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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ma-yi-bu-ye, a witness

"Come back . . " were the words of a song that the RVA choir sang at graduation.  We are still over Africa, but almost ready to watch our little symbolic plane on the computerized map nose its way beyond the Sahara and into the blue patch of Mediterranean.  And as we leave Africa behind, for now, we strain our ears to hear that chorus, mayibuye, come back.

This week has taken a deeper-by-they-day emotional toll, from the massive celebratory goodbye fest, the final airstrip tears, the chaos of post-bomb Kampala-under-threat, the lasts, the travel, the graduation, standing by our kids as they walked away from their best friends, leaving Pat behind who has been with us through more of life than about anyone, and at last pulling the whole family onto the international flight in the dawn this morning.  Our most precious carry-on item is a bag containing two books only:  the ParadoxUganda photo album Joanna had printed from the slideshow dozens of people contributed to, and the memory-book Karen and others on our team put together, letters and photos, from friends in Bundi and beyond.  We carried these with us for 7 days, and finally got the courage to open and read them all on the plane.  An amazing way to part, distance increasing but immersed in the words and images of people who love us.  And yet that level of loss leads to a certain numbness, so we are now six bodies in airplane seats slumped and dozing. There are, no doubt, important messages from God and from Africa that we have yet to hear, that will take some time.

But here is one.

On Tuesday morning, our first post-Bundibugyo day, still in Kampala, I opened to my next chapter in the Bible to read for the day.  Joshua 22.  And these were words to us, I hope:  "You have kept all that Moses commanded you . . you have not left your brethren these many days, up to this day, but have kept charge . . the LORD your God has given rest to your brethren . now therefore return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession on the other side of the Jordan. . .but take care to love God, to walk in all His ways, to hold fast."  At first when I read this, I did not want to hear it.  Go to the other side?  What rest has God given Bundibugyo?  The team we are leaving behind has many, many battles!  But so did the rest of the Israelites when God sent the Eastern Tribes home.  The war was won, though there were battles yet to come.  They had done their part.  It was time to go.

What follows is interesting.  The East-of-the-Jordan tribes set up an altar, which nearly sparks a civil war.  Parting, a longing to be remembered and a desire for a physical assurance of inclusion, which is then misunderstood.  Eventually it is all sorted out, the core Israelites realize that their departing brothers are not leaving God's ways but simply hoping for a symbol of ongoing relationship.  The altar stands, and is named Witness.  A witness between us that the LORD is God.  That we are one, in Him.  

We carry our witness in a World Cup 2010 African market bag, a collection of letters and pictures.  That tell us we are allowed to rest, to cross over for a while.  And, hopefully, that will remind us that our hearts are still united with the World Harvest Bundibugyo team, with Nyahuka Health Center, with Christ School, with the Semliki Presbytery of the PCU, with hundreds of neighbors and kids and colleagues, with the great cloud of witnesses who have served with us for weeks or years, who pray and care.  We testify that though we are crossing, we are still one, and we listen for the song which calls us back.

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