Saturday, April 30, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body.
If the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the
amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
it was as his flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a thing painted in the faded credulity
of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier mache,
not stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will
eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the
dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not make it less monstrous,
for in our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour,
we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
Source: 'Seven Stanzas at Easter, in Telephone Poles and Other Poems (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964), 72–3.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The problem with a nadir is that the accumulated relationships and ideas, and projects and investments of two decades and parades of missionaries push on, while the personnel left to move forward or even maintain the minimal upkeep of territory dwindles. So we spent the last two days in Fort Portal with the Johnsons and visiting acting-ministries-director Dan and Gini Herron, praying and debriefing and pruning. Pruning hurts. It hurts to give consent for programs that have served hundreds, that have saved lives, that have brought blessing and signs of the Kingdom, that have pointed to Jesus . . to be suspended. It hurts to know that more people will suffer, at least in the short term, including the tiny team on the ground who will have less to offer to those in need, who will have to turn them away. It hurts to wonder what God is doing, why we are so short staffed. It hurts to see our dear friends, both Ugandan and team, stressed. It hurts to let go of the things that we invested our lives in.
But pruning is done with purpose and hope. When we toured the CSB cocoa gardens, Travis and Alex showed us that the trees have to be carefully trimmed so that only four main branches split off the initial trunk. The fifth and sixth and more shoots have to be cut, so that the tree will produce the pods of fruit. If we saw every branch as potential, we would leave them all, and the cocoa tree would probably keel over from the exuberance of foliage. It would certainly not produce much cocoa. There is nothing bad about the extra branches, they are of the same good substance as the rest of the tree, there are just too many for the tree to support. So they have to be cut, which is a form of suffering. A cut. A scar. A loss.
A year ago in our team planning, we began this process, but we did not prune radically enough. We did not anticipate the lowness of this nadir. Too many activities had a way of creeping up the list, of inserting themselves, of draining the sap of life away from the fruitful.
So this time, we revisited everything. We asked: how has God gifted the team that remains? Where do they sense joy and life? Where have their hearts been drawn? What might we want to hold onto in spite of the cost, because the potential for help is close? What do we have to trim off, at least for now?
God is the vinedresser, the pruning shears are in His hands. We found remarkable agreement as we worked together, a continuity with our emphasis on youth, training, empowerment, discipleship, raising up a new generation in the Gospel. An affirmation of the central place of CSB in all that, a hope that with the new Head Teacher, Travis will be able to shift more of his energy to the medicine he loves. We recognized the longing of the team to be unshackled from some things so that they could devote more time to language learning, to investment in their own new relationships. And a willingness to let the sharp shears snip off some otherwise good things so that better fruit might come.
The good thing about a nadir is, there is nowhere to go but up. We prayed for the encouraging list of 2 families and 4 singles already approved and raising support, already on the horizon, the people we hoped would bridge the gap a year ago. The first arrives Friday, Dr. Jessica! All but one have committed to 4-5 year terms instead of 2. We are extremely grateful for Jessica, Josh, Ann, Pamela, Michael, Lesley, Finch, Rob, Sheila, Avery, Avelyn, and Haidan, as well as the Johnsons, Anna, and Chrissy (on medical leave). There are a handful of others in early stages of potential interest. We still need more. Any stable pleasant Gospel-empowered mid-30's couples with a 6 year old girl and a 4 year old boy out there??? Anyone who believes God could be calling them to a decade or more? Change in a place like Bundibugyo occurs on a geological generational time scale, not a neat American 2-year project cycle.
The other good thing about a nadir, and a pruning process, is this: the sparse branches we see above the soil line are supported by a vast network of unseen roots. You. Team Bundi needs prayer, now more than ever. Pray that the pruning would produce life, would channel energy into the right places. Pray that the Johnsons would sense more relief than burden. Pray that the trimmed team would be strong to support the new growth of entering team mates, and those that come would tap into the true stem of Jesus, would thrive in His life. Pray for the people of Bundibugyo to see Jesus in this process too, both the pruning and the new growth. And lastly pray for many to be blessed as the fruit appears, in its season.
Saturday, April 09, 2011
Our last evening was spent with the CSB staff. On the way into Bundi I bought ten chickens, and arranged with new Headmaster Isingoma to share them in a staff meal. There is so much symbolism and humanity in shared eating, it is often the picture of redemption and the kingdom, for good reason. We wanted to thank those who had persevered through transitions yet again, congratulate them on the best O and A level results ever, greet the newly hired and re-emphasize the vision. Mostly we wanted to make it clear that Scott stood behind Travis in changing the administration, and fully behind Isingoma as God's provision. I reminded his wife Christine that our first real Ugandan feast was Christmas 1993, spent in their staff housing at Nyahuka Health Center, when we were very young missionaries left alone for the holiday. Neither of us dreamed that nearly two decades later we would be eating together again, with Isingoma leading a school that WHM started, and Scott bearing responsibility as field director. But looking back God's hand is obvious: all Isingoma's medical and business training, his experience as the moderator of the Presbyterian church, preaching, healing, and equipping others, come together in this job. His work and Travis', and the good spirit among the staff, leave us very encouraged about the future of CSB.
On Friday we gathered four of the young men whose lives we have invested in for a lunch in Fort Portal as we headed out. Richard is the top student in a technical school electrician program; Kataramu in his first year of medical school; Nuuru in his first year of training as a clinical officer (PA); and Birungi just completed A level with grades that will possibly qualify him for medical school as well, if we can manage the funding. In the context of a week of being confronted with the spiritual battle that is Bundibugyo, spending time with the future is a good antidote. Even as I visited with the leaders of the health center, who bemoaned every aspect of how inefficiently and poorly the whole system runs, we reminded ourselves that in five to ten years this will change. The long view is essential. Dr. Jonah's death bears life. He was being crushed by the injustice, but now with 4 and potentially 5 doctors in training, we have great hope that a quorum of righteousness will sweep in.
Five days in Bundi, short, inadequate, like the five loaves, but we pray that there was some miraculous multiplication that will bring blessing and life. The role of "used-to-be-present-so-understands-but-is-now-removed" is a new one, and in its own way opens doors. Some greetings are superficial, but more than I would have thought involved conversations about marriage strains, miscarriage, alcoholism, hopes for children, fears of discrimination, evidence of corruption, the sadness of ongoing broken relationship and the expectation of change and renewal. We also got to step into some of our team's work, tromping around the goat pens and cocoa farms, stopping in at the health center, touching base with a village-health-team meeting, participating in an RMS field day. I'm thankful for that privilege, for the opportunity to break the meager gift of time and prayer, listening and bearing with. But those two mites were costly, and we left the district pretty tired, and in need of renewal ourselves.
And for renewal, we take a page from Job and Jesus. The wilderness. There are few places to go in Uganda that are devoid of stares or demands. Campsite 2 at Queen Elizabeth National Park has long been one of our favorites. The five of us, three small tents with sleeping bags and mats, two pans, five spoons, a bag of food, firewood, and pretty much nothing else. We arrived and set up camp at sunset last night, cooking as darkness settled, gathering around the fire, Caleb playing his guitar. At dawn we went game-driving in a light rain at times, one of our best ever, with two hyenas posing unhurried right by the road, spotted and powerful. Then we came upon three male lions, resting, shaking manes and barely deigning to glance at us, unconcerned, dominant, also right by the road. Not another vehicle in sight. We stayed by them a long time, watching. When we returned we were damp and shivering, cooking bacon and French Toast, and wondering if the whole camp-out idea was workable. But the day gradually dried up, allowing relaxing hours of just hanging out in nature. The scarlet-red gonolek, shrieking fish-eagles, chirping weaver birds. The breeze in the cacti. Open sky. No people. Reading books, dozing. Peace interrupted only by a herd of elephant passing through, which was a bit unnerving as I happened to be in a rather compromised position in the bushes as they approached. We stood quietly by the car, ready to dive in and drive off if necessary, but they merely sniffed with their trunks and flapped their ears, gliding, massive, graceful, pulling at the vines and grass clumped around the bushes, eating. They gave our camp a berth, moving to both sides while we watched in the middle. One mother acted a little perturbed when her baby trotted too close, and we could hear their rumbling growls as they moved away together. The only thing better than a game drive, a game-camp, where the animals come to you. At least in the daylight . . .
The rest, the beauty, the quiet, the sunshine. I think the game park also renews as a picture of parallel reality. God's world, God's timing, God's rule, which coexists on earth with places like Bundi where humans have marred everything. The dimension where elephants take no notice, where our control is minimal and our problems not the center of perspective, where life in fullness is passing along as it was created to be, good.
We long and wait for the day when God's rule and power and glory will be as evident in us, and in Bundi, as it is at Campsite 2. Until then, we'll keep running here for doses of the "dangerous beauty" that points us onward.
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Half an hour later, a few meters away, back at our house, the pizza oven glowing with coals, the team gathered. Floury hands, conversations flowing, rolling pins rattling, the pizzas sliding in and out of the oven, steaming hot, dripping cheese. Isingoma, the new headmaster, joins us with his oldest son and one of our "kids" Birungi, and later his wife Christine just arriving from Hoima. Our neighbor Asita shows up with her son, and Anna's parents are here for a visit too, so the group is large and hungry and production and consumption continue well into the darkness. There are stories and stargazing, and later Caleb pulls out his guitar and plays.
Being away and coming back, re-affirms for us: this is NOT AN EASY PLACE TO LIVE. Perhaps it is one of the hardest I know of (Caleb pointed out that Kijabe is for wimpy missionaries, but assured us that's OK for a while). Sin is everywhere, but I believe there is some geography to the intensity of the spiritual struggle. In light of that, these two pictures represent staying power. The human connection with neighbors and the suspension of the battle for an evening of relaxation with team. Please pray that this team would be graced with both those cords to bind them to Bundi.
Enter team Bundi, holding on, holding out. Like Gideon, the Johnsons have seen God send away most of their troops over their short 13-month reign. And like Gideon, we'd like some sign that He still intends victory with this fragment of the force. Because it is draining and depressing to say goodbye, again and again, to pick up loose ends, to clean up one more house, to pile on more responsibility. Pressure=Force/per unit Area, we remember from physics. In a high-force environment like this one, as the area for dispersing all that trouble shrinks, pressure sky-rockets. This team needs more members, soon.
As we prayed for our team, our hearts were led to Mark 14, where Jesus points out the widow who gave all she had to live on, into the Temple treasury. Bill Black spoke on this passage at his mother's funeral a few weeks ago, and thanks to his posting, the Spirit has been impressing it on our hearts as well. Our best efforts at Kijabe Hospital feel like two mites, inadequate contributions. And this team is certainly giving all they have for life, but in the face of the gaping hole of Bundibugyo needs, it is infinitesimally disproportionate. A scant three or four people where there used to be a dozen or more, juggling student riots and medicine shortages, broken equipment and thin finances.
Yet the encouragement of this passage is three-fold. First, Jesus sees. Jesus appreciates. He knows this team is giving all, and He takes it quite personally, saying "when you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for me." That is enough, making the work here inherently valuable. But Jesus does not stop there. He multiplies the mite's impact. Just as He took the ridiculously inadequate five loaves and broke them to feed thousands, He takes the efforts of this team and miraculously multiplies them to bless the nations. This is the principle of redemption, the seed that dies to produce fruit, the one life for the many. Until the New Heavens and New Earth we will hear the groans and barely imagine just what reclamation is being wrought by Team Bundi. And lastly, Jesus provides. Somehow there are enough baskets of bread not only for the multitude but also for the disciples. Somehow we made it through all those years here with four fantastic kids, and friendships and sanity mostly intact. Somehow the Johnsons and Anna still have a modicum of humor and health. Somehow Christ School had the highest number of grade 1 passes ever in an otherwise topsy-turvy year. Somehow, even in the last week, a new family was approved to come and join the struggle.
Love always wins. Redemption will come fully. But for those like Team Bundi waiting with eager expectation for that hope to be revealed, most days are more permeated by the cloud and earthquake of the crucifixion than the quiet glory of the resurrection. Please pray for the approving voice of Jesus ring clear in their hearts, for a glimpse of the way He is multiplying their sacrifice, for a taste of the abundance of HIs provision when they feel overwhelmed and discouraged.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Friday, we left Kijabe, me almost in tears. Instead of an orderly morning of handing over all the NICU babies on rounds to the young doctor who will be responsible for the two weeks I'm gone, we were intubating baby Richard who was sliding down towards death. No bed in the ICU where the ventilators are, so through begging (by me) and grace (by nurses) we arranged to "borrow" a ventilator and bring it to nursery, and there I was a few minutes before departure showing the next doc how to set it all up (as if I really know that much, I don't). Not ideal. As of this morning he's still alive, so keep praying for him, but it was a hard way to leave. Still, as we finally piled all our bags into the back of our LandRover for it's maiden family road trip, ran back for one more forgotten item, then headed steeply down into the valley, I did feel the relief of the road trip, the letting go and moving on.
From Kijabe to Tenwek, I think the two biggest mission hospitals in Kenya, certainly both places rich in history and amazing in pulling off incredible amounts of care with few resources. Dr. John Cropsey of the aforementioned McCropder team gave us a tour, which is something only a few of us can love, the bustle and smell of humanity compressed into ward after ward, dangling mosquito nets, ingenious light-bulb-heated home-made baby incubators, a spiff new surgical suite and teaching amphitheater, some high-tech equipment and row after row of simple beds. From the hospital we checked into our guest-house quarters and then joined the McCropders for an evening of pizza and fellowship, talking about anything and everything. It felt very normal to us to have a baby in arms and seven 2 to 5 year olds romping around and not-always-sharing the blocks . . I'm sure they could not imagine the blink of an eye that occurs between that situation and our three teens exiting post-pizza to hang out with RVA friends at Tenwek. We already love this fledgling team and are rooting for them. The WHM board will decide in the next two days whether they believe God is calling us to send this group to Burundi. Praying for clarity and peace and courage as we move ahead together.
Saturday morning, pancakes and hugs and goodbyes, then we hit the road again. We knew we were in the general area of the village where Scott spent a summer as a college student 28 years ago. He knew the name of the village and the pastor with whom he stayed, though he knew the pastor had had diabetes even back then and was almost certainly dead. We still wanted to thank his family for the care they gave Scott that summer . . he was their first of several American summer student missionaries, and they really took him into their family, caring for him through illness, feeding him, sending him out to teach Bible in many elementary schools, staying up at night to process and talk. The roads that were dirt are now paved, and everything seemed a little different. We stopped repeatedly, asking directions, getting help, winding and bumping about an hour off the paved road into the deep rural countryside of patches of crops, cows, markets, bicycles, red dirt and green tea fields. At last we found Cheptalal, and looked for the oldest men hanging out at the shops. They told Scott that Pastor David Chumo had died ten years ago, but found us a young man who could lead us to his homestead. Another mile or so, a dirt trek that was barely a path, and there was the house just as Scott remembered it. Pastor Chumo's 75 year old widow remembered Scott, as did his 50-year-old eldest son (Scott's peer with whom he had walked and worked that summer). It was pretty cool to sit in their home, see the room where Scott had stayed, recall some stories with the family. They quickly picked ripe sweet garden-warm pineapples and cut them up, fingers dripping with stickiness, and made us promise to come back for a real meal. I hope we do.
The trip down memory lane is always a little longer than one plans . . so it was mid-afternoon before we headed northwest, back across the Rift Valley, climbing then into the Nandi Hills and at last swallowed up by the Kakamega Rain Forest. There we had arranged to spend the night at a Christian Retreat Center (Rondo Retreat), an improbable lovely little English-cottage cluster of porches and chairs, tasteful rooms and groomed gardens, carved into the forest. A hike in the forest at dusk, the noisy flapping of a flock of Great Blue Turacos, slippery muddy paths, humidity. Then a very civilized dinner and restful sleep before heading on to Uganda today.
Traveling with TCK's is always fun. Checking our time as we started: "Julia, it looks like you need a new watch" "Mom, all I need is a better piece of duct tape". Counting the trucks lined up to cross the border: 196. Scott turns on our newly-fixed air conditioning, our first time to ever travel with this luxury, and the kids reject it, preferring the wild-blowing-familiar-rush of all-windows-down. As we cross into Uganda, Jack remembers the good greasy hot chapatis at certain roadside stands, and we scan every row of shops until we find them, buying six wrapped in a piece of brown paper-bag. Earlier, Caleb bargains through the window to get us roasted corn. Everyone appreciates the irony of being passed by a truck driving haphazardly on the shoulder of a two-lane road, with a slogan about "patience" painted on the side. We stop once for cold sodas at the only flush-toilet bathroom I know of along the day-long journey, and Julia alertly spots the man with the TP hoarded in the hall, and we ask for that luxury too. Caleb spends the day putting half a shirt or pair of shorts out the window to dry at a time; he had washed out his own sweaty clothes the night before (after RUNNING the path that the rest of us walked) and used the trip to dry them all. We all realize how acclimated to Kijabe we've become. Uganda is HOT.
But it is also green, and vibrant, and somehow bright and rich. I smell charcoal fires, something I don't notice in Kenya. There is color and life along the roads here, craziness, a flare that the subdued cousin Kenya somehow lacks. I suppose it is because it feels like home. Caleb fixes my phone up with my old Uganda sim card, not expired even though it should have, a small welcoming gift. And here we are like old times, at the ARA, the place we fled to when we had nothing but a diaper bag and the clothes on our backs, the place where my kids learned to swim, where the staff welcomes us like old family. And we eat at our favorite restaurant in the world, Khana Khazana, ordering the same courses we always do, and finding them just as amazing as we remembered.
Tomorrow to Bundi. It will not all be greetings and warm feelings. It will be a re-entry into the field of spiritual battle, no doubt about that, this time in the role of holding up the arms of the Johnsons. Last night a lorry full of CSB students overturned on the way back from a soccer game. Miraculously, only a few broken arms, no life-threatening injuries. But the "accident" won't be seen as an accident here, people will be nervous, cautious, wondering what curse caused the event. Pray that whatever was meant for evil will be redeemed for good, that instead of FEAR the students and their families will sense the perfect LOVE of a God who saved them from death. Pray we would be more of an encouragement than a drain to poor Travis, sick with malaria, and Amy, and Anna, and Scott Will. Pray that our kids would reconnect with home, and we would reflect God's love to those who struggle to see the Kingdom come in Bundibugyo.