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Saturday, January 25, 2020

How to Change the World

Everyone likes to hate on facebook, but occasionally there are gems. Such as the fact that a couple weeks ago as the movie Just Mercy was released, some friends re-posted this forum in which Tim Keller and Bryan Stevenson talked about justice.  Scott and I listened to it and it so resonated with us, that we played part of it again for a team meeting.  Honestly it's the end of a pretty demanding week and I am going to share the main points Stevenson makes in order to preach to myself.

1. GET PROXIMATE--you cannot stay in safe spaces to bring justice to the world; there is power in proximity. I suppose that's the whole point of being a cross-cultural, cross-the-world, worker. If you have the education, the solid foundation, that gives you more than most, and a heart that is disturbed by the sorrows of disparity and death . . . well then being right smack in the face of it makes you take it way more seriously, and paradoxically also gives you perspective and ideas. This was a proximal week. This morning, amidst a parade of people with needs, was a 13 year old girl and her dad. She has excellent grades from primary school, and a dream of Christ School, and yet after a week of trying to find options, little hope of getting there. And while there are good reasons we feel we cannot take on more responsibility for school fees . . . the truth is that being her neighbour means we know her family, we know their limits, we remember when our daughter was 13 and needed a safe decent school here. Yesterday, I spent a good deal of the day trying to save the life of a 3-month-old infant. If I had not been on the ward, I would not have had the opportunity to think and act. Five or six hours into a ward full of sick kids, I don't always want to be there. It is easy from a distance to think I know how things should work; it is different to be in the epicenter of malaria and sickle cell and overflowing beds and be pushing fluids into a needle in a baby's bone.
This patient wishes I was less proximate

I snapped this in the first minute for a teaching slide, while we were still hooking up the oxygen, but already pushing dextrose and fluid into the intra-osseous.

2. CHANGE THE NARRATIVE--underneath the problems we see there are narratives, stories we tell to explain evident evil and often to distance ourselves, to protect our hearts. For instance, I could tell the story of the 13 year by old focusing on her male relatives' propensity to drink, poor planning, wasted opportunities, their need to take responsibility. Or I could tell it focused on the genetic burden of alcoholism, the amazing spiritual turn-around her dad had at his lowest point when Jesus appeared to him in a dream, the math of just how hard they are working to survive, or the bigger picture of the vast amount of resource (human, mineral, etc) that has been extracted from this continent impacting everything here. I could tell the story of the 3 month old as ignorance, a family that ignored warning signs of serious disease until it was too late implying they were negligent or uninterested, versus the story of how the mother wailed her distress, how her friends tried to console her to have hope as we worked. One way turns people into projects, into less-than, different-from, problems to be solved or helped. The other recognises our common humanity, the glory of each person, the complexity of how we end up with one of us having an MD and the other barely enough to eat.

3. STAY HOPEFUL--Stevenson said, it is easier to be faithful than to be hopeful. This one gets all of us in our line of living-on-the-edge work. We can force ourselves to plod through another knock for help, another day of rounds, another file and patient. But over time, it gets harder and harder to invest, to even get out of bed and face the day, unless we have hope. So many things threaten hopefulness.  For me it is often the sheer volume, the fact that my eyes can see not just this 13 year old girl's life paths but the fact that she represents hundreds, thousands of girls. Not just this 3-month-old baby's impending demise and the lack of a monitor let alone an ICU, but the fact that there are a thousand dysfunctions in the health system and ten thousand ways we could spend the rest of our lives addressing them. It gets tiring when work feels futile. Staying hopeful is a work in progress. It requires community, so that we can absorb others' cheer when ours is lost. It requires vigilance to notice the one miracle sparkle of healing when clouds of failures blur our vision. It requires commitment to look for decade steps of progress, not giving up on the day-to-day disappointments.

I had a moment of hope at this point . . notice two hours in we have some improvement. Things plummeted again soon after this though. Fragile beings make for wild swings of hope.

4. DO UNCOMFORTABLE THINGS--you can't stay comfortable and change the world. We are hard-wired to seek comfort. Even as we make ourselves proximate to difficulty, we still try to mitigate the hardship, to order our worlds to our liking. Needs are disruptive. Grief is painful. Helplessness makes us squirm. Stevenson gives a powerful testimony about how hard it is to work with broken people in broken systems, and we say, amen. SO MUCH does not work, or exhausts us, or requires unexpected extra trips to get tools or calls to find blood or time to listen more carefully. I have other things I'd rather do on Saturday morning than attend to the 5th visitor in a row asking for money. I admit that once the 3-month old yesterday was slightly more stable, I was frustrated that no nurse could be found to put in an ng tube, and just as I thought I was finishing rounds I was back searching for supplies and having to do it all myself. But as Stevenson goes on to say, we find out when we are stressed and pushed and tired and exasperated and poured out that we are not heroes, we are not saints, we too are the broken. And this, paradoxically, is good news because God promises that transformative power comes through our weakness, that in that moment God's love can change the world. As we risk being uncomfortable, we find out what the cross means.

And to summarise hope and world-changing, this week ended with a visit from Dr. Katuramu Tadeo and his wife Carol, daughter Adriel, and a couple of Carol's relatives. Sixteen years ago in January 2004, he and Luke entered CSB together in the S1 class. Katuramu was an orphan from Fort Portal, a bright young boy who found his way to education and God through a Serge-planted church and school there. Luke was the first non-Ugandan at CSB (followed by our other kids) pioneering some pretty cross-cultural education at age 10 going on 11. They bonded over Mater Desmond's math problems, graduated top of the district, diverted in A-level/University/Med School via Ugandan and American systems, but have remained friends and are both 2nd year residents now in Family Medicine (Katuramu) and Orthopedic Surgery (Luke). In the midst of that we had an Ebola epidemic, much sorrow and loss, but new hope through the Kule Leadership fund. These three young doctors all received sponsorship to medical school because of that time:
Doctors Isaiah, Katuramu, and Ammon

Because of proximity, we experienced many years of life with these three, and saw their potential. Because of people who read blogs and care, the narrative of Ebola and tragedy was changed for them, and will change broadly as they work for thousands of others. They are part of the way we stay hopeful, as they form part of our community, and as we take note of the longer arc of God's story in their lives and around us. And they remind us that our discomforts are minimal, that we are broken, that in our weakness God is at work.

Here are a few more fun photos of their 24 hours with us . . . 
I think the joy of our kids keeps us hopeful too. Adriel is a sparkly girl!

It all started in these classrooms . . Michael (in bright shirt) is now a teacher at CSB.

Teacher Desmond with wife Harriet, pupil Dr. Katuramu with wife Carol. My favorite story Desmond told: Luke and Katuramu did not only strive to learn advanced math . . they determined that all the girls in their class would pass math. And they did.

Playing tour guide to the celebrities 

Saying bye today in the taxi park

Another teacher from the early era, Madame Salube.

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