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Friday, November 29, 2019


This morning, as I crept out of bed in the pre-dawn dark, I saw the little green light of the voltage surge protector where the fridge plugs into the wall, and I thought, wow, we have had electricity most of the week, and it's so helpful. Later I stood in our shower under a stream of warm water, and thought, it's so NICE to have a morning cool enough to want warm water, and the warm water supplied by the solar hot water system Scott fixed a few days ago. Power and water are two things we lived without (well, we had a small solar panel at first to run a couple lights, and collected rain water off the roof) when we moved here in 1993. Bundibugyo has come a long way, but the vagaries of the systems mean that those two luxuries are far from certain and never consistent. So as I was thinking about how much I appreciated them this morning, it led me to ponder the connection between fasting and feasting, between lacking and appreciating.

Scott on the roof fixing the system . . .

Myths and distortions notwithstanding, the concept of a harvest festival as enshrined in our American Thanksgiving holiday is rooted in the hungry time of waiting.  It is rooted in the harshness of survival in uncertain places, the reality of dependence upon others, the humility of living at the mercy of weather and sickness. The more strenuous the labor, the more grateful the celebration. Ask any mom.
This is what the post-labor joy looks like. Teacher Desmond and wife Harriet with son born on Thanksgiving!

Our team celebrated Thanksgiving together on Thursday. Our turkey was far from a butterball, but the fact that we had to work to find and buy one, to butcher and pluck one, to cook and stuff one, made us savor it. Likewise the homemade pies and rolls, or the fresh vegetables arranged from afar. We read Psalm 126, which was the lectionary Psalm for the day as well as being a true Thanksgiving. Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.  There is more than just a contrast there, there is an organic connection. Tears water the crop, labor produces the fruit, longing accentuates the fulfillment.

Giving leads to thanks. And we give, and we give, and we give ourselves away. Paradoxically, that emptying, that neediness, that powerlessness can be the path to greater joy and thanks.

Tuesday celebrations at the neighboring Church of Uganda

This week gave us a glimpse of the thankful part of the giving equation, which is more of a circle. Thanks, giving, giving, thanks. On Tuesday, we witnessed a wedding of a neighbor here, a glimpse of pure joy that was forged in years of poverty, work, survival.

Yes, that's a hemoglobin of 2.5 (less than a quarter of one's blood supply left). Transfused and saved.

A starving five-month-old who weighs less than many newborns

On Wednesday, I found myself alone on the hospital ward, and it took me five and a half hours just to plow through all the patients one by one, but in that grueling process I found a handful for whom a careful physical exam or an insistent push for a lab or a medicine or a procedure led to a life-extending outcome, which made me thankful. That afternoon, in our cell group Bible studies at CSB, the students listed their own thanks and own challenges and I was struck by how concretely connected they were to the marginal assurances of their lives. They were thankful for sicknesses survived, for family members healed, for classes passed, for fees paid. Life is fragile, money is scarce, so coming through a year means a lot.

Lindsey is our newly arrived teacher, helping the parents at RMS this year, for which we all give much THANKS. 

On Thursday, at the team Thanksgiving dinner, I was just struck by the spirit of community and ease, of progress and comfort, that I think came from going through a challenging year together. As we ate pie and played charades, the kids engaged and eager, or went around the circle sharing our thanks, I felt very thankful for the giving of 2019 that brought us here.

CSB staff at the PTA

Parents listening intently

Scott may be a doctor not a school administrator, but he knows how to preach and how to serve, and his steady presence has turned this year around.

Showing the Bibles they all received this year. Scott challenged them to read them every day during break, to improve their English and reading skills, and to feed their hearts.

Boarding school waiting to empty on last day of the year!

Pinching ourselves to say, was that the best parent meeting ever or what happened?

Then Friday, after a hurried morning to see some patients and get to the CSB end-of-term all-day Parent Meeting, we once again had reason to rejoice. The first and second term parent meetings were contentious near disasters, with divisive arguing, poor turnouts, rumors, student discipline issues. This meeting was an amazing feast of thankfulness for the peace that now characterizes the place, for the good performance, for the long list of improvements. We heard the PTA chairman affirm that "this is not a school for any one tribe or race, it is for all the people of Uganda . . . you are here to work with us to expand God's Kingdom." Our District Education Officer, the highest official for all schools in the area, came and spoke and affirmed that CSB is the best in the district and addresses "the head and the heart" with quality education. Where we usually have an hour or two of parents complaining or demanding, we had a brief request about getting more security guards and setting aside some of the need-based scholarships for merit-based. Only two parents stood up to speak, and both said, we are satisfied. It was pretty incredible, but again, if we had not been through this tough year we might not have felt the depth of relief of having such a good day.

(stolen from Julia's instagram) my miracle brother-in-law Steve with Micah, Caleb, my mom Judy, my sister Janie, and Julia

Today my brother-in-law wrote a long post about his year, about his thanks heightened by the experience of nearly dying in August. His time of need was dire, his heart had stopped beating effectively, and he was unconscious and helpless. My sister and niece acted quickly, the excellent and ready EMT services acted quickly, the hospital ICU care was effective, his family, friends, and community came to support, and while all of those things existed prior to his near demise, he can sense the thankfulness for them more deeply now.

So, while 2019 has been a year of struggle, this has been a week of thanks, and I know in my heart that it was the going forth weeping with our seeds for planting that let us come again rejoicing with the sheaves. And that this moment of rejoicing needs to propel us outward again into more giving, more sweat and tears and even some blood. 

Click here to go to this page at Serge
This year you have an opportunity to join this cycle of Thanks and Giving. Serge has devoted #givingtuesday, on Dec 3, this coming week, to support Christ School. Link to this page to sponsor a student and transform a community. We have been giving our literal lives to this idea for a couple of decades but most intensely, this entire year. Scott is at an end-of-year school staff meeting as I write this. Much of the thanksgiving of yesterday was directed to the unseen could of witnesses, the mercy of God through the supporters who subsidize school fees and improve the infrastructure for learning. As an example of how that pays forward, a former missionary here Rick Gray once helped a young man who had struggled his way to University but had no money to live on while in school. That man is now our District Education Officer, a believer who is working to serve children and families in schools all over Bundibugyo. You never know who today's teenager will become in ten or twenty years, and the impact of a place like Christ School reverberates through the far reaches of our roads and the far stretch of our years.

Giving thanks for those who give, thanking God in the words of Psalm 126: The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad.

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