speeding, defective vehicles, environmental factors and poor roads. 
Puts Ebola in perspective.  We keep the angels busy when we drive.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


On the rebound from across-two-country parenting, and back to the almost-parenting we lamely offer our sponsored boys. We got a call this week about the youngest, Ivan, who is finishing his final year of primary school in Bundibugyo Town and about to sit for the all- important Primary Leaving Exam (PLE), a two-day four-subject test that will qualify him to enter secondary school. The teacher said "Ivan has fractured his leg". What??? I was imagining Ivan lying shattered, bleeding. When they put him on the phone (his English skills are excellent, so it is easier to understand him than the teachers . . ) it sounded like a sprained ankle. He had been accidentally pushed over in the dark two days prior by two boys running from each other out a door . . and twisted his ankle as he tripped over a stone. We sent our oldest "boy" Ndyezika anyway to take Ivan for an xray. The ankle was fine, just lots of swelling. Just to be sure, when Scott was in town Friday, he stopped by the boarding school to examine Ivan. To his concern he found that in addition to the sprained ankle there was point tenderness further up his leg. He came back and looked at the films, and sure enough, there is a small fracture visible in the tibia, hard to see because the xray tech had written over that part of the film! So we brought Ivan down for a plaster cast and crutches yesterday, and a good lunch and encouragement from his friends and prayer. He sits for exams Nov 3rd and 4th, and his preliminary results on practice tests have been encouraging. Pray for his healing and for scores that will allow him to join the others at CSB. It seems that our injury and illness cloud these past months is extending from our biological children to encompass our school boys. So now we have Basiime on chronic glaucoma therapy, Luke beginning to return to soccer, Julia healing her stitches, Jack still impaired, and Ivan on crutches. A family of the wounded.

The last Sunday of every month CSB gates are opened to parents who wish to visit. This morning we attended the early chapel and then invited our five boys to have a "tailgate" brunch. It was a good time to hear about the ins and outs of exams and school life, to bring them some news of their neighborhood, to fill their stomachs with a hot meal and sweet banana muffins. Mutegheki (far left) is about to finish O level exams as he completes S4, and Birungi (far right) will soon enter the month of A level exams which mark completion of S6. Kadima and John are in Caleb's S3 class, and Richard continues S5 after graduating with Luke from S4 last year. Through various circumstances God has placed these 8 boys in our lives, from Ivan up to Ndyezika. Four have no father and so we function as the responsible fee-paying parent. Four do have a living father, but we have embarked upon sponsorship over the years either out of friendship or awareness of the students' potential or taken pity on boys whose fathers are alcohol-impaired and unable to provide for them. All have been in our lives for a most of our time in Uganda, which accounts for most of their young lives as well. I'm thankful for them but painfully aware of how stretched we are, and how little we provide of the real love and guidance and support a child needs to thrive. Still we pray that our belief in them is a seed watered by the celestial calculus of grace so that an unexpected family tree blossoms.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Myhres out of mire, onto the wall

Psalm 40 echoes the verses from Micah which God put on my heart earlier in the week, was the text Heidi chose for prayer meeting on Weds, was quoted in the chapter of a Piper book we read for team meeting devotions, and then, of all the unlikely places, appeared in a secular TV show episode we happened to watch last night (24!). When one text out of thousands jumps out from four different directions, four times in a row, in four days, one should listen. So today I've ben thinking of the wall-standing image in the context of the mire beneath. Here we stand, on the solid rock of the stone wall, surrounded by evil muck. And here we call, for help from the One who set us here. We didn't climb out of the mud on our own, nor can we respond with mercy and justice unless we are delivered.

This week the stand has taken me to our two outpatient nutrition programs, where we monitor and treat moderately malnourished children using a locally produced peanut/soy/moringa paste. This is an expensive and labor-intensive proposition, but the results have been fairly good. Over the last few months some of the volunteers and health-workers involved had begun to complain, to push for more benefits for themselves, to threaten to quit, and to accuse each other. Heidi and Baguma Charles had patiently put up with this and I finally realized I had to spend the time to go hear their issues and hold the line. So I did. While it is never pleasant to have to be the tough guy, in this case the outcome was encouraging. The troublemakers were revealed and we were able to see that the nurses in each center, Robina and Babika, actually take pride in their work and want to continue. And in each place it was a good reminder to see the patient grandmothers and the skinny babies, the listless toddlers and the too-young mothers, all waiting for hope.

This week the stand has also occurred closer to home, listening and hugging and encouraging not only Jack (who is doing better but still struggles) but also several team mates. It is hard to be far from the familiar. Sometimes when our families are in crisis, it seems even harder, we wish we could be present to lend a hand to the sick or unemployed or depressed. Other times when our families rejoice, we feel left out, missing weddings and births, celebrations and changes. Saying goodbye to team mates only accentuates loneliness. And living in Bundibugyo can impact our freedom to invest in our own relationships (team and family and friends) the way we would like, always having to make hard choices about who gets our attention. I was reminded this week of a spiritual epiphany which occurred in our first or second year, when I was pregnant with Caleb, and had a pretty bleak history of miscarriage and preterm labor and hospital visits and medications that would lead one to doubt the wisdom of being pregnant in Africa. I saw that in my heart I wanted to say: because I'm a missionary now, this pregnancy should be smooth, as if God owed me a healthy baby . . . but instead I saw the path of faith had no guarantees that my family would thrive in the way I longed, but I still wanted to walk on it. Now I'm in the position of trying to stand on the wall beside my fellow team mates, testifying to the cross, but not deciding for them in just what way God calls them to bear it. Wisdom is needed. Some might miss family events. Others might miss opportunities for marriage. Others might miss opportunities for more children. Others might miss the kind of education or experiences we all want for the children we already have. These are hard, hard things, and it takes courage to stand, to not wish for a smoother higher wall further from the mire.

And this week the stand requires advocating for the voiceless. Little Daniel has wasted away before our eyes, a third of his weight lost over the last month, leaving the skeletal essentials, his weakened body unable to swallow and digest the milk we try to give. We cry out for his healing, and daily insist that the staff and his parents keep trying. The ward is packed full again, floor space only, Heidi and I process through, looking for a stand to take for a Congolese child with what will probably turn out to be a malignancy,whose bewildered mother I can not imagine navigating our national referral hospital's hostilities. Or a mother we diagnosed HIV positive today who is terrified to share the news with her husband. Or the jaundiced child whose blood we are sending to screen for hepatitis, a strain of which has spread out of control in northern Uganda. Or twins whose mother died and whose no-nonsense aunt has them sitting in unnaturally quiet cooperation during hours of rounds. One of our potential new doctors, posted but not yet paid, spent the afternoon venting on his frustrations with the corruption and apathy in the district political system, the unfulfilled promises and the financial obscurity. What to do but empathize, and point him to the mercy and justice of God?

Psalm 40 ends with the juxtaposition: the incredible and improbable truth that God "thinks upon me" . . . and yet the desperate plea "Do not delay, O my God." The testimony of mire-extraction, but the awareness of teetering upon the exposed rock, calling for help.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On the wall

Heidi wrote a post weeks ago, reflecting on a movie which referred to
respect for the marines because they are the guys standing on the wall
that allows the rest of us to sleep safely at night. For some reason
that image has stuck with me, as a paradigm for our role. The Gospel
is supposed to tear down walls between people . . .but sometimes I
sense that our calling is to stand as a wall that limits evil in some
small way. To say this far, and no further, to the myriad of harms
that swarm Bundibugyo. To wrestle a modicum of order from the descent
to chaos. To insist that a lab be done, that a medicine be given,
that staff members complete their work, that food be distributed. To
cook another meal or listen to another problem. To confront brutality
or abuse. To pray. To not abandon the post.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

From a walk to a run

Luke called to say that he met with the orthopedic surgeon today, and was at least cleared to begin practicing again. He's supposed to pace himself back to full activity over a period of a few weeks. So he re- entered the JV team today, not doing everything, but finally off the bench. Hooooray! Interestingly, the surgeon showed him his MRI and explained how deep and large the bone "bruise" was, and showed him where there was a slight ligamentous tear (sprain). Both of those findings help him understand the ongoing intermittent pain he has experienced. But there are now no findings on his exam that would indicate a meniscal tear or need for surgery (parenthetically, the official radiology report DID mention the meniscal tear, so we are doubly and triply and umpteenly glad that God put an experienced orthopedic surgeon in Kijabe this year who made his own interpretation of the films). This has not been an easy time for Luke, but we see God's mercy in the reprieve, and a toughening and growing maturity through the disappointment and pain. A few weeks of actual exercise and fun would be nice now. We all sense a lifting of the burden, and a hope. Many thanks for the many prayers on his behalf.

Monday, October 20, 2008

With what shall I come?

With what shall I come before the LORD,
And bow myself before the High God? 
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?
Will the  the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Over the past weeks, I have been reading the prophets, resonating with their sense of burden, their wrestling with the inscrutable ways of God.  But the verse that continues to return to my mind is this one from Micah chapter 6.  As missionaries we can falsely assume that we bring something to God, be it the sacrifice of our career, of our family relationships, of financial security or success.  Or of the fruit of our bodies.  We abhor the pagan idea of child sacrifice, but it can seem that God has required something similar as we put our children through mediocre or chaotic schooling, subject them to daily taunts and exclusion from other kids, deprive them of the extended family relationships or sports and other opportunities that their American peers enjoy.  Our kids have weathered this year with difficulty.  I asked one recently what they found most "annoying" in life, expecting complaints about siblings, but received the immediate reply:  "Saying goodbye."  They have lost three of the four other families on our team in the last 12 months; one of their two life-long dogs died; they were separated from us at a time when our death was a real possibility. Three of four have started new schools.  Two have suffered debilitating and chronic injuries.  All have had the painful adjustment to our family now existing dispersed between two countries.  This in a context of spiritual conflict, and tropical discomforts.  
Is this what God desires?  While I do think that there is value in the Abraham-action of radical obedience at all costs, I do not think God relishes the suffering of our children.  We live in a fallen world, and we live right on the fault line in many ways.  We are not immune to the same realities that plague our neighbors.  The suffering of our children is a side-effect of love, not the proof of it.
With what shall I come?  What God wants, what He calls us to in the midst of tears, is to pursue justice and mercy with all our daily energies, and to keep that pursuit in the perspective of a humble walk with Him.  No flashy sacrificial ceremonies, just the consistent daily willingness to go another mile down the road.  
Today's path took us in pursuit of justice and mercy, struggling with tough choices on nutrition spending, pondering difficult diagnoses, organizing medical supplies.  Today's path also involved a frightening over-the-handles bike accident and two lacerations that required sutures for Julia.  Up until a few hours ago she was the only stitch-free Myhre; but tonight she tries to fall asleep with repaired gashes on her elbow and ankle.  This evening's steps included hugs for a sobbing Jack whose heels still hurt and whose heart struggles to believe he'll ever be free of that problem.  Tomorrow's path will take Luke back to the orthopedic surgeon, for the verdict on whether he can at last follow his heart's desire to play soccer.  I pray that Julia heals without infection (especially the scrapes on her face!).  I pray that Jack is filled with hope and courage and released from the impediment of his heel pain.  I pray that Luke's verdict tomorrow frees him to return to activity, to grasp his last weeks of opportunity for a team sport.
May we love mercy even more deeply as we see it extended to our children, pulled along with us on the humble, bumpy walk.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

East African Highway (Thursday)

The return journey begins:  Moonset over the Rift, we pile into our loaded truck at 5:55 a.m..  The road climbs to the ridge then dips to the valley, skirting Lakes Naivasha, Elementitia, and Nakuru.  Frigid air, long-haul lorries barreling downhill then straining upwards belching black smoke, donkeys (we count 111 by the roadside over the course of the morning, something to keep the kids interested) slung with bags of cabbages or coal shuffle towards market.

Donkeys aren't the only roadside animals:  we also pass zebra, impala, antelope, warthogs, and baboons.


The corridor of violence:  our route takes us through the heart of the troubles which shook Kenya earlier this year.  We stop and buy a newspaper from enterprising hawkers who position themselves at the ubiquitous speed humps. Today the Waki Comission has released their report on the post-election violence, in which 1,133 people died, 405 of those at the hands of the police, a fairly equal mixture of Luos, Kikuyus, Luhyas and Kalenjins, though each of those tribes carries a sense of being victimized disproportionately.  The report concludes first that almost two decades of failure to prosecute perpetrators of violence in Kenya led to a "culture of impunity" in which politicians and thugs alike were emboldened to use force for personal gain.  Secondly, that the "personalization of power" around the Presidency led to undue pressure from certain ethnic groups to ensure success for their candidate (necessary to the survival of their tribe), and also compromised oversight from other branches of government.  The commission has made recommendations to improve the conduct of the police force, and turned over names of 10 key politicians for international prosecution.  Both Kibaki and Odinga have endorsed this step, Odinga using a Biblical reference to "let the truth set us free".  Meanwhile we still drive past a handful of IDP camps, the tell-tale UN tarps like clusters of alien igloos around the false security of various police posts.


The landscape in western Kenya:  weathered board shacks and fences, with a pioneer feel, small herds of cows and sheep, paddocks of corn and grass, open endless sky, muted grassy yellows and browns.  Then a splash of garish pink and kelly green.  The two main competing cell phone companies ply this trail with their stocks of paint, claiming shops for their advertising.  Zain seems to be outstripping Safaricom if building color is any measure.


Milk transport:  Roadside cans, picked up by trucks or hauled on bikes, the pipeline of protein from pasture to plant.



Creative advertising:  All the pictures here were snapped out my window in transit, so quality and selection suffer a bit at 60 km/hr.  I missed "Cockroach Promoters".  But how would you like to put your money in the inspiring "Skam Investments"?  Or survive the police while getting your clothes spiffed at the "Roadblock Cleaners"?  Or learn to drive into objects from the "Ding Wall Driving School?"

Eldoret:  The one sizable city on the trip, humming with traffic and people.  A country town that received its own international airport and university during the decades of Moi rule, the fruits of point 2 above, personalization of power around the presidency.


The road:  Whole stretches are fantastic new asphalt.  But plenty of worn patches slow down the pace, lumpy filled and not-so-filled potholed spans where traffic weaves from side to side searching for a level spot.  The entire 13 hour trip is on a two-lane road, meaning that Scott has to pass poky tractor-trailer trucks about a hundred times.  And that more than once we are run off the road by careless drivers overtaking in the opposite direction.  And that we share the tarmac with pedestrians and bicycles.  Road trauma remains the leading cause of death for expatriates in Africa.  We are sober about the task of arriving alive.


A result of the aforesaid bad road:  we stop to change a puncture.  Scott, with help from Caleb, can do this in minutes.  We always carry two spares.



Contrast:  These mud-walled thatch-roofed huts abut this 21st-century cell tower.  Africa quantum-leaps forward, investing in communication rather than suburbia.


The trucks:  The East African Community has noticed that the over-filled lorries are ruining their precious-few tarmac road surfaces.  So they made an agreement to ban the largest trailers, those with four axels in the rear.  The enterprising truck drivers have merely removed one of the four rear sets of wheels, probably without a decrement on load, meaning the same weight is now distributed on less surface area, which from S1 physics we know equals higher pressure and more road damage.  


The border:  Approaching the border we crept around trucks lined up for about two kilometers.  Jack counted 221.  I can only imagine they must wait for days to pass.  We, on the other hand, have found a very speedy "clearing agent".  The system of changing countries is an obscure series of steps and paperwork and kick-back designed to ensure that illegal cargo is not smuggled under the tax radar, or that stolen cars do not jump from one country to the next.  But in effect the bureaucracy provides income for the young men who scramble to help the unwary traveler, and the hawkers who capitalize on the hours of delay by selling drinks and samosas.  We call our agent an hour ahead of time as we drive, and he meets us at the gates to the border zone.  He takes our car registration and log book, our passports and departure declarations, and he and Scott divide and conquer the many offices to be visited.  I write ten times on ten different colored cards our names, passport numbers, birthdays, reasons for travel.  The actual border is a river, and there is a stretch of narrow fenced road over a bridge between the two guarded posts.  Since we are officially Uganda residents, departing can take up to two hours, but our return was accomplished in 23 minutes.  


Back in Uganda:  The day is slipping away.  The landscape greens, lush, colorful, vibrant, the harsh dusty highlands of Kenya giving way to the jungle of Uganda.  School children cluster home over the Nile River Dam, which provides electricity for the country.  

The End of the Journey:  The sun blazes directly into our eyes as we head west into the city of Kampala, reaching our destination just as darkness overtakes us.  


Friday, October 17, 2008

Family Time

Each 12 to 13 week term at RVA is divided by a mid-term long-weekend
break, to give the staff a breathing space away from 24/7
responsibility for the boarding students, and to allow the students to
reconnect with their families or guardians. New students are advised
not to plan to leave Kenya since their passports are usually still in
process in some labyrinthine government agency in Nairobi for
acquiring student visas. Since this was our first six-week stretch of
family dispersal, we decided that this time we'd trek all the way back
with all five of us to see Luke. Hence the over 1000 km of driving
each way, about 23 hours in the truck spread over 2 1/2 days, the lost
school days for the younger three, the jumble of making plans for
being gone, the necessity of abandoning many tasks to our capable but
overworked team. A steep investment, but well worth it. We had
initially planned a grand climb-Mt.-Kenya adventure, but after Luke's
injury we switched to a more sedentary plan. God knew we all needed
the rest.

We rented a cabin at Sunrise Acres, where a steadfast missionary
couple in their 60's runs a dairy farm on the side of their church and
orphanage work. They have constructed four simple houses, the kind
you might rent at a state park in West Virginia, with clapboard siding
and patchwork quilts and wood-burning stoves and shelves of dog-eared
paperbacks, forming a semi-circle around a shady yard with flower beds
and playground equipment, and bordered by pine forest and cow
pasture. My sense is that the decades of faithfulness the Stovers
have put in have somehow cleared this spiritual oasis, so that an
American family can pull into the yard and enter into peace. The
elevation on that side of the Great Rift is about 8 to 9 thousand
feet. It is cold, breezy, quiet, and probably one of the best bargains
in the world (the six of us got our own house, three bedrooms, milk
and strawberries galore, for less than fifty dollars/night).

Mostly we just WERE. I cooked a lot, trying to fill up the weeks of
cafeteria-food cavities with grilled meat and fresh vegetables and
home made bread and pie and cookies. We played ping-pong and shot
baskets, kicked around a soccer ball, put together a puzzle, played a
few games, watched our kids' two favorite movies: A Princess Bride,
and The Emperor's New Groove. We all eagerly listened to RVA
stories. There was a spike of Rubik's Cube mania as Luke and Jack
competed to solve them in close to two minutes, Caleb figured it out,
and Julia decided to give it a go too. We slept, long and hard,
under wool blankets with closed windows, no noises to wake us.

One day we drove down to Nakuru, and visited a national park we had
not previously seen. Lake Nakuru is home to thousands of pink
flamingos. Again, this day was a gift, because riding on the roof of
the truck through forest and savannah scanning for animals is a key
part of our family experience. We spotted two leopards, distantly, in
a tree before they climbed down and disappeared. Dozens of rhino
amazed us with their mass and their prehistoric horns and knobby
skin. We watched V's of pelicans take flight, clumps of flamingos
running like showgirls on their delicate legs and high-heeled
impractical feet, springy gazelle and even a few huge eland resting in
the grass by the water's edge. Warthogs, ostriches, baboons, buffalo,
zebra . . . and a picnic lunch on the escarpment, far above the pink-
fringes of the lake.

Then we headed back to Kijabe and said goodbye. Still hard, but not
as heart-breaking as the first time. Perhaps the key difference is
that we have now seen first-hand that this is a good place for Luke.
He has some great teachers, challenging classes, interesting
activities, a library. He has learned to follow the schedule and pace
himself on work. He's been empowered by independence, and we know
deep down this was the right plan for him. The culture is nearly
American . . . a good laboratory for learning to survive amongst a
crowd of giggling teenage girls and video-gaming boys. Luke's knee
still hurts at times, and he completes his enforced inactivity period
on Tuesday when he will see the orthopedic surgeon again. The
inability to play on the team is still the hardest aspect of his life
there and we are praying he can return next week.

In all a hidden blessing of sending our son away has been the right to
snatch five days of family time from the middle of intense months of
ministry. We're thankful.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

To Kenya

Tomorrow we begin the 2 1/2 day trek to Kijabe to pick Luke up Friday for his midterm break.  It is never easy to leave here, we are just too connected in a complex web of relationship, of obligations and needs that teeters on the brink of imbalance in a good week and feels pretty tenuous after a week like our last one.  There are umpteen people to be paid and cared for, keys to be left, medicines to be supplied, letters provided, plans for patients, not to mention our little farm of two cows, a goat, and a dog.  We have to shut down power and clear out all the food so that rats and roaches don't completely take over.  The kids have been working to get assignments for missed classes in a place where family trips are pretty much unheard of.  We have to pack in such a way that everything can go in an open truck bed covered with a tarp, and survive being shaken for about 23 hours of rough driving.  We'll be staying for the long weekend in a restful, simple missionary retreat cottage in the highlands north of the Great Rift  . . .but in a town with no grocery or restaurants, so I've been baking and freezing and making a list of what to buy along the way.  We won't have much internet access, so we're trying tonight to tie up any loose communication ends.  It is a great treat to get our family back together, to get away from the front lines of Bundibugyo for a few days, to reconnect.  But the truth is that the effort involved to get there and back is, well, if not prohibitive, at least considerable.  
I don't call this the "front lines"  lightly, i do so from a sense that we have been hit hard lately.  I recently re-read All Quiet on the Western Front, a great read, and a gripping account of the brutal reality of trench warfare in WW1.  Sometimes our life feels that way.  And the rotation of being called back from the front to recover and regroup can lead to the same sense of disorientation and vague guilt that those young German soldiers experienced.  So pray that we would leave our worries in the capable hands of God and our colleagues, and truly rest over the next week.
While we're gone the CSB students will begin the intense month-long process of O-level exams, a situation always fraught with the potential for problems, for student anxiety, for accusations of corruption.  We pray the students will remain firm, that the process will go forward smoothly, that the Pierces will figure it all out in good time (we realized that this is essentially their first time to see it because they were on a short medical HMA last year, and suddenly they're in charge!).
If you don't see any new posts for a while, try to picture us either dodging pot-holes in our red truck heading eastward (first 2 1/2 days), or sitting around our cabin listening to Luke debrief his first half-term (middle 4 days), or trudging another 3 days back to Bundi.  I leave you with a verse from Psalm 119, hoping that our pilgrimage-house will be full of song:
Your statutes have been my songs 
In the house of my pilgrimage. . . 
You are my portion, O LORD . . 

Monday, October 06, 2008

more pruning...

Speaking of pruning.....Heidi mentioned at dinner tonight that our newest team member (Nathan Elwood - who we hope will be with us by the end of the month) wrote to ask for information about what type of computer would be best for Bundibugyo.  Heidi realized that with the departure of the Massos, the last vestige of the PC users have gone.  We are a 100% Apple-Mac team now (at last count there are 13 Apple laptops on the Bundibugyo team).

What does that say about our team....well, we're not quite sure actually...

One thing for sure...Apple's market share in Bundibugyo is well above 8%.


Just before my mom visited in August, we attempted some yard spiffing by asking our workers to prune the bushes. In spite of my best communication efforts, the idea of pruning here is pretty extreme. You start with a bush and end with a stick. I suppose people have learned to get away with that because we live in a tropical humidor and everything grows so quickly. God brought the pruning image to my mind yesterday. A year ago our team had 5 families. Today we have 2. We had 8 single people. Today we have 4. We were scrambling to accommodate the influx of new missionaries. Today we have four empty houses. The couple and the single man for whom we've waited are still finishing support raising, and we heard this weekend that we lost a new team member when the Clarks miscarried. We are feeling pruned.
We met for our monthly worship time last night, the first of the post-Masso musical era, our little group of 8 adults and 5 kids, still singing by faith. And we elected to spend an extra hour afterwards in prayer, from John 15. We must trust that this pruning is part of God's overall plan for abundant life, for green leaves and stunning flowers, for fruit that feeds a hungry world. We are entering a season of prayer for vision and planning, culminating in a retreat we have planned for January. Please join us in asking God to bring good out of the painful experience of having our branches cut off. Ask that He would be glorified by the fruit that this smaller team, in weakness, bears.

The bushes by the door that were devastated a month ago are already covered in leaves, and roses are budding out all over the pruned branches. I hope the same may be seen from our ministry by 2009.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bringing in the Triple

Party number 3:  a Romp. Julia and Acacia had planned a Narnia Birthday, and the Romp from Prince Caspian was a pretty good picture of how it turned out.  We ended up with about 30 people, as team and friends filtered in. Games based on Narnia books, including a treasure hunt where the prize was blank books we had covered in beautiful kitenge cloth so that kids could begin to write their own stories, and a relay involving yellow and green rings and various worlds as in The Magician's Nephew.  Pizza, and at the end an Aslan-cake (thanks to Pat's decorating help!).  The highlights:  first, that the entire team poured creative effort into costuming themselves.  Most creative mention goes to Heidi for coming as the Lampost, complete with missing arm.  Best use of artificial hair was a Masso family tie between Michael as Tumnus and Liana as Trumpkin.  Julia herself chose to be Fledge, the winged horse.  Second highlight, Julia's true joy in the event.  She was lit up all evening.  Her girlfriends who have celebrated almost every birthday with here were there along with team and a few other friends.  She beamed and hugged and generally delighted in the spotlight, particularly since she could share it with Acacia.  And last, the final half hour of dancing, outside in the grass, in a circle of candles, the freedom of laughter as the kids jumped and swayed under a crescent moon.  Though thunder had rumbled threateningly, and though we are in the midst of our most intense rainy season, the gathering clouds moved down the mountainside and left our plot of ground amazingly untouched.  I am very, very thankful.
Reflecting back on this week I wonder if we are just humanly worn and tired from goodbyes, or if there is a particular spiritual intensity to life in Bundibugyo right now.  In favor of the former:  as the Massos prepared to depart, their heavily loaded truck was parked in our yard, hugs were passing around, and Jack came for comfort saying that this goodbye reminded him of leaving Luke, and made him sad. Thursday the people constructing the new road held a town meeting in which it dawned on all of us that the Ngite water system (along with Butogho and many other water lines) will be destroyed in the process of road construction, and relying on the district to re-construct water lines feels long, stressful, and uncertain.  They have now been gone less than 8 hours but first desperate request from a person who was primarily their friend has landed on our doorstep.  Sigh.  But in favor of the latter:  a church leader stood up today in the testimony time at church, to say he had been awakened from a dream of a snake by screaming only to find a monstrous snake coiled around his arm. In the darkness it took time to find light and eventually a metal pipe with which he killed the intruder, and he then passed around a photo of himself holding a heavy python that was over 6 feet long.  He radiated thanks for God's deliverance.  The other testimony came from a man who had been accused of being bewitched.  Perhaps there is an undercurrent right now of spiritual warfare, and we are close enough to feel the ripples of effect.
Either way (or both ways), a party that celebrates community and a lovely 12 year old girl and points to Aslan's country is a good antidote.  Thanks for praying.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Party, verse 2

This evening was wonderful. 21 teenage girls got to eat their favorite foods, with seconds and sodas and prayer and games (after a short lecture on being humble as they went back so we would all avoid arousing jealousy). Julia got to giggle with friends and welcome them to her home. Acacia got the special attention of authentic goodbyes. I got to sit in a circle of girls who were just being girls, watch them drop their guards as they participated in a charades-like game, and watch Julia and Acacia cross cultures in a free way that is more difficult for us adults. And give back a little of the grace that others are extending to Luke as he boards . . . through his eyes I can now appreciate the tremendously valuable life boost an evening like this can provide. Ashley got the satisfaction of giving her team a treat after their months of practice.

A very different party from last night, but fun all the same. I am grateful, knowing we do not deserve the miracle of two authentic Isaiah 25 celebrations in a row, but still hoping for the triple hit tomorrow.

A taste of true home

Yesterday I felt that the week was going to prove to be just too much, that saying goodbye to the Massos and all the emotional intensity of our family-coping would be insurmountable.  I sent a quick email for prayer, an acknowledgment that we were at the end of our abilities and we needed a Divine intervention.  It seemed a bit odd as a missionary to ask for prayer for a party.  But then people thought Jesus was not serious enough either.  So we asked for prayer that the farewell dinner we gave last night would be an Isaiah 25 type feast of fine food and beverage, or as Capon puts it "May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us.  May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.  . . The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it . . Eat well then.  Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new.  Our Last Home will be home indeed." 
And it was such a night.  All 18 of us dressed up, sat at a long candle-lit table, and though there were a few tears from us old-timers, the general tone of the evening was thankfulness for our shared lives and a hopeful longing for the final Feast of the Lamb.  There were toasts, poems, songs, games, pictures and stories.  Each team member honored the Massos in some creative way, and we were all entertained by each others' efforts.  We have walked the most intense years of our lives together and that will not be replaced, but it was a night to be grateful for that past and to be willing by faith to walk on into the future.  
Two more answered prayers.  One, Julia's team has been allowed to come have a party for her Birthday and Acacia's goodbye after all.  So in a couple of hours the next party starts, 21 teenage Ugandan girls.  Then tomorrow, on her real birthday, she'll have the team and a handful of younger Ugandan girl-friends with whom she has grown up.  Yes, we can still use prayer for stamina for three parties in three nights, and for the Spirit of graciousness, gallantry, and gazing to Heaven to continue.  Second, Jack has stabilized a bit, from prayer and rest and Scott getting back from Kampala, whatever the cause it has been a relief to go through a day without major tears.  
And today a small glimpse of the redemption of our suffering.  Most of my patients are babies and toddlers, a few are elementary-school age, but once you survive to be 10 most kids don't land in the hospital very often.  Today a 12 year old girl was lying on a mattress on the floor, with a diagnosis of "cerebral malaria" because she had come in the night before acting distraught and incoherent.  She had no fever, and when we checked no malaria parasites either.  Something about her weary and wary expression reminded me of Jack.  So I got a trusted nurse, Olupa, and we probed further.  At first she had little to say, but slowly the story emerged that she had grown up in the care of her grandmother, after her parents divorced.  But her mom recently remarried and had decided to bring her daughter to her new home.  She claimed her mother was beating her, she missed her grandmother, and though she denied anything further it would not be surprising for step-father abuse issues to be part of the picture.  We were able to call in the mother and grandmother and discuss this and all agreed the girl could go back to live with her grandmother.  If I had not just lived through an emotionally wrenching week with my own child, I'm not sure I would have recognized the cry for help and taken the time to intervene.
And so we long for our last home, home indeed, and in the meantime savor tastes and struggle to pull others along.