Saturday, May 30, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
While the modern economy seems to be predicated upon skill specialization, as noted in our post below on practical work, missionary life requires a broader set of competencies. Just this week one of our favorite quotes on this subject came up in a correspondence. We thank Alex Hartemink for pointing us to the actual author…
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
--Lazarus Long (Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love, 1973)
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
crossroads when we moved here, and is now a rapidly growing and
organizing town council in need of a mayor. There were a half-dozen
contenders, but the top two were a relative of our member of
parliament (think, insider, lots of clan pressure to keep the money in
the family) versus the local businessman who originally hails from a
neighboring country and a minority religion. Since the latter is
perceived to be a bit lighter-skinned and a relative outsider (in
spite of decades of residence) he ran under the nickname, Obama.
Really. People connect him with Obama, and he's been quite popular.
People respect his business skills and hope he'll be less under
pressure from local interests. Initial returns had him in the lead by
a 2 to 1 margin, and people began to celebrate. But the news of the
morning was that the other man won by 73 votes (in a city of
20,000 . . but maybe only a thousand voted, not sure). And the gossip
on the street was that the parliament-connected politician was paying
about 2 dollars per vote. So Obama and his supporters zipped off to
Fort Portal to protest. I believe the political process probably has
the greatest potential for good, or evil, than any other grouping of
people here. So we pray for clarity and justice.
In the meantime I arrived this morning to learn that Nuela had taken a
sudden turn for the worse around midnight last night, and died. I
would like to picture her now in the rich brocade robes and nose-
diamond-stud of Ezekiel's story, a beloved young woman of grace and
wholeness. I would have liked to say goodbye to her grandfather, whom
I may not see again. Very sad.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
So, a few glimpses of glory. First, Nuela, a little girl from Congo whose name refers to her being born at Christmas, though her grandfather is uncertain WHICH Christmas it was. I'm guessing she's about 4. When her father died, his relatives shunned her mother and her, and her mother ran away. Then the paternal relatives sent word to the maternal grandfather who lived in Uganda to come and collect the child who was very ill. So in a counter-cultural move (children belong to the father's family in patrilineal descent) this somewhat elderly lone widower of a grandfather carried this terribly ill girl whom he had never before lived with back to Uganda and to our hospital ward, and there they are. She is listless and swollen and scabby and miserable. But I find it remarkable that her grandfather is making this effort and pray it is a story of redemption ( ).
Second, on community, Jack was invited before the first day of school this week to visit one of his best friends, Ivan, who lives pretty much on his own in a small room in Nyahuka. Ivan had saved back some of his school money and bought eggs and cabbage, and he and Jack cooked themselves dinner on the charcoal segili, then played cards until dusk. While many friends hang around our house, it was rare for one of our kids to be invited to someone's home, alone, as a human being not as part of a missionary family, just to be a guy. He had a great time.
Third, partnership. Though I dreaded this week with several of my missionary co-workers gone. . . Ugandan colleagues have shone. Our nutrition workers Pauline and Baguma Charles have been fantastic. And I realized this morning I was rounding with three of my favorite nurses! One is about to begin maternity leave any moment, the second is a mature lady (like me!) whom we sponsored to become a nurse years ago, and the third is an energetic and capable young man whom we sent for training after seeing his faithfulness over the years, who just finished his course. And to top that off, one of the three medical students we sponsor from the Dr. Jonah fund is here for a week of his school break, a breath of competence and a hope for the future.
It strikes me that these themes: prayer, community, partnership, compassion, emerging leaders . . . are the core of what we've asked God for this year. And in a week that seems mired in evidence of evil, those payers are being answered.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
up hanging out at our house, and in between driving and supplying
snacks and water I had the privilege of doing my own interview. It
was RVA that provided the connection, I find that it is a way that
most missionaries in East Africa are somehow related. But as we sat
and talked I was awed by the real commitment and experience of this
family of AIM missionaries. The pilot's grandfather entered the
Belgian Congo in 1922 in a canoe with CT Studd, one of the pioneers of
19th and 20th century missions. His grandparents served over 40 years
as did his parents, and he and his wife are on their 26th year . . .
with four kids who will probably follow into this fourth generation.
Makes our saying "we've been here over 15 years" sound pretty paltry.
I was fascinated by first-hand accounts of Congo when it was a
functional empire of railroads and order, as well as by first-hand
accounts of the rampant corruption and deterioration that make it
almost impossible to survive there now as an outsider. But more so I
applaud the quiet heart of mission aviation, to connect people with
gifts to share in preaching, healing, teaching, etc. with those in
very remote and difficult terrain. It is often Africans ministering
to Africans these days, but the plane still enables those with more
opportunities to reach those with less. It reminds me that we are a
young mission, and I humbly soak in the history of those who have laid
down their lives long before we were born.
The week culminated with a plane-load of media, as Christian Broadcasting Network, Moody Radio, and Wycliffe sent in a team to interview people, film songs and dance, and generally lend a stamp of approval and admiration for the work that is being done. We played only a minor chauffeur and communication role to enable the real stars, the literacy workers and the people struggling to survive with HIV, shine. Still it was fun to watch from the side lines and to catch the sense of hope!
Thursday, May 14, 2009
As always, the women gathered early, jostling for their places on the lines of waiting benches. Each was registered and interviewed individually by one of five nurses and trained volunteers, and any gaps in care discussed, counseling given to those that were not taking their medication or attending regular clinics. Then I reviewed each child's status, sending the infants for a PCR test done with a drop of blood on filter paper that can identify the presence of virus earlier than our conventional tests, allowing early treatment. Uganda's new policy is to treat ALL infected children under the age of 1 year because of the historically high mortality in this group. These tests are sent to a lab in another part of the country, so many of the women were also looking for the results from last quarter's tests on their babies. We would search through the file of papers while they searched my face, more skilled in reading my emotions than the writing on the page. All but one new result I gave back yesterday was a negative, very fun. Each woman and child was weighed and measured, to track the impact of the food. About 80 of the 259 opted for family planning services which we offer on the spot, allowing women to remain non-pregnant as they care for their own health and their child's. Two elders from the local church sat in a side room to pray for any who wanted prayer. Those who were waiting in between weighing and testing and prayer stations sat sipping the cups of porridge we provide to give them stamina through the day. It takes about 5 solid hours to process everyone. By 3 they re-gathered, the only time in the day when the entire group is addressed as a whole. Scott preached briefly about the Good Shepherd who goes to find His lost goat (we don't have sheep here)--appropriate in a day when we are counting and numbering everyone, calling them up, and demonstrating that they are valued. The day ends with each person being handed a 20 kg bag of beans, a kg of salt, and a large bottle of cooking oil, plus a small transport stipend to get all of that home.
And as always, I came away from the day awed by team work. Locally, our entire team present right now in Bundi pitched in, working solid through the day without a break to serve these women. Another dozen health workers and community members joined us, lifting bags or praying or recording blood tests. The entire process is made possible by former team mate Pamela's heart and vision as she raised the funds from a very generous couple from her church in New York, whom we prayed for as a group yesterday. It was our first time, I think, to manage without Pat, who is usually the soul of the entire process on the ground but is currently on HMA. After some rounds of cheering as Scott greeted the women and announced what they would take home today (biggest cheer was for the salt) . . . he told them that Pat and Pamela would both be back for the next distribution in July and the entire place erupted in a spontaneous and thunderous roar of shouts. Pat and Pamela have made a real impact on the lives of HIV positive women in Bundibugyo. There is even a pair of two-year-old twin girls named after them, who happily escaped transmission of the virus from their mother, thanks to this program, and were toddling around yesterday.
By 5 we were beat, drifting back to our house for a late team meeting . . . which was subsequently taken over by the unexpected arrival of a delegation from a nutrition NGO called NuLife. Along with a Save the Children representative, they decided to come and meet us to set up plans for the training of community nutrition outreach volunteers within the next month. Very good stuff, I do think their coming was a God-send (literally), just a lot at the end of a long and hungry day. By 7 it was almost dark, rain was threatening, our kids were past the point, the meeting was not ending . . . so we invited them to stay for pizza, and the same great team who rallied through the distribution re-rallied to make dinner and serve our guests. As it began to rain, we sat by candlelight under the bougainvillea eating hot pizza and laughing with this group of energetic and committed Ugandans.
A real Kingdom day.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Which has left us also feeling discouraged. Loving Bundibugyo is like having a baby with colic. I know, because I've been there. The baby cries and is so unpleasant that no one else wants to be around him. Bundibugyo is that way at times: hostile, dishonest, unjust, apathetic, manipulative, unfair. It is not the quintessential community of mythical cooperation, where poor people work together for the common good, or where those who want to help are respected and welcomed. Centuries of fear and lies have driven wedges into every relationship. It is not just the physical harshness of bugs, bites, infections, rats, snakes, mud, heat . . . though those are painful to watch our team mates suffer. It is so much more the entire societal system that conspires against Heaven.
A couple of days ago I did some half-hearted CPR (because I was pretty sure there was no reversing this death) as Oscar, a 1-year old, faded out of life, those last gasps of breath signaling that his soul had slipped away, that his heart had petered out, as his mother threw herself in agony to the ground. He had been admitted for almost two weeks, and we thought we had caught his TB infection in time to save his life. But his reserves were too strained, his margin too slim. Today a frightened toddler with terrible malnutrition cried while I tried to understand her grandfather's explanations: he did not know the child's age because she had just been dropped off at his home, abandoned by her mother after her father died. Just two examples of how blatantly WRONG this world can be. Evil should provoke us, to tears or to battle. We should not gloss over the thieving, or the sicknesses. But to continue on we have to choose which wrongs God has called us to pursue, and know when to protest and when to merely accept the suffering.
Because that is why we are here: the world goes not well. But we serve One who has overcome, by love, the worst that evil can throw at us.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
on merit scholarship to various courses of study. In a country where
over 50,000 students qualify for university, there are about 25,000
freshman places in all of the universities combined, and only 4,000
scholarships. Of those 4,000, 3/4 are merit-based and 1/4 (1000) are
distributed among the nearly 100 districts in Uganda (11 per
district). Those are the 11 spots we aim for at CSB . . but sadly
we're finding that families whose children attend wealthier Kampala
schools then trickle back to Bundibugyo at the last minute to take the
qualifying exam from here, snapping up the scholarships. And the
scholarships are supposed to be allotted 75% for sciences and only 25%
for arts . . yet we have difficulty getting anyone to pass sciences
highly enough to get in, and most of our students opt for arts
combinations. For medicine for instance, the total points required (a
complicated system that assigns numbers to various scores so that
higher is better) is about 50. We have yet to break 20 at CSB. Today
I sat with one of our boys, who will be lucky to break 5. In other
words, we have a LONG way to go. Beginning with marginal prenatal
care, poor nutrition in early childhood, lack of early stimulation,
absence of books or libraries or head start programs, crowded and
poorly run primary schools, and a constant battle with energy-sapping
infections, a struggle to get text books or to retain qualified
teachers, our students have an uphill battle from birth. This is not
a one-generation process. Perhaps the children of the boys who now
spend their vacation days poring over our books, eating lunch with our
kids, playing soccer and scouring for mangos, will be the ones to
reach university routinely. Or their grandchildren. We are up
against the "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" as it
says in the Bible, the systems of injustice which perpetuate
inequality and despair. And the battle requires a very long view.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
The day reminded me of a picture of redemption. Today's bride was a school girl some years ago whom I wept over, a girl who ran away after being abused by a teacher, who dropped out of sight while she bore a child. Improbably, there she was, dressed in white, with styled hair and her strikingly beautiful face, being received into the family of a Congolese bishop. Those goats were for her, a symbol of her value. Her lost education, her stubborn refusal to implicate the father of the child, her abrupt graduation into the maturity of motherhood as she continues to raise the little boy . . all were forgotten in this day. Straight out of Hosea, a concrete picture of our hearts, loved by God not because we are innocent but because we are we.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Usually, when we drive into Bundibugyo, our kids pave a way of good will. They wave to any and all, and most people wave back. They anticipate seeing their dog and their friends. They are happy, and it is contagious.
So it was very striking to me to enter the district disguised among the CSB team. Though the girls were in uniform, and singing, almost NO ONE greeted them. I expected the same smiles and waves my kids get. I hoped for a sense that these girls had represented the district, and were appreciated. Instead I saw only glares or indifference. The spirit of jealousy was palpable. The people on the road side were not glad for these girls, they were envious. Then it got worse: we ran into a mob. Men who had done a minimal work to fill a pot-hole had barricaded the road. As we rolled to a stop they aggressively rolled large boulders right up under the bumper of the truck, and shouted for money, waving a panga and pick-axe. One even wore a CSB t-shirt . . but did they care this was the team? No, they wanted money. A couple of dozen onlookers merely watched the drama, not offering any help. The driver of our truck refused to pay, and the mood became tense and ugly, until Eunice decided that we were in danger of being stoned, and paid them off herself. The driver told us later that he spends 20,000 shillings each way paying off the traffic police at every road block, and had no more money to pay this impromptu group of thugs! I was shocked. Our status has protected us, and if we had been in our recognizable truck we would have been waved on through. But this time I got to see the hostility that people pour out on each other.
Envy and aggression, the further we went the more heavy-hearted I became for our home. Bundibugyo is a place of spiritual darkness, still. Glimpses of glory, yes, in the girls and their opportunity, but these are flickers in a sea of shadow. Lord have mercy.
Sure, the wafting odor of urine and garbage from the congested latrines was unpleasant for all of us. It was a challenge to bathe with a gallon of cold water in an outdoor tin stall. We improved our eat-with-your-fingers from shared bowls skills. I resorted to asking teachers at schools we played to plug my phone in to recharge the battery, a luxury I had previously taken for granted. We washed out clothes by hand with our little ration of water. And since Julia and I borrowed mattresses from the Chedesters, we each had a bed, while the girls slept two to a mattress on the bottom bunks, using the top as a storage shelf. But as the days wore on, none of that seemed very consequential.
Instead I marveled to witness the way 22 of us functioned as a single organism, everything shared. Once they settled down for the night, almost no one stirred. Then between 5:30 and 6 someone would wake, and all would begin to get up, opening the creaking metal door to creep out to the cho in the morning darkness, pulling on shirts and shoes for dawn training. Each day began and ended with the harmonizing voices of the girls singing from their beds, and then a short meditation and prayer. As the dorm emptied the chaperone, counselor Eunice, and I would relax with our Bibles watching the sun paint brilliant pinks across the cow pastures below us. When the girls returned we sipped cups of thick hot posho porridge, and divided up gear for the games. With 5 games in 6 days there was a lot of down time: reading, hearing stories, getting to know Eunice who is delightful. Time to reflect, and pray, time away from normal responsibilities and the distracting burden of possessions. Julia had brought along scrabble tiles and a card game called 5 crowns, and quickly taught groups of girls to play each, so that she became the main instigator of entertainment. The team captain, the only girl who is in the Senior 6 class on the team, was in my cell group Bible study for her first few years, but most of the other girls I did not know very well. I began to learn their names, and listen and watch and absorb more about life for a teenage girl in Bundibugyo. They talk about boys, They talk about spirits who have disturbed their families. They talk about worries that their aunt will no longer be able to pay fees. They sing. They giggle. A lot.
So much of our life involves being different, being on the outside. So the gift of going undercover so to speak, was a precious one. I went from feeling doubt, to feeling some pride (!) in "coping up", to wondering why I shouldn't cope since we are all human beings.
On the 5th day we learned abruptly that our game had been delayed until the 6th day . . . meaning Julia and I would miss a ride home to Bundibugyo with Scott, meaning one day longer away than I had geared up for by then. I complained, quite a bit, wanting the whole schedule to work out more conveniently for me. But the Spirit convicted me (quickly, one of the advantages of praying for revival and repentance). Was I pretending to live by faith, or really trusting? I confessed my attitude to Eunice. That turned out to be one of the best days of all, lots of time to listen and visit. God was giving us a gift, and I almost didn't take it, like Mary at the tomb missing the whole beauty of the situation in the disappointment of my expectations.
Who would have thought that living in a dorm of 22 with nothing much more than a sleeping bag and a few books would be a real vacation?
The girls' teams were organized in four groups of 6 to 7 teams each, so that each school could expect five games as they played the others in their group for the first round. Since our team had only played ONE GAME EVER, we knew this would be great experience! As one might imagine, housing four to five hundred girls at one school and well over a thousand boys at another, scheduling dozens of matches a day using pitches all over town, providing referees and line judges . . . was a monumental task done in daily meetings, with no computers, just posters and charts and markers. Fluid schedules were the order of the day. But the officiating was professionally done and the pitches were in excellent shape.
Our team came in 4th in our group of 6. Not bad for our first time out, especially considering that our group included the national champions for several years running, a team that had represented Uganda at the East African Championships. We tied one game, won one game, and lost three. In every game the girls played with strength and endurance and real heart. Even when they were behind they never gave up. I was extremely proud of them, knowing how new all of this was to them, yet seeing them gel as a team and fight for victory. Two of our losses were very close games in which we controlled the ball much of the time. Since Ashley had gone back to the US for the month, the boys' coach Alex served as coach for the games. He's a pleasant and respectful young man to begin with, and it was fun to see him really start to believe in the girls more and more as the week went on.
Julia played in the second half for three of the five games . . not bad for a 12 year old among girls who average 16-20. She held her own, well trained by her brothers, and had several completed passes, steals, and one good shot on goal. Interestingly her main value was probably spirit. Clearly when she came on the other team wondered who she was (I heard some girls query if she played for the Netherlands national team!), and the spectators reacted with cheers (and some jeers). I saw her laughing with the girls she guarded as she stuck close "marking" them. She had a blast.
All of the girls came away inspired to train hard for next year. They tasted a small dose of success, a precious draught in their lives. They interacted with girls from all over Uganda, different tribes and cultures and schools and backgrounds. They saw women confidently coaching and refereeing. They spent a week in a place much different from Bundibugyo, for many of them the first time to be so far away from home for so long. Back at the hospital yesterday I remarked that most of the young mothers of children on the pediatric ward were within the same age range as the girls on the football team. What a contrast, to be a 16 year old representing your school and district in a national tournament, wearing a uniform, running and playing, hearing applause . . . or to be a 16 year old cradling an ill child, education over, a husband who probably drinks and beats you, a mother-in-law who expects to be served by you, very little opportunity to be affirmed except in producing more children.
Three cheers for girls' sports.
First we filled up with 384 litres of fuel, which I calculated cost within ten dollars of the full amount one could collect from the 60 seats, so either the profit margin is very very small (basically the passengers over capacity), or that fuel must include the return trip. No wonder so little is spent on vehicle maintenance. No one budged from their hard-earned seat, but it would have been possible to buy anything from bottled water to socks, dictionaries, school books, gum, or a suit jacket from vendors who wiggled up and down the aisle. Finally we were off, peering over walls and into compounds and shops from the high vantage of the bus window, twisting and turning and bumping over the rough back ways of the city. Within a few minutes a small boy three rows behind us had thrown up all over himself and the floor, the stench of which made us even more thankful for the open window bringing air. Once we left the city limits we gathered speed, so there was a good breeze as the papyrus swamps and small villages flew by. A small TV mounted at the front played Ugandan music videos, with cheerful reggae rhythms and girls in scandalously skimpy clothes, a sharp contrast to the respectfully dressed passengers clutching their bags and holding on for dear life, or kids in their best suits heading to visit grandparents in the ancestral villages. At the half- way point we stopped for the swarm of fast-food street vendors to shove their meat kabobs, roasted cassava, or chapatis through the high windows. After that the bus stopped more frequently (which slowed our progress but in my opinion also improved our safety) until the aisles were also too full to accommodate any more people, chickens, boxes, or other items. A young woman with a baby struggled to balance beside us, but when I tried to hold the baby for her he began to cry, so she instead sat on the arm rest, practically in my lap.
And so we reached Fort Portal, amidst banners announcing the National Football Tournament. Our adventure had barely begun, and I was glimpsing some of the purpose of God in our lives: to dismantle a bit of the carefully constructed safety net we had accumulated, which after many years had become a barrier between us and Uganda.