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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.

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