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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Three Kijabe Social Events

In the last 24 hours, no less. When it rains it pours.
The first was yesterday afternoon, a British nurse decided to put on a party for the Royal Wedding. She arranged for a projector and screen to hook up to the live newsfeed, and baked scones and all sorts of sweets and tea, and invited people over. This is someone whom I really like and respect and relate to, and the same person whose birthday party I missed a couple months ago due to crisis in the NICU. I don't think I've made it to any of the women's Bible studies, showers, or other parties . . . So I wasn't too surprised when the time for William and Kate to walk down the aisle approached (1 pm in Kenya) and I was in the ICU with the surgery team putting a chest tube into our most severely ill patient, after a non-stop morning (and night before) of trying to figure out which of his many failing body systems was the priority and what to do about it (his name is Baraka, and his father told me in the midst of all this: just do your part, and God will do the rest. Which I thought was sage advice, and not a bad overall treatment plan. Baraka's prognosis is very guarded, and heroic cure unlikely, but we keep doing our small part, and the big picture is up to God to heal or to take more quickly to paradise). But back to the wedding--about 3 there was finally a lull in admissions and problems, and though I figured I'd missed most of the party, I still went over to see the Balcony Kiss and taste the goodies. The host was so proud of her country, of the pageantry and beauty, of the loyal crowds, of the handsome royals. It was fun to chat with the few die-hards left at the end of the party for a half an hour, to escape the hospital, to be caught up in something bigger . . and to eat. And then back to sick babies.
The second was today, a party at our neighbor's house in honor of their finally-official adoption of the little girl they've been fostering since she was born. She was an abandoned baby in the nursery at the hospital, and my neighbor just volunteered to help out by feeding and holding her, until the staff finally asked her to just take her home temporarily . . . and they bonded. Though they have five kids, three of whom are in college and grad school, they made room in their home and hearts for one more baby. But adoption laws are stringent in Kenya, for good reason, to prevent child trafficking and abuse. Which means that even though they jumped through every legal hoop, with court appearances, lawyers, home visits, child protection officers, embassy letters . . . and even though Hope knows no other family, calls them mom and dad, and is a healthy amazing precocious little girl thriving in her situation . . . the final approval was touch and go. So when the judge refused to rule on Wednesday, and called them back on Thursday, they feared the worst. So many people around the world prayed. And against all predictions, he granted the adoption. Today they invited the whole Kijabe community for cake and ice cream and gave a testimony of God's goodness, and prayed for Hope. Who was sporting a new pink chiffon dress and enjoying the party, though I'm sure she has no idea what it was really all about, since she has no concept of any other life.
Right after her party, a good portion of us headed up the hill to RVA for the final day of Rugby "hell week", the last phase of try-outs which have whittled the field from 80 to 50. There was about a two-hour long scrimmage divided into four shorter games, so that the coaches could cut the last 6 or 8 guys and set the final teams for JV and Varsity. Which means every kid was playing his heart out. But since they are brothers and friends, the atmosphere was festive. It is actually the first time I've watched Rugby, and thankfully I sat next to an extremely helpful and knowledgable 9th grader who had already been cut, and who explained the nuances of scrum and try and conversion and ruck, who is a hooker and who is a fullback or a prop, and what's a line-in. Caleb played well, kicked 2 of his team's 3 conversions, tackled and ran and punted. And mostly just looked like he was having a blast. It's a game with continuous action, strength, risks, smart plays, and constant team work, there are few solo moves. A great paradigm for life. After the scrimmage there was the "Golden Boot" contest. All 50 players start off kicking the rugby ball from the 22 yard line through the uprights, round after round it gets harder (less direct, from the sides, further away) and if you miss you're out. The final round was only 3 boys: Caleb, Aneurin (the boy who stayed with us last week) and a freshman. They all three missed the first attempt, but on the second round after Caleb and the other boy missed, Aneurin got it through, and won. It was fun to see Caleb do so well when he only just started kicking about two weeks ago!
It has occurred to me tonight that all three events are pictures of the Kingdom, straight from the Bible, which explains some of their power and draw. The royal wedding, the prince and his bride, the consummation of longing and the promise of true love, these are the way that Revelations and Psalms describe the future. We are the bride, dressed in white, beautiful and desirable and chosen. The adoption, straight from Galatians and Romans, we are the child who was hopeless and abandoned, now brought into the family, loved and longed for. The battle or contest, from 1 Corinthians and Hebrews, the training and effort and teamwork and concentration on the goal, we are encouraged to push for the prize. All three were times to witness the truth, and times to be encouraged by the reality of the cloud of saints which surrounds us here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Evil abounds

Some days the reality of abundant evil just slaps one in the face.

Last night, three men armed with pangas and at least pretending to have guns, stormed into the casualty department (ER) at 2:30 a.m., made all the patients and staff lie on the floor after giving up their cell phones and shoes, and proceeded to ransack the place for money, forcing their way into the pharmacy where they stole over a thousand dollars worth of Kenya shillings.  Which is a LOT of money here.  Two people were hurt in the process, a patient who was cut on the head by a machete, and one of the hospital guards who was thoroughly beat up and is now in the ICU. Many more were traumatized and terrified.  

Mercifully, we were obliviously asleep at home at the time, a couple hundred yards away.  We did not learn of the incident until we encountered the shaken staff at chapel at 8 this morning.  Our chief administrator led us from Habakkuk 2:  the proud, the violent, the blood-shedders, will come to woe, when the glory of the Lord covers the earth, when all keep silence before Him.  

Later we heard that the 5-year-old daughter of a Kenyan man who works in the welding/shop department at RVA was abducted from a church a couple miles' away on Sunday, picked up in the congenial chaos of Easter, and her body was found two days later, violated.  

There is no softening or making sense of this kind of evil.  These are incidents that cry out for justice, for God's reign on earth to be as clear as it is in the heavens.  Such evil lurks in every community.  The homey cottages, flowers, friendliness, common purpose, freedom of Kijabe might have lulled us into forgetting that we are still caught in the same broken human society that produces genocide and drug-abuse and child-trafficking and terrorism, from Nairobi to New York.  And of course there are abundant evidences of less gruesome, but equally lethal evil today, as a 30-year-old mother dies of a rare brain infection, or a newborn succumbs to the debilitation of severe dehydration.  

This is the real context of Easter--no bunnies or lilies, instead the shocking hubris of desperate men, the hate and terror that must be radically healed before our world is redeemed.  Our hope lies not in minimizing or softening evil, but in overcoming it by love.

Girls' Football

When we were in Bundibugyo a couple of weeks ago, Julia was delighted to practice with her old football team.  A number of women missionaries have put some effort into girls' sports, but the most consistent was Miss Ashley, who formed a viable football (soccer) team that represented the district at nationals the past two years.  There was a fair amount of momentum and pride, yet we didn't know what would happen when she left.  So it was a joy to see that Madame Illuminate (who didn't really play as a student herself, but gamely came out for practices and gave it a shot) and Master Bwampu (a star player as a student, and an assistant boys' coach) decided to continue with the girls.  And it was even more exciting to see that instead of being the only team in the district, this year there were (in theory) SIX TEAMS.  Which meant an in-district tournament to play for the right to go to nationals.  

The Saturday after we left we exchanged sms's with Illuminate, and learned that the girls had won their games and advanced to the finals, but due to rioting by another school's male team and fans, the tournament was cut short.  We weren't sure what would happen, but in the next week the rioting school was disqualified (a verdict the headteacher ignored, sending his boys' team to regionals where they lost) and the CSB girls advanced to nationals (there are many fewer girls' teams, so no regionals).  So for the third year running, the CSB girls will represent Bundibugyo in a national tournament.

Having been to two nationals, once as a week-long-in-the-dorm chaperone and once just to cheer and see a couple of games, I am a huge believer in this process.  Young women in Bundibugyo do not experience much success, praise, competition, team-work, travel, or fun.  Very few advance beyond primary school, and fewer still go to college.  Most measure their life by surviving childbirth and wrestling enough food out of a small garden to feed their children.  So the entire process of discipline, practice, wearing a uniform (!), traveling on a mini-bus further from home than they will ever go, meeting girls from all over Uganda, being cheered for, being part of a group . . . not to mention the personal discipleship that occurs by the coaches along the way . . .all of these things are invaluable in the life of a young girl.  There is good evidence that girls who play sports wait longer to get pregnant, go further in school, and develop leadership skills for life.  

Thank God for this opportunity, and for the staff who take time from their evenings and vacations to make it happen.  Thank God that several donors have emerged in the last week to cover the bulk of the gap between our meager CSB sports budget and the costs of sending a team of 20-some people across the country.  Of course CSB can always use financial help for programs like sports!  But mostly pray that the girls would emerge from this trip with a sense of God's love, and of the potential He created in them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Call: glory and wounds

This Easter weekend was spent mostly in the hospital, as we were both on call.  Which can be a little stressful when trying to cook nice meals or spend time with kids, but thankfully they're an understanding crew (including the delightful A.H., British classmate of Caleb who came back to school almost a week early to train for rugby, and is staying with us).  There were about seven new babies admitted to the nursery in a day and a half, the sickest at about midnight last night when a woman in a nearby town called her nurse neighbor to give advice on her stomach pain, after living in denial of being pregnant for nine months and in labor for a couple of days.  The neighbor convinced her to come to Kijabe, and she was quickly taken for a C-section.  I hurried through the quiet night into the bright buzz of the operating theatres just as the baby was laid limp and lifeless on the warming bed.  I haven't assigned an apgar score of 1 (on a scale of 1-bad to 10-good) very often.  It took a long five minutes of intubation and pushing oxygen into the lungs to get a response, and as we whisked the baby back to the nursery I wondered if he would pull through.  But now almost 24 hours later he's holding his own.  As is another premature baby, and a set of premature twins where the big boy is twice the size of the small girl.  Blinking, coughing, grimacing, crying, purplish and slippery, so easily winding down their heart-rates due to coldness or stress, these fragile bits of humanity land in our care, and the weight of responsibility is inversely proportional to their meager two or three pounds.  Then there was the lumbar puncture to do on a baby who was born with a huge ballooning cyst of brain fluid protruding from the middle of his face.  The neurosurgeons removed it, leaving a gaping hole in his split nose/mouth which will have to be fixed later, but unfortunately, he caught a serious infection, probably in the OR.  He looks somehow frog-like with his bizarre split-open face and his surgical scars, but in a loveably pitiful sort of way.  And of course the children on the older ward that I know less well, some gasping for breath, others too listless to feed.  We did manage to join the sunrise service up at RVA for staff, quite lovely, and communion this evening.  But no easter eggs, no baskets of chocolate, no hunts, not even a real church service, this was an Easter spent in the hospital.  One hand on the babies, the other on life, trying to hold them together.

Which, according to the book I've been immersed in through Lent, Surpirsed by Hope, is the proper way to celebrate.

The book focuses on Romans 8 and 1 Cor 15 to show that Easter is the reality of the new-heavens-and-new-earth breaking into time, the first-fruit demonstration of a re-made bodily life that will one day flood the world.  There are many deeply thoughtful passages, but I will just close with one that encourages me on call with visions of purpose and glory:  This brings us to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more:  what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are--strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself--accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God's new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every wok of art of music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one's fellow human beings and for that matter one's fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of jesus honored in the world--all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.  That is the logic of the mission of God. . . (p 208)

Sounds bracing.  But at almost 11 pm after only a few hours of sleep in this 48 hour stretch, I close with another quote too, (p 280):
It will, of course, be costly.  You don't get to share in God's life and escape without wounds.  Look what happened to Jesus himself.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

on the night in which he was betrayed

This phrase echoes in the wake of Passover.   Knowing that the rush of events was reaching a critical point, knowing that Judas had already moved across the line of betrayal in his heart, knowing that the most intense physical and spiritual agony was impending, Jesus reclined and feasted with his closest friends.  "He loved them to the end" . . . by washing their feat, inviting them to eat, breaking bread, reminding them of the huge story of redemption just as they were about to be plunged into a crisis of faith.  He created the context for meaning as they moved into the unthinkably painful hours of apparent defeat ahead.  Wine, bread, roasted meat, bitter herbs; scripture, promises, singing, conversation, encouragement; a moment of closure and a sort of good-bye before they walked out into the night of Gethsamane and the dark day of Golgotha. And he did this not just with those who "deserved" the attention, but with the very man who would within hours betray him to his death.  He washed Judas' feet; he handed Judas the unleavened bread; he poured Judas the cups of sanctification, plagues, redemption and praise.  Willingly.

We celebrated Passover last night, too, in remembrance.  This weekend is usually an intense time in our lives, the end of Lent, a team Passover, A Good Friday service with the local church with seven mini-sermons about Jesus' words on the cross, fasting, watching the Passion, a half-night or all-night prayer vigil on Friday, something for kids on Saturday involving egg hunts or acting out the story, a Sunday sunrise service with neighbors and team in the yard followed by Easter breakfast, a major-event church service again, then an all-afternoon team and friends meal with tables outdoors and games and leisure.  So it is a bit of another transition to spend our first holiday here, to rub up against the ways that it is different, to decide what to keep for continuity and what to let go of.  It is peculiar to find that in Kenya, at least here at Kijabe, there is no Good Friday service, and nothing about Easter was even mentioned last Sunday (no mention of it being Palm Sunday either).  We don't really have a team anymore to make plans with, which eliminates most of the traditions.  We will join the RVA-planned Easter Sunrise service and breakfast (hopefully, we're both on call . . .), but that is the only "happening" that I know of.   Mostly we are in observe-and-lay-back mode, trying to take this year as a sabbatical-sort-of time, trying to be OK with the periphery. But Passover is the favorite part of the weekend for the kids, and one of the non-negotiables of the holiday, so I invited the family we lived next to when we first arrived who have been so kind to us (Americans, long-term missionaries taking one year at Kijabe on behalf of the AIC's theological college), and the doctor I work with most closely with and his dentist wife (Indians who are here for part of a year in between finishing training in India and starting post-graduate training programs in the US).   This was a new tradition for them, so felt a little risky, but they were game for the hours-long ceremony and meal, candlelight and readings and parsley sprigs in salty water, the tears, or matzah dipped in sweet apple kharoset, the joy in the midst of labor.  

As I was getting ready, toiling over rolling out the matzah crackers and baking them, I know my heart was not like Jesus'.  No one here is going to betray me in more than the normal human friction of small disappointments and misunderstandings, but I'm sure I had less freedom of love in my heart.  I was trying to get things settled in the NICU so I could get the cooking done and feeling the push; I was wondering if I had invited an incompatible mix or if my kids would be OK.  I find my soul frequently weighted with uncertainty about what my role is, and grudging service.  So far from the way Jesus approached the night.

So I pray for healing and love, for the Jesus-attitude of sharing himself freely, even on the night in which he was betrayed.  For the ability to recline and feast in the face of suffering, for the ability to enjoy the goodness of friends and family even when loss is imminent.  For the rhythm of connecting to tradition even when history is about to turn the defining corner.  For love that overcomes betrayal.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

poem for today

Seven Stanzas at Easter
John Updike

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
eleven apostles;
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
enduring Might
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. 

Amen, as a doctor, we declare this is a holiday that affirms the holiness of the body, definite and material and redeemable.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

viewed through the tomb door

From old friend and fellow pilgrim MP working in a difficult place (and referring to another mk besides Tommy who fell and died this month):
 The celebration of life was tempered by the death of boy on their team the week before who fell from a height. Life and death. Joy and pain. It seems to only make sense when viewed through the door of the open tomb. Life conquers death and we rejoice but the pain is real. "We know the whole creation groans…" we walk and live amongst the groaning and look for redemption. "But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us." (quotes from Rom. 8) Honestly, I don't feel like a conqueror and often what I 'see' around me overwhelms. So, unashamed, I cling to the feet of him who is 'risen indeed' and ask for eyes to see, wisdom to choose and strength to respond in the fullness of faith. Is this not what Easter is all about? 
I like his image of looking through the door of the open tomb--here we are, in the place of death, but looking out at the Garden where the only fully alive human, the first-fruits of the renewal of the entire universe, walks.  In the cave it is musty, dry, dim.  All three of the babies I left struggling for life the first of April as we headed to Uganda, died.  That was hard to hear.  All were critically ill so it is not surprising, but there had been such an investment of work and hope and prayer.  Why not at least one save?  During our meetings in Uganda I prayed for Aidan to sleep, and no sooner were the words out of my mouth than he wailed, awake.  So I'm not seeing amazing answers to prayers these days, at least as far as babies are concerned.  Instead I feel the walls of the tomb, and can imagine the weight of the stone, blocking escape, trapping in the cause-and-effect reality of pre-Easter physics, where sick babies in Africa die, and tired irritable missionary kids cry, and friends' teens fall fatally, and we let each other down, and the bones collect.  Then it is hard to believe that a very real force already blew open that cave, pushed the stone away, so that we are crouching, glimpsing, blinking out at the sunshine at dawn, scent of flowers drifting in, the song of birds echoing into the place of death.  

Can we walk out of the tomb?  I suppose that is what Christianity is all about, exiting the trap of a deathly dark hole and stepping into the garden to cling to the feet of the One who removed the stone.  We still carry the reek of the grave, but by faith we walk into the grass and feel the sun.  At least some days.  Others, we hover by the door, still lingering in the decomposing dust, still squinting into the daylight, not fully free of the tomb until we pass through.  

Praying the stone rolls, the view is opened up, the Gardener beckons.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Really home

Now we are home, really home. Star is here.
A dog is a helpful creature for a myriad of reasons, but the largest is this: in a world of transience and misunderstanding, she is a spot of consistency and acceptance. Which is pretty much what we all long for in a home.
We are grateful for many prayers. Basically we brought Star to Bundibugyo as a puppy ten years ago, and she never left. We brought in vaccines once or twice, we treated her ourselves for some ailments, but she was pretty much healthy and strong and low maintenance. Which is great until it is time to get official. We had a Ugandan immunization card with one sticker in it . . and with that and her puppy papers we threw ourselves upon the mercy of a vet in Kampala (recommended by the Johnsons, thanks!). The vet made it clear that we had been remiss, but thankfully she was one of those practical people who saw the reality of the situation: a family of five in Kampala on the way to Kenya with jobs and responsibilities, not really at liberty to take an extra week or month to jump through the numerous hoops that could be erected. So she administered updated vaccines, heart-worm medicine, did an exam, checked all the boxes, and even inserted a microchip, a sort of sub-cutaneous electronic tag that we're told is necessary for international movement.
Then Friday we loaded the vehicle and pulled out at dawn for the 11 1/2 hour trek to Kenya. Our man Salim, the border angel, met us and took all Star's new and old paper-work. As he and Scott managed each tedious stop through the no-man's-land of the border zone (car, sticker, insurance, visas, stamps, this, that) we kept Star quietly in the back seat. No one asked to actually see her. But they did keep sending Salim back to Scott for more "fees". Scott asked, is it because we don't have the right papers? No, Salim explained, "your papers are perfect. It's just that everyone has to 'eat'." Ah, classic. But it was worth the cash flow to bring her over to our new country.
We spent the night in Eldama Ravine at our favorite missionary guest-farm, and completed the long journey with another 4 hour drive on Saturday. The closer we got to Kijabe the more excited all the kids became. I had forgotten what it was like to return to Bundibugyo with them--I would be dreading opening the house, bugs, laundry, people with problems, demands, a month or more of groceries to put away, camping gear to sort out, etc. and they would just be thrilled that we were coming home. This is the first time we've all left Kijabe and come back, and I realized they had fully made the transition. This is home now for them, and there was unmitigated relief to be back, to pile out of the car, to show Star her new yard, to run back into their own rooms.
There are many things about Uganda that I still miss, perhaps moreso this very moment, after a visit. Uganda is lush and green and abundant, in foliage and personality, hospitable and generous. Uganda is warm (OK, hot actually). I miss the security of a mosquito net. The depth of relationships forged by trial and time. The intimacy of being on a team. The craziness of life on the edge, the border, the challenge, the end-of-the-road-last-resort nature of existence. The sense of place in the community. The respect I have for people whose lives I know well. The view of the mountains. The sacred places that have become rests for us over the years. The ability to understand the local language, to talk to a patient's mother easily. The amazement and hope that comes from sitting with our students and dreaming of their futures.
But the transfer of Star, the transfer our kids' loyalty, is another step in the goodbye and letting-go process. (My Dad died five years ago today, which is a big part of the whole picture of loss, transition, moving on, in my heart at the moment too.) Kenya is more stark, more windswept, with a harsher beauty, a caution that reflects a more complicated relationship with outsiders. But it is also a beautiful place. There is a cool dry-ness here that feels fresh. I love my house. The fridge was ON and COLD (no kerosene, no matches, no moldering warmth). I've already got three loads of laundry on the line, the advantage of machine over man. There are nearby paths without houses or crowds, places to walk and run alone. Though we start back to work tomorrow, and we find it more medically and intellectually challenging, more demanding in many ways than Uganda, the spiritual oppression and emotional drain are just so much less here. The Kingdom has pushed into Kenya further, and deeper, and it shows.
It was good to go back, and it was also good to leave again, each time a little more fully. Our brave team's initial mantra was to build on the wisdom and history of the past, not to change too much too soon. But a year down the road, they are ready to embrace their own vision, to prune and to redirect growth. And so we step a little further away with this trip and return, with blessing and release. Which makes it good to have our dog here with our family, and to call this, for now, home.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Homeward Bound

Remember the movie with the talking dogs and cat, overcoming all obstacles to be reunited with their beloved family?  We have one more obstacle to overcome with Star today, and it's a big one:  the Uganda/Kenya border.  Star is our 10-year-old yellow lab, whom we brought to Uganda as a puppy after our study sabbatical in 2001.  In all those years, she provided a dose of love and stability in a life for our kids that was often chaotic or painful.  She created a safe environment in our yard.  She distinguished friend from thief.  She was a large part of what made home, home.  She waited for us these last months of HMA and moving to Kenya, cared for by our kind and generous and overstretched team.  There was a very happy reunion last week, and a lot of excitement when she got into the car with us instead of watching us pull away.  

Yesterday here in Kampala we saw a vet, updated immunizations, filled out paperwork, dosed with dewormer. . . .even got a microchip, which we're told is required for moving countries.  We have our agent at the border who is ready to help us with the export/import details.  But this is Africa, the borders are always a little nerve-wracking, the potential for someone to say "you didn't get this permit" or "you can't do that", to be arbitrary or demand money or whatever, is very high.  We've never done this, and it might be hard.  

Please pray that all will go smoothly, for the sake of some very precious missionary-kid-hearts.

Homeward Bound

Remember the movie with the talking dogs and cat, overcoming all obstacles to be reunited with their beloved family?  We have one more obstacle to overcome with Star today, and it's a big one:  the Uganda/Kenya border.  Star is our 10-year-old yellow lab, whom we brought to Uganda as a puppy after our study sabbatical in 2001.  In all those years, she provided a dose of love and stability in a life for our kids that was often chaotic or painful.  She created a safe environment in our yard.  She distinguished friend from thief.  She was a large part of what made home, home.  She waited for us these last months of HMA and moving to Kenya, cared for by our kind and generous and overstretched team.  There was a very happy reunion last week, and a lot of excitement when she got into the car with us instead of watching us pull away.  

Yesterday here in Kampala we saw a vet, updated immunizations, filled out paperwork, dosed with dewormer. . . .even got a microchip, which we're told is required for moving countries.  We have our agent at the border who is ready to help us with the export/import details.  But this is Africa, the borders are always a little nerve-wracking, the potential for someone to say "you didn't get this permit" or "you can't do that", to be arbitrary or demand money or whatever, is very high.  We've never done this, and it might be hard.  

Please pray that all will go smoothly, for the sake of some very precious missionary-kid-hearts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Notes from the Nadir

Team in Bundi is an ebb and flow phenomenon. It is, to put it bluntly, a HARD place to live for outsiders. The spiritual battle of principalities and powers is fierce, even though the resurrection assures ultimate victory, there is a lot of disputed territory in the area (like the lives of infants, the loyalty of marriages, the honesty of district accounts, the reconciliation of church leaders). When you add to that irregular power supplies, weak phone signals, sparse markets, rampant malaria, a punishing road, a language with few learning tools, notorious schools, and a lot of moth-and-rust, well, it is just not an easy place to recruit people to love. And those brave souls that do show up are often driven out by problems they did not choose or anticipate. In our decade as team leaders, we planned and cried through major goodbyes for about seven long-term long-serving families, and probably twenty 1 to 3 year missionaries, and many more short-term interns. But we also welcomed a nearly balancing number, so that we always had a core of fellow-colleagues, though it never seemed enough. In the last year though, the ebb has outpaced the flow. At this moment, team Bundi consists of one family and one single woman on the ground. That is, we hope, a nadir.

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

Bye again, Bundi

It is much easier, the second time. By virtue of showing up again nine months later, two things have been shown: Bundi is surviving quite well without us, and we will keep coming back.

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

Two Pictures at Dusk

This evening Scott and I went to visit our neighbor, Tabaka, the 82 year old brother of the late John Mukiddi. These two men had been fatherly figures in our lives here, our elders, claiming us in their clan. Tabaka now has cancer which seems to have spread to his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Neither of his wives were anywhere to be found. He lay naked save a towel, in a room dimly lit by a partially-covered single opening, alone in a house made of dirt, with a few pieces of cloth and a tin of milk and not much else. But as we entered, he carried on a long and cheerful conversation, about how blessed he was to see us one more time, about his past travels, about his current condition, about our kids. Here is a man who is slowly passing into death, but asking about Luke's course of study at Yale. No pain-killing drugs, no hospice nurses, no therapy, no senior citizen program, no insurance, no equipment, no bathroom . . . but also no complaint. Somehow that juxtaposition captured something of the privilege of this reality: starkly stalking death, without pretense of immortality, but a courage of spirit and a welcome to us. And his impending death, following Mukiddi's, one more loss, one more thread that ties us to Bundibugyo being cut.

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.

Team Bundi

Bundibugyo is, no two ways about it, a rough place, where decay has too long reigned. Insects are re-feasting on our exposed ankles, something dead reeks from the attic. Mothers are inadvertently sending their children closer to death by administering harmful herbal dehydrating enemas. Jealousy and deceit manipulate and enslave. Corruption abounds. The honest flee. The mutilated body of a child sacrificed in witchcraft was found last week, and there were rumors of intertribal conflict threatening to erupt. Evil has a strong sway.

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


The WHM board unanimously approved Burundi as a new field for our mission. Join us in thanking God for this calling, and humbly offering what we have to a nation recovering from civil war and genocide, making all things new and good and whole again.

back to bundi . . .

. . . or, "can you go home again?"

So much of this trip is familiar.  Packing the car in Kampala, last run of groceries, sipping tea and wondering how to keep that balance between the dangers of becoming dehydrated and the inconvenience of 9 hours on the road with bushes for bathroom stops.  The crazy traffic, trucks and pedestrians and bodas all criss-crossing the roads, jostling for position in the lurching stream of traffic.  A new scene:  squadrons of police, riot-ready, with their armored vehicles and gear, at each major roadway coming into the city.  Then the hours of cross-country driving, weaving on and off "diversions" as the roadwork continues, rejoicing in stretches of new pavement.  Sailing past vast papyrus swamps, whizzing through colorful trading centers, bracing for the inevitable speed bumps (or mountains).  The traditional lunch stop in Mubende, Scott fending off the aggressive vendors and choosing hot grilled chicken on a stick, sweet warm roasted gonja, papery-thin chapatis (one of the sellers comments to him:  you changed your car!  . . observant).  The obligatory hour in Fort Portal, where there are always a handful of errands, someone's last request from Andrews, a last trip to the ATM for cash.  This time I stand in line most of that time to pay school fees for one of our students, pushed from behind in that no-personal-space-African way of pressing lots of people into small spaces, until I am among the lucky throng in front of the tired tellers.  Then the final stretch to Bundibugyo, this time gaping at the wide swathes of roadway being cleared by the Chinese construction company tasked with paving, gawking at the backhoes and loaders and dump trucks.   Which end at Karagutu, making the narrow rocky slippery winding trek over the mountain pass seem even more treacherous.  We stop to look at the Semliki snaking its way to Lake Albert, and the hot springs steaming up from the edge of the Ituri Forest.  As we descend into Bundibugyo lightening breaks from clouds along the Rwenzori ridges, and we find ourselves trailing sheets of rain and strong winds. 

In fact we are only minutes behind what turns out to be the storm of the year, blowing roofs off houses, downing our new power lines, scattering branches.  Ominous, or a bracing symbol of the Spirit going ahead?  Darkness follows just as we pull in to the delighted claps and exclamations of our neighbors.  8 months gone . . . just long enough for Mejili, DMC, and Truffle to all look nearly ready to deliver.  There are hugs and welcomes, and soon visitors in spite of the dark hour.  Juliet and Arthur (delightfully cute) have walked up from school, the Johnson family interrupts their meal, Scott Will accompanies us home where we find Star bursting with excitement, and our friend and neighbor Asita with two daughters and stacked pans on their heads, bearing hot food.  We are home.

But not quite home, any more.  A house that used to be a home and is now, I hesitate to say it, rather depressing.  The paint is yellowed and peeling, the shelves are thick with dust, the drawers cluttered with unorganized utensils and littered with creature droppings.  Almost all the vestiges of love are gone, the walls bearing scars of photos no longer visible, the warm fridge no longer functional, the grimy stove no longer producing food.  It is still a solid, functional house, which the team uses and maintains.  It is still miles better than almost any other house in a fifty mile radius.  But it is no longer a home, not for us or for anyone at the moment.  And a house in the jungle that does not receive the constant entropy-reversing attentions of someone with a vision for glory .  . well, that house becomes, sadly, a bit of a dump, a place of broken things no one has the courage or energy to actually discard.  We should have been more ruthless in paring down, how crazy we were to think that all those books or games or pans or medicines would be useful.  

But house-cleaning is not our priority for this week.  We are here to walk alongside our team and understand their new reality first and foremost, to reconnect and reassure that we are still intimately involved and caring, to renew friendships, to bear the burden temporarily, to pray.  So today dawns with post-storm clarity, and we plunge into the long parade of greetings and conversations.  Everyone thinks Caleb is Luke, and Jack is Caleb (Jack has changed shape pretty significantly these last few months, topped off by a serious bout of sickness that was probably malaria, I see through their eyes that he has become tall and rather thin).  Scott makes people laugh be mixing Swahili in the conversation.  I find my Swahili veneer is very thin and the old Lubwisi is much more accessible.  We sit and greet and greet some more, walk back and forth, tour the health center (more staff than I had hoped for, but largely non-functional in terms of drugs and blood and labs and services, sadly).  Many hugs and exclamations.  There is time for sitting with team mates and listening, time for wandering around CSB.  Julia joins the girls' football team for training--the impact of our team has spread, and now there are SIX SCHOOLS in Bundi fielding girls' teams for a tournament this weekend!  Jack plays barefoot football with the younger students.  Every few steps up and down the road another familiar face.  Quote of the day:  "at least you could come back now and stay, well, forever".  At least.

The day ends in Nyahuka, first at Melen's where she prepares a feast of scalding hot matoke, kahunga, and rice, topped with chicken, goat, sombe, and a smoky thick gnut sauce.  Not to mention fresh passion juice.  No one minds the rat running in and out the door a few times, we're all so happy to be eating real Ugandan food again, chatting with Melen who is brave and perseverant against the odds, playfully interaction with little Jonah.  And then to CSB for the teacher Bible Study, carried on now by Travis and Amy, a good spirit of participation.

Can you go back?  Not really, the back we might imagine reaching no longer exists, we have to go forward to meet the Bundibugyo of 2011.  We're wiped out be the effort today.  Pray we would gracefully extend the love and approval of Jesus to a wearily over-worked set of team mates and Ugandan colleagues, that this week would not be about our loss, but about their encouragement.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Along the Road

your heart may wander . .

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.