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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Paradox of Celebration: Jack, Duke, and a pause to be grateful

Duke 2019 Graduation was an Ebenezer of a weekend for us: hither by thy grace we've come.  This strong, faithful, intelligent human being began his life in the most vulnerable of ways, at a time of war and flight. His childhood held challenges from significant illness and injury, grief and loss, encounters with extreme poverty and the constant exclusion of being the outsider. And yet, his life also shouts the mercy of God in solid opportunities, loving community, voracious learning, protection and grace. So that celebration holds the first paradox, two disparate but true things: the last 21 years were not an uninterrupted march of glory . . . . and yet all in all, they have been a gift. We would not change them, and we marvel at the kindness of God to bring us to this point.

And in celebration, there is the related paradox of effort and blessing. Hard work and perseverance pushed Jack on for sure, yet many others do the same; so we attest to the truth of "work out your salvation because God works in you."  Only by grace did he reach this point of speaking as the Senior Class President of the Engineering School (listen here beginning minute 33); or of being a Gates Cambridge Scholar and one of eight featured graduates. We could never have dreamed of all the open doors and honors he has found in these four years.  So we clap for his late nights and ambitious attempts, and we sing praise for the thousandfold undeserved return on every investment.

And I was reminded of a third paradox as we celebrated with my family.  My youngest was graduating this weekend with accolades from one of the best universities in America. My sister's youngest will be even more excited next year as he graduates from high school. Micah has Down Syndrome, an extra chromosome that has made his story very different from Jack's. There is no reason Jack's and Micah's stories should be so divergent and I'm not going to generate one. In this paradox I can merely affirm that both young men, and both families, take what has been given with grace and thankfulness and use it in the best way they can. Both love their families and love Jesus, and most importantly both will be invited to the banquet of eternity with equal joy. God does not place more value on scholarships or GPA's than on joy and connection, which is hard to remember when in the midst of pomp and circumstance.

From throwing together a grill-out for the eight families of the boys who shared adjacent student-housing apartments, to baccalaureate with the excellent message from Dr. Luke Powery, to the receptions and parties, to hearing a final concert from the men's acapella group, to hanging out with family, to dinners, to speeches and ceremonies. . . . this past weekend was well worth 21 years and thousands of miles to reach. Grateful to and for Jack Myhre; grateful for paradox that binds us into truth from both directions; grateful for the hope of seeing where this path leads in the next 21 years.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Appalachian Spring

In a move of brilliance some months ago, Scott booked our travel to Jack's graduation/Luke's wedding/family visits/a few support follow ups/Serge things/etc. that fills our May/June to have us arrive a few days before the cascade of events begins. Meaning we pulled into the farm in Sago that we inherited from my family just as the darkness gathered on Saturday night, and stepped into that hundred-plus year old house where my mom had left fresh flowers and food. Meaning we slept in a comfortable and familiar bed, got up the next morning to walk to the little country church that embraces us literally and figuratively, took walks in the woods and biked the back roads, and worked. Meaning mornings on skype or phone, keeping up with our dispersed Area, then afternoons digging, sawing, raking, planting, mulching, weeding, fixing. There are always more projects on a farm. Meaning an anniversary grilling sweet corn and salmon (small town Kroger amazes us). Meaning sitting in the plastic Adirondack chairs at sunset, listening to birds in the surrounding woods, feeling the chill of the mountain night seep in, sensing the mercy that has given us this place.
Anniversary photo from this morning
Dogwood at the forest edge, Appalachian Spring beauty

32 years ago today, we were married. I was still in medical school but took vacation time as we loaded the smallest U-haul trailer and dove it to Chicago where Scott started his internship. 25 years ago, after a series of apartments, moves, finishing residency, and a seminary course (Scott) and having a baby (me) we boarded our plane to Uganda. We chose the sojourner life, aliens and strangers, mostly never owning even a car, holding things in common belonging to our mission. So it still strikes us as a wonder and grace that in this season when travel has become more necessary (four kids in the USA, two widowed moms, leadership requiring more meetings) and much easier, instead of our two decade-plus habit of basements and spare rooms, borrowing and transience, we have a place to go. A place we did not earn or deserve, hence the grace. A place connected to family history, a place where a fox trotted through the yard and the blackberry bushes are blooming, hence the wonder.
Arriving in town Saturday night, misting rain
The house on the rock, a century of refuge
Work boots and garden gloves from Southern States, check. Fashionable wear for events, not quite yet.

In one of our calls this week, a colleague said "I was told that Bundibugyo is the West Virginia of Uganda" and while that phrase is mostly meant to point out the poverty and isolation of people dwelling on the ridges of mountainous terrain, the clans and suspicion and subsistence and self-doubt and low educational and health rankings. . .it is true in other ways as well. The natural beauty. The abundant rainfall, the rivers and streams. The self-sufficiency of small scale farms. The family commitment and loyalty, the warmth. The traditions which less connection to the wider world allows to continue with less homogenization. The way that proximity to peaks makes the spirit soar.

I distinctly remember the way that connection encouraged my heart when we drove into the district in 1993--no one had told me that the curvy road and steep inclines of Bundi would remind me of an Appalachian home. In 2019, Bundibugyo remains the place we have lived the longest, the core home in which we raised our family and encountered God through the community and work, so now perhaps West Virginia reminds me of that home too.

On this anniversary day, rejoice with us that some circles remain unbroken, that we fell in love on an Appalachian Spring hike, were married on a sunshiny May day, have lived most of our life since then in a season of hilly isolation and majority-world reality, and yet God gives us this touch point of respite back in the hills of home.

Front porch for visiting and listening to the river

Scott's been sawing up a fallen tree (truck not ours but it has been a handy rental)

View from the kitchen 

an even better kitchen view

Laundry and gardening, anchors of the soul

Order and a new rose bush

Friday, May 03, 2019


When I was growing up and going to summer camp, we used to sing:
Make new friends, but keep ye old
One is silver and the other gold.
I suppose it was a way to encourage us to keep in touch with each other year to year, and to embrace the newcomers.

Over the last week, we have found ourselves appreciating both as we drove about a quarter of the equatorial stretch of Africa, from the Congo border to central Kenya. Originally, we had planned that our time in Uganda would be January to the beginning of May, so we would drive back to Kenya and fly from Nairobi for Jack's graduation (and Acacia's) in May and Luke's wedding in June. Long story short, we believe God is calling us to remain in Uganda for at least another year and possibly longer . . . which still meant we had to drive to get our Kenya-registered LandRover back to the origin of our flight. More on that later. If you drive solid 10-12 hour days, you can do that trip in 3. But we took 5 as we had some work along the way, and believe it or not, sometimes we DO admit our age and try to plan life a little more gently. Not that there is much gentle about all those potholes and trucks and police stops, but we DID have some great connections along the way. 

we also had a stop along the road for the Huduma number registration, now required of all Kenya residents, which we technically still are . . . 


The morning we left, we stopped in Fort Portal for breakfast with Pat. We both came to Uganda in 1993. Pat is pure gold, refined by fire, one of a kind. You won't find many people half her age willing to do what she does. Sorry I didn't snap a picture.  We diverted slightly from our path to visit the Wrights in Mbale, another family with whom we've had long-term connection, commiseration, encouragement, perspective.

Once over the Kenya border, our next night we reached Sunrise Acres, a little cluster of homey cabins on a working dairy farm run by AIM missionaries who make us look like newcomers. This is a place that has offered us respite along our weary travels time and time again, a place of prayerfulness and peace. And of many fond memories. We took some prayer time, reading, and rest.

The next day we reached Kijabe which is generally a gold-mine of old friendships and our own history, from Caleb's birth in 1995, evacuation and short term work in 1997 up to Jack's birth in 1998, then five years of intense investment as we began our AD role and grew a team 2011-15, and close connection as we worked in Naivasha 2016-18.  Part of the poignancy of this trip was some closure and processing with Michael Masso as the Masso family wraps up the African chapters of their sojourn. Besides Pat, they are our longest-lasting colleagues here. Though we only spent one full day at Kijabe, we were delighted to greet old friends, many in the hospital and a few in their homes.

Bob and Lilian were my first Kijabe colleagues and friends, and are the heart and soul of the service still.

Mardi and I were colleagues for many Kijabe years, and it's a treat to see her and the other pediatricians pushing care so far forward for needy kids.

The Letchfords! and I wish I'd taken pictures with other colleagues including Sarah Muma and Ima and Jack Barasa . . 

Interspersed along the bumpy jog down memory lane, plenty of glimpses of the plethora of new relationships God has brought us, the younger people who are growing into their calling. Our very first night as we stopped in Kampala we met Ivan and Isaiah for dinner.  It's always a delight to hear them process their education and vision for Bundibugyo as they near the end of their training (nurse and doctor).

Of course we are always dreaming and seeking ideas and wisdom as we travel, so it was a treat to visit a regional referral hospital's neonatal unit in Eastern Uganda along the way and hear from the nurses they way warmth, CPAP, oxygen, feeds, care has reduced mortality dramatically . . . in spite of the fact that there were 40 babies in a very small room. 
Almost all the Kijabe team have been on the ground for less than one term, so they are a breath of fresh air as well. It is a privilege to listen, encourage, process, dream with them. What a wonderful group, and they dedicated their team meeting time to praying for us!

Our last stop was Nairobi, lunch and annual reviews with our Team Leaders the Rigbys, and appropriate for the silver medal: our newest Serger in East and Central Africa, Eoin!


Which brings us to tonight, our pile of suitcases and carry-ons, the last minute scramble to the airport.  In a couple of hours we will take off for a two-month USA time, to attend graduations and a wedding and reunions, to see our patient octogenarian moms. We'll still be managing from a distance the school, and our Area, praying for wisdom from afar.

And we'll be reveling in all sorts of silver and gold, friends old and new, people whose history gives us glimpses of God's faithfulness and glory, as well as those whose new connections point us to hope for the future.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Participating in Resurrection: Bring the Fish

Easter is more than a day, it is a season of the church calendar, an epoch of history. Yesterday's reading came from John 21, where the perhaps bewildered disciples have returned to their previous occupation as fisherman. They've had glimpses of Jesus, but life has radically changed. Rather than the thrill and intensity of daily movement through the crowds, they have scattered without a clear plan for ongoing mission, without a clear assurance of when they would next encounter him. Sort of like all of us, now. Naturally they return to fishing, but they're having a fruitless night on the water, empty nets. Very much like us. As the sky fades into the grey of dawn, they see a man cooking on the shore, who calls and tells them to throw the net out one more time over the starboard side. This time they haul in a shockingly abundant and specific 153 large fish, and as they haul and laugh it occurs to them, this is Jesus. Who then tells them, "Bring some of those fish you have just caught."

Did he need more fish? He already had fish and bread roasting over the charcoal. But just as he told the crowd to move the stone and unwrap the embalming cloths upon raising Lazarus, Jesus asks for participation in the meal.  Bring your fish. Bring your livelihood. Contribute your skills. What you do matters. 

Surely, God could shake up the corrupt governments, could strike down the suicide bomb planners, could heal all the malarious fevers, could open the water pipes and purify food supplies. God could personally appear, in dreams and visions, to every household. And yet, Jesus says, bring the fish. Go out and use your skills, your training, your passions, for the nourishing good of yourselves and this world. Join with me in reaching all people, renewing all believers, restoring all things.

So here we are, spending some days in futility, some nights feeling our powerlessness, empty nets and unclear futures. Yet Jesus appears in the morning fog, and invites us to participate in the resurrection he is accomplishing. That means showing up at the hospital where on Thursday there were 96 patients on the ward designed for 25 beds. Slogging through, bending, stooping, laying on hands and probing, questioning, checking meds and pulses, making plans, identifying the handful who are critical. That meant Dr. Marc yesterday seeking out a child with a femur fracture we had seen earlier in the week: this 4 year old was hit by a soldier on a speeding boda, then when we sent her to the operating theatre to reduce and cast the broken leg under anesthesia, the staff had refused care due to the inability of the family to come up with a $50 bribe (probably a month's income for them). The family had taken this child in pain home to languish, until Marc found her and brought her back and did it all himself. That means paying for a professional auditing team to come and scrutinize our books, for World Harvest Uganda and for Christ School Bundibugyo, to be sure we are practicing good accountability and using our resources as intended, with transparency. That means preparing for new team and honoring departing apprentices. That means praying for justice. That means meetings, hours, intention, care for our team leaders around the Area, for our partners here, discussing vision and strategy and spiritual health and resources for coping. That means inviting teachers into our home for fellowship, or our grown-foster-kids over to our house for an Easter feast, building community and trust. That means planning with some of them for ongoing further education, or rejoicing with others as they complete. That means inspecting the farms the mission owns, working to make them bless others.  That means advocating for the education of our mission kids.  All of those activities have occurred this week. All of those are ways we bring our fish. Enjoy some photos below that demonstrate glimpses of participation in God's reaching, renewing, restoring work.

Easter Sunday afternoon grill-out and feast. L to R, newly minted business man, CPA, electrician, teacher, lab technician, agricultural manager, and librarian, who were once primary school kids playing in our yard. Relaxing with family and food made us feel more at home than anything else could.  Grateful.

Bundi team selfie as we said goodbye to Mary Kendall, who has served for 18 months as a nutrition apprentice.

Paeds ward, where in spite of chaotic numbers and limited resources most kids do actually get better. So much malaria with rainy season, but artesunate and blood transfusions have been life saving.

Christ School quad in the quiet of end-of-term exams, students within are consolidating the first term's knowledge before going home for their month break in the coming week.

The vision and mission: changing hearts and building competence so we send out servant-leaders into this district.

Farm tour inspection

Boda (motorcycle trauma)--can you spot the broken leg? And would you let that child go home untreated??

More boda trauma--this little girl was knocked in the head because the driver had a wide box of bread he was selling on the back, and misjudged his clearance. Possible skull fracture.

The accountants giving a preliminary report, mostly about how much we've improved!  Yeah! These are the unsung heroes of development. Watching the money flows brings justice to the poor.

This dorm was packing up, but we wanted you to see the new metal beds, safer (fire) and stronger than the old wooden ones. We and the boys who live in this dorm are truly grateful for the generosity that allowed 136 double bunks to be constructed, transported, and placed at Christ School.

Another day on the ward, running out of even floor space.

And more kids, sickle cell, malnutrition, pneumonia, burns, abscesses, trauma, malaria and more malaria.

Final pizza party with Mary and Anna, two apprentices who complete in May.

This week's group of CSB teacher families, really enjoyed their testimonies, hopes and dreams, prayer requests, commitment to educating students.  These people are the KEY to transformation.

Me enjoying my grandmother status; these kids are being raised with love by parents whose hearts have been grabbed by Jesus.

Reward for scrolling to the bottom--Wedding invite from Luke and Abby (they did small personal ones for each family member), as we prepare to return to the USA in May and June for Jack's graduation, Acacia's graduation, Krister's graduation, Luke's wedding, two reunions, thanking a handful of supporters, and spending time with our moms.

That's what this week looked like. Thanks for praying, and keep bringing your own fish.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Lost Week and Holy Week

Somewhere in the last week or so, before we got sick, all my devotions seemed to bring up the verses about rivers of life. Ezekiel 47 prefigures Revelation 22. The spring of the water of life,  trees with leaves for healing of the nations, come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, without money and without price. A picture of abundance, of flow, of replenishment, of sustenance and cleansing and provision. Fearful people live in a zero-sum nightmare, clinging to our own needs and convinced that anyone else's gains come as my loss. Frankly that's easy to believe when you're stretched and weary.  So the verses where the stream grows and becomes a river, spilling out, sound like good news indeed.

Then we started literally bodily flowing out, and it all seemed a lot less poetic. 

However, on the other side of that now, there is a truth to the mystery. We didn't shrivel up to nothing, we were restored, we did drink from the river of mercy and find healing, and that replenished life is now flowing outward in healthier ways once again.

While we were down, life went on.

  • First, the CSB Land Case reached an important court date, only the magistrate (judge) had a last minute conflict, the lawyer turned around and never came from Fort Portal, and our team mate Marc along with John who were filling in for us ended up having to drive all OUR witnesses to Fort Portal to sign statements. 
  • Second, Mary Kendall, Madame Illuminate and Pamela and Suzan, with help from Jessie Shickel and lots of others, led the CSB girls to the district title in football. Trophy and all. They head to regionals tomorrow.  
  • Third, our CSB debate team returned victorious from a Rwenzori regional meet.  We didn't even know there WAS a debate team, but evidently it was subsidized by another NGO a few years ago and some of the kids and teachers caught the vision and kept going.  We won first runner-up and one of our kids won top speaker! In DEBATE. This pretty much pumps up the whole district.  We aren't used to winning.  
  • Fourth, Marc plugged along in the hospital with over 80 patients and 1 or 2 staff on the "25 bed" ward. It's malaria season. 
  • Fifthly, Scott drug himself out of bed to keep a promise to the CSB staff to report on the results of a teacher survey he worked on using a SWOT analysis. He thought it would take 30-45 minutes. The teachers talked for 3-4 hours. That's good news that they are engaged. They have concerns and ideas, and they feel welcome and heard. Keep praying for that! The staff are the most important key to the success of the school, and therefore the transformation of Bundibugyo.
  • Lastly, on Friday evening in the first hour I finally felt alive, we had a meeting to plan our mission school for Fall 2019 with no sure teacher plan (STILL RECRUITING!!!! Are you a teacher who would like to bless 7 kids who need you, and thereby enable health care and education ministry in one of the neediest spots on eartth??) and then led team meeting in prayer for our Area. We are truly living on the edge here.
Then Saturday we packed a small bag, got in the car (I literally sat on the seat and cried because the effort of picking up my little bag and walking to the car was almost beyond me) and drove 7-8 hours to Kampala, so we'd have a rest day Sunday before facing three days planned for bureaucracy.  Thankfully we got rooms in a lovely place that is conveniently located, we felt better by the hour, eating and resting. Because switching countries is no joke.
Kampala view from balcony

This week we started working on a 2-year entry-permit for Uganda. Step one means a morning at a Uganda police station designated as the Interpol intake spot, to apply for a background-check certificate of good conduct.  In an obscure 9-step process which takes about 2 hours and involves lines that look like scrums, payments with receipts for things like "office chai", copying everything in duplicate, writing our name and details in lined books, and finally having our fingers rolled in ink and pushed onto a finger-print document, one sends out one's identity to confirm we aren't wanted criminals.  
The police station, trekking between buildings for various steps, thankful for team tips on what to do!

Uganda Revenue Authority, our second trip so at least we knew the right office this time.

Then because our car is licensed in Kenya, we had to extend its permit in Uganda. And because the person who stamped our passport with our East Africa pass when we last came over the border from Rwanda into Uganda only gave us a month, and we are not leaving again until 6 weeks are up, we needed two more weeks on our interstate pass. This meant going to Immigration, where we found hundreds of Ugandans in interminable queues for passports, hot sun, unmarked windows, unlabeled offices, and finally landed sitting like disciplined school children in front of the Boss's desk.  She was methodically stamping a stack of Chinese passports but managed to upbraid and castigate us harshly for about fifteen minutes, heaping shame.  Why did we need more than a month to visit friends? Why weren't we back at work in Kenya? Why did we think we could get extra time? We should just leave. We should get in our car and go back to Kenya now. On and on she went. We kept politely explaining that we would do just that, but we left all our things in Bundibugyo 8 hours in the wrong direction. Could we celebrate Easter with our friends? What did she want us to do? Either she got tired of us just sitting there and not leaving as she suggested, or the Spirit moved her heart, but finally with much hostility and distaste she stamped our passports.  Hooray until May. Which allowed us to then go to the phone centers and extend our cell phone service another two weeks, since Uganda tightly regulates cell phones

traffic in Kampala, not for the feint of heart
We never did understand the new parking system but hopefully the dollar this attendant asked for kept us in the clear, as she keyed unknown things into her device. And we resisted the watermelon man given our recent issues . . . 

It's complicated to live as an immigrant. 

As I read about immigration and America, I have to say, my perspective is different.  We felt humiliated and desperate in that office. We had no power. We tried to do everything right, but sometimes a stamp is misplaced or a date miswritten. It's hard to invest your life in a place you have no actual right to be, dependent upon shifting sands of politics to allow you to stay. It's hard to have to keep up with so many rules, in several countries at once. 

Which brings us back to the rivers of water, the healing, the abundance. This is Holy Week, the week we re-enact the final days of Jesus' life on earth. Jesus was the ultimate alien and stranger, no place to lay his head, not of this world fully. And Jesus looked at those who were ridiculing his soul and piercing his body, and said, Father forgive them, they don't know what they do.  As one would say if one's children were blowing it, even if they were causing a big problem, we wouldn't want them to get punished harshly. As one would say if keeping one's eyes on the limitless river of life flowing up and not blinded by need to elbow others away from one's trickle of survival.

Praying for all of us to grasp truth this week, to jump in the river and drink deeply.