First, some good news. In the world of 2020 we must PAY ATTENTION in order to keep a heart that is still open and hopeful. Friday night, just before midnight, we picked a new teacher up at the airport in Entebbe. A former teacher reminded me we were doing the same thing 18 years ago . . .but honestly it feels remarkable this year. Michaela joined Serge in March in the last week of in-person anything. She graduated virtually with a degree in education. She went to a pre-field orientation that ended in quarantine when multiple participants got sick with coronavirus (not her). She raised support in the biggest economic stress-time of the last decade or more. She got tickets within a month of the airport opening after almost 7 months of completely closed borders. She got the required negative COVID test within 72 hours, the on-line 3-month tourist visa to enter, the forms for health and for the brief landing in Rwanda all filled out. And she made it to the airport in spite of her parents' car having a catastrophic collapse within 2 miles of the Atlanta airport, after a two-hour trip to get there. She made all her connections in spite of a delayed take-off. And when the online trackers showed her last leg as "canceled" last night . . . it wasn't. She cleared the process so fast that she was basically right behind the flight crew, wheeling her tower of suitcases into the full-moon night.
We actually insisted on being here as this year has us on edge that surely something disastrous should occur . . . but no, instead the weekend found us at a peaceful guest house, with two teachers (Lindsey who has finished a year of her 1.5 year commitment came to Entebbe too), pinching ourselves. It worked. Our first post-COVID arrival has occurred. I believe she's the first brand-new Serge worker to join East and Central Africa since COVID. So, take a moment to pay attention with us and be grateful.
And second, some poignant remembrance. This is the weekend around the world when the church in medieval times chose to particularly remember the saints and members who had died. A bit like Memorial Day, but not just for the military, for all of us. I think this is a holiday that should resonate and gain some traction in Africa where ancestors are an important and respected part of life. As Christians, we believe our dead still exist in some form awaiting the final judgement and resurrection. So a day to remember that our community extends beyond the present moment to include those who went before us is healthy and good. For us, that is most achingly our fathers, then so many others, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends. And here in Uganda, our first close colleague and friend Dr. Jonah, who died of Ebola on December 4, 2007.
So when we passed Melen, his widow, on the road unexpectedly Wednesday on our way to Chapel at Christ School, we were sad to have just a brief conversation. We had not seen each other since before the lockdowns. She runs a nursery and primary school here in Nyahuka still, but spends most of her time back in her home area of Kasese. After chapel, we went to Alpha (her school) to greet her more properly. To our amazement, this time she came with her youngest, Jonah, born a few months after he father's death in 2008. We had not seen Jonah in a few years, as he is usually in boarding school or Kasese and not Bundibugyo, and we were usually in Kenya. So we were unprepared to see this nearly-teenage young man looking so much like his father. All the grief of those days, all the struggles we shared, the rare gift of a genuine cross-cultural connection, flooded in. I know I had tears in my eyes just looking at him.
Yes, the space between past and present, between the heavens and the earth, between the souls we love and have lost and the people we love and are with, is thin. And for the unseen cloud of witnesses, we are also grateful.
In the end, both welcoming a new missionary teacher and remembering a friend who died come around to the same thing: paying attention to what is true, so that our hearts bend towards hope.