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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.