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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

5 countries, 15 days, Grace at the Fray

There and back again, by budget sketchy jet, reliable MAF prop plane, canoe, 4WD truck, taxi, motorcycle, foot.  From Kenya, to Uganda, to Congo, to Uganda, to Rwanda, to Burundi, to Kenya. The Area Director portion of our life got short shrift for over three months during the 100-day doctor strike, squeezing in emails near midnight, stepping away from the ward to make phone calls.  But we left two weeks ago by faith to complete a planned visit to several of our teams and a potential new partnership in the DRC.  We left with the promising hope that the strike was ending, but the doctors actually returned just before we did.  It was agonizing to walk away, but we saw God's hand in the journey and believe it was the right decision.  We returned with a great potential for a new team in a new place, with having witnessed some supernatural reconciliations, with a solid Memorandum of Understanding with one of our main partners, with hours of conversations and prayers and connections with people we love.

A handful of Scott's amazing photos can be sampled below; he has not yet downloaded most of them.  But they will help illustrate a few summary points about Serge in East and Central Africa in 2017, what we do and why we go to those fraying edges to testify to God's grace.

The land and the people, the rain pouring green into hills and rivers.  We work in some spectacularly beautiful places, where creation has not been drastically altered by the exploitation of humans.  The humans are there though, in force, the paradox of rural density, curious children popping out to accompany us, to greet, to observe.  God made the thousand shades of green from banana stalks to cassava leaves, and the thousand shades of people with their unique reflections of the Trinity.

Binding the Fray
The unraveling of peace by the forces of evil takes many forms, so teams work holistically in diverse ways.  Drying soy beans, corn, and sorghum to make a porridge to treat malnutrition (above).  Using surgical skills to restore sight to the blind (below).  Building wards.  Translating the Bible.  Teaching school.  Piping clean water.  Sitting with the sorrowful to pray.  Celebrating weddings.  And burials.  Investing in church leaders.  Living out the good news on the sports field.  And on and on, threading grace through rough edges.

Projects and people
We love engineers.  Because we know that the same roads, water, health care, schools that we all took for granted growing up are part of the way God's blessing flows.  So sometimes we need the skills and tools and funds to put up a new 80-bed Paediatric ward, or create low-tech incubators.  But most of our time and effort has been poured into people.  When God wanted to rescue us, He sent His Son.  At Serge we primarily send people to work and live and pray and sweat alongside those who are struggling.  As we put our shoulders to the work together, as our lives intertwine, we are all transformed.

As Area directors, we work most closely with the Team Leaders.  So it is our joy and privilege to listen to them, to pray with them, to wrestle with difficult decisions and ask God for wisdom together, to share meals and family news.  Serge now has 8 teams in 3 countries in East and Central Africa (plus South Sudan on hold because of war).  

We serve at the invitation of our national partners, and part of our job is to honor and maintain those relationships.  In some places we work with a particular church, or a Christian university, or a coalition of churches for health work, or a local government.  But we are always guests.  This era of missions means we collaborate, we walk alongside, we listen to each other.  While we don't hesitate to politely strive for what we believe is best, we have to keep pace with our hosts.  You can pray for all of us in this regard.  It is so easy for cultural chasms to divide us, for our own pride to trip us up.

When families relocate, kids get caught in the nebulous universe of the "third culture".  They are not quite your average North Americans like their parents, but they are not fully embraced by the local culture either.  Enter the MK teachers, who enable families to live in remote places but keep their kids on a grade-level-appropriate pace for eventual schooling in their country of origin.  Concern for kids, their health, their sanity, their safety, their connection to extended family, their adjustment to the new language and culture, their traumas, their learning disabilities or speech delays, their friendships, their development . . . fills a big portion of our Area Director hearts.  Ours looked like these two just a blink of an eye ago.

And the Real Center of it all:  Bodies and Souls, loved by God

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Kenya Doctor Strike: 13 weeks down, and a Myhre interlude

After heart-wrenching gut-dropping soul-searching deliberation, we decided to go ahead with our planned Congo-Uganda-Burundi trip starting tomorrow.  The chronic never-ending nature of this strike has made it very difficult to plan, and resulted in us falling far behind in our Serge Area Director job.  We are physically weary, emotionally exhausted, and in desperate need of a break.  Flying a small plane into Eastern Congo for days of intense cross-cultural meeting and vision setting isn't exactly a vacation, but we are moving forward trusting God's strength in our weakness.  And trusting the sovereign timing of God's care to push a resolution to the strike.  As of yesterday, the intervention of religious leaders (along with the Kenyan Law Society and the Kenyan Human Rights Committee, and the President) offered the first real glimmer of hope for compromise we've seen in a long time.  Our visas miraculously came through on Thursday, Scott went to get them in our passports Friday, and we bought tickets last night.  Today was another non-stop day of "our brand is crisis" and tomorrow we are off.  Some photos I had on my phone from the last couple days below.  Pray for our patients to be healed by the mercy of God as we go, and for us to be filled with wisdom and love for others as we listen and serve across three countries in two weeks.  

Baby Hope, would you hope with me she would survive?  Severe dehydration caused her kidneys to fail, but she may still recover.  Pray for her.

The busy Newborn Unit, when you get 4 preems of about a thousand grams being transferred in one day . .  and dozens of births per day . . .it gets crowded.

Preem corner, our two best incubators holding four babies who total up to weigh less than many American babies.

Jua Kali--Kenyan for "in the hot sun" which refers to the creative make-do engineering this country excels in.  This, my friends, is an oxygen concentrator.  

This mom finally went home with her very very premature baby, a triumph that took almost two months.  The other moms took up a collection to get her some clothes to go home with, and bus fare.  She was an 8th grade student (father was in high school).  I love her smile, and resilience.  And I love the way God's people are here in this place of need, moms helping each other.

My team.  Grace works part-time while in school, but Zachariah is with me almost every day, and has proven himself to be thorough, compassionate, and reliable.  I wouldn't have made it through the last two months without them, as things got much busier after December.  This week they admitted an ICU-level critical baby without me one day when I had to leave briefly for a passport issue, and they did everything right.  That made me so happy.

This brother brought his sister with AIDS back for follow-up as requested today . . since he's in school I saw them on a Saturday.  She sadly also has TB, but we are hoping that treatment will extend her life.

One day I had these two admissions in rapid succession:  1120 grams on the left, 4135 on the right.  Quite the contrast.

Maternity at Naivasha traditionally requires two patients to share each bed, it is so crowded.

Hoping to post from the road, but if it's not possible, don't forget to pray for us, and for those we leave behind.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

19 Years of Jackness

Happy Birthday to our mulibah, the last-born, who as this little selection of pictures since the last birthday (and one from the actual birthday) show, is a wonderful paradox of tough rugby-playing, running, hiking, wild man and quiet reading, cooking, artist.  As Grampy used to say to get a rise out of us daughters, you truly are a gentleman and a scholar.  It is a great grace to be the parents of a young man who forges on through the world with courage and integrity.  We love you so much Jack!

Ashes to Ashes

Yesterday, on the day most of the world's church begins the season of Lent with a day of repentance called Ash Wednesday, the Masso family said their public goodbye to their Papa Jon.  We gathered in the Daystar University auditorium where he was a professor of physics and instrumental in building a science faculty, the Masso family joined by most of our Serge team from Nairobi and Kijabe, a classical choral society that Jon sang with, dozens of former street boys enfolded into the Ahadi home through the senior Massos' ministry, and a few hundred colleagues and students from the university.  There were speeches, tributes, flowers, music, and memories.  As sad as it was to see the casket containing a soon-to-be-ashes body, the day was also a tribute to a quiet man of integrity who steadily taught and encouraged and believed across continents in a way that impacted untold numbers of lives.  I found it encouraging to ponder the fact that the Massos' Kenya phase of life began when they were just a bit older than we are now.  There are still a couple of good decades ahead, I hope.  And encouraging to see the cross-cultural mourning uniting us, and the way God orchestrated this past year of celebrations and goodbyes for Jon.  There was a glimpse of the eternal that permeated the review of the last 75 years of temporal, but a death and a memorial service ground us solidly in earth.  Appropriately so, for the day.  The ashes of Ash Wednesday are to remind us that we are made of dust and to dust we shall return.  While that may sound depressing, in the context of mourning and of the struggle of this life, it is actually a humble relief.  All suffering in this world comes to an end.  The Maker knows our feeble frames.

The day's Scripture included the phrase "rend your hearts and not your garments" (Joel 2).  Serge's tagline is "grace at the fray", using the sewing metaphor that a serge stitch is one that re-ravels or binds up the disintegrating edge, and that's what we're up to in the world's places of sorrow.  That calls to mind the image of a rent, or frayed garment. So serging is the opposite of rending; yet an internal rending may need to precede the serging of our souls.  We rend our hearts by an honest look at our motives, our propensity to promote our selves and use other people for our own ends, our lukewarm love, our critical spirits.  But that rending is good news, because then the frayed edges of our souls can be bound with a beautiful stitch, united to a tapestry of God's making all things new.

Rending garments was also a sign of grief, one that our culture should re-consider.  For the Masso kids, there is no outward sign for their friends and classmates to know the grief going on deep in their hearts this week.  Grief inwardly rips our tidy world into little shreds.  But more good news:  that's OK, a precursor to a new design.  Grace at work again, in grief as well as in repentance, acknowledging all that is not right in the process of making it all right again.