rotating header

Monday, April 30, 2007

Notice of whereabouts. . . .

Dear Friends who Pray,
The first of May finds Scott in Southern Sudan, hopefully Bor, though we have had little communication during the nearly two weeks of this trip.  The first of May finds me packing for departure—along with the rest of our diminished team (many already traveling) we will leave here Wednesday to head for the southwest corner of Uganda, a cool crater lake where the Church of Uganda has a tourist/retreat project that offers reasonable accommodation, peace and reflection, food and bird watching.  Scott, Michael and Kim should intersect with us on Friday.  I’m ready!!!  From there we head out to Bwindi, the national park where almost half of the world’s known remaining mountain gorillas live.  For our 20th anniversary we are splurging on gorilla permits, allowing us to hike into the woods and see these famous animals.  With the travel and going to Kampala for restocking supplies at the end, this will take us away from home for two weeks.  

Diesel fuel has been in short supply country-wide due to a pipeline breakage, the general inefficiency of a country where things are difficult to manage combined with enterprising hording of the supplies which are left . . .so I’d appreciate prayer that we will have enough fuel to drive to places of rest.  And since I’m not usually the primary driver and solely responsible for passports, money, locking up, packing, tires, etc. . . I’d appreciate prayer for the trip.  We and our team need a Sabbath, to climb into the hills away from the crowds, to pray and sleep and eat and be restored.  Please do pray for a real Sabbath for all of us in these next two weeks.  And be patient if you don’t hear from us, we’ll be disconnected for most of the trip, at least until Kampala (though still reachable by cell phone).

It’s still about 36 hours until we leave . . . And 3 of 4 kids are sick.  So I’m grateful for any and all prayers.

Grieving Harriet

Harriet Thungu will die today.  I made a decision I have rarely been willing to make and the weight of it combined with the grief of defeat has left me drained.  Her parents asked to take her home.  When I arrived this morning she had clearly made a turn for the worse, with gasping agonal respirations.  So I agreed with them, their weeks of anxiety and work needing closure in the comfort of their own home environment.  We sent her home with some milk and medicine but I know she will be dead within a few hours, maybe she is already gone.  She never really woke up since admission, there was no clear response to antibiotics or anti-TB medicine.  Her hot little five-year-old girl body did not look ravaged by disease like so many others, it was just devoid of her person as she lay in coma.  Both parents (and her father’s second wife) were present most of the time, caring, hoping, then despairing.  I wanted to cry with them but felt restrained by the onslaught of other patients and the crowd of the ward.  So I expressed my sorrow as best I could and said goodbye.  

When my niece was in the ICU in America in February, the patient in the bed next to her had a similar presentation to Harriet’s, sudden convulsion leading to the diagnosis of a brain tumor.  This little American girl, though, had immediate scans and referral to the best hospital in the world, surgery by the most skilled surgeon, and was likely cured.  Harriet lingered for a month of guesswork and patched-together care before she slipped into unrecoverable demise.  Having seen both worlds makes it hard for me to accept the suffering of Harriet and her family.  My public health side says that if this was indeed a brain tumor, the prognosis was terrible here in Uganda and the cost of care could be better spent to save  hundreds of lives from simple preventable causes. But my justice side still cries out at the contrast between Johns Hopkins and Nyahuka Health Center, and the irrelevant chance of birth in Maryland vs. Bundibugyo.  Some days I’d rather not know the reality, rather not see the family gathering up the limp body of a still-struggling child, rather not watch them head burdened back to their village.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I see the moon, strange lands, and term breaks

Remembering old songs my mom used to sing, from her own childhood and maybe related to WW2 romantic separations, the theme being that the moon shines on us and those we love in distant lands.  I think that wistfulness came in war time partly due to lack of information and communication.  In the 21rst century many people who travel can stay in touch so easily through email and phone calls . . . But not in Southern Sudan.  I have had a couple of very short messages to know the WHM travelers are fine, but nothing like the actual communication I crave.  So when I walked outside tonight and saw the hovering brightness of the nearly full moon I thought of Scott also seeing the same moon, then remembered those old songs.  A small glimpse of that longing for connection which they express. . .

Today’s encouragement came from the book of Ruth.  Eugene Peterson writes in his introduction that after the dramatic hero-filled stories of the first 7 books of the Bible, here is a story of a normal woman, an insignificant person whose faithfulness opens her to be used to bless the nations.  The words of Boaz in the second chapter jumped out:  “I’ve heard all about you, how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and have come to live among a bunch of total strangers.  GOD reward you for what you’ve done—and with a generous bonus besides from GOD, to whom you’ve come seeking protection under his wings.”  [Then a TCK (third-culture-kid) moment—I shared with my kids how meaningful those words are to us and they just looked at me, finally saying in effect that they live right here with their mother and father and the land of their birth and no strangers . . . . ]

Lastly, CSB is now on a three-week break.  One of the boys we sponsor came to see me today, serious and nervous.  He is a true orphan, his mother died of AIDS long after his father had already passed away.  He has been passed around with various relatives, staying with this brother or that sister, blending in respectfully and trying not to cause too much trouble.  But the brother he most recently shared a room with took a wife while he was at school this term, which means he’s no longer welcome in that space, so ended up in a noisy and crowded room full of the rest of the family’s small kids, and no bed.  His words were:  I don’t think I can manage to study in the chaos.  So we brainstormed about various relatives and where he might stay, if I provided the mattress.  My concern is that he stay connected with some family and that someone care whether he’s home by dark and whether he’s eating.  I really like this boy, but I can also see that as my students become more attached to our family and comfortable staying around the school and our home, they have a harder time going back.  In some small part that may be a healthy tension of rising expectations; it may also be a true pressure the culture exerts on someone whose expectations are rising, to pull them back down, put them in their place.  As teenage boys become the most educated members of the family, those without strong father/uncle/clan elder influences can be at a loss for how they fit in.  This culture is all about family and hierarchy and we challenge that with education.  Eye opening for me.  Of my oldest two students, one has basically stepped into the provider role for his widowed mother, caring for her and his siblings.  That is good.  The other is much more independent—his widowed mother remarried and his relatives run an alcohol business from their home, also not conducive to health and study, so we rent him a small room adjacent to their compound where he can sleep in peace while still eating with them.  The paying of school fees has bound us in complex ways to these boys, and relationship takes no break between terms.

Friday, April 27, 2007

On spears and empowerment

Today Bundibugyo celebrated International Women’s Day, about two months late, but better late than never.  Uganda was launching an awareness and policy campaign to draw attention to the connection between violence against women and girls, and the disproportionate burden of HIV/AIDS borne by women and girls.  One of today’s speakers claimed that in Uganda the prevalence of HIV infection in 15-19 year old girls is nine times higher than in boys of that age group, which reflects of course the pairing of teenage girls with older men, often in exchange for school fees or other financial assistance.  Each district elects a women’s representative to parliament, and ours was the guest of honor today in the usual four hour parade of speeches, dances, songs, dramas, blazing sun, pressing bodies, unruly children, blaring low-quality sound systems, obsession with protocol, and tedium that comprise any official celebration.  Scott wanted us as a mission to be present and I agree that the Gospel speaks to the status of women in a society, so we should support this day, in spite of the cost of being absent from home (thanks to Scotticus who entertained and supervised), plus the cost of being fingered by curious children constantly, fanning away the fumes of a nearby garbage dump and the fly-clouds which accompany the crowd.  

Well, being empowered is rarely comfortable I suppose.  And the first step in addressing injustice is to name the grievance, to recognize the wrongness of infidelity, physical abuse, denial of property rights, etc. that are the normal lot of most women.  Perhaps the most interesting moment of the day came when one of the half-dozen drama/dance troupes marched out.  I recognized at least half of the dozen or so faces, women who attend our local church.  It was a bit surreal to hear the same women who lead hymns in the choir sing about condom use while waving the foil packets.  But for the next song they whipped off their outer silk-kitengi wraps to reveal traditional grass skirts worn for dancing, then picked up spears.  I have seen A LOT of traditional dancing here, but never seen a woman hold a spear.  The dance enacted women hunting for food and then fighting in a war, finally killing and disarming the enemy.  They sang boldly that as women they were capable of fighting for themselves.  I’m not sure what Jesus would have thought . . . But I suspect He would have been more in tune with their energized awareness of their value, than critical of the symbolic violence of their demonstration.  The crowd was mesmerized, it was a rare creative, unexpected moment, to see new concepts expressed in dance.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Harriet Alive but not Well

Some people asked for an update, I know I’ve been reluctant because I keep hoping that I’ll have a dramatic praise to report.  The fact that Harriet is even alive is amazing.  She is getting “intensive care” which for us means ng tube milk feeding to keep her alive.  She is opening her eyes half-way and moaning, has more cough and responsiveness.  I called another hospital across Uganda which as a CT scanner but they did not want me to send her until she is more stable (which seems like a classic catch-22).  I drained an abscess on her hand today but that was a secondary problem from an old IV (though a testament to how bacterial this place is).  I started her on anticonvulsants, no real change.  Today I’m starting anti-TB therapy since she presented with severe respiratory tract symptoms first.  Could this all be TB?  I don’t know.  Could it be a tumor?  Possibly.  So I’m trying to keep her alive, treating anything that is treatable, praying for her daily or more, and waiting on God, not always very hopefully or patiently.  Thanks for asking.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

4 down, 13 to go

The home alone report:  about a third of the way through the long stretch.  Only a snippet of news from Sudan confirming safe arrival, heat, good contacts and lots to see.  Meanwhile back on the ranch . . . Luke was the fourth team member to succumb to a very nasty virus last night, headache, chills, fever, nausea.  I’ve been anxious about each person who falls ill, second-guessing myself on advice and management and not wanting to miss something dire like malaria or meningitis . . So in that way each additional sick person makes the likelihood of a bothersome but survivable pathogen higher, and is oddly reassuring.  Unless the additional person is me of course!  I’m realizing how much I depend on Scott’s second opinion particularly for adults, and missing the ability to process team needs with him.  Not to mention the handful of sick neighbors and friends who seem to collect in my kitubbi at 8 am and 6 pm daily, or the complicated cases at the hospital like a teenage boy with a startlingly opaque chest xray, or emails about bank account numbers that I don’t deal with normally.  9 more days feels very long.

Circles of quiet

We prayed through Psalm 94 this morning—which in the Message includes the phrase “providing a circle of quiet within the clamor of evil”.  That image moves with me through the day.  Circles of quiet confidence and trust, safe islands within a world gone awry.  Team is that way.  Family is that way.  Snatches of musical praise.  Finding a child who nearly died of malaria still alive today.  A mother with AIDS happily showing me her baby’s negative test results, the baby clapping and babbling oblivious of her brush with a fatal disease.  The intent listening of a diminutive 13 year old boy who had accompanied his little brother to the clinic and was taking responsibility for his complicated antiretroviral regime after the death of their mother and illness of their uncle.  A waft of breeze at dawn as the sky melted eastern pink.  

We need those circles of quiet, because evil does clamor.  My heart draws away from the cacophony at times; how much better to move into the clamor bringing my own quiet with me, then invite others into the circle.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

On sums in the universe

Last night as we put the kids to bed, there was significant unhappiness expressed about the fact that Scott is traveling to Sudan for almost two weeks.  Quite reasonably they did not relish the idea of being home alone with me!  In that moment we were reminded that this is not a zero sum universe, where someone always loses if another gains.  The balance of good and bad, of forces for good and evil, goes beyond what we can see and plan.  The trip can bring about good for the plans of World Harvest to move into this war-ravaged country, and our family can still be intact and healthy and thriving.  At least that’s what I believe in print; in my heart I’m probably feeling just like the kids were.  Kim and our field director Robert Carr are already in Goli, and Michael and Scott drove to Kampala today to fly up to meet them in Sudan tomorrow.  In addition to Goli and Yei, over the following ten days they will be in Rumbek, Aweil, and Bor, hoping that tongue-tripping names on a map translate into real people who stretch our concept of God’s grace, real places of beauty and need, real vision for the role of our tiny mission.

Meanwhile back on the home front we’re meeting for short daily prayer times that God would lead through this trip, and for our own needs here (Psalm 91!).  The whole doctor/parent/team leader/remote living package challenges us as a two-person partnership, so compressing down to one leaves me feeling weak.  Scott’s last to-do list item was a phone call to a supporter that he’d been meaning to make for some time, and did not want to leave undone as he packed last night.  This turned into an invitation for us to write up a proposal for major new funding for the desperate needs at Christ School.  Not yet a done deal clearly, but a very promising open door, and in God’s tenderness timed well to remind us of His provisions for all our needs.  

The One who infuses the cosmos with energy move money and glory using a higher math.

Friday, April 20, 2007

On Faith as a Substance

Harriet continues to struggle on that line between life and death.  Every morning I arrive at the hospital hoping for news of a miracle, but every day I find her hot little body and vacant eyes.  After ten days of IV fluid and antibiotics we’re now giving her milk by an ng tube.  I know many people have prayed for this little girl.  And I don’t know what faith looks like here, what kind of substance should it have?  Confidence in healing?  Or confidence in God’s goodness? Habakkuk determines to rejoice even if the fig tree does not blossom and the fields yield no food (Hab 3:17).  David declares God’s ability to work trust and gladness like the “season that grain and wine increased” in a time of conflict and betrayal (Ps 4).  Harriet is not my child.  If she were I know my heart would not be able to calmly consider the substance of faith, instead I would be hanging on to that substance in the turbulent and threatening sea.  Keep praying.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sunrise Mourning

Link here to read team mate Scott Ickes’ poetic reflections on the struggles of the weekend here.

Little girl, arise

Dear Prayer partners . . .
Would you take a moment to pray for Harriet Tungu?  She is a five year old girl who has been in a coma for almost a week.  In spite of treating any infections we are equipped to handle she has not improved much.  We are at the end of our strength and would love to see the power of God return her to life (just read in Mark this morning where Jesus says little girl, get up and eat . . .and she does).  Her very caring family has been faithful at the bedside for many days now.  

If you have been reading this blog you know we are under attack on many fronts:  rumors are that the community at the source of the water project has turned off the valve to the pipeline repeatedly, leaving our hundreds of CSB students and our entire town without clean water.  A disgruntled student is trying to sue one of our missionaries for not connecting him with American financial sponsors.  27 of the 200 chicks have died in the last 24 hours as an infection sweeps through the flock.

Jesus raised the little girl in Mark 5 just after storms at sea, demons, crowds, and conflict had assailed his followers.  We could use a similar reminder of Who is in control.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Wresting rest, crises of the hour

Sunday, day of rest.  Rest implies passivity, but here we have to actively wrest rest from the onslaught of circumstances.  This morning we awoke to find our dinner had disappeared—two catfish we purchased yesterday and were trying to keep in a basin of water for dinner today . . Gone.  Later we found one which had flipped and crawled about 40 yards, still alive.  The other was gone forever.  Dinner ration cut in half, no grocery option.  Then a boy appeared at the door asking for help—his brother had hit him in the eye with a stone, leaving pain and swelling.  Before handing out tylenol Scott pried open his eyelid to find the eye had ruptured.  Saline, dressings, transport costs, referral letter to the regional hospital in Fort Portal, all before breakfast.  Meanwhile Larissa had been notified of an impending C section and went down to help, where it turned out that the young mother had an unrecognized twin pregnancy with one baby long dead, the other severely depressed, infected, struggling to breathe, and in spite of over half an hour of resuscitation efforts the baby died.  On my way to pray with Larissa over this grief I met Stephanie who was mobilizing veterinary help for the chicks—at least 20 were lethargic, dozing, not eating, sick, about to die—count this evening is 16 dead.  Also saw Pamela just off a phone call where she learned that her aunt had died.  Second aunt in two months to pass away, always difficult news when here too far away to join in the family grieving.  Back to church, thankful for the wisdom of the leaders who are helping us this weekend deal with a young man who is trying to take a missionary to court for what he perceives is an attempt to block him from receiving sponsorship for university studies (having already been sponsored completely for six years of secondary school), a distressing situation.  Then home to a message of crisis at CSB.  No water in the tanks means that students go to the river to wash clothes, bathe, and gather drinking water.  Not a healthy practice, and disruptive to the school.  Scott checked the lines and tanks, no flow at all.  So that’s a problem for the water engineers Michael has trained.  Earlier in the week our whole team had come to the end of our propane, used for cooking, so that we were resorting to charcoal, though thankfully Bob in Fort Portal was able to get us a handful of tanks.  Diesel fuel is also scarce in the country due to pipeline problems.  Sometimes just the normal background of life (water to drink or bathe in, fuel to cook with or drive, solar power for lights) comes prominently into the foreground as inevitable glitches in supply throw life into chaos.  Two team members sick.  And so the day went on, ending in a column of swarming winged seasonal insects whose larvae rise from the ground after heavy rain, a grey cloud against the sunset, turn off all lights (they fly towards light) and keep the door closed.  Crises accumulating hour by hour . . .

Mourning, singing

The rain weeps down today, cool and constant.  I have just returned from taking Jonah’s wife Melen and sister Sophia to the second family burial in three days.  First an 87-year-old patriarch died, a clan elder related through Jonah’s grandfather.  He had lived a long and full life and left 107 live descendents!  But last night, as the family was still recovering from the upheaval and grief, and burial of the elder’s death, a child died.  His ten-year-old granddaughter, the daughter of the woman who had been caring for the old man, got a fever yesterday morning.  It did not seems serious until evening when she began to have convulsions.  She was rushed to Bundibugyo hospital for a Quinine drip, but before the full dose of medicine could even be given she died.  

So this family gathered again, this time there was no sense of a life long and full, but a naked bereavement.  I learned that the mother had also lost her two-month-old child in February, something like SIDS, where the baby was put to sleep fine and found to be dead a few hours later.  Not surprisingly the gathering today began with accusation and fear, what kind of curse or neglect could produce three deaths in rapid succession?  I entered the mud and wattle house with Melen.  37 women sat hip to hip on mats on the floor in a room the size of a generous American walk-in closet.  The dead girl lay wrapped with her mother weeping hysterically over her.  Melen wiggled her way up close and bowed her head crying too.  I know we were both thinking:  we have 10 year old girls.  We think they are past the danger of high infant and early childhood death risks in Bundibugyo.  But then this, a normal child, in third grade, with a typical fever and then a few hours later, dead, no more.  Somber faces, bright head scarves against the chinked dirt wall, rustling of legs to make room for more women, wailing, while the men sat quietly outside.

Four teenage girls sat along the wall by the door of the room, singing.  Their pure quavering voices in harmony, mostly songs I did not know, then suddenly a chorus in English:  What a song we will sing, the day that Jesus comes.  Over and over they sang that, and I joined them.  They sang hope into the room of death, truth into the place of mourning.  

Friday, April 13, 2007

Goats, God's provision

It was a goat party, one big goat party, the kind God would throw, where mostly widows, orphans, the infected and desperate were invited.  About a hundred adults (which in Africa means at least a hundred kids tagging along) gathered on Thursday for the distribution of 68 specially breeded dairy goats, the fruits of Karen’s Matiti project, purchased by generous donations from friends in the US, and arranged by Karen’s visionary work here.  The goats arrived from a dairy-goat-farm British mission project in Masaka (near Kampala) on Tuesday.  After a day of feeding and sorting and matching ear tags with lists of eligible patients, the community gathered for the celebration.  A representative of the recipients, mostly HIV-positive women and a smattering of grandmothers caring for orphans, got up to say that they would be praying for God to bless our mission.  That was powerful for me, the prayers of the poor extravagantly poured upon us.  For me these were not just names on a list, or faces in a crowd.  I could remember grieving with this woman the death of her child, or celebrating with that one the news that the baby had avoided infection, or struggling to pull another’s infant through severe illness.  Pamela encouraged the people to care for their animals, and Karen drew the analogy to seeds, as each goat could breed with local varieties so that the blessing could propagate on to many, many families.  We live in a district of chronic undernutrition, so that a sustainable source of calories and protein for young children can have wide-ranging benefits for development.

Scott spoke on behalf of the mission, telling the story of Abraham and Isaac in dramatic detail.  If you have never lived among people for whom Bible-story standards are as shocking and fresh as a first-run Hollywood movie plot, you can’t appreciate the gasps and laughter.  And if you’ve not lived among people for whom goats are the traditional currency and source of life, you can’t imagine the relevance of stories like this one.  The child at risk, the grieving and wondering parent, the moment of near-death, the ram in the thicket, God’s provision.  The goat saves Isaac’s life.  What a context for goats being handed out to people with hungry, marginalized children, to save their lives.  Then Scott pointed out that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, God’s true provision for our lives.  It was a great blending of real-life flesh-and-blood salvation from starvation pointing to deeper truths in the spiritual realm.

Pamela and Karen and Stephanie tirelessly shepherded the waiting recipients through registration and speeches and a generous lunch, then the group migrated from the community center to the Masso yard where the 68 goats were penned.  Our veterinary assistants were joined by some of the kids (Acacia, Julia, and Jack) bringing goats out of the pen one by one.   It became a nearly whole-team effort to match the goats to the records, the records to the right patient, documenting, handing over.  Rascally goats jumped energetically while women stunned at their good fortune grasped ropes and hauled them away towards home.

A community leader from each of 16 subcounties received males to make available for breeding, while the females went to families whose children needed the protein boost of milk (something to think about when you pull a carton of milk out of the fridge so easily).

God’s provision, but detoured through the efforts of many, many people.  The kind of party that Jesus would definitely attend.  Check out the sidebar for ideas (top blog on the team list).  It was so much fun we’d like to do it again this year, if the money comes in.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

New photos: April 07

See our newest photo journal LINK on the right sidebar....

Many photos document moments from this season of Christ School - Bundibugyo soccer ...
This photo includes two of our boys who have been playing soccer with our boys since we arrived 14 years ago (and who we sponsor at CSB)...
#19 - Birungi Fred, is the captain of the team
#7 - Richard Bamuturaki, the team's star midfielder

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Therefore be steadfast

The resurrection victory was not very evident this morning. A holiday weekend, in spite of Dr. Jonah’s hard work, left the pediatric ward packed to overflowing. Three sets of malnourished twins—we have an extremely high twin rate here, and many women cannot manage the margin of calories to nourish that second body. One set is 1.5 and 1.7 kg (three pounds each) born to a 16 year old mother-too-soon. Two other kids with kwashiorkor, protein deficiency, weaned too early because their mothers got pregnant again within a year of their births. A dwindling 4 kg (9 pound) one year old whose drawn skin makes his face look skeletal, clutching his mother, probably TB. Another 10 year old with possilble TB, barely responsive, coughing, wasted. A young boy who found an unexploded grenade and with his friend threw it into a fire—the friend died, and he was left with a deep shrapnel wound in his hip. An older kid with sickle cell disease on her third blood transfusion this week. A three-month-old whose HIV positive mother probably has transmitted the virus, leaving his tiny body wracked with cough and diarrhea. A comatose five year old who was fine until a sudden convulsion three days ago, maybe cerebral malaria, the smear negative, not yet awake. A baby whose mother told me that five of her 8 children had died from various diseases. The list goes on and on, more than double what I’ve recalled quickly above. Bundibugyo is dangerous country.

So moving out into this mess in faith that the resurrected Jesus is making all things new . . . Well, it is an act of faith. The celebration of Easter was tremendous, spiritually and socially. But I entered the post-Easter life this morning feeling pretty poured out.

As often happens in the midst of the morass, one infant who nearly died of pneumonia a week ago today looked at me and smiled, a reminder that hope remains. Scott and Pamela traveled two hours (each way) to meet with health center staff in Karagutu for a “performance review”, a day to review data and encourage the staff. Karen received 70 goats this evening, a huge infusion of hope and protein for the suffering, to be distributed on Thursday. So there is some significant abounding going on (1 Cor 15:58). Therefore be steadfast.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter Letter

Please visit our "Downloadable Prayer Letters" link to get our most recent Prayer Letter with Easter Meditations and Prayer Requests.
(In living color, it's much better than the b&w version that will come by post).
Blessings to all...

21rst Century Easter Week Equivalents

CROWDS—Yesterday the district held the semi-finals in the soccer tournament at CSB, and there was tension in the air.  One of the four finalists had been disqualified for using non-student “mercenary” players.  This school had in the past threatened riots, brick-throwing, and other violence if excluded.  So we went into the day praying that they would peacefully accept their suspension.  More than a thousand people generally attend these matches, and we are all too aware of the way a crowd can turn from spectators to perpetrators, individually polite people suddenly angrily transformed in the immunity of group action.  As we prayed I thought of the crowds yelling “crucify him”, and had a new understanding of the threat of the mob.  Thank God in our case the school’s new headmaster eschewed the riotous behaviour of past years, and the day was peaceful.  The finals (CSB vs. Bubandi) will occur Saturday, and the crowd could swell to several thousand . . .

SOLDIERS—Seeing soldiers is not rare in Uganda, particularly living on an international border.  This past week in Bundibugyo some isolated rebel bands of the old ADF have tried to move through.  Nothing has endangered civilians, but the UPDF has increased their presence, including guarding our mission at night.  So we now have a dozen or so armed men patrolling in the darkness.  In this case they are on our side . . . But still reminders that we live in a world of force, of political power, of instability, just like Jesus did.

WOUNDS and OFFICIALS and FORGIVENESS—One of our missionaries was riding a bike slowly and gently through Nyahuka on her side of the road when she was hit from behind by a drunk motorcyclist.  Thankfully she escaped serious injury but still has a number of scrapes and bruises.   Such an incident can easily escalate out of control, but thankfully this also occurred directly in front of the police station, so when the perpetrator tried to blame her he was quickly apprehended.  It was still tedious and a bit nerve-wracking to be interviewed by the police and give statements.  And wounds here frequently become infected and more serious.  Like Jesus she was an innocent victim, serving others, but wounded by evil.  And like Jesus she had the opportunity to forgive her wounder, as he came the next morning and met with her and Scott and apologized.

INJUSTICE—Today Jonah called all of the staff to a long meeting at the health center, for many issues, but prominent among them the way our health center is suffering because of district administration desire to see him pushed down to failure.  The event that led to the meeting was that a “big man” in government called the driver of the hospital “ambulance” pick-up truck to take him somewhere, just when I was trying to send a newborn baby to the hospital for oxygen, and when the driver chose to serve the politician instead of the patient, the patient died.  I was pretty upset about the whole sequence of events.  To top it off there are rumors that all the money to run the hospital will soon be cut off from Jonah’s control and remain in the hands of potentially corrupt administration in Bundibugyo.  We had a productive time of discussion, but in the end Jonah reminded us that even though Jesus was trying to do good He met with opposition from the leaders of the people.  We prayed together for deliverance!

DEATH and MOURNING—A few hours ago I held another baby as her mother screamed, and confirmed that the infant had died while getting a blood transfusion for severe anemia (hemoglobin 3.8).  This was the 5th child that mother had lost, and my heart went out to her in her grief.  Death is an ever-present reality here.  Pray for all of us to cling to Jesus who bore our sorrows, who suffered our wounds and infirmities, who passed through death for us.  

We miss our families at holidays, and mine more this holiday than many others, since it is my Mom’s birthday today and we remember my Dad’s Easter death a year ago.  But in the midst of that I’m grateful for concrete reminders that the story of Good Friday occurred here in our real world, and means something to real people.  May you also see reminders of the story around you this week.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Distant Grief

Yesterday I picked up a book I had not read in a long time, and read it cover to cover. A Distant Grief by Kefa Sempangi tells the story of the early 70’s in Uganda as Iddi Amin’s reign of terror was unfolding, and the impact on the church. I have not yet seen “The Last King of Scotland”, but this book is a true-story eye-witness account and it’s hard to imagine the movie being any more chilling. Sempangi moves back to Uganda as a university professor and rides the wave of a movement of the Spirit as people throng to the Lord in the midst of the country’s descent into chaos, until he escapes with his life by about a half-hour margin in the Fall of ‘73.

Two of the most moving parts: on Easter of 1973 as he prepares to preach, he is drawn to the passage of the five loaves and two fish from Matthew 14. He feels overwhelmed by the needs around him, but writes “It was Jesus who provided the bread for the crowds. The disciples’ task was only to distribute what their Master had already given them. It was God who sustained his people. He was not asking me to feed His children from the words of my own heart. He was only asking me to distribute the living bread He had put into my hand.” I thought about that today as nearly 50 desperate families showed up for nutrition, draining the huge supply of milk Karen has bought. Somehow we made it through them all. I need to be reminded over and over that we are not sufficient for anyone’s needs, we’re merely handing out the Bread of Life. The symbolism of Passover permeates this concept—it is Jesus who breaks and blesses and gives.

That evening five armed thugs of Amin’s come to kill Sempangi, but end up accepting his prayers, and one even becomes a Christian. He writes about the atrocities he witnesses, and the second part I want to quote comes in response to watching a man beat to death, which also moves me to think of Jesus being whipped and beaten:
“In that moment I learned a new truth. I learned that just as there is a boundary beyond which human beings cannot comprehend the glory of God, so there is a boundary beyond which they cannot comprehend the evil in the world. There is a boundary beyond which everything is a senseless chasm. It is here in the nightmare of utter chaos that human feeling dies. It is here, where death and terror seem to have full dominion, that even the deepest of human sorrows becomes but a distant grief.” Like the rest of the world watching Uganda in the 70’s, Rwanda in the 90’s, Darfur now, we cannot comprehend the depth of evil and suffering, and it is at best a distant grief. But Jesus went to the bottom of that chasm on Good Friday. The book answers the question of “where was God” with the affirmation: here, with us, in our suffering, defeating evil once for all by dying.

Kefa Sempangi was instrumental in the founding of World Harvest Mission, because during his exile he studied in America and he drew Jack Miller into ministry to Ugandans displaced by Amin .. . . I met him a few months after graduating from high school, not knowing how my life would later become so connected to all of this. In the cover of the book is written “Jennifer, please when you come through college could you come and join me in Africa for service in his Kingdom. K Sempangi, 15 October 1980.”

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Palms and Peace

Palm Sunday begins a week of remembrance of the pivotal events in Jesus’ walk towards the cross. Here in Uganda we have palm branches in plenty, so we pulled several down from trees in our yard this morning, to take and wave at church during the singing, and they became props during the sermon telling the story of Jesus’ journey. Jesus entered Jerusalem that Sunday morning on the back of a donkey, the posture of a King who comes in peace. The idea of coming in peace really jumped out at me today. As king, as God, He could have come in a posture of war, with horses and chariots, angels and thunder, fire and smoke and judgment. In fact that’s the way I’d like Him to come into this district, with serious force, and immediate results! Instead He came quietly, humbly, rocking on the back of a slow donkey, surrounded by excited children. This evening we gathered again for team worship, and a Tim Keller sermon (Redeemer in NYC) reminded us that love, true sacrificial love, is the only force that defeats evil. So here comes Jesus, to conquer by dying, to win by laying down his life, to make a way of peace, to fulfill the birth announcement of the angels “Peace on earth, good will towards men.”

But the next time He comes as King, He won’t be riding a donkey. The second time He rides into our earth, His coming will be one of judgment and drama, of finality. Tim Keller’s sermon also reaffirmed that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart—there are no wholly “bad guys” that deserve judgment while we “good guys” ride off to glory, all of us depend upon the faithfulness of the sacrificed King.

The donkey-riding King who offers peace will one day return at the head of His army to finish the war, and who can stand the day of His coming?