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Monday, December 03, 2012

Dec 4, Five Years Later

On December 4, 2007, our best Ugandan friend and colleague Dr. Jonah Kule died of ebola hemorrhagic fever, in a tent at Mulago Hospital in Kampala.  He died because he was a compassionate person, brave in the face of the unknown, dedicated to the community, serious about his role and responsibility, and committed to Jesus.  He had a dream of being a doctor since he was a young boy, and after many years of work with us as a clinical officer and then five years of med school, and one year of internship, he was finally on the ground at the center of his dream.  His story is a long one with many unbelievable twists and turns, but none of us could have foreseen it ending only a few months after he began working as a qualified doctor in our extremely underserved district.  On December 4th five years ago we wept ourselves into stunned numbness.  His family's loss and ours, magnified by thousands of people who looked to him with hope. 

Ebola has struck Uganda four more times since then, not the same strain, but popping up with a few scattered cases here and there every year or so.  In our epidemic 39 people died; there were 116 confirmed and probable cases, 147 listed in the newspapers, and 192 suspected cases.  Scott, Scott Will, and I were all exposed but not infected, and the only other doctor in the district besides Jonah and us was infected but survived.

Jonah left his wife Melen, who was six months pregnant at the time with their only son, and five daughters.  

Those were dark days, the kind that put my stomach in a knot even now, though they were still pierced with light.  The sobbing desperation of loss, the beautiful community of friendship.  The inexplicable end to our plans, the beginning of redemption along other paths. 

Melen has weathered much work and disappointment, betrayal and jealousy by those who should have supported her.  But she remains rooted in faith and forges ahead with her nursery and primary school project, caring for her children as mother and father to them all.  The tottering health care system that could not afford gloves to protect us back then still limps forward, but with Dr. Travis and Dr. Jessica and renewed interest in nutrition and sickle cell disease.  I still find myself occasionally seeing someone on a motorcycle with just the sort of stance, or yellow helmet, that I begin to believe is Jonah, then remember.  I know Melen does too.

On the day Dr. Jonah was buried, Scott read the passage about the seed falling into the ground from John 12.  Today seven young men are in med school to become doctors and public health practitioners from Bundibugyo.  Six of them are sponsored through the Dr. Jonah Memorial Leadership Fund (and the seventh through another ebola-connected sponsor) of WHM.  They should have been the generation to learn from working alongside Jonah, instead they are the generation who only exist because his blood poured out.

Today please take time to pray for Melen, for courage and strength and God's mercy on her and her children.  Please pray for these seven to return and transform Bundibugyo in the ways that Dr. Jonah began, by working with absolute integrity in hard places.  Pray for God's provision for them as our sponsorship fund ( has been drained by rising tuition costs and adding on new students.  Pray for our team still laboring in that place that has known too much death.  Pray for Scott Will in South Sudan, and Scott and I here in Kenya, to wholeheartedly live the bounty of years that could have been lost, for the Kingdom.

But mostly thank God for Jonah Kule, his life, his friendship, his unflagging cheerfulness, his ramrod insistence on honesty, his easy encouragement to communities, his listening ear and wise counsel, his vision, his love for God and God's people.  His death does not make any more sense five years later than it did then, but we acknowledge that we see through a glass darkly, and look forward to knowing face to face.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Thanks for this tribute to Jonah and for the reminder that God's ways are perfect even if extremely hard and at times difficult to understand. I remember meeting Jonah briefly in early 2001 when I came through Kampala with Scott and we stopped by the medical university to visit him. It has been inspiring to learn more of his story and that of his brave wife Melen from you since his death. Praying for much fruit from this planted seed.... Steve