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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bundibugyo: a tattered fray, and glimpses of grace

Serge's tag line: Grace at the Fray.  We're called to be that stitch that binds the unraveling edge.  We're called to pour our lives into leaking pots fractured by evil, until the glory of God fills the earth like the waters fill the sea.  The problem with fray and fracture is that those are taxing places to live.  They are hard to get to, or hot, or dangerous, or corrupt, or exhausting, or crowded.

Bundibugyo is one of those places.  Poverty is an every day reality, accentuated by a season of drought that is withering the primary cash crop of cocoa.  And accentuated by widespread corruption (how can records show the health service has 99% of projected staffing when only 50% of jobs are actually being performed?).  And accentuated by population growth putting pressure on limited land and resources(125,000 people in the district when we arrived in 1993, but now bursting the seams at 350,000).  And accentuated by crippling beliefs, fear, constant loss. We consulted on a 4-month-old inexplicably febrile, lethargic, refusing to eat . . .until we asked about the mythic "false teeth" and found the mom had taken him to a local traditional healer who cut his gums with a razor blade.  We started our week at the burial of an old man who had been a regular church member over the last few decades, and ended it visiting the widow of our former houseworker who died of uncontrolled diabetes a few months ago. The son of our former neighbor is in prison for supplying a criminal gang with weapons.  We counseled with another young person we care about who had relapsed into alcoholism.  We met another young neighbor and church leader whose child had just been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia (Bundibugyo is a genetic epicenter for this disease, and in most cases it is fatal before adulthood).  We stayed with our team leader family the Dickensons as malaria and/or another debilitating fever marched inexorably through their beleaguered midst, and spent hours with team mates who were reeling from the spiritual battle. Almost everyone we encountered told us genuine stories of their suffering, and that's without even reaching back to the history of war and ebola and witchcraft and marginalization that have impacted this place.

These sorrows are part of Bundibugyo's story, but certainly not the full story, and not the ending.

A week back in our former home reminded us of those sorrows as we encountered them again and again in people we care about.  But it also gave us the more robust picture of God's grace at work.  For some Kingdom parables, you need time lapse photography, or a long enough arc to keep returning and witnessing.  The tiny seed that grows into a bush for the birds to rest in, the small measure of yeast that leavens the whole lump of dough, the muddy field that contains a hidden pearl of great value.  The buried kernel of wheat that produces a crop a hundred times greater.

So glimpse with us some of those unfolding redemptions, those signs of grace restoring beauty.

Proclaiming mercy and truth--

A church that is mere poles and a roof, on the very edge of the vast Ituri rain forest, reached by winding paths following ridges and crossing rivers. Dr. Marc shares with the gathered crowd that Jesus went out preaching and healing, and then while he, a medical student Alex, and a nutrition apprentice Mary see patients and dispense medicine, an Elder Josephu reads from the newly published Lubwisi New Testament and invites people to be prayed for.

Almost every afternoon, dozens and dozens of children flock to the Books for Bundi library.  For an hour they chat excitedly as they turn pages, try out reading, show each other pictures and words.  Then they also listen to a story about God's goodness and character, and they work on memory verses with Laura. Outside the window young men in their teens and twenties play football (soccer) and receive discipleship to equip them for the challenges of becoming men of integrity.

Healing body and soul--

We walk into the ward we had built at Nyahuka Health center to find midwives we trained delivering babies.  Next door, our team's PT Rhett is gently explaining to the mom of an extremely disabled baby how to hold him in ways that support his head and counteract the stiff arching of his neurological condition. On the porch our nutritionist Alisha with her team prepares to weigh children enrolled in our team's nutrition program, supplementing them with locally produced supplemental food.

FAVORITE MOMENT OF THE WEEK--DO NOT MISS THIS ONE) We sit on the couch with Dr. Ammon and his family after a morning at Bundibugyo Hospital.  He is one of the post-ebola scholarship recipients who was enabled to go to medical school, a real leader with genuine faith and solid clinical skills.  Now he's the superintendent of the hospital, and he's spent the entire morning showing us what he's doing.  Continuing medical education for staff, deliberate discussion of outcomes, financial accountability and planning amongst the leadership.  God bless Baylor for a brand new laboratory.  Renovated wards.  Plans for a newborn special care unit.  As we moved from area to area, we ran into two nurses whom we had selected 20 years ago to be part of the "Mother and Child Survival Project" to train high school leavers in community health and then send them to nursing school, and there they were, faithfully working for mothers and children to survive.  And we met the latest Kule Leadership Fund scholarship recipient, training as an anesthetist.  It's not easy--Ammon's trying to run the primary hospital for 250,000 people, keeping up the facility, supervising 200 staff, running clinics, supplementing medicine supplies, teaching, doing surgeries, and on an on, on a budget of $4,000 a month.  As we finish our whirlwind several hours of greeting and consulting and listening and applauding, we walk over to his staff-quarters home to see his family.  His four children have all been born prematurely and dangerously, and all survived.  The youngest two were 1-kg 28-weekers.  Bwambale is nearly 2, and Biira is just reaching 4 months old.  The odds of their survival in this place were very poor, yet here they are.  At that moment, it hit me:  this was our dream for Dr. Jonah. To be here in Bundi, a leader, in charge, making changes, bringing integrity and grit to the needs of this place.  Exactly ten years after his death, the dream is being fulfilled.  Bittersweet.

Equipping the next generation--

Everywhere we go, we meet Christ School graduates.  A nurse will shake our hands, and say, "greet Luke", I was in his class.  Late in the evening as our team leader's toddler suffers another fever, we accompany them to a nearby health center for a malaria smear, and the nurse on duty tells us he graduated from Christ School.  They are church leaders and teachers, they are working in the nutrition program and the library.  We spend one day meeting the budget committee, another day with the full board, another with the head teacher, hours with Josh managing the budgets and vision.  This school's 2017 performance single handedly pulled Bundibugyo out of last place in the district rankings; the individual school results put us #208 out of more than 3000 secondary schools in Uganda.  And yet, the struggle continues.  Parents depend upon cocoa for cash, and there is none.  Even though we raise 50% of the school's budget from donations (which is itself a yearly exercise in faith), if the parents don't partner with their half, teachers can't be paid and students can't eat.  This is a school for people at the margin, and we know it makes an impact.  So we feel the desperation as we celebrate where we've come, but beg God to help us continue.

One afternoon we arrange a lunch for six of the young people we have personally "fostered" over their lifetimes, kids who befriended ours, who played at our house, whose lives became entwined with ours. Some are orphans; all come from places of difficulty and we partnered with their families to sponsor their tuition   Now they are parents themselves, and working.  In the group we have two teachers, a librarian, a laboratory technician, an accountant, an electrician, and an agriculturalist.  As we share food and stories and memories, we end by going around the circle to share a praise and prayer request, and they speak about wanting to raise their children well, to grow in their faith, to maintain their jobs, to care for extended family.  Ndiyezika goes last, and launches into a testimony about marriage as his ten-year anniversary approaches, reminding his younger "siblings" that nothing is more important than keeping God in the center of their lives and remaining faithful to their spouse, no matter what difficulties they face (and he has faced many). It is a beautiful moment.

Living in Community--

All of the above happens because a small group of people were willing to leave their families and homes, supported by a much larger group of generous friends and donors and churches.  And because the relationships built over decades have drawn in local partners.  This community is at the core of Kingdom witness.  And like the examples from the parables, often not the most obvious thing one sees.  Ann, for instance, prepares curriculum and meets with young apprentices to mentor and teach.  Anna (W) and Sierra teach the team's kids, enabling families to live here.  Anna (D) and Stephanie and Holly create homes and meals and Bible studies, essential to survival, even while they juggle their own ministries.  Brent supervises and disciples a team of maintenance workers and guards to enable this team to live in a remote place.  Josh struggles through the complex tax laws, NGO requirements, land titling, administrative nightmares, all of which drain time and energy.  Community is essential; community is messy and complex.

Want to join?

Yes, Bundibugyo is the fray.  But the promises of God paradoxically insist that this is where we find the greatest outpouring of grace, the absolute presence of Jesus.  We could use help, and we could use it yesterday, I think in this order--

Pastors/Youth Leaders:  chaplaincy at Christ School, ongoing mentoring of church leaders, after-school youth programs.

Project Manager/Engineer/Business/Accountant skills:  Managing the budgets and requirements for the school and the NGO (Josh needs help, and he has to take a furlough soon).

Mentor to Teachers/School Administrator:  the kind of person who can walk alongside local leadership to be supportive.

Medical:  doctors, PT, Nutrition, nursing willing to work in lowest-resource highest-need area.

If any of those sound like you, or you want to explore, or know someone who should, pass along this link to the Go form, which is just a preliminary step in connecting with us.  Or send us an email.  Or leave a comment with your contacts.  We'd also love artists and missionary kid teachers and biomedical equipment specialists and lab techs and musicians.  If you love Jesus and have a heart for pouring your gifts out to bless others, and are willing to put up with a buggy jungle and the challenges of living communally, you are welcome.

If you can't go, but you sense God's work in this place, consider starting to include Christ School in your regular tithing.  I know we need to support our own churches, don't ignore them, but a few hundred people deciding to split their giving 5% to CSB and 5% to their church would have a barely noticeable effect in America but be the difference between life and death in Bundibugyo.  Or maybe you can afford a bit more.  We sometimes get an amazing rescue gift; but we need long-term small regular increments accompanied by prayer too.


Hunter said...

This is an amazing post Jennifer and Scott. Thank you for this beautiful story full of loss and gain. The Kingdom advancing. No quick fix but gains on the suffering of dear friends who are loved by their Creator. "Do it again Father! Do it again!"

Scott Ickes said...

Thank you for putting the word about for Bundibugyo. I also love CSM and JTM's birthday posts! ~ Scotticcus