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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Of guilt and hurt and forgiving

Being guilty is very uncomfortable I’ve been reminded.  Especially as a missionary, hurting a person to whom we should be ministering.  I suppose it happens constantly, there is just rarely anyone able to come and confront.  

This morning a young man (who is now probably about 30) whom we employed many years ago came to weep in our kitubbi.  Since we let him go, he had tried his hand in several businesses (with our help) and agriculture (with our help).  But he has been unable to manage his family and finances the way he hoped without a steady mission job, and so had high hopes of being employed by one of the influx of new foreigners this year.  When that did not happen, he concluded that we were to blame.  One of the people who declined to hire him gave him a very blunt assessment of his problem of dependency, which he interpreted as coming straight from my mouth.  After more than a decade of relationship this hurt his feelings terribly.

The truth is, he stopped working for us when everyone scattered after the ADF invaded.  But the truth also is that we did not rehire him when he reappeared much later, rather relieved to not have a “high maintenance” person in the middle of our family and life 6 days a week, and glad for the opportunity to have pared down the number of people around our house.  And the truth is that we have not encouraged others to hire him, more concerned to “protect” our colleagues from someone with a lot of problems (who got passed on to us by people who preceded us), instead of being concerned about this man as a human being who can learn and change and grow and get a second chance.

So I was uncomfortable coming face to face with the dehumanizing impact of labeling a person and passing that label on, then having it come back to bite me unexpectedly.  After he poured out his anger and disappointment to Scott in the morning, I went on my bike winding through footpaths until I reached his neat little compound.  We sat on a bench in front of the house, leaning against the earthen wall and watching children play in the swept dust.  Part of God’s mercy to reveal my heart, to remind me that the person who asks for help too many times is still a person.  Some days one longs for a washing machine who does not have four children and a pregnant wife and a sick father, or for a vacuum cleaner that does not want to borrow money so it can sleep under a leakless roof.  

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Of neighbors, age, names, and hope

We entertained our neighbors last night, the third night in the last week we’ve had neighbors or friends over for Christmas, part of the fun and the challenge of living out the holidays here. In spite of many years of this, cross-cultural entertaining remains more challenging than the comfortable camaraderie of team mates, the uncertainty in the little things. For some we introduce elements of our own culture (mashed potatoes instead of matoke); for others we sense it is more loving to stick with theirs. Last night I knelt in front of our guests pouring water from a pitcher over their outstretched hands for washing, letting it drip into a basin, the normal way of hand-washing before eating here, in spite of the fact that we have a sink in the kitchen. Most of their conversation centered on our Christmas tree: not the ornaments so much as the fact that I had draped a beautiful local kikoya cloth around the bottom to conceal the bucket that held it up. Yes, Jennifer even dresses trees they shook their heads in wonder, finding my eccentricity entertaining. These neighbors have been part of our lives since we moved here. John Mukiddi is aging, suffering from hypertension and heart failure and arthritis. We live about 30 yards apart but Scott drove our truck to pick him up since he could not walk that far with his hobble and crutch and breathlessness. He’s a patriarch of the community in many ways, respected but moving to the sidelines, his sons gaining prominence. The picture is not all good. One son has taken a path that brings his father (and us) grief, the path of the “big man” here, where education and power lead to drinking, abuse, broken marriage. The second just moved back home after leaving the rebel movement that plagued us for so many years, a bright and ambitious young man who also sought success in the wrong places, yet now speaks of peace and forgiveness as he takes advantage of the amnesty. This is Africa where yesterday’s enemies can be reconciled. His charming young daughter thanked me for the food and played basketball with our kids, a reminder that the vague “rebel” menace has a human dimension. A third son is one of the students we sponsor, Luke’s age-mate and Caleb’s classmate now. He used to toddle around the mango tree playing trucks in the sand with our boys; now he’s a muscular teenager out kicking the soccer ball with them. We pray that he will have the grace to take a different path than his brothers through life. John and his older wife Yodesi remind me of my parents in some ways: their names are the African equivalents which is part of God’s sense of humor, their ages similar, their generosity, and their loyalty to me a small reflection of my parents’. I’m grateful for that, and dread the grief of their mortality.

In spite of seeing the growing frailty of my neighbors, age is a good thing in Africa. The holidays are actually called “bhilo bhikulu”, days of importance. But the root of the word for high or important or honored is “old”. What a contrast to our American culture of youth.

Names are NOT an important thing in Africa. This morning I admitted Simeo, a four-year-old with dayglo yellow eyes, a protuberant belly, and sticky limbs. He was brought by his paternal grandmother: it seems that her son (the child’s father) joined the army, so the child’s mother remarried. After a couple of years her new husband must have told her to return the other man’s child to his family, so the mother one month ago appeared at this grandmother’s house and dropped off Simeo. The grandmother knew nothing of his past history but as he became more and more jaundiced and ill she decided to bring him to my home today, and we brought him to the hospital. As I wrote up an admission paper I asked her his name. She looked flustered. She had no idea. I wanted to ask him his name but he was not speaking to me, in terror. So in her bag we finally found a little blue immunization card that had “Simeo” written on it. So Simeo it is. Diagnosis pending—could be sickle cell, or AIDS, or TB, or chronic hepatitis. I can barely imagine being 4, abandoned by both parents, and hospitalized in the care of a grandmother/stranger who does not know my name.

Lastly, a glimpse of HOPE. Hope is the name of a new ward in Kampala’s best hospital. An Irish missionary who survived the turbulent 80’s in Uganda then survived cancer back at home (he’s written his story in the book The Man with the Key Is Not Here) decided to come back to Uganda and start a high quality hospital in the capital city. The International Hospital is where Caleb had his appendectomy and Julia her broken arm set under anesthesia. This month we were there to get some immunizations for the kids and I noticed publicity for the new “Hope Ward”, an effort to get local business to sponsor care for the poorest patients. Yesterday I finally got through to the doctor in charge and received permission to transfer Asimati, an 8 year old girl who came with a limp but turned out to be twisted in pain from a grossly enlarged kidney. Praying she will receive expert care and surgery possibly from a urologist. The possibility gives me hope!

Rather disconnected thoughts today, but that’s how we’re spending our Christmas week. Boys pounding the soccer ball in the yard with our kids, reading the books they got for Christmas, seeing patients, spending time with neighbors, trying to advocate for the needy where we can, trying to enjoy our little place in the world and the Kingdom here in Bundibugyo.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas, swaddled and fed

This year we have meditated on the signs of Christmas, particularly the ones the angels gave: you will find him, wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger. Here in Bundiubygo, clothes and meat are the Christmas essentials. Everyone we know has scraped together some spiffy clothes and some money for meat to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year. Bloody carcasses of cows hung in the market yesterday or lay on banana leaves by the roadside for hacking off purchasable chunks. The tailors have been working around the clock, stitching kitengis into creative outfits. And I’ve been right in the middle of it—this year for the first time I had clothes made for our family too out of local fabric. I had always resisted the superficial emphasis on clothing . . . But this year I just wanted to participate. And though money for meat is not a big worry for me, the energy, plans, effort that have to go into gathering ingredients and assembling every holiday treat for the family and team from scratch has been a challenge.

Into this frenzy and effort Jesus comes naked, wrapped in strips of cloth. Into this hunger Jesus comes lying in a feed box, his body our food.

We are grateful to be here, caroling in the dusk around our neighbors’ dusty compounds, exchanging the Christmas greeting “Webale Kwiko” (thanks for making it) with people who are never quite sure they’ll survive to another year, taking small gifts of food to the elderly men and women whose homes abut ours and enjoying their happiness, reading the Luke story by candlelight right down in the mucky manger of our real cow, taking communion in the Christmas church service with people whom we’ve known and loved for more than a decade. But this year I miss my family, too, perhaps knowing they are having Christmas without my Dad for the first time, perhaps being more and more in the role of “mom” for a younger team. So as I bustle through the holiday I need to be reminded as well: Jesus is real, and here with us.

Praying that our hearts and yours grasp the essentials this Christmas, the One whose coming meets all our needs, the One who wraps His life around us, who sustains us with His nourishing self.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Celebrating Bundibugyo Style

It’s snowing on the equator—on the Rwenzori peaks, and down here in the tropical stew of our house, where about a hundred snow-flakes dangle on fishing line from the ceiling. If you’re Norwegian, living in Africa is no impediment to a traditional white dinner complete with lefsa and rice pudding and Scandinavian almond cookies. Our team of 27 celebrated together tonight, by candlelight, feasting, reading lessons and listening to carols. The men had formed a seasonal choral group to lead us in worship. Michael put together a series of songs and scriptures and meditations taking in the sweep of creation, incarnation, and heavenly glory. And we ended the night with a dance party: from the Elf Boogie to Joy to the World in a rap beat, exuberant dancing together, a foretaste of the REAL PARTY to come. If you haven’t danced to Christmas carols with Jack (who dances like someone who is growing up in Africa) or Gaby (who wears a ballet leotard to get in the mood), then you haven’t danced.

It isn’t all fun and games, there are still needy people all around us, friends we care about and strangers we pity. There is still the reality of desperation from those scraping together their money for clothes and meat on Christmas. There is still the fact that it takes a lot of work to plan and bake and clean and celebrate with no conveniences, stores, washing machines, vacuum cleaners.

But for a night the community of fellowship, the looking towards Heaven, lifted us out of all the muck of Bundibugyo. For that we are grateful.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Partying with Pat and Jesus

If Jesus threw a Birthday Party for himself, I’m sure he’d have it in the AIDS clinic of Nyahuka Health Center. Pat with help from the team managed to transform the clinic today with some colorful folding foil decorations and a Christmas cloth, cokes, music, cinnamon rolls and muffins. There was something surreal about scrutinizing rashes and palpating spleens while carols blared from her boom box. Jesus says that if you want to visit or feed or clothe Him, then look for the Least of These. Pray for our team to remember that as desperate people and illness do not take a holiday. Maria’s orphaned infant Nightie was re-admitted yesterday on death’s doorstep, ashen and limp with dehydration. But today she’s revived on therapy. I am often reminded of the title of a good friends’ book (Maria Garriott) about ministry in the inner city: A Thousand Resurrections. Nightie, for one. Rascally active toddlers gaining the energy and bulk of ARV’s. Today Scott called me into the ultrasound room to witness the discovery of triplets in a bulging abdomen. The mom gasped at the news, but was happy. The last set to be born around here came yesterday for check-ups, all thriving at 2.9 kg (which means they’ve each nearly tripled!!). Little victories, repeated resurrections, glimpses of hope.

Christmas, the Bible’s Christmas, is not a mellow story. Simeon warns the new parents: this child will be spoken against, his destiny will be for the rise but also the fall of many, a sword will pierce your own soul. Soon innocent babies perish in a full-scale slaughter and the behind-the-scenes battle is seen in Revelation 12. Christmas is a story of conflict. When Infinity Incarnates, evil reacts with wrath. The fleshing out of God’s presence disturbs the forces of the universe.

Somehow today’s party enfolds epic conflict with baked goods and songs. Babies’ lives are at stake. The people of the Kingdom are struggling to save them. It’s a lot of work to listen to and consider and prescribe wisely for 71 patients, let alone to make sure they all get a treat and a coke. Most won’t see the reality of what is happening but just be satisfied with sweets, but we know that somehow Christmas makes it all fit together, the resurrected hopes of one family and the ultimate freedom from death’s destructive power. Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Kabasunguzi, mourning and dancing

Kabasunguzi went home. Well, not to the only real home she can have, which I am painfully aware is Heaven. But today I took her from the hospital so that she and her mother could spend Christmas with her nearby uncle. She has been hospitalized since July. My best guess on her diagnosis is cerebral schistosomiasis, a parasite from the lake area where she used to live in the northern part of our district, a rare complication. She came to us devastated, wasted, in pain, barely alive, 12 years old and about 25 pounds. When she developed convulsions in spite of treatment we sent her for a stay at a Christian neurosurgical hospital on the other side of the country (funded by a supporter). They sent her to the national referral hospital in the capital where she languished for over a month, being seen by a doctor only a handful of times in those weeks. When her mother pleaded with us that they were both going to die there, we brought her back. She had failing vision when she left, she returned completely blind, paralyzed, with spastic contractures of her left arm and a pressure sore from being bedridden and malnourished. Over the last few months with wound care and good nutrition we’ve managed to heal her skin and put about ten pounds on her frame. Her neurologic deterioration seems to have stabilized at least. Today we carried her to the car and drove her over the bumpy road, wincing, to a small earth-colored house surrounded by cocoa trees.

The dancing? Not much. Her mother has become a competent nurse, caring well for her daughter, thankful, hopeful. A couple of weeks ago I bought Kabu a cassette player/radio for her birthday, hoping to provide some auditory stimulation in her dark world. Her mom danced then with happiness.

The mourning? Today when it was time to decide to go, I asked Kabasunguzi if she wanted to leave. No, she replied. Why not? I was surprised. She held my hand and explained that she was not yet healed. My heart just broke, I had to go and cry. This frail little blind girl confined to her bed, still hoping to see and walk.

I wish for a miracle, for blind Kabusunguzi to see the purple cocoa and green/grey leaves outside her window, for this lame girl to get up and dance right here on this dusty planet. Jesus announced his Kingdom would be full of this kind of celebration—I want to be there to see it happen. Did we really do her any favors by helping her remain earth-bound this long half-year? The veil obscures Heavenly reality today, and we grope forward by faith.

Monday, December 18, 2006

How Christmas made us Criminals

It started off innocently enough. Even though it is a typical mid-December 90 plus degrees and we are 8 hours from the nearest mall, we still feel the urge for some few Christmas essentials: baking cookies, lighting candles, listening to carols. And a tree, a live, fresh-cut pine-type of tree, with green needles. Last year we noticed the appearance of what would have been in the USA a Christmas Tree farm, but in Uganda is a National Foresty Authority (N-F-A) timber plantation. We stopped at the office (closed), found some friendly employees, asked for permission to take one tree. They readily prepared to dig up a seedling, when we indicated our desire for a five-foot maturing tree. They were skeptical. Scott started to hack it down with a panga. They were incredulous. They tried to explain to us that the tree would not live if we took it without roots . . . We tried to explain the concept of a Christmas tree . . . In the end we left with a reasonable tree and gave them a tip and everyone was happy.

So this year we went back for round two. Same office. Closed again. Same employees chatting outside on the steps. This time they understood us, greeted us like long lost friends, hopped onto the truck to take us to an appropriate section of forest. On the way they waved to a puzzled looking man whom we took to be the driver of a stalled truck.

We were dead wrong. We had just chopped our little tree down and were wrapping it up to put on top of our loaded truck, when that man and a colleague zoomed up behind us in an official N-F-A truck, jumped out, and started yelling. We were stealing a tree, we were defrauding the country, we were ruining the environment, we were promoting corruption. On and on they went. Over the years we have learned that the best reaction in this situation of extreme anger and power posturing is to be humble, and we were feeling pretty guilty anyway. We sat on the ground. We apologized. We appealed. They talked of huge sums of money in fines. They talked of the police station. They talked of the newspapers. They talked of court. We patiently begged forgiveness and explained our story. Jack was in the car crying. Everyone else was certain that Christmas had just been ruined.

But over time they ran out of steam. They started asking us about who we were, what we did. They slowly warmed up to us (no doubt divine intervention!). Since we had actually gone to the office to begin with and since we were dealing with actual employees of the foresty authority, they started to take the view that we were simply misguided and not actual thieves. The tree was loaded into their truck and we all drove to their office together. The door was unlocked, we sat down, apologized again, and signed the official guest book. Under “reason for visit” Scott wrote “to admire your beautiful forest and seek a Christmas Tree.” At which point the man in charge decided that it would be a legitimate public relations gesture to donate a tree to the crazy bazungu. So the tree was transferred to our truck, we drove away with smiles and waves to our new friends.

So a mere hour of suffering the anxiety of not knowing if we were about to land in jail or fined or disgraced . . . was the price we paid, but we now have a nice little tree supporting a strand of lights and as many ornaments as we could manage. And I suppose Christmas is important because we are all criminals on some level. So this year we’ll look at our tree and be thankful we were mercifully let off the small hook of the Ugandan National Foresty Authority, and the big hook of all we deserve from God. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Postcards from the edge....

photos to accompany the previous promised..

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Safari Adventures: Postcards in words (pics to follow)

Postcard 1: MUD, TRUCKS, MOUNTAIN ROCK WALL ON ONE SIDE AND STEEP RAVINE ON THE OTHER. Our Safari Adventure almost ended within the first hour when we met vehicles which had turned back from the mountain pass that our road follows, telling us that the road was completely blocked by 15 trucks stuck in the mud. There is only one road. Pretty discouraging when you've spent weeks anticipating the break, spent hours loading the truck and closing up the house and tying up work's loose ends . . . We decided to press on and investigate for ourselves. Just before we reached the trouble spot we began to meet some trucks coming our way, and our hopes rose. Indeed God opened the road for us in the nick of time. We sloshed through knee deep ruts of mud and narrowly scraped between the remaining handful of trucks and the treacherous drop-offs . . . But we made it! Postcard 2: SUNSET ON THE SAVANNAH, 5 TENTS, CHRSTMAS TABLE CLOTHS OVER TRUNKS, GRILLED CHICKEN AND VEGETABLES, 12 HAPPY CAMPERS Due to the unseasonable rain and terrible roads, we turned back from our original plan to camp in Ishasha (southern Queen Elizabeth National Park) and went back to our favorite place, campsite 2. A friend had assured us that villagers had poisoned almost all the lions in the area and it was a crisis to be sure some survived . . So we decided it was safer than usual to camp out in the park. Since we had the Pierce family, Scott Ickes, and Carol Logan on their first-ever game park campout, we wanted to be SAFE. This site sits on a ridge above the Kazinga Channel, with nothing but acacia bush, cactus, and wild animals for miles in any direction. As the sun set we sat around our campfire listening to the snorts of hippos down by the water and the trill of nightjars, watching the stars come out in the spectacular spread one can only see on the equator far from any lights, reading aloud "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." Bliss. Postcard 3: SAME SETTING, 5am, MOONLIGHT and FIRELIGHT and CAMPERS NOT VISIBLE, SHAKING IN THEIR TENTS Well, as soon as the sun set we began to suspect that our lion-poisoning tip was a bit off. We heard one roar in the distance, and another answer from a different direction, all far off. Hmmm. We kept the fire going. At 5 am we were all awakened by a thunderous roar...the authoritative and indisputable call of a male lion. Our book said it can be heard for five miles. How far away...well we knew it was closer than five miles. We laid low. At 6am we decided it was close enough to dawn to all pile in the truck and see what we could see, since we certainly weren't sleeping. We pulled out of our campsite road and turned onto the game track and there he lay, the biggest male lion, brown fury mane, stretched completely across the road. It was about 150 yards from our tents. He paid us no attention, simply lay in the glare of our headlights for a while, then stood up majestically to stretch and saunter off into the bush. Wow. Postcard 4: WALKING THROUGH A GAME-FILLED VALLEY IN THE EVENING WHILE ZEBRAS GRAZE AND WARTHOGS SCURRY From QENP we moved on to the more peaceful Lake Mburo Park: no lions, lots of impala and other graceful herbivores. Again we camped by a lake far from any humans. The first evening a game ranger (armed) took us on a walking safari--how amazing to follow the animal trails and be ground-level with the game. On the way we startled a whole herd of impala and laughed at the way they sprang straight up into the air in their alarmed fleeing. We caught glimpses of the elusive eland, shy bushbuck, and the scurrying dwarf mongoose. POSTCARD 5: THE BIG RED MYHRE TRUCK AND THE SOLID PIERCE VAN BUSHWACKING THROUGH THORNY FOREST LOOKING FOR A ROAD. As we left Lake Mburo Park, we wanted to take a wide circuit that traverses the park, picnic at a kopje (rochy outcrop) on the far side, and then hit the road to Kampala. So for a couple of hours we sat on the roof racks, spotting game, enjoying the breeze, following the track. But then the track seemed to end . . . We scrambled down, searched the dust for tire tracks in every direction. After a couple of false leads we determined that whoever's tracks we were following did the same thing we did and turned back. Very sad when you're hours into a circuit and then have to retrace your steps, it's very hot, limited drinking water, tired campers . . . As we were returning we caught sight of two spectacular crested cranes. Scott stopped the truck to take a photo. As he was focusing I looked beyond them . . . There was the track!!! It had made a sharp U turn in a grassy area and we had missed it the first time. So we resumed our journey, enjoyed out picnic, and survived! We are very grateful for the memorable trip, refreshing glimpses of wild beauty, fellowship of team mates, late night campfire talks and sticky marshmellows.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Of travels and Christmas

Reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth—there’s a lot of travel involved in chapter 2 for the wise men, for Mary and Joseph, for the fleeing family.  As I studied it today with my students I was stunned to realize for the first time:  Jesus went to Africa.  Most of his life was centered parochially, traveling the rural villages of Palestine.  But as a toddler he and his family fled possible death by becoming refugees in Egypt.  When reading that with 8 young men who struggle to see value in their poor and forgotten district . . . It was powerful to realize that this continent is the only one outside of Israel where God-in-the-flesh put down his human feet.   Yet another reason to spend Christmas in Africa.  

We are not fleeing this year, though we have entered into that aspect of the Christmas experience before.  But we are headed out for a week of travel, living in tents for half that time, reveling in the “dangerous beauty” of wildlife and open savannah in southwest Uganda.  As we organize for survival and wonder about the passability of the road, perhaps we’ll enter into the experience of Mary and Joseph in some small way.  As we sleep under the stars perhaps we’ll remember the shepherds, and listen for angels.  But mostly we hope to have rest, fellowship, retreat, perspective, memorable moments, and some good food.  If you read here often be patient with the lack of new posts for the next week.  

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Maria, "little one of God"

Maria Kabaruhanga is an 18 year old whose life has been teetering on the balance for the last 10 days. Like her namesake in the Bible she was pregnant with her first child and far from home, which in this case is Congo, with nowhere to stay and little to live on. She arrived at Nyahuka Health Center, which is about as clean as a first century stable, to deliver her baby. After long hours of labor the midwives noted that the baby’s heart beat was not stable and alerted Dr. Jonah, who decided to do a C section to save the life of the child. Pamela happened to be in the right place at the right time and was invited to observe. The midwives labored for half an hour or more to stimulate and revive the baby while Dr. Jonah attended to the mother. That was Sunday a week ago. That Monday the baby’s grandmother sat waiting for me, hoping for baby formula to sustain the child because the mother was not doing well post-operatively. I asked the baby’s name, which threw the grandmother into confusion. She looked around helplessly, upon which cue the lady sitting next to her in line (who was no relation and had never even seen her before) suggested rather firmly “Nightie”. Lots of girls get named this in reference to being born at night (which on the equator is about a 50-50 likelihood year round). This baby, however, I knew was delivered in broad daylight because I’d heard the story from Pamela. No matter, no one listened to my logic, once the name Nightie was suggested, Nightie it was. Over the next several days of antibiotics and milk Nightie began to improve. Maria, however, slipped further and further from life. By Wednesday she was in terrible condition, breathing rapidly, unconscious, full of pus. While we were at the airstrip dealing with the plane-stuck-in-the-mud, Scott got an emergency call to come and attend to her since he had agreed to cover Jonah’s patients. Jonah however was unable to fly out so he borrowed Michael’s motorcycle to zip back to the hospital and took Maria back into the operating room to re-open her wounds and clean out the infections. We feel pretty sure she would have died that evening if the plane had not been delayed. Over the weekend Scott kept her alive with antibiotics and blood transfusions. He came home every day shaking his head that even in an ICU he was not sure she could live, but in Nyahuka Health Center what were her chances? Now she’s propped up in bed, awake, still in pain and still very ill. I saw her this morning and had to walk out before I cried. Ten days ago she was a robust teenager; now she is gaunt, with bony cheeks and drooping breasts, drained of vitality, clinging on weakly to life. Her parents seem to be trying but barely manage to keep her clean. They often lay Nightie on the bed between her mother’s feet. I have not seen Maria hold the child, I doubt she could even manage to lift her arms yet. I want to have hope for her. If she dies, we will continue to supply Nightie with as much milk as we can manage to get, but it won’t be easy. Without a breast-feeding mother her chances of survival are greatly diminished. I suppose it is the way Maria’s cheeks have melted away leaving only her large eyes, or perhaps it is her name, or the knowledge of how much struggle has been put into her survival by Jonah, the midwives, Scott. The book I’m reading says that sadness is the purest response to evil. Not anger this time, only the pure sadness of watching a young teenage mother whose life has been sapped for that of her child. Watching her parents who are in a foreign place try to cope with her care and that of their new grandchild. Sadness that the risk and struggle of Mary of Nazareth has not yet erased the risk and struggle of Maria of Congo. NOTE on Wednesday: I sent this post last night (Tuesday). This morning as I was seeing patients I heard the characteristic death wail emerge from the female ward, not very loud or intense, only one woman crying. Maria died at about 9:30 this morning, only her mother was there to mourn. We hired a truck to help get her body to the border. Maria died giving life to her child; in a reversal Jesus was born to die to give life to his mother and all other laboring women. It is a bleak and rainy day again here and the promise of no more tears seems far off.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Read a quote today from a Paul Miller book, something along these lines:  love is the work we do along our journey, and faith is what keeps us on the road.  But hope is the end of the journey, the destination.  It came to mind again when another missionary commented that she enjoyed working with girls at Christ School, it gave her hope.  And then later walking back home a bright rainbow reached down from the clouds behind our house.  Hope.

We need glimpses of the behind-the-veil rainbow reality as we walk through this damp and (at times) dark valley.  God provided some today.  A 9 month old healed from meningitis:  when I slipped the needle into his spine ten days ago and pus dripped out I doubted he would make it.  But we had a few vials of a good antibiotic ceftriaxone.  His gram stain showed an organism that was treatable, and now ten days later he looks fine and is on the way home, parents gratefully aware of their blessing.  I also sent home a little boy who was admitted about an hour after Innocent last week—both had sickle cell disease, both had hemoglobin 3.3, both had one foot over the threshold into the next world.  But Innocent died and John lived, fragile, weak, multiple blood transfusions later, I found him this morning standing by his bed with a bright pink hooded ski jacket on.  Again his mother realized all too graphically, watching the grief of Innocent’s family, the narrow escape of her child.  Next to him another little girl had emerged from life-threatening anemia and was giggling.  Across the aisle a six-year-old revived by milk and porridge, his pregnant mother widowed and then divorced since he was born, on her own, not managing to keep him from the edema of slow protein-deficient starvation.  But a week of food had turned him around, again, maybe not for the last time.  He told me how much he likes the milk.  Hope marches on, God saying that the lives for which we struggle are precious and that some skirmishes will be won, then more will be won, until we reach the end of the journey.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Countdown to Christmas

22 The number of days until Christmas, though we reach the day 8 hours earlier here than in America (another perk of living in Africa). 10,000 The number of people we bumped shoulders with in the market yesterday, at least! Julia and I went to buy some fabric, kitengis with colorful prints. I’m not a shopper so unlike most of our team I avoid market day. As we walked into the pre-holiday throngs I found it at first disorienting—cheap frilly dresses made in China wrapped in plastic next to brown odorous dried fish spread on low reed tables; blaring music from over-taxed amplifiers; piles of used clothes being picked through by shrewd shoppers next to roasted corn or slimy orange soda bottles refilled with palm oil; everywhere people jostling, moving, surging, thronging. But I found myself after a few minutes absorbing the holiday mood. After months of rain there was sun in the sky, with a warm dry-ish breeze bringing hope of an end to the mud. People were greeting and laughing, inspecting goods. I found a student I knew mulling over high heeled sandals that looked like they would only last a few hours . . . And shared in her attraction to their shiny newness. The bright fabrics waving from poles in the breeze all appealed to me, it was hard to choose. When we stopped to talk to a tailor at his foot-trundled sewing machine he asked my name, then jumped up to shake my hand when he realized I was “Doctor Jennifer” who had helped some child of his family’s recently, which was nice. I smiled to myself walking home, to realize how much more the heat and crowd and smell of this market put me in the “Christmas” mood than a mall in America would after all these years of sharing the season in Uganda. 53 The number of donuts we made for a team breakfast meeting yesterday, with coffee and tea, to discuss missions in Sudan and pray for that country with our visiting field director Robert Carr. 2,500 The number of children in a population of 7.5 million in Southern Sudan who complete primary school each year. 1% The percentage of girls in Southern Sudan who complete primary school. Yes, there are places even needier than Bundibugyo and we are sensing God’s growing plan to use our team to launch new missionaries off to Sudan. 90 About the number of minutes it would take our one little strand of Christmas lights twined in greenery to drain our anemic batteries in this time of clouds. In spite of that fact we unpacked decorations and have the carols blaring. 10,000 The number of shillings someone paid at the church auction today for a Kwejuna Project T-shirt Scott donated. It’s only about 7 dollars . . . But equivalent to last week’s total announced offering, so a pretty big deal. Mostly people bring little piles of mangos or egglplants or sticks of sugar cane. When the auctioneer pulled the T shirt, spiffy white cotton with a bright logo, out of the bag the crowd went wild. I don’t think anything has ever generated that kind of money before! The pastor’s salary is the benefit, and a business man down the road has a new shirt. 31 The number of team and visitors arriving in a few hours to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent at our house. We’ll light candles and read Scripture and sing carols and prepare our hearts. The words of the angels will echo in our minds: fear not.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

now available...

Our December (Christmas) Prayer Letter --in living color--is now available for downloading (see the link on the right: "Downloadable Prayer Letters"....

The theme: cloth-- its place in Redemptive History (curious?)

The image above--a photograph of one of the Congolese cloths we are giving away to mothers who deliver in Bundibugyo health units.

One more bonus...another Christmas poem from Jennifer.

Friday, December 01, 2006

On goodbyes and friendships

Today was the last day of the year for Christ School, the day when students pack their trunks and bags, receive their report cards, and make their way out the gate.  An unexpected blessing:  Luke’s best friend in his class made a special trip up to our house early this morning to say goodbye.  He wrote Luke a letter and thanked him for his friendship.  The two of them are the top students in the class in most subjects.  I can’t even begin to explain what a gift it is for Luke to have such a solid friendship at school, someone who stands out among his many acquaintances.  What a rarity for one of us as an American missionary to connect cross-culturally in a genuine manner.  So in the midst of a day that seemed to be full of problems and issues and conflicts and discouragements, a glimpse of mercy, a reminder of the gifts of a God who cares for details.    I’m really grateful.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You Know It's Rainy Season When . . . Part 2

You know it’s rainy season when airplanes get stuck in the mud. Yes, just when you may have thought that a flight would free you from the mire, well, you would have thought wrong. Today Kim’s mother Ann and friend Michelle arrived by MAF. First they had several hours of delay in Entebbe due to a problem with the fuel injector. Frustrating at the end of a LONG trip from Seattle WA but preferable to the alternative of flying without fixing the mechanical issue. We thought all was well when they finally sailed into a clearish sky (a whole day without precipitation today, very unusual) and landed on our grass airstrip. At least is used to be grass. Half-way down the one kilometer strip, the taxiing Cesna slipped, turned, and stopped. A ton of airplane rests on three small retractable wheels, and those wheels were half-way submerged in mud. The plane was not moving any further. It is surprisingly difficult to push and airplane—the machine is delicate in some ways, and the points of contact limited. Many attempts ensued, with some men sitting on the tail to lift the nose, others pushing and straining on the wheel struts or nose, all of us getting dirtier and dirtier in the mud, and our pilot looking more and more resigned to disaster. It took our hero the engineer Josh and our hero the leader Scott to devise and carry out a plan with boards, pivoting, and a dozen helpers. After about two hours of hard work they got the plane moved to firmer ground. But by that time it was too late for our pilot Laura to lift off back to Entebbe. So she’s grounded here, having to arrange last minute baby sitting for her two-year-old daughter in Kampala because her husband is in the UK with their 3-year-old son who needs surgery. Today was their wedding anniversary . .. And the only other time Laura has been stranded here it was her daughter’s birthday. She’s a brave lady but perhaps will stop flying to Bundibugyo on important dates. An armed local guard is watching over the plane tonight. And we’re praying for NO RAIN until tomorrow. All in all a long and trying day, and the rain is not yet letting up.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Death, unadorned

Innocent died this morning.  She was six years old.  She died of sickle cell disease and anemia and poverty and family stress and too little too late.  

Her father Kapu does gardening work for the Massos, as he has for a decade.  They have watched him grow from his early teens into his mid twenties.  They have watched him become the father of three children, Innocent being the oldest.  The second died on Christmas Day two years ago.  The third is a 4 month old baby.  Kapu’s mother died on Friday.  Karen went to the burial that day and held Innocent on her lap through the whole event, a bright and eager six-year-old girl whom no one expected to be close to death herself.  We have possibly the highest prevalence of sickle cell disease in the world here in Bundibugyo, and its victims are too numerous to count.  Kapu and his wife had done a good job of steering Innocent through many crises, but I think the events of a family death and burial over the weekend probably threw them into disarray, and no one noted the signs of her impending danger.

I found her this morning having just arrived at the hospital.  The alert staff immediately sent her for a check of her hemoglobin and the lab result was 3.3 gm/dl, a value incompatible with life.  In sickle cell disease a child can literally bleed to death internally, red blood cells melting, clogging the spleen, disappearing.  She was already hooked up to a transfusion when I entered the ward.  I immediately heard her labored breathing, saw her lying unconscious on a mattress on the floor, supported by a relative, clinging to life by the merest thread.  In spite of mobilizing the nursing staff to give her antibiotics and antimalarials in addition to the blood, she died within the hour.  I’ve rarely heard a cry more despairing than this mother’s.  Perhaps being near the anniversary of her other child’s death, being left with only one of the three, perhaps she had allowed herself such hope that the treatment would work, I don’t know, but she fell apart.  

By afternoon the clan had dug another grave by Kapu’s mother.  Most were still at the home observing the four day period of mourning.  I arrived just after the coffin, mostly to support Karen whom I knew cared deeply for the family.  She sat outside weeping and I joined her, like the other women, sitting on papery dry banana leaves with our legs stretched in front of us, wet sand scratching my legs, leaning against the house.  Many of the friends we’ve made over the years were there, the diverse network of relationships that run through the community.  When one of Kapu’s age-mates, Kawa Vincent, who is now a primary school teacher but also used to be a little boy hanging around our homes, gave the requisite “report” on Innocent’s life, he got choked up.  Seeing this young man struggle to speak moved many of the women (including us) to tears afresh.  The hardest part was when the little cloth-covered coffin was lowered into the fresh muddy hole, and the men began to push the excavated dirt back in.  Loud, thunking splats as the finality of the act echoed.  At that point Kapu broke out in heart-rending cries (not usually seen from the men at these events) and that released Karen’s grief too, so that like the other mourners she just had to sit on the muddy ground and sob.

Death in Bundibugyo is death unadorned.  We sang hymns, but while sitting in the dirt, with food scraps covered with flies lying nearby, the hymns giving counterpoint to the wailing of the closest relatives cradling the body throughout the ceremony.  There is no illusion that death is a sanitary medical process—here it is sorrow, and filth, and gasping weakness, and empty hearts.  Sitting on that ground I could only remember that some of the other patients at the hospital, as soon as she died, did a better job of comforting than I did.  They surrounded the mother and said “she’s with Jesus now.”  The more bleak the death the more important the hope of Heaven becomes.  

You know it's rainy season when....

...your cow has to stand in her water trough to avoid the plague of biting flies ...and there are mushrooms growing in your shower stall. Yuck.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Two Worlds

Baby crying,
Drizzling rain.
People dying
Sorrow and pain.

Cold, clear mountain peak
Exotic monkeys so shy
Colorful birds to seek
Beautiful blue sky.

A world of contrast
So different yet the same
Two worlds in one
Beauty and pain.

Luke Myhre (age 13)

(Luke wrote this poem the day he finished exams, it came to him riding home in the mud.  I think the contrast between the beauty of Africa and its pain is always before us, and our kids.  Thought you might like a more serious poem, and the perspective of another member of the family.  Jennifer)

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Twas the Thanksgiving Season of 2006 When the Bundibugyo Team found themselves in a fix. Clouds hung o’re their valley, rain ru-ined their fun, In vain they waited for glimpses of sun. No power, no road, no dry clothes, no food: The incessant drizzle frazzled their mood. Mud coated their legs, frogs thrived in their shoes, Fungus, boils and flies plagued them with the blues. When up on the calendar there arose a celebration Devoted to thanks, in spite of the situation. To their kitchens they flew to sift, stir, and dash, Creating dishes worthy of a Thanksgiving bash. Their leader Doctor Scott, with his usual skill Slaughtered and plucked a tur-key for the grill. More hungry than pigs to the Pierces they came, And Scott merrily greeted each one by name: “On Myhres and Massos, on Pierces and Barts! Stephanie Carol Kim Amy Pat Pamela Josh Scott!” As he called through the door the whole team appeared, Four families with children and eight singles held dear. “To the tables come one! To the feasting come all! We’ll refresh and regroup and press on past this wall.” So down to the banquet each team member did sit Devouring turkey and pie, they left not one bit. And then, in a twinkling, they stormed back out the door Strengthened with power from on high they would soar. Karen, how she sparkled, with spreadsheets and goats And art projects and preschool in this place so remote. Michael’s bearded chin indicated he was wise >From flow rates to futurology he could all analyze. A hundred children? No problem for loving Annelise She’d tell stories of Jesus and all would be pleased. Advanced math and batteries give David no pause Though ‘banker’ must have been hidden in the fine print clause. Kevin’s ready to preach, teach, raise funds, balance books, Holding Christ School together is even harder than it looks. He needs JD, who had twins in her belly, But now manages teachers between diapers so smelly. Stephanie just arrived but she’s already raised money Have you tasted her recipe of g-nuts and honey? ’No problem’ –Carol bodas to track down sick babies: Intern, teacher, researcher, we hope she’ll come back maybe? Reading, writing, and Spanish; basketball, Bible studies, Miss Kim devotes herself to serve everybody. Teaching science and history while learning Lubwisi Miss Amy’s joyful endeavors make it all look easy. Pat loves the wounded, the sick and the poor, Even when Monday shouts at her door. Zipping by on the picky, Pamela’s out everywhere, To TBAs and health centers organizing better care. Josh resurrects computers, fixes bikes, plays guitar And bushwacks to water projects near and far. Master Scotticus, though new, shows no signs of fainting Tackling French, biology, biking, even filming and painting. Scott winked his eye as he nodded his head The security risk was low: they had nothing to dread. In spite of the rain, they could get back to their work: Sixteen adults, thirteen kids, not one single jerk. So refraining from publicly picking his nose, Scott prayed for them all as from dinner he rose. He sprang to his Land-Rover, called the team with a whistle, Away they all slid to continue their Ugandan epistle. But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, “God’s Kingdom is coming! Don’t give up the fight!”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Jonah, another chapter

Bright an early Sunday morning we were visited by Gideon Alinga, a prominent community leader, who was bursting with news of the birth of a son.  One of his two wives had just delivered her eight child . . . The first C-Section by Dr. Jonah at NHC.  As we have heard the full story this week we were again amazed at the way God answers prayers, the orchestration of this birth.

Alinga is an old-time WHM contact, sponsored by previous missionaries for a degree, fallen out of favor over various issues but still a strong force in this community, not always a force in our favor, a somewhat tricky relationship.  His wife was in labor late Saturday night when the midwife (Rose, another nurse we sponsored for further studies who just completed midwifery at the same time as Jonah) detected on exam that the baby’s umbilical cord had prolapsed, which means it was coming out of the womb ahead of the baby.  If this happens the baby’s blood supply is cut off and the baby will die.  She called Jonah, who quickly decided an emergency C-section was the only way to save the baby.  The nurse-anesthetist had gone to her home village and was untraceable (it was now after midnight) so Jonah wondered if he should refer them to Bundibugyo, but knew that the baby was not likely to survive the trip.  So he operated anyway, delivering a healthy large boy, finishing at about 4 am, with a stand-by lantern in case the solar-powered lights did not last long enough.  

Jonah’s first C-section could have been anyone; for it to be this family smacked of God’s timing.  The late hour, lack of anesthetist, and critical condition of the baby could have spelled disaster; having a great outcome smacked of God’s mercy.  Now Alinga and his fairly powerful clan met and decided to name the baby Jonah Guvenah.  They reasoned that like Jonah of the Bible he emerged from the belly miraculously.  To name a baby after Dr. Jonah (who is from the Bakonjo tribe, not the Babwisi like this family) combined with the grandfather’s name (Guvenah) is quite amazing.  Alinga is now enthusiastically drawing public support for Jonah’s presence here.

More chapters to come no doubt!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pre-Thanksgiving Feasting

The last Kwejuna Project Food Distribution . . . .116 HIV+ mothers, half our team, more than a dozen neighbors hired to cook hot porridge for the waiting moms and help them heft the heavy bags of food away, in short a crowd. Again the Community Center was filled with noise, babies, laughter, life. The face of HIV is not all bleakness and suffering I realized as I looked around. No one would pick most of these women out of a crowd, at least not yet. It was one final opportunity to call them all together, preach the Gospel, love them practically, rejoice over babies not infected, counsel some to bring their husbands for testing, encourage those who have been left alone or are struggling on with care. Like the pilgrims we sailed into the PMTCT work and imposed ourselves and our programs on these women, so at the end of the year it is a joy to invite them to a feast. A treat for me was to reconnect with Robbinah, who came to me over a year ago tearfully pleading for help with her baby. She was articulate and aware of the risks, one of the few with some education, pregnancy made her leave school, the father of the baby did not marry this teenager, and she knew she increased her baby’s risk by breast feeding. Though we promote exclusive breast feeding as the safest option even in HIV infection . . . Something about Robbinah led me to go against policy and take a gamble and supply her with the baby formula she so much wanted, perhaps her determination to save her child. After a few months Karen was able to supply her with a dairy goat. Now a year later she has a healthy toddler. Another facet of the public health/private health dimension, her story is not replicable for all 114, but sometimes an individual case can be different. World Food Program officially ends all food distribution to Bundibugyo this month. What feast now for the poor?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Of Health, Public and Private

Public health considers the well-being of the community. As we work to improve antenatal care, we hope that the impact is community-wide, with more mothers and babies surviving and thriving. Measuring the impact requires scientifically sound sampling and careful follow-up. So we have Carol delving into an ambitious project, a case-control study of sorts, choosing systematically (every other name) nearly a hundred HIV+ women who delivered babies 1 and 1/2 years ago, and then randomly choosing two controls for each one who are matched by age, parity (how many pregnancies) and village. After she collected these names from the clinic registries, the tricky part begins: finding almost 300 women with only names and villages to identify them over a year after they have delivered their babies. We want to know how many of the mothers and babies survive and are collecting some data on their nutrition and overall health. For the HIV positive mothers, we are able at a year and a half to find out if the virus was transmitted to their babies. While we do this every time we have a food distribution and every time we see people in clinic . . . That only tells us about the health of the small percentage who choose to remain in contact, which may skew our assessment, because we’re seeing the ones who live near, or like medical care, or are organized enough to get help, and therefore more likely to have good outcomes. For weeks now Carol and her trusty research assistant Ndyezika have been combing the community with their list of names. Take into account that there are no addresses, almost no roads, no phone numbers, no computers, no files. Then consider that names in this culture are rather unimportant and fluid, and a nervous mom at antenatal care may say the first thing that comes into her head when asked for her name. I have frequently asked husbands and fathers the names of their wife or child and seen them struggle unsuccessfully to come up with the name! Many times the name on a child’s immunization record bears little resemblance to what he’s called at home. Then consider the fact that marriages are very impermanent. If a woman registers while living in one village, nearly two years later she may have moved on, back to her parents or on to another husband. So after weeks of struggle they had found less than 20 people. We like the approach of going to the patient .. . But thought we’d try to lure the patients to us one more way. For four days a list of 60 names was announced on the radio. On Friday morning 13 of those women showed up. Not bad, not great. Still slogging on. Private health considers the well-being of the individual patient. One of the mothers who came on Friday was among the HIV positive group (obviously for reasons of confidentiality, the study is being billed as a general antenatal follow-up with no mention of connection to HIV status). Her 18 month old son was a strapping and healthy looking boy. She had dropped out of any follow-up and was still breast-feeding the toddler. We tested him, and he was not infected! What joy to share this news with her. But then we advised her to wean the child right away. His nutrition was good, and the small risk remained of transmitting the virus through breast milk. She tucked her breast back in her dress, and we gave him sweet biscuits to distract his crying. Maybe one little life saved? It’s possible. Both public and private health are important. Jesus fed 5000, taught principles of community cooperation. But he also raised one widow’s dead son, or healed one bleeding woman in a crowd. So we continue on, trying to change policies and reach thousands with teaching and testing, while also touching the one toddler who can be saved from infection.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Prayer Update E-mail for Team 16 Nov 06

Dear Praying Friends,
It is the time of year to thank God for His blessings, and though I sigh over the mud, for our neighbors and friends this rainy season’s abundant dampness would surely number among the greatest of blessings.  This week we looked at 1 Kings 18 and 19.  Just as Elijah called down fire and then rain, God has come to us in great power and goodness here.  Some of the many things we are thankful for :
  • You, your prayers and encouragement, your pouring out of your own blessings.  We’ve received two major pledges in the last month for the health center, and this week found out that one phase of our nutrition program expansion will be funded by a SALT grant written by one former intern (Stephanie) and submitted/promoted by another former intern (Jenn Butz).  These aren’t small amounts and we feel like the Israelites, awed at God’s power.
  • Jonah striding around Nyahuka Health Center, confident and competent and testifying to God’s answers to prayer.
  • Some of the health issues we asked prayer for looking up, with team kids gaining health and strength.
  • A team that has expanded gracefully, drawing in newcomers and opening arms of love.
  • Joy Muhlbaier was able to travel safely back to the US with Ward Shope and is beginning to get physical therapy for her chronic back pain.  Also the Gray family left today to travel back to the US next week for the anticipated January arrival of boy number three.
  • WHM’s new vision and mission statements and new web site, plus the expanding interest in new fields in East Africa
  • Against all odds Kabasunguzi Grace still alive and smiling in spite of being blind and bedridden.
  • Drawing to the end of another CSB school year and exam period.

But in 1 Kings 19, as soon as Elijah experienced God’s mighty power and deliverance, he ran away discouraged.  Spiritual attack intensifies in times of moving forward, and we feel wearied by this event-ful year.  So God moved Elijah out to the wilderness for food and rest, but more importantly for an encounter with Himself.  Would you pray for us this Thanksgiving that we would long for the God of the Blessings rather than just the blessings of God?  That we would find rest and strength in the whispering voice of His presence?  That the Christmas season would be one of focusing on Jesus more than on the great gifts He brings us?

After God meets Elijah, He sends him on to announce and set in motion major world-changing events.  Most of that involves choosing new people to do His work.  Pray that we would likewise be readied for God’s work in 2007.  Specifically:
  1. CSB is in desperate need of funding for meeting end-of-year payrolls; and we expect to need new teachers in several key positions come January.  Please pray for God’s provision of money and people!
  2. It is also time to start thinking of new teachers for RMS for August 07.  If you know any elementary/middle school teachers who would be up for such an adventure, start praying for them.
  3. Our last Kwejuna Project Food distribution occurs Monday the 20th, pray for God to bless the women and children who come, and for more funding to open up for their nutrition next year.
  4. Carol Logan is working tirelessly to track down many mothers and babies around the district for follow-up, a nearly impossible task.  She has only a couple of weeks left; pray for miraculous finding of the right moms!

Thanking God for you as always,
Jennifer for the team

Monday, November 13, 2006

Feature Presentation: Brutal Beauty, or Scott&Jennifer's Bday Adventure, or Motorcycle Blogs

Saturday evening our team surprised us with a little video whipped up in honor of Scott’s Birthday, entitled “Feature Presentation”. The inspiration came from Michael, Josh, and Scotticus, with the non-Myhre kids and Annelise providing more ideas (no theme was rejected, as Michael said) and most of the acting. The story involved Scott and Jennifer heading off for the Birthday Trip to the Semliki Safari Lodge. Joe played Scott and kept saying “the security risk is very low” in reference to Scott’s reassuring assessment at last team meeting. Acacia played me with a wild wig of hair, and all the smaller children were an assortment of leopards, panthers, princesses, and kids coming to the rescue from Michael, a fire-breathing dragon who captured us en route. In the special feature cast interviews, they explained this symbolism had to do with Scott’s intimate and sometimes disastrous relationship with fire. It was hysterical, and we felt very loved by the effort involved and the community event of everyone coming to the screening the night before we left. Well, we did not encounter any fire-breathing dragons on the real trip, but it turned out the drama did foreshadow the real thing. This is November, which means rain, which means mud. Twice in the last week to ten days the road has been closed due to huge trucks stuck in the mud on hairpin mountain turns blocking other vehicles from passing. Being good, stubborn, can-do, frontier missionaries, we said to everyone “We desperately need a break and we ARE going to get to the lodge, come hell or high water.” Well, it turned out that we encountered quite a bit of both. To avoid the truck-clogged mountain pass road, we decided to adventure forth on Scott’s motorcycle and take a little-used route that runs through the Semliki River Valley north to Rebesingo, then cut back down towards the lodge. We had tried this route twice before, coming from the other direction, and it had always seemed a bit vague and tentatively even passable. But coming from the southwest, and using a motorcycle, we were sure it would be a good idea. So Sunday mid morning we headed off, packing tools and spare tubes and a change of clothes into a heavy back-pack, wearing gum boots and raincoats and zooming away. Much of the trip was lovely. The road skirts the mountain range’s northern roots, and winds through a cattle-strewn grassland. About a third of the way into the less-traveled part, we began to follow behind another small motorcycle which gave us confidence. When the road was cut through by a river at one point we stopped to eye the steep banks and the herd of cattle lower than our feet drinking the river water . . . When our guardian angel boda drivers waved to us to show us a more gradual path down and the best place to ford the river. We felt optimistic and well cared for. But the road kept getting smaller and smaller until it was barely a path, and we came upon the boda pair again. We could not find a shared language in which to communicate more than the fact that they were heading in the same direction, and they advised us to skirt the swamp they were enmired within. So for about half an hour we tried to find an alternate route while they struggled through the quagmire, but eventually we came to the conclusion that there was no way around, and that we’d have to follow. If they could do it couldn’t we? Well, their machine was half the weight (or less) of ours. We both managed to get through, but barely. I knew we were in trouble when the mud sucked the boots right off my feet, and it took all my counterweight and strength to pull them out with my hands. By that time I had given up on boots and we were both up over our knees in mud, a gooey, slippery, bottomless, quick-sand like mud that threatened to swallow the motorcycle. It stretched out as far as we could walk in every direction. If Scott were any less strong we might be there still. A few inches at a time we pushed and shoved and pulled and gasped, until we made it through the worst hundred yards or so. We were exhausted and coated with mud, but we pressed on. Then it started to rain, and the track we were following became as slippery as snow. We wiped out twice, bruises but no serious injuries. Our short-cut turned a 2 1/2 hour trip into a 5 1/2 hour survival odyssey. If you have never sat on a motorcyle for over 5 hours (and not more than 30 seconds of that time on any smooth or firm road surface) . . . Then don’t. Many times the road petered out into a confusing crossing pattern of cattle paths, or disappeared beneath ponds of water. Many times we were so sore and tired we weren’t sure we would make it. The brutality of the trip made the beauty of the lodge even more dramatic. There were only two other guests whom we barely saw, so we had a wonderful evening to reconnect as a couple, read, talk, eat, sleep, and sleep some more. Our tent had a wooden floor with oriental rug, firm poster bed, warm shower, and a view of multiple species of monkeys and birds cavorting in the trees. We heard the breathy, throaty call of lions in the early morning, then went back to sleep, secure in our house-like tent. This afternoon we came back by the road-more-traveled . . No picnic amidst the muddy tracks and stony jolts, but nothing like the challenge of the day before. Was it worth it? Definitely. We will read some verses (like Psalm 69) about rescue from the miry pit with new feeling now. Will we do it again? No, or at least not until we forget the pain of this trip! We are thankful to our great team for caring for out kids while we got away, thankful to the unlikely angels who offered us the stay and the others who guided us on the path. Thankful that there are evenings of respite in this life of struggle. And mostly thankful that we were in it together.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Of Weariness and War, heading for the broom tree

Sometimes the spiritual nature of the war for this world is unmasked, sometimes by the war in my own heart.  Weariness, plodding, irritability, rain.  Yesterday in thinking about the last couple of weeks it’s no surprise that like Elijah I want to run to the wilderness and feel sorry for myself.  Remember the dramatic show-down with the prophets of Baal, fire and rain and blood and speed?    Nothing quite that showy has happened in Nyahuka, but we have had a pretty intense stretch.  First, the whole Jonah show-down, his decision to return, his testimony, his presence.  I stopped teaching Jack and Julia math as soon as our new teacher came two weeks ago. . . And the pediatric ward immediately seemed to become twice as busy, as if the patients just doubled to take up the time that was freed.  Then it was touch-and-go with one of our dear team mates dealing with physical pain and imminent departure and intense emotions.  Meanwhile a visit from our Human Resources Director, encouraging but also the reality of having a day to day observer of our less than ideal family dynamics as he graciously put up with us in our home, and the reality that his visit puts everyone in the slightly edgy mode of thinking about their futures.  Then we’re trying to help Luke process his plan for CSB next year, what classes to take and whether to sit for the national Ugandan exams.  And did I mention that we heard a little spate of gunfire that was not worrisome in itself (no reports of a real attack, no one seems worried around us) it brought up memories of old insecurity and the current situation that we have a BIG team here, most of whom have not had to live through rebel rumors and reality before.  To make the picture complete, several team members have been sick, including one child who was frighteningly ill Thursday evening with pneumonia, now improving.

If you read the next chapter (1 Kings 19), you’ll see that all of those realities take their toll, even though in every case God has been faithful:  Jonah is posted and finally got his salary for the first time this year, patients are surviving, our team mate made it safely to the US, our Human Resources director had a great visit, we’re safely protected by a formidable UPDF presence, the crisis evening of sickness passed and all are back on the road to health.  But like Elijah, I’m wiped out.  

So like Elijah, Scott and I are escaping to the wilderness.  Some angels in disguise from the nearest Safari Lodge, a lovely tented camp for rich tourists, offered us a free night, and we have prevailed upon two of our single team mates to stay with the kids while we go tomorrow for Scott’s birthday.  Like Elijah we’re hoping for good food, lots of sleep, and time to hear the still small voice of God’s real presence.  

Small things new

“Christians have been invited to live beyond triumphalism and despair, spending ourselves for a cause we firmly believe will win in the end.  In a vision lovely enough to break a person’s heart, John shows us (in Rev 21) that heaven comes to us and renews this world.”  (C. Plantinga)

A little glimpse of heart-breaking loveliness in, of all places, the AIDS clinic.  I didn’t recognize my patient—my handwriting was all over his chart, but I just couldn’t place the kid in my mind.  Then I realized he’d gained more than five pounds (more than a 20% increase for his small body!) in the last month or so since he started antiretrovirals, the specific medicine that treats the HIV virus.  This toddler was sitting on his mom’s lap playing peek-a-boo with a pair of tattered shorts worn, of all places, over his head. He wasn’t actually sitting, he was squirming, laughing, and engaging my eye whenever I looked up from the papers.  Between the rounded cheeks and the perky playfulness I did not recognize the struggling lethargic child of two months ago.  A small thing, but being made new, a taste of redemption in a game of peek-a-boo.  Remember Mumbere, the only picture his grandmother has of his dead mother?  Another little picture as he snuggled into her side, clearly attached and at home, no longer the pitiful crying baby that his dying mother could not cope with, now he feels somehow safe and at home.  The AIDS clinic this week:  I am never too much tempted towards triumphalism in that epicenter of suffering, but neither was I crushed by despair.  We are spent, literally, day by day, but thankful for small things picturing newness, reminding us all to hope.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

the tribe

Here's latest visual of the Team ... at the airstrip, sending off Ward and Joy...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Follow-Up: Pediatric-Maternity Building Needs

Should we be surprised by God's generous provisions? Though He provides ... again and again... our small faith often wavers in light of our current needs. After having listed the LARGE remaining financial need for finishing our Pediatric-Maternity Ward Project (see Oct 24 posting)...we have now received $24,000 to help us finish that project (considerably in excess of our anticipated needs). O, me of little faith.

Friday, November 03, 2006

More confirmation, small mercies

During Jonah’s acceptance speech he said his first priority was to get a nurse-anesthetist posted to Nyahuka so that he could start doing emergency C-sections.  Not two hours passed before he received a phone call:  the sister of one of the nursing students we chose in 1997 for sponsorship called to say she had just finished further studies in anesthesia.  She had come back to the district to work but later was chosen for this anesthesia course, and we had not seen her in over a year, so she certainly wasn’t on our minds.  Yet at the very hour she was needed her sister called Jonah to help arrange transport for her as she was coming from school this weekend to return to work in Nyahuka!  Jonah was so amazed by God’s providence and timing he zipped up on his motorcycle, glowing, to share the news.  As I was making rounds I found a rather functional wheelchair stashed in the hall.  It turns out that one of the senior nurses, a man whom I had struggled to work with, took it upon himself to obtain this piece of equipment from who knows what depths of storage at Bundibugyo hospital, so that Kabasunguzi Grace could be taken out in the sun and move a bit after months of being bed-ridden.  Small mercies, the process of redemption continues, prayer pushing back evil.  Three separate people have pledged considerable chunks of money for the needs of the hospital; and another friend’s brother’s client’s contacts in a pharmaceutical company may be supplying vitamins.  O me of little faith, when such a Force is on the move.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

This Time a Happy Ending

Jonah is the new In-Charge Doctor for Nyahuka Health Center IV. Like Jacob he worked seven long years for this moment, through many setbacks and struggles. Today the entire staff gathered for a rather formal time of speeches acknowledging the changing of the guard. The outgoing in-charge, a senior medical assistant, graciously confirmed his gladness to hand over to a doctor, asked the staff to forgive anything he had done wrong, and affirmed his readiness to work in partnership with Jonah. His speech and attitude were amazingly positive. Scott spoke about Jonah’s history in the District and the joy of welcoming him home to address the injustice of inadequate health care for Bundibugyo, the picture of redemption in this process of the world being set right. Jonah emphasized that only the power of prayer had brought him through. He was also remarkably humble, giving God the glory, and telling the staff that his goal was to serve his people. In his moment of receiving power, he wisely pointed to God as the only source of all he had received. Many of you reading this blog are the ones who prayed. Be thankful with us today! The chairman of the management committee told a proverb: water that is not in your house cannot quench your thirst, meaning that past doctors did not want to stay in Bundibugyo but all hope that Jonah as a son of this place will be in the house and available. Interestingly, the district leadership did not attend. Though the doctor had called Scott and promised to come, today he sent a message that he lacked transportation. This is a very weak excuse, and evidence once again of the poor reception Jonah has received from those in control now. He is a threat to the system and we have not seen the last of the battle. Ward Shope, our visiting Director of Human Resources from WHM-Philadelphia, attended part of the ceremony, which was meaningful to us as the culmination of something we have also worked for for seven years. God is gracious, to bring all of that together at the right hour! Ward is counseling with each missionary as part of his ongoing care for teams in the field. We are trying to give him a flavorful sample of Bundibugyo life and ministry which will enable him to manage personnel more effectively. He attended Christ School chapel yesterday which gave him a picture of how most of the team pulls together to disciple students, and saw the staff gather to send Joy off in prayer as she returns for medical care for her back next week. In other news: the dog’s brain turned out to be positive for rabies. Most of the folks showed up for their final vaccine in the five dose series this week, but the girl I was most concerned about was absent, so we sent people to find her. We are hopeful that God will take our meager resources (vaccines procured late, no immune globulin) and like the five loaves multiply the effect to protect these people. And through searching medical literature on the internet I’m still trying to find help for Kabasunguzi Grace. She’s slightly better but I’m praying this weekend about whether to gamble on a course of steroids (prednisone) next week. Every victory is really just the beginning of the next stage of the fight. . . . So stay with us, and with Jonah.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Showdown Take Two: Today is the Day

Jonah arrived yesterday about noon—nothing is easy, he had tried to come the day before but was turned back at the last section of the road by people who advised him the road was insecure for travel at night.  Then yesterday morning he hitched a ride with the Chedesters bringing our Human Resources Director to visit from America . . And again the road was blocked by a truck stuck in the mud so that they had to walk a short distance from one vehicle blocked on one side of the mountains to another vehicle past the problem on the other side!  But he came directly to the health center and was pleased to be greeted enthusiastically by the staff.  Later the district director called Scott and the whole hand-over of authority is set for today.  Stay tuned.  

Sunday, October 29, 2006

But then, there is always the unexpected

We watched the 1957 movie “Bridge on the River Kwai” this week, a fascinating WWII conflict of Japanese, British, and American culture as prisoners of war struggle to survive in the jungle. Many parallels to the spiritual war, to our determination to build something helpful and lasting, to the physical challenges of life on the edge of death. Many times during the movie, one of the soldiers will make a plan and then concede: “But then, there is always the unexpected.” Sometimes the unexpected is a gift. Yesterday in the midst of many things one of the kids told me there was a woman waiting in the kitubbi, our grass thatched circular porch. A number of other patients and people with problems had been by that day, and I was working on something else for a team member, so I relayed a message back out that she’d have to wait, assuming it was yet one more patient. Then our cow got out of her pasture and was kicking feistily in the yard, an Irish aid worker and his girlfriend arrived for a meeting I was late to, I was trying to settle Julia who had an unexpected fever . . . And nearly forgot her until I was walking out to the meeting and saw her still sitting patiently waiting. I recognized her as the mother of Dixon, one of our little AIDS patients who had died earlier this year. His picture was in one of our prayer letters, a frail all-eyes baby whom we pulled back from the brink of death for a while. He spent long weeks in the hospital and we got to know his mother. When Dixon died, we visited her home in a crowded muddy camp left over from the ADF days, and saw his grave. He was her fourth child, and the fourth to die, and she had been chased from her husband’s family to live with her relatives. A month or two after his death she asked me for a small loan to start a business of buying rice in Congo and selling it in Uganda, to support herself, a major problem for an HIV positive woman with no husband or children. So I leant her about $25, enough to buy rice in bulk and start growing a little business. I told her that when she was making enough profit to keep the business going, she should bring half of the loan back to help someone else. The other half I’d consider a gift. Now I’ve tried that scheme with many people who have more education, strength, resource, math skill, than this woman. And I was content to just let that little bit of money go for her survival. Months passed, I really forgot all about it, I greeted her at the hospital when she came for her regular care, but never mentioned the business. Even when I saw her in the kitubbi I assumed she would be asking for some help for a sickness. But yesterday she said quietly that she’d brought me “a little food from her business” and then pulled out of her bag a crumpled wad of notes and coins that added up to the loan. The unexpected, a gift to build my faith in redemption. The unexpected usually feels like the unwanted I’m afraid. Jonah is due back in the district on Tuesday, the 31rst, for the promised hand-over of Nyahuka Health Center into his charge on Wednesday the 1rst. Yesterday we heard confirmation of a rumor that one of the only two doctors left in the district (another two have left this year) had taken a job in Kampala with an NGO. So will Jonah really be posted to Nyahuka if only one doctor is left at the district hospital? The patient volume is nearly identical so one could see it as a fair division of labor, but I’m afraid that the general perception is that no doctor would be posted out peripherally without at least three doctors centrally. Another unexpected wrinkle. Our season of welcoming new team members (two families and four singles in the last few months) has also been unexpectedly disrupted by the impending early departure of one of our single young women, a teacher at Christ School. She has bravely endured unexpected, unexplained back pain since June and together we made the difficult decision that it was time for better medical care. Since last January she has grown attached to the community of the team and the school; she leaves without knowing if or when she will be well enough for return. A heaviness for all our hearts. Time to be reminded, the unexpected is an illusion based on our position trapped in time, the basis for living by faith. If we could see then we would know that nothing surprises God, that He answers our prayers the way we would choose if we could see all that He knows. For Him, there is no unexpected.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pediatric – Maternity Building: Construction Update (HELP!)

Our vision: Basic, essential, appropriate medical care for mothers and children living in the vicinity of World Harvest Mission – Bundibuygo. Three years ago, we decided that a prerequisite to achieving this vision (in addition to the arrival of Dr. Jonah!), is a more spacious (clean!!) building—and the Combined Pediatric-Maternity Building concept was born. Our template: a neurosurgical ward of the CURE Hospital in Mbale, Uganda where we send many of our hydrocephalic patients. We visited this facility about two years ago, got the blueprints, and began to modify for our context (expanded to ~3000 sq. ft.) Two generous donors combined to give ~$63,000….our estimate to complete the building (including furniture and solar electricity). Our Problem: Call it poor planning, if you like….mostly it is a lack of experience building on this scale. Additionally, we decided to splurge on a beautiful industrial-strength porcelain tile floor which pushed the costs far beyond our original estimates. What the locals are saying (according to one of the elders)…“This is the nicest building in the district. We’re sure glad Dr. Scott is building it...if our local contractors built it, all that money would have been ‘eaten’…" Bottom line….we’ve shot our wad of $63,000 and have the following phases yet unfinished: 1. Windows: screened with glass louvers (estim $1400) 2. Doors: interior/exterior (estim $830) 3. Final painting: (estim $900) 4. Verandah: (estim $1500) 5. Plumbing (sinks/elevated water tank/water lines/etc): (estim $2300) 6. Basic furnishings: beds (~35), desks, chairs, cupboards, shelves, trolleys (estim $ 4000) 7. Solar Photovoltaic Electric system (estim ~$8,000) TOTAL NEED: $18,930 If you are interested, let us know by e-mail ( We would like to keep the momentum of construction moving ahead.