rotating header

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Provision

Let us take a moment to be thankful, and to acknowledge the power of provision as a firm confirmation that we must persevere here. While the entire world scales back expectations, and struggles to navigate the thin ice over bankruptcy. . . God has moved many hearts to provide for the Kingdom advance in Bundibugyo. A paradox, for sure. We were tentative in our goat hopes this year, and would have been thrilled to fund 50 . . . but 117 were purchased through the Christmas Ornament Matiti Give-a-Goat fundraiser!! Lemmech will begin training new owners in February for the first allotment to go out in March. Amazing gifts have come in for Christ School, dramatic and generous answers to prayer, churches and individuals sacrificially putting money (that is no longer flowing so easily in America) into Ugandan education and discipleship. And a heartfelt salute to our own supporters, whose end-of-the-year outpouring of mercy carries us into 2009 with great hope. We've already been able to share the bounty with a boosted power supply for the lab fridge for blood banking, and with the nutrition office to computerize the goat database. Next on our list will be the non-glamorous but very-necessary addition of a new latrine for hospital staff housing. Dr. Jonah's children began their new year of school and our medical students continue in their studies thanks to your gifts. We are humbled and grateful to witness so many giving, not out of excess but in spite of your own financial losses, out of love.

And, equally amazingly . . .the Chief Administrative Officer has announced that an entire year's worth of government funds for health in the district have been "recovered" from the various departments which had "borrowed" them for other business. This is a huge answer to our anti-corruption prayers. Pray for this man, Elias, who faces not only opposition but no doubt also temptation to allow shadiness to continue. It takes much effort and courage to draw the line.

So both through donors and through the Ugandan government, God is pouring out His provisions in response to your prayers. Keep it up!

Disparity

A Ugandan woman in Gulu delivered premature sextuplets this week, after 4 months of hospitalized bed rest. And every one of them died. There was a newspaper story about her grief. She left the hospital with nothing to show for her love and effort.

Meanwhile the California octuplets make world headlines, having had 46 doctors and nurses attend their delivery, receiving state-of-the art intensive care, and all are so far alive.

The babies in both cases were similar sizes, 800 to 1000 grams. But California and Gulu are worlds apart. Regardless of who used what fertility drugs (the Ugandan woman denies, and the American might deny too) . . . the ethics of selective termination have overshadowed the more glaring ethical question of justice, of a world where one woman buries six and the other goes home with eight.

Congo: Responsibility to Protect

Alex Perry writes in TIME, about the current conflict in the DRC, the ever-shifting alliances, the impotence of the UN to stop the bloodshed:
It's also about what MONUC is. In addition to 3,000 extra troops, Doss persuaded the U.N. Security Council to expand MONUC's mandate to allow it to target the commercial drivers of the war: the trade in Congo's minerals, like gold, and the world's largest reserves of coltan, which is needed to make components for cell phones. He continues to argue for an even more muscular approach to enforcing peace. "When we make these statements, when we claim the responsibility to protect, we have to be careful that we have the means to match our mandate," he says. "You don't go to war with blue helmets and white tanks."
Talk of war is a long way from traditional peacekeeping. But it is a direct consequence of the open-ended nature of R2P, and it raises troubling questions. Where does the responsibility to protect end? Does it mean fighting a national army? Does it mean supplanting a national government? Does it mean accepting the large losses that would inevitably accompany intervention in Somalia--the site of the world's worst humanitarian crisis--or in totalitarian states like Burma? Doss insists there are limits to what he proposes. "We assist the national process. We do not replace it," he says. "We're not an army of occupation." But introducing a foreign combat force into Congo would cast doubt on whether such declarations are sincere.
Definitely thought-provoking.  Some of my patients come from across the border, severely malnourished, or having been subjected to dangerous traditional treatments.  Where does our responsibility to them begin, and end?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

By Partnership, By Prayer

Partnership:  one of our themes for 2009, and tonight we expressed our team's desire to partner with the Christ School staff by inviting them to join us for dinner and games.  Scott impressed the men greatly with his grilled chicken, and everyone ate their fill of hot foods and local sauces, cold sodas and fresh bread.  We designed some ice breakers (find someone with more than ten siblings, someone who was born more than 100 km from the place his/her parents were born, someone who watched a football match this week) which set everyone at ease, and then played "bowl full of nouns", a great group party game that has everyone acting and laughing, slapping knees and protesting points.   Joanna Stewart would have been proud.  It was an evening of camaraderie, a respite in their week of intense preparation work, and indrawing of collective breath before the 350 students arrive on Monday.   As with our team, a foundation of trust upon which to build the year's work.  The Pierces have worked hard to set a tone of ownership and responsibility, integrity and planning.  And perhaps the best part of the evening for me, to see my kids participating, at ease with their teachers in a way that is hard to achieve in the school year.  
Prayer:  our other theme, and we will re-join the CSB staff Sunday night for a prayer walk around the school.  This will be a time to physically move from dorm to dorm, class to class, asking for God's protection and power to change lives.  We know that oppressive sexual relationships and abuse, witchcraft, bullying, fear and shame, alcohol dependance, manipulation and cheating, all plague CSB and other schools in Bundibugyo.  I treated a 500 gm (1 pound) 25 week (5 to 6 months) preemie born to a 14 year old primary school student this week . . not from Christ School, but a stark reminder of the tragic turns many students' lives can take, and the fatal results.  So prayer is needed; please join us (5 pm = 9 am East Coast time Sunday, perfect for Sunday Schools and early services!) in asking God to actively invade this school in 2009.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Covenant of Faith

Wednesdays, early morning prayer meetings, gathering in the darkness to sing and pray. We rotate responsibility for leading, so that every couple of months each team member receives the gift of an hour and a half of group prayer focused on their own heart and life.

Today was my turn, and as I happen to be in Nehemiah I took the prayer from chapter 9 as my theme. Appropriately, this prayer is offered post-retreat, after the people have enjoyed in chapter 8 a festival of rich foods and communal worship such as we just did. The priests lead in praising God for who He is, thanking Him for the amazing things He's done (and we had quite a list for January 09 already, evidence of God's work in many details of life from Ivan's PLE's to Arthur's birth to thousands of dollars of CSB support to even more generous giving to our own support account), and then a long confession of sin all cushioned with the reality of God's lavish mercy and unending patience. It is not until verse 32 that the requests begin to appear, the plea for God's deliverance. Likewise we then moved into praying this morning for my ministry in 2009 along the lines of our themes and emphases from our retreat, asking God to deepen our prayer life, to strengthen partnerships among team mates but also with groups like UNICEF and UNC, and to bring fruit from the investment in emerging leaders.

After the prayer, the people of Israel in Nehemiah 10 renew their covenant with God. At first glance the details seem legalistic: no inter-marriage of their children with the pagan tribes, keeping the Sabbath free from work, paying tithes, observing the year of jubilee. Dry rules? No. At a second look it hit me that this is a covenant of faith. Where does the rubber meet the road when we are on this journey? When we have to trust God with the things that are dear to us: children, survival, finances, success. The people of Israel could work seven days a week, cut corners, cement alliances with marriages, pursue wealth. OR they could trust God and make unpopular and costly choices. They opt for the latter, and I prayed this morning that we would do the same. That we would trust God with boarding schools and friendships, with test scores and sports, with health and thriving, with enough money to go on.

It is a covenant of faith, to dwell in this land only by the mercy of God.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And it was very good

Genesis 1 contains this refrain, which clamors to still echo in our hearts in spite of brokeness. God created this patch of earth upon which we live, and His work was good. Last night we conversed among ourselves as missionaries about having eyes to see the imprint of God's abundance and goodness as we view the world here, and today I sat with five young people talking about culture and belief and what they saw in their own traditions that was good, that they wanted to preserve. So this post is dedicated to testifying to the deep and original goodness of Bundibugyo.

From outside, looking in: jagged mountain views in the clear morning, fertile soil, community spirit, genuine joy in relationship, assuming that visitors are a blessing and that work should be shared, the privilege of being called into the work of responsibly managing the earth's resources, the precious value of children, the generations of skill in keeping goats (yes, a phone conversation with an agricultural missionary yesterday reminded me of his informed opinion that the people of Bundibugyo are very good at this!).

From inside, looking out: circumcision ( a healthy and community- binding cultural practice), respect for elders, the investment of elders in advising younger people, bride-price (the way this values women).

Let us look around us this week with Genesis 1 eyes, to see the goodness.

Monday, January 26, 2009

On Night Screams and Psychologic Conundrums

We finished dinner last night in the lovely glow of candlelight, abundance, fellowship and thankfulness, Bethany with us for her last night in Bundibugyo (for a while) and the Pierce family having just returned from a CSB leadership team weekend retreat. We sat around the table still lingering over fresh chocolate chip cookies (team care packages! Yeah!!) and fresh milk, hearing about the way the CSB teachers are gelling into a great team for the beginning of a new year. Suddenly we heard commotion, cries, screams from not far away. Scott and I went outside with flashlights to see if our neighbors were OK, as the noise grew into a wail. "Someone has died", Scott commented, but as we walked in the absolute darkness out our driveway to investigate, the disorderly sounds of riot approached us. It was one of our neighbor-friends, carrying a 13 year old limp and apparently lifeless boy, supporting his hysterical grieving mother and trailing no less than 20 relatives and onlookers from babies to grandmothers, all shouting and mourning and working themselves into a frenzy. I reached for a pulse and determined the boy was alive, spread him on the floor of the kitubbi and opened his airway for breathing while Scott scolded the mob into order with the assurance that he was not dead, yet. When they were able to calm down slightly they said he had been well all day, eaten and played, but suddenly a fever "caught" him and he collapsed, and convulsed. Clearly his mother, whom we know well, was completely convinced that he was dead when they came running to us, and her anguish was real and raw. He felt cool, maybe clammy, not febrile, no increased pulse rate, no findings on exam except being unresponsive to voice or touch. They denied any trauma or ingestions of poisons . . . sometimes the initial rigor of malaria can be accompanied by a seizure before the temperature climbs, so we injected him with a strong anti-malarial and Scott drove the entire entourage down the the hospital for admission on an IV. He did not react to multiple needle sticks . . . but a couple of hours later his father reported he was awake and sitting and acting normal. It turns out he had been in town watching a video against his parents' permission, and when he came home he was "punished". No signs of abuse, and no story from him even this morning.

So what happened? A drama to get out of trouble? I don't think it is that straightforward. Interestingly there were two pre-adolescent boys admitted last night with similar stories. A learned response to stress? It seems similar to the way women cope, the collapse, the breakdown, the outpouring of community emotion, the wave of concern that carries the group to the hospital, then the mysterious complete resolution. I think that it is 99% subconscious, an ingrained cultural pattern. Except for the heartbreaking moments for his mother, and the inconvenience to us, the possible waste of a dose of medicine . . it was a way to diffuse the family tension over his behaviour, and all's well that ends well. The nurses and I gave him Aunt-like advice on not repeating this episode, and he went home.

We all long for the assurance that we are loved, that we belong. Perhaps if we told each other in the daylight, the night screams would not be necessary.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Starbucks, Bundibugyo

Two former team mates (three cheers for Amy and Stephanie) sent
amazing coffee this week. Yes, we live in the land of cocoa and
coffee trees, but NOT the land of chocolate factories or processing
plants, so a bag of really nice roasted Starbucks is still a treat.
This coincided with the first batch of fresh milk from our cow.
Combination of fine coffee, fresh hot frothed whole milk, and the over-
the-year-and-miles friendship of Bethany sitting in our kitchen
Saturday morning . . a taste of Heaven. Even here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

all in a day's work

Sending home a little 7 year old sickle cell disease patient who presented extremely ill, unstable, septic a few days ago, but now is walking out on his own, the wonders of IV antibiotics. I've been caring for Aligonila since he was born, struggled many times in his early years to get him knick-of-time lifesaving transfusions, and sat with his mother's tears when her other child with sickle cell was brought in dead from his grandparents where he had been staying. This family is the same one supporting little Lydia whose burns are healing. . . soft-spoken and genuinely concerned father who numbs his burdens with alcohol . . . this is a taste of small town family medicine, the continuity over time and the spread of relationship over a complex web of consanguinity.

Staff meeting topic of the day: teeth, their normal pattern of erruption, the basics of preventive hygiene and care. It is a topic I want to focus on for a while, because of the insidious and destructive belief that "bhino", a bad or false tooth, in an infant's gum is the source of diarrheal disease and removal by razor blade incision can cure. In fact, the removal often leads to death as the baby stops drinking or the wound becomes infected. Rousing discussion from the staff in which it became clear to me: these people are not REALLY convinced themselves that the "bhino" hoax is wrong. There is lingering doubt in their minds. They would prefer to get the gums cut and then inject the baby with penicillin. Cover all the bases, witchcraft and science. If the staff are ambivalent, no wonder the villagers take their babies to ritual specialists for this dangerous procedure! I try to affirm the underlying good of this culture's value on children, of their desire to do what it takes to cure . . while suggesting that culture constantly changes and there are choices involved in what we embrace and reject. The intersection of medicine and anthropology always interests me, the connection between behaviour and health, between belief and action.

Last inpatient of the morning: a premature baby who in six weeks has held onto life and climbed from just over 1 kg (2.2 pounds) to a whopping 2.08 kg today (4 1/2 pounds). I realize her teenage mother's entire experience of parenthood has been in that hospital bed, she is gigglingly happy for the victory but intimidated to leave our care and be discharged. Last outpatient: a 2 year old with the tiniest head I've ever seen, almost no substance above the eyebrow line, blind and deaf and spastic, but with a matching suit of clothes and healthy skin, evidence of a mother's careful sacrifice month after month. I'm humbled by her perseverance, though unable to offer much more than seizure control and vitamins. Last kitubbi-at-home patient of the day: a two month old with a heart rate almost too fast to count, 260-300 beats a minute, whom we've treated for a few days in the hospital for infection or dehydration. But this baby looks and acts well, it is just a rollicking heart that can't hold out like that forever. So we bring him home where I have a fridge, fill a bag with ice water, and while Heidi monitors his heart with a stethoscope I basically smother him with a freezing damp face pack. He holds his breath and the newborn diving reflex kicks in, breaking the gallop down to a reasonable trot of 150 beats/minute. I don't want parents to trust tooth-extracting witch doctors, but I do want this mother to let me apparently suffocate her baby . . .

Scott comes back from Bundibugyo town with packages galore for the team, Nathan's mom and my mom, Stephanie Jilcott and friends of the Massos and Pierces and Heidi, a delayed Christmas. And he brings Ivan's PLE scores, division 1, which puts him in the top 5% in the nation this past year. We are thrilled for him.

On to pizza preparation and team meeting as a surprise rain soaks the ground, cleaning and catching up with correspondence. All in a day's work.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

red rover, red rover...

Scott here.

Wednesdays are crazy days at Nyahuka Health Center. I spend the morning conducting an ultrasound clinic adjacent to the HIV Care and Treatment Clinic. I see a variety of obstetric, gynecologic and pediatric cases. But, mostly I am there hoping to catch HIV+ women in for routine HIV care so I can quickly scan to confirm their dates, do some continuing education about their pregnancy/HIV issues, and try to build bonds of trust with the medical establishment. Today, one of our HIV+ moms was in the "walking around stage" (active labor), but the midwife on duty (Judith) was concerned about the baby's position. Indeed, her scan showed the baby was breech and still very high in the uterus. Judith was not comfortable delivering her at Nyahuka and asked if I could take her to the hospital so that emergency surgery might be available if necessary.

"Fine, no problem. How, many centimeters dilated is she?" "Ten centimeters, doctor (fully dilated--7th baby)". "Judith, she's going to deliver in my truck on that bumpy road!!" (No response. Awkward silence.) "OK, Judith. I'll take her. Get her stuff and her people ready."

Ten minutes later, the patient and her belongings appear at my red LandRover with their pots, pans, mattress, etc.. And Judith. "Doctor, I am going to come with you just to make sure she's OK."

So, we proceed, bumping, jolting, groaning over the twelve kilometers of undulating road which appears more like a rutted, rocky riverbed than a road. One hundred meters from the hospital the passengers in the back bang on the glass. "Slow down." "Is she ready to deliver?" "Yes." "Then shouldn't we speed up?"

We pull into the hospital parking lot and I hop out. The baby's hips are out. Judith applying traction gently, expertly. In typical fashion the crowd gathers, gawking, staring without one bit of respect for the fact that this woman is totally exposed in the back of my truck. I move the truck trying to position it to protect the patient. No time to move the mom. A few minutes and the baby is out.

"Webale Kwejuna" (thank you for surviving). "Webale kusabe" (thank you for praying).

One more thing.... it was a boy. Baby Obama.

We turn around and go back to Nyahuka Health Center, the baby receives his medicine to prevent HIV transmission from his mom... and the mom walks home.

(Note: cell phone photos...apologies to the shy).

On Leadership

We returned from our retreat just in time to gather round CNN by satellite and watch the inauguration. I sat between Caleb and Ivan, both born in Africa, watching this man with an African father ascend to the powerful position of president. He's a third-culture-kid, as ours are. And more striking to me (because Obama's connection to his father seems slim and his pigment almost unnoticeable to our Africa- trained eyes), the first lady emerges from a family that truly did have generations in which slavery and oppression were the dominant reality. We marveled at the music and prayed along with Pastor Rick Warren in our hearts for the wisdom and balance and courage only God can give. We gasped along with hundreds of millions of others as the supreme court justice fumbled the short 35 word oath. We concentrated on the meaning behind the speech from the perspective of our neighbors, listening, hoping that American impact will improve their lives in some way. We laughed aloud with pleasure in the rolling cadences of the benediction.

But mostly we saw a leader. I do not know Obama's heart, and can not predict the balance of good and evil he will usher into the next four years. But the world watched America yesterday, hummed our Star- Spangled Banner (Pat was made to sing it solo at the workshop she's attending today, and I can tell you that has NEVER happened to us in Uganda before!!), and considered that we may represent a nation that embraces justice and sacrifice and honor and ideal and not just wealth and power. I believe it was a taste of the way my parents' siblings strode into the 1940's and the leadership that decade wrested from them. It was fun to join from across the world the excitement of the day and see the boost Obama's leadership gives our African friends. They gather from his smile, his poise, his rhetoric, his stride, that he is ready to lead.

Journeying with Jesus

This was the theme on which Donovan spoke to us, or rather didn't speak much but led us into times of silence and reflection.  He prepared four evening meditations and four morning times of processing and journaling and listening to God.  These turned out to be the perfect framework for the work of the rest of the day, personal depth out of which to enter into trust and dream and plan and refine goals with the group.  We did some interesting exercises together to understand our unique gifts and affirm them, as well as consider our challenges and sins and pray for them.  The heart of the team time involved trying to narrow our focus to the main thing God was asking of our team in 2009, and here again Donovan's theme proved useful.  We built on previous retreats in which we had developed vision (destination) and mission (the road to get there) . . . by describing our current focus as method (the vehicle in which we will traverse this winding and muddy road this year).  
"By prayer and partnership, investing in emerging Ugandan leadership as we work together to  show the compassion of Jesus to the poorest".
This sense that God is calling us in all our work to invest in emerging leaders is not new, and has been a large part of the CSB purpose and our many sponsorships through schools of nursing, theology, education, medicine, etc.  But it was helpful as a team to consider our work strategically from this perspective, to pare down some draining but less productive activities, and to challenge each other to consider new ways to invest in people.  And to remember that we do not do this in order to make leaders powerful or wealthy, but in order to multiply the hands that serve the world.  Once we had committed to this method we were able to look at data from our diverse areas of ministry and discuss and apportion our 2009 plans.  
Meanwhile Bethany, former teacher of our kids and recent seminary counseling grad, worked with the team kids as a group and met with them individually.  And she was unexpectedly boosted by the availability of teacher Laura from Fort Portal, so we were well cared for.  The pruning loss of 2008 has hit the kids' hearts too, and we are thankful Bethany was able to join us in ministry to them.  All of this occurred in the spectacular setting of a nearby safari tented camp . . the word "tent" being rather a weak association for the tastefully laid out bedrooms on private platforms where porches overlook trees of monkeys or kob coming to a water hole.  One evening the whole team went on a game drive in two open jeeps, the cool breeze as the sun set, the scuttling wart hogs and the gruffly suspicious buffalo, and even an elusive family of forest elephants disappearing into the swampy reeds of the river's ravine.  The sheer relief of having meals served with candlelight and flare, of hearing nothing but birds . . it was very restful.
We are thankful for the many prayers which brought us through this time.  I struggled with a mild fever and bothersome respiratory infection and Scott was truly seriously ill with high fevers and shaking chills causing him to miss some of the sessions, so we are very aware that the peace and beauty and productivity came at a cost.  Looking back I see that all we asked for, we received:  the testimonies of our hearts confirm that God did show up, the amazing announcement on the last morning of a hugely generous gift from two of our supporters to CSB that had been delayed by our mis-management of communication came as a redemptive "Lord will fight your battle" moment, the synergy of our meeting times gave us a greater sense of unity, the kids had a great time, even down to the final detail that the one meal hungry Naomi spoke of longing for (lasagna, not very common in rural Bundibugyo) appeared as our final menu . . all of this once again encourages us to keep our eyes on the LORD and wait and see the things He will do this year.
It's a wild journey.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A calf, and milk!!

Our dairy cow, DMC (for Dairy Milk Chocolate, the local Kenyan brand) delivered a calf on Sunday while we were away on our retreat. More about big blessings later, but as we returned home last night and head out to the work we've taken a break from this morning, here is a quick picture of the newest member of the Myhre family farm. The baby is a spindly-legged nappy-furred big-eyed girl, white and brown patched. DMC looks none the worse for wear, relieved of her burden and placidly eating away as milk begins to flow again. The kids are still deciding on a chocolate-related name . . . l

The milk from this cow is probably responsible for several inches worth of healing normal growth in our adolescent spurting children, and for significant contributions to the staying power of our whole team, not to mention various neighbors. We are grateful.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In the Semiliki Wilderness, Seeking Blessing

In a few hours we will trek north within our district to a lovely
tented camp within the first gazetted game reserve in Uganda,
Semliki. We have received MANY notes of encouragement and prayer
which demonstrate that you are joining with us in turning our eyes to
the LORD. Please pray for Him to show up in unmistakable and
unexpected ways. Pray that we would have a unified sense of His
leading. Pray that we would honor and love each other well with our
words. Pray that the kids would be renewed and boosted by Bethany's
ministry to them, and that all of us would be blessed by Donovan's
care for us as we plan. We will be off-line until next Wednesday.
For the world's good and God's glory . . .

On advocacy, abuse, enemies and justice

When I was in residency I pursued child advocacy as an essential aspect of pediatric care.  Sometimes a child's doctor might be the only adult who sees the neediness of his or her life, and the only voice to call for help.  Today Heidi and I were able to see that in action right here in Nyahuka.  We had called our local "child protection officer" about the little girl Lydia who was admitted last month with a severely burned hand while in the custody of her paternal grandparents.  The protection officer delegated the case to an energetic and articulate young woman whose role as "assistant community development officer" on our new Nyahuka Town Council seemed to infer the authority we needed.  So we found ourselves on benches in the treatment room shoulder to shoulder with Lydia's teenage mother and her cousin-brothers on one side, and Lydia's paternal grandfather and aunts on the other.  The grandfather gave his story of the injury (it was an accident and Lydia's fault because she was impatiently hungry and stuck her hand in boiling water to pull out a cooking banana), and then her young mother gave the story she had heard from this nearly-3-year old child (she was teased and goaded into trying to put her hand in the boiling water, but refused, so un-named persons at the home forced her hand in).  Medically the evidence fits the latter.  The officer then gave the grandfather the option of returning the girl to her mother's care and paying a monthly assistance, or of going to court.  There was much wrangling negotiation which took the better part of an hour, mostly based on everyone's assumption that the primary need in the family was for the grandfather to successfully pay the school fees for the absent young father so he could return with income to care for the two kids he has fathered with this young woman (I was the lone advocate for stopping his schooling and allowing him to face the consequences of his choices as a severe mercy).  In the end the grandfather wrote out a statement that he would pay a certain amount through the Town Council office monthly, and that Lydia's mother would take her and her sister home to her relatives.  This is only one small story of abuse and justice.  And I'm sure I've incurred some new enemies by speaking out.  But I have real hope that attitudes and expectations are changing, and responsibility is being required.  Let us pray.

A week of friendship

Acacia slipped into our family the way she usually does, as if she  belongs here, which she does. We are thankful that our WHM family  still includes the Massos even though they have shifted their home  base to Sudan, and that our kids can still enjoy a week of friendship.

Travis and Amy dropped into our lives out of nowhere . . . well, not  exactly, they were gifts from WHM loyalists Josiah and Barbara  Bancroft, Rick and Tee Downs, Dan and Gini Herron. A small picture of  the Kingdom community, these couples who went before us now meeting  and mentoring couples who can follow us, and forging the connections.  We do not yet know what God will do in their lives, but we don't  exactly get personable, committed, healthy, enjoyable, available  doctor-teacher couples dropping in regularly, so we hope it is an  indication that our paths will merge, soon.

We are praying for 2009 to be a year of expansion for our team and for  WHM in Africa. The Clark family has reached the 80% mark of support,  and Scott Will hopes to wrap up his stateside sojourn and return by  June. We could use all of them yesterday. Another medically-oriented  family to partner with us, a family with gifts and passion for  education to partner with the Pierces, a couple or family with some  Africa-experience and pastoral hearts to care for our team when we are  on HMA next year, and possibly a couple of more short term  teachers . . . . these are our hopes. The Sudan team expects several  interns and three single missionaries to join in 2009 when their  support comes in, and they could also accommodate more families. And  Sudan is only one of the three new fields we asked God to open. So  please pray for God to stir in the right hearts, and please feel free  to prompt your friends to contact WHM with potential candidates.

A week of friendship gives us a taste for more. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Our eyes are upon You

God continues to draw our attention back to 2 Chronicles 20, the story of a desperate situation, of fasting and confident relationship-grounded prayer, of moving into the wilderness of battle with songs of worship and finding that God has gone before and fought, and won.  It is our sense that this is the story He wants us to tell in 2009:  we are outnumbered and doomed, but He is on the move.  Our role is to pray, to believe, to stand still and watch, to put our eyes upon Him and witness His work.
Already, in the two short weeks of this year, we have seen some encouragingly concrete examples of this story at work.  Doors opening and closing in a holy pattern, generous provisions arriving from nowhere.  Let me give a few examples.
*  CSB, like all schools in Uganda, has struggled maintain low enough fees to reach our target of educating the poor . . . and yet pay enough to attract qualified teachers, and nourish the students with enough calories to support learning.  Over the years the gap between income and cost has grown, to the point that the Pierces and we were wondering if God was trying to tell us to do something radical.  But in the last week we got news of some amazing 11th hour provisions.  The mission and a donor church have come alongside us in generous ways.  We are extremely grateful.
* I discharged two kids today who could have easily died.  Peter John's picture was on the blog in December, needing prayer, an orphaned toddler with AIDS, malnutrition, and a very stressed teenage sister as his caretaker.  By God's power his body is healing, he gained more than 5 pounds (!, almost a 50% increase in weight), his sister rose to the occasion, he's smiling and walking and inexplicably whole looking.  The other was Masika Immaculate, who came six months ago as the most scabby, pus-filled newborn infant I've ever seen, also born to a teenage mother with AIDS, it was impossible to imagine someone so frail and tiny overcoming so much infection.  Yet she was back this week for a minor problem, smooth-skinned and smiling, and tested negative for HIV.  Amazing.  God's work.
*  We are finally having a several-times-delayed team planning retreat this week.  The nicest tented safari camp around, located only a couple of hours from us, improbably agreed to allow us to stay there for four nights at less than a quarter of the usual rate.  Two gifted and caring WHM counselors, Donovan Graham for the adults and Bethany Ferguson for the kids, were able to free up their schedules to come and minister to us as we plan and meet.  Donovan will stay on longer to focus on CSB needs, too.  That time could have been blindsided by competing needs, but those potentialities did not materialize, which we trust was again a provision from God.  And lastly after two months of a waiting list for a flight to get them in on Friday (I checked every week or two but no flight was available with either of the two mission organizations that fly), yesterday MAF contacted us to ask if we wanted a flight on Friday.  God's care.
*  Pat was feeling pretty overwhelmed just after the new year, and we asked how we could pray.  "I would like to see the road graded from the airstrip to Nyahuka" she said.  It may sound trivial, but jolting over deep and dangerous ruts and potholes every day wears a person out, not to mention their vehicle.  OK, we thought, we'll ask God . . and can you believe that the grader suddenly appeared and graded that very stretch of road?  Which has not happened in months if not years?  
*  Our Kwejuna Project Food distribution money for 2008 was generously provided by friends of Pamela.  With economic crisis in the US, and Pamela no longer on the field, we had every reason to believe that this would not continue in 2009.  But this past week we got the amazing good news that another 25 thousand dollars would be available to augment the diets of HIV positive women and babies.  Amazing.
*  After five months of delay (politics and problems), Dr. L finally moved to Nyahuka to take up his post at Nyahuka Health Center this week.  We had a staff meeting on Monday which welcomed him.  Before the meeting he told me that he had finally managed to set up an account for the health center in order to get the proper funds which the government has promised, since only 2 months out of 12 in 2008 were disbursed, but so far no money had come into it.  I tried to contact the chief administrative officer, but he was unavailable.  Hmmm.  In the meeting I told the story of 2 Chronicles 20, and challenged all the staff to pray against corruption this year.  We are powerless to know hearts and to remove those who steal, but God can do it.  The next morning I got two messages on my phone from the officer in charge, promising full return of all missing money for 2008 and asking us to keep praying and trust him to make progress in 2009.  We will see what happens, but a good start.
* Acacia Masso was able to get a good ride in and out of Bundibugyo so she could stay with our family for a week--God's idea, not mine, and a clear blessing.  She has been a delight.
* After a year of pruning in 08, our team is ready to sprout out a bit in 09.  We prayed at the New Year for out top needs (education family to partner with Pierces, medical family to partner with us, interim team leader to care for team during our upcoming HMA time in 2010, and more 2-year teachers to teach missionary kids).  This week we have a potentially interested family visiting, we have another family thinking of the summer, and a handful of others who are emailing.  All this is quite sudden though we've had the need out on the WHM radar for months.  God is moving.
God has allowed us, as we have looked to Him, to see these ways He is fighting for us.  We are going away together from Friday to Tuesday, and asking that God continue to allow us to see His providing presence, His powerful work.  Please join us in praying that God would lead, would say to us as He did to the people of Israel:  "Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you".  We are praying that our diversity of gifts and experience would lead to creative and lively discussion, and that we would emerge with a clear sense of God's direction.  You readers are part of this process, so please consider fasting and praying to seek the LORD with us (v. 3 and 4).  Then you will sense the truth of the testimony of v. 21:  His mercy endures forever.  Let us walk together into the valley of wilderness until God renames Bundibugyo the valley of BLESSING.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Welcome Home, Arthur!

This is Arthur in our car, pausing to look cute en route from his aunt's Christ School apartment (where he and his mom Juliet have been staying for the week after he was born) to his home, the house that we helped Ndyezika build for his new family.  We gathered their bags and sundries (including a live chicken and a hefty stalk of matoke) and drove up the road, then unloaded and walked down the path, escorted by my kids and an ever-growing number of curious onlookers.  When we entered the compound, a little island of grass and order in the dust, I almost cried.  Ndyezika had put balloons and a sign on the door:  Welcome home Arthur, we love you, to God be the Glory, love, Mum and Dad.  There were two Bible verses as well.  I wanted to cry, because it was such a poignant moment.  This is exactly the sort of thing MY parents would have done.  And because of them, it is the sort of thing we have done.  And because of us, it is now the sort of thing that occurs to Ndyezika to do.  It made me homesick for my parents and yet at home in the extension of their love down to a new generation in a new continent, all mixed together.

Re-Entry

Coming back to Bundibugyo, as usual, a two-day process of exhaustion and joy, reality and relief.  

Beginning:  Friday morning, dawn in Kampala, up to pack the next month or two of groceries and all our trunks from a two-country trek to take Luke back to school, into the back of the truck.  From the room across the hall our dear friend and former pastor Al emerges to lend a hand!  He is also in Kampala en route to the airport to send his oldest daughter Katie back to college in the US after her Christmas break in Karamoja.  Sweet reunion, but too brief.  The truck loaded with everything but the frozen goods we leave the kids sleeping and head out to the airport.

Entebbe:  Travis and Amy, a doctor/teacher young couple who are finishing degrees and exploring God's next step for them, touch down an hour late, after a harrowing almost-miss-the-flight-re-route-because-of-weather very indirect journey from Charlotte via New York, Paris, and London.  We enjoy the unexpected enforced idleness having a cup of tea and discussing big picture vision issues as we approach a team planning retreat.  

Back to Kampala:  We add in the kids, the frozen goods, and at the last minute the entire team's fresh and frozen items . . because unforseen car issues mean that the second team vehicle will be in the repair shop all day.  We had planned to share responsibility to transport the Johnsons and Acacia Masso (who is taking the opportunity while her parents do logistical errands in Kampala to spend a week as a Myhre).  Instead we cram 8 into our double-cabin truck and embark on our cross-country trek home.  

The Drive: 8 hours of animated conversation while being jostled and compressed.  Fun to get to know the Johnsons, and they are good sports with it all.  Always room for a little more, we pick up other items in Fort Portal . . . then hit the deep silt of dust that has become the dry season road over the mountains.  As we top the ridge the hot springs steam below us, and the setting sun reflects on the coils of the Semliki River.  The up side of traveling late in the day, we see dozens of colobus monkeys and baboons.  It is dark, equator-with-no-power dark, by the time we get to Bundibugyo town. 

Arrival:  The Pierces welcome us with hugs and a hot dinner, having patiently waited, it is now about 8:30 pm.  We relax and enjoy their company and deliver some of the goods. . . then drive back up to the other houses on the mission to put three other house-hold's worth of groceries into their fridges.  It is now between 9:30 and 10 and we have not yet made it to our house.  As we pull out of Pat's driveway there is a terrible flapping sound--our rear tire has punctured and though we have only a hundred meters left of our 2,000 plus kilometers to go . . . we have to jack up the truck and change the tire.  Then we unload, settle the visitors in their bed at the Gray's, start up our own kerosene fridge, put away our groceries and sleep.

The Aftermath:  Saturday, hot and dusty.  Unpacking.  Greeting.  Dozens of friends,  A few needy people who have waited long.  Baking.  Sweeping.  The sad news that our little goat (the post-Ebola thanks goat) was bitten by a snake and died last week.  In spite of some slashing and clearing the responsible snake has not been found, only a small juvenile cobra.   We know the mother is out there.  Scott sets fire to a brush pile while a half dozen teenage boys stand on call with hoes and pangas, but no snake appears.  Unsettling to know something venomous enough to kill a good sized goat still lurks nearby.  Later we visit our new "grandson", baby Arthur Atukunda ("God loves us").  Juliet, nervous but competent, laughing now as she describes her hard labor.  Ndyezika beaming, proud.  We also visit our neighbors, the Mukiddi family, who inform us that due to Mukiddi's senior status his two wives will return to their ancestral homes this week for further post-burial ceremonies, a new aspect of culture we had not encountered before.  By evening we have settled and organized, and celebrate being truly home with a feast for our guests as a full moon rises orange and bright.  Lastly, a viewing of one of our favorite movies, Blood Diamond.  We go to sleep late, with images of God the committed father who pursues the prodigal child-rebel, who knows who we truly are and is willing to risk death to call us back.

We're home.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Themes for 2009, part 2

2 Chronicles chapter 20 has been on my heart and mind the whole year
(all 8 days of it so far). It is a dramatic story, enemies amassing,
impossible odds. Jehoshaphat as king must lead and respond, and he
does so by seeking the LORD. After fasting and praying, he reminds
the people of their identity, and of who GOD is. He concludes by
praying to God: "Our eyes are upon You." God responds by telling
them they will not fight in this battle, but they must move into
position and then believe, stand still and see the salvation He will
bring. So the entire assembly moves out in choir formation, singing
rather than attacking, and when they reach the battlefield they find
their enemies have all killed one another in disarray, and the only
work left is to organize the spoils of victory.

I sense God telling us that He is ready to do some dramatic things in
2009, but in unexpected ways. That we must move fearlessly and
worshipfully towards the battle, but the victory will be so clearly
out of our hands that all will see it his His alone. Please join us
in praying this for the new year. Pray that our eyes would be on God,
and that we would experience His powerful intervention in impossible
battles. Though the real fight belongs to God, we are called to
witness, to move into the fray and see what He will do.

The story ends with the wilderness of the battlefield being re-named
The Valley of Berachah, the valley of blessing. Yet again a place of
struggle, dryness, and death is transformed into an oasis of beauty.
Please pray that God would give our team the privilege of watching
Bundibugyo, the valley of the shadow of death, become the valley of
blessing, for the nations which surround us.

Blessings and Sorrows of 2008

Blessings of 2008: Heidi arrives * Nathan arrives * Grammy visit,
climb Sabinyo* Ryan visit, spiritual food* Rwenzori Hike (!!) *
Zanzibar short sabbatical * Baby Jonah Muhindo * Ndyezika and Juliette
Wedding * Luke admitted to RVA * Pierces transition to lead CSB *
Student milestones, Ivan finishes PLE, Mutegheki finishes O levels,
Birungi finishes A levels * Basiime admitted to University
miraculously * Luke makes soccer team *Our RMS teachers Ashley and
Sarah, breaths of fresh air * Austria TL retreat, enveloped by love of
our WHM family and celebration of survival * Jack's heels, Luke's
knee, Basiime's eyes, and Ivan's leg healing * Bolthouse visit,
friends and safari * Baguma Charles for BundiNutrition * BBB
established and tested * Former team-mate weddings for Scotticus &
Jane, Becky & Lars, Larissa & John, Rachel & Craig * generous
supporters * sponsoring 2 medical students and facilitating
sponsorship for 3rd, the future of Health in Bundibugyo * Writing *
Continuity, especially Pat * Sensing God's love . . .

Sorrows of 2008: Massos move to Sudan * Luke leaves home * Mukiddi,
our neighbor for almost 15 years, dies * Mourning Jonah * The inverse
of some of the above: Luke's knee injury, Basiime's severe glaucoma,
Jack's struggles, Ivan's broken leg * Goodbye to Barts * Heidi gone
for two months to jump nursing license hoops * Financial strain of
rising costs and limited funds especially at CSB * Grammy appendicitis
and close relatives unemployed * Plowing on in hard relationships *
Getting older and slower * Supply shortages, especially gloves *
Blatant corruption * not-always-helpful staff changes * watching
children die . . .

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Themes for 2009, part 1

We began the year with a quarterish moon rising through the deep dark
of the savannah sky, hearing the rumble of a lion, the snort of
hippos, the pop and crackle of our camp fire, and the distant bray of
elephants across the water. Four small tents circled the light of the
fire, to house us, our four kids, and three teenage Ugandan boys,
friends. We sizzled smores over the coals and took turns recalling
the best and worst of 2008. The lion's rumble became more and more
ominous as the night deepened. And the evening pictured clearly some
themes for 2009: community, beauty, and the circling threat of danger.

Community, because these boys have taken the risk to come into our
lives, to endure some teasing and ostracism from their other
colleagues. And we have taken the effort to support and encourage
them, to listen, to pray, to celebrate their success and still believe
during their failures. They represent the hope that after a short
African generation, the 15 and counting years of living in Bundibugyo
are bearing fruit. Real relationship, and real impact on lives, hard
to define but glimpsed in a camp-out. And real change for us, for our
kids, to become people whose friendships span cultures.

Beauty, because the wildness and isolation of camping in a game park
allow us to see the wonder that is Africa. The extravagance of
creatures and landscapes which exist for glory, not for profit or
practicality. The character of God.

And danger, because that community and beauty must be wrested from a
broken world, must be cultivated and protected, and exists within
earshot of death. Peter compares our Enemy to a roaring lion, and in
the dark of night I sense the aptness of that, the stalking one,
unknown and mostly unseen, hostile and powerful, but hesitant to enter
our light.

May 2009 bring fullness of relationship, awareness of beauty, and may
the danger be kept at bay.