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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Near Miss

A fierce storm blew in Monday afternoon, as happens many days in this season.  Cooling air, towering clouds, the rumble of thunder, the beginning heavy drops of rain.  Then suddenly there was a simultaneous deafening clap and blinding flash.  It seemed intense enough at our house, but CSB was at the epicenter.  Several dozen kids who were out playing soccer and track on the field hit the ground, including two of our children (Caleb  and Jack), and Kevin Bartkovich, who described the sensation of his hair standing on end.  Later we realized that three inverters and a charge controller were burned out in various buildings at the school.  A sobering and mighty surge of power that thankfully did not injure much more than a few fuses (one piece of equipment has to be replaced).

To have Christ School struck by lightening (at the only hour of the day when many kids are outside, including ours) is just so crazy, one has to stop and ponder a moment, why?  And the day after the frightening seizure Louisa experienced?  Both incidents were “near misses”--scary and serious enough to race our hearts and give a glimpse of the nearness of disaster.  Yet in both instances the children were protected from permanent damage.  In truth,  we go through days and weeks and years on end without lightening strikes or malaria episodes, but I don’t pause to give thanks for those mercies until a near miss makes me realize how vulnerable we are, and how tirelessly our God works to preserve our souls from a multitude of evils.

Please join us in gratefulness that God knocked us to the ground, literally and figuratively, twice in two days but then pulled us back up.  And pray for us to be sensitive to His daily faithfulness.  

Monday, May 28, 2007


Last night as we crawled sleepily into bed, the desperate cries of a mother screaming “My baby” pierced the night from the dirt road running in front of our house. Usually, this cry follows the death of a child. But this seemed different, less forlorn and more desperate. We slipped out into the darkness of our yard and the approaching cries grew louder and more irregular. Within a few moments we could hear the dull thuds of blows raining down on flesh...right across our hedge. We ran out into the street to find a half naked man beating a half naked women in the drainage ditch of the road. Our flashlight sent them scurrying like cockroaches found in the kitchen. But before long, the scuffle resumed...this time with the two having a little tug-of-war with a two year old child in the middle. By now, a dozen or so neighbors had flooded into the street, intervening in the brawl. Even with all these witnesses, the two still continued to randomly attack each other, taking cheap shots. Then the mother snatched the child from a third party who was trying to protect the vulnerable child...and ran down the road. The stunned father just stood there, listening to all the neighbors berate him for his hateful behavior. Surprisingly, alcohol seemed not to be involved. We don’t know this family. Seems they were visiting from a nearby village.

The child above, Mugabe Godwin, a four-year was mentioned by Jennifer in a previous post (Back to Reality). This child was clubbed by a drunken dancer, annoyed with the curious on-looking of a small child. His fractured femur will require at least a couple of months in this rudimentary traction device.

As a Team, we continue to study Kenneth Sande’s The Peacemaker. Peace and reconciliation seem so distant in times like these, but we continue to ask for prayer that peace would break through, that it would flow like a river in this dry and weary land.


Though we will always be to some extent outsiders, there are little ways in which we have entered into village life by sheer length of presence.  Our nearest neighbors called us for dinner last night, the Mukiddi family.  We arrive exactly on time, having been chastised for lateness in the past, ironically.  The six of us are not so small anymore, so when we squeeze into a 6 x 8 foot room with a couch, five chairs, and two low tables, and then the two wives come in to receive us, there is not a lot of wiggle room.  We have done this many times over the years, it is familiar.  Greetings are exchanged, murmurs of welcome.  John Mukiddi can no longer walk or move on his own, but here the polygamy comes in handy, it takes both women to lift him to his chair.  In spite of his lameness and heart failure he is in good spirits.  We are served plates heaped with impossible amounts of rice and matoke, and the chicken must have been large since we all get good sized pieces with salty broth.  Scott of course is served the most desirable part, the gizzard.  Only Jack is able to clean his plate in a way that assures them their food is appreciated, mine is lamentably still full after I have stuffed myself to capacity.  Thick sweet passion fruit juice all around, and then glasses refilled as we are pressed to drink it all.  Afterwards we wash hands over a plastic basin, and the food is cleared.  We chat about how Caleb sits in class with their son John, about how Luke is now taller than me, about the fact that Dan’s daughter has graduated from nursing school and is coming to visit this summer.   In short we have more shared history with this family than with many of the people we know in America.

Daylight is dimming outside and now only shadows are visible in this small room.  We pray together, then make our slow exit, accompanied by the wives half way back to our house.  In Africa mutual dependence means security, and I sense that in their happiness over our continued relationship, and in the peace we feel to have the same neighbors for so many years.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mingled Love

“In all lands love is now mingled with grief . . . . “  Lady Galadriel, Fellowship of the Ring

As the small company of friends flees from great evil, mourning the loss of their leader, with their future uncertain, the wise Lady of the Wood acknowledges the temptation to despair but assures them that love still prevails, but this love is now inextricably intertwined with grief.

Such is the nature of love in a dangerous place.  Tomorrow an 11 year old girl named Kabugho Margaret will set off for Kampala with her father and one of our nursing staff.  Her abdomen is grossly distended with fluid and she winces in pain from a huge and growing mass.  She is dying of cancer, but able to smile in response to questions.  Her pregnant mother is wrapped in a kitengi, her concerned father wears flip flops sitting in my kitubbe today, and when he wracked his brain to think of how he could raise money to get her care he could only think of selling his chicken, worth about six dollars.  That won’t get them far.  Perhaps it is unmerciful to even offer them hope.  I struggled with that all weekend and am still not sure it is right to spend almost all the money we have left in our health account (about $250) to give her a long shot at treatment.  If this is a Burkitt’s Lymphoma it could be curable.  The chances, however, of any ordinary humble inexperienced patient navigating the inept and harsh bureaucracy of the national referral hospital (the only place in the country with chemotherapy) seem slim.  The alternative, remaining here, some tylenol for pain, and before long, death.  Perhaps the most merciful choice, but one I lacked the courage and conviction to make yet.  So she is going.

Closer to home, this morning reminded us of how fragile life is, especially here.  We were in the midst of singing a song at church when Joe ran in and got my attention, saying “my mom and dad say to come quick, something is wrong with Louisa.”  I tapped Scott’s shoulder and ran out after Joe, to see Kevin standing across the way waving us on to come quickly, saying she stopped breathing.  They had been at home watching a video together, when they suddenly became aware that Louisa was drooling, pale, then blue, unresponsive, floppy.  By the time  they piled everyone into the car and drove up to our house she was arousable.  My heart was still pounding, the sense of being on the brink of life before and after a crisis event that could change all our futures.  But this was a recurrence of the febrile convulsions she used to have as a baby, she was pretty out of it for a while after the seizure and her temperature started to rise rapidly.  She tested positive for malaria.  After some treatment and prayer we believed she would be fine, and there was thankfulness all around by the time she could sip a soda and say “Mom, see, I TOLD you I was sick.”   This is a bad malaria season in Bundibugyo. Love and sorrow meet, an awareness of danger for the ones we care about, this time not ending in desperate grief, but a sense of grace.  

Louisa spared, Kabugho we don’t know yet, all trust in One whose love plumbed the depths of grief and came back to save us.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back to Reality

Yesterday, after two fairly challenging days back to work at the hospital, I expressed to our team mate as we prayed together a sense of thankfulness to be back to the front line.  I do feel that way about medicine.  For a few hours daily I am face to face with sickness, putting my hands and eyes and ears to work, trying to discern problems and pull children through the harshness of this world, fighting for life.  There is something very basic and clear about that, the sense that this is reality, that the good of healing is unambiguous, that the power to confront a small part of the evil infecting our world is a gift.  I like staying grounded in those hours of front-line resistance to the work of the enemy.

But today I am bowled over.  Five hours straight of undiluted pain, and the restful break is forgotten, and the sense of purpose and wholeness of returning to my daily work seems difficult to grasp.  Just a sample:  Congolese twins who BOTH have sickle cell disease, with dwindly little bodies and crying out when their mysterious bony swellings are touched; new diagnosis of AIDS in a child; an 11 year girl cheerily answering my questions two days ago now in great discomfort as what is probably a massive tumor fills her abdomen (maybe lymphoma, maybe I will be able to get her to Kampala for treatment, maybe not); over an hour negotiating phone calls with everyone I could raise in positions of authority in the health system to agitate about the fact that we are short on ARV (medicine for AIDS) supplies and patients are going to suffer; a 4-ish year old boy who seems to have a broken leg after a drunk man clubbed him for disturbing their traditional dance (?witchcraft) last night; a girl who was possibly bit by a snake during the night as she was fine yesterday but awakened in pain and progressive massive swelling of her head and neck, thankfully still able to breath; a woman who came to Uganda years ago as a refugee after her husband and relatives were killed by rebels in Congo, delivered a baby this past week, received no antenatal care for the pregnancy, does not know the father of the baby, has had her last three babies all die, is mentally impaired (would I be too?), and is being looked after by a kind neighbor who brought mother and hungry baby to the hospital.  Those are just a few of the cases that stood out from the dozens of others with malaria and diarrhea and anemia . . .

So being able to rescue anyone is so far beyond me today.  Only the bleeding body of Jesus could affect such a rescue (Gal 1:4), though at times in this forgotten pocket of the world the bleeding atonement seems to seep in too slowly.  

Third Culture Kids

Kids who are growing up in a country and culture foreign to their parents’ upbringing are called third-culture-kids, because they are neither the same as their parents (American in our case) nor are they the same as the kids around them (Ugandan in our case), instead they meld their own tiny “third” culture from the other two.

We see this in a hundred ways almost daily but here is a recent interesting example.  Jack (age 9) has difficulty pronouncing “r”, so we saw a speech therapist in America in January who instructed me on some therapy I could do with him here.  We plugged away at it from February to April then took a break, and yesterday started up again.  As I laid out the cards for our game, he put on his African English accent and challenged the whole concept of speech:  “Mom, there are no “r”s in the way people talk here, and I’m going to live all my life in Africa, so why should you care if I can say “girl” (exaggerated attempt at a good rolling American r) instead of “gallll” (perfect imitation of a Ugandan saying the word)?  “

Having kids who can critically step back from cultural norms and question them . . . An eventual strength, but sometimes a challenge to answer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

From Sudan to Sabbath

Scott’s summary of his trip to Sudan is the entry below—scroll down and read it!  You can also see more pictures and thoughts on Kim’s blog (sidebar).  Since his return we have been blessed by a restful and adventurous anniversary trip through southwestern Uganda, borne along by your prayers.  Here are a few highlights:  travel mercies, island of restoration, glories of creation.

Two weeks ago today we piled seven Myhre and Masso kids into the truck at dawn and Karen and I headed out on a two-day journey which eventually reunited us with Scott and Michael.  My biggest concern was being the responsible driver through difficult roads, and/or through car malfunctions.  God sometimes keeps problems at bay, at other times allows us to plow through our fears and find Him faithful.  This trip held the latter—we met drivers from the Fort Portal side who told us the road was blocked, and eventually came to a large truck stuck in the mud on a hairpin turn, obstructing the road.  But there was a narrow passage through the deep mire between the truck and the mountain wall, and our trusty landrover in low-4WD managed to slip by.  So far so good.  After Fort Portal on the paved road I began to notice the car seeming to swerve occasionally, pushing to the side and needing me to over-correct.  We stopped and checked tires, rebalanced the load, shifted some weight from the roof rack.  I prayed for wisdom to know if was just my unfamiliarity with the speed of the tarmac and the winds that whip over the hills, or a real problem with the truck.  At Kasese I felt firmly that something was truly wrong, and pulled into a gas station to ask for a mechanic.  Luke got out and looked with me, and being more observant and in tune with mechanical objects than I am, noticed that the bolt which had recently been replaced on a bar that stabilizes the steering had sheared completely off.  It was gone.  Thankfully we found a diminuitive angel of a mechanic who agreed with our diagnosis.  It took about four or five hours (painful) for him to take off parts, hire a motorcycle to run around Kasese town looking for replacements, jerry-rig bushings, try, test drive, go back to the pit, replace another rear stabilizing rod bushing.  I called our usual mechanic Atwoki on the phone at several points for advice.  In the end the potentially dangerous problem was solved.  Later on the very rough tracks in the game park I realized that if we had not invested in that repair we would have been unable to complete our planned trek.  And in spite of the delay, it was a chance to see that God was able to bring us through the thing I feared.

Sounds like something out or Pilgrim’s Progress. In our case it was Bushara Island, a flowering forest rising up from the chilly waters of Lake Bunyoni (place of the little birds, literally) in the highlands around Kabale.  The Church of Uganda runs a simple retreat center on this island, a dozen or so tents and cottages scattered around its steep shore, each with a porch overlooking the still waters of the long narrow lake.  On the spine of the island is a centrally located open-air restaurant of sorts, complete with a stone fireplace.  At about 8 thousand feet the nights are COLD, a welcome respite from our steamy valley.  The Massos, Pierces, Larissa, Scotticus, and Kim joined us for card games, read alouds, jumping off the pier to swim in the lake, wild flings from a frighteningly high rope swing, a swimming/running/canoeing family triathalon disguised as a treasure hunt, reading, bird watching, some sailing and more swimming.   This is a place with outhouses, no running water, and no electricity . . . But also none of the usual demands of work and life.  It was the perfect place for us to reconnect as a family and a team, to read Scripture quietly in the mornings, to talk and process.  We are thankful for those days.

From Bushara most of the team went on to Kampala, but Scotticus, Larissa, and our family headed to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a national park in Uganda which is home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.  We camped just by the park entrance (I suppose the reputation of being impenetrable was preserved).  One day Scotticus and Larissa trekked the gorillas while our family went on about 10 kilometers of hiking through the woods to see L’hoest’s monkeys, towering trees, sprinklings of vivid butterflies, a view south to the Virunga volcanoes, waterfalls.  The next day the singles stayed with the kids in the camp so we could trek.  Luke has been mourning for months the fact that he was too young to get a trekking permit (age minimum is 15).  Since he is so passionate about Ugandan wildlife I did ask numerous park people if an exception could be made, but to no avail.  On the morning we prepared to trek, as we were getting our briefing from the guide, he introduced the head of the park who happened to be visiting.  I raised my hand and asked one more time if a 14 plus-year-old who was strong and capable and had grown up here could be allowed to go . . . And he said yes!  So in five minutes we ran and got Luke and he joined us.  Seeing the gorillas is an amazing experience—creatures bigger and stronger than us by far, peacefully munching stalks of vegetation or swinging lazily up and down trees, ambling over for better access to the leaves, unperturbed by our presence, rumbling contentment like mammoth kittens.  The silverback’s fingers looked nearly as big as my wrist.  As we returned to the ranger station we were surprised to find a different family of gorillas had ambled into the trees right on the edge of the park—so that I was able to run and get the three younger kids from our campsite and let them also see the gorillas up close (though more briefly)!  I can’t overemphasize what a rare treat and blessing that the entire family was able to view these endangered animals.  That evening we went to see a mission health clinic started by a family doctor from California, and enjoyed touring their facility and exchanging stories.  The doctor insisted in putting us up in his house for the night which turned out to be a lovely, tasteful, private home right on the edge of the forest again, where we could dip in the icy river and relax on the high porch.  While we were in the hospital, our four children watched the gorilla troop amble along the edge of the forest again!  Our Bwindi experience was all we could have hoped for our 20th anniversary.

From Bwindi we moved camp to Ishasha, the southern and little-visited area of Queen Elizabeth National Park.  There is a camp site there along the Ishasha River which forms the Congo border, where we pitched our tents only yards from pods of sunbathing hippos and were observed by raucous colobus monkeys.  This park is famous for the habits of the lions, which climb into ancient fig trees in the heat of the day and rest lazily on the thick branches.  Though we’ve camped there a number of times we had never seen the lions. As soon as we set up the tents the kids were ready to start searching, which seemed like a futile idea in the mid day sun.  However this time our ranger guide led us on and on to tree after tree until we finally found a pair of lionesses.  They regally deigned to glance at us with their yellow-brown eyes as we took pictures beneath them.

In Psalm 104 the poet finds strength in admiring God’s creativity and power as displayed in the lions, the wild donkeys, the flowing streams, the deep oceans.  Whenever we are able to get out into game parks and camp, to be surrounded by darkness under the swath of the milky way, to listen to the trumpet of elephants or glimpse the jeweled wing of a kingfisher in the bushes, our souls are lifted.  Creation’s glorious beauty derives from the fundamental beauty and glory of the Creator, and we are thankful for the opportunities we have in spite of the Fall to see pristine forms of that beauty up close.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reflections on Sudan

In January 2005, World Harvest Mission leaders meeting in Kenya set a goal of placing at least one team in a different African country by 2008. Sudan topped the list of potential new sites.

Robert Carr, Michael Masso, Kim Stampalia and I (Scott) recently completed a 1000 mile sojourn through southern Sudan visiting four other Christian ministries spanning four distinct southern Sudanese States.

Southern Sudan, the largest country in Africa, sprawls on a seemingly endless scale. The landscape, a homogenous flat scrubby terrain, thinly populated, is sprinkled with circular mud and thatch huts and studded with the occasional herd of cattle.

We arrived in dry season heat. With temperatures nearing 100 degrees F (and mercifully low humidity) we sweat continuously, drank and bathed frequently. The tall, rail thin Sudanese seem not to sweat or notice the heat. They walk briskly, efficiently, covering dozens of kilometers per day. We’ve heard the average walking time to a water point –a drilled borehole with a hand pump—is about 1.5 hours. These wells are usually the only water source in dry season. When the rains arrive dry stream beds fill, but that surface water may kill since almost no one digs or uses pit latrines.

The rainy season arrived with force six days into our trip. Drenching, driving nearly horizontal thunderstorms pour water into every conceivable dry spot leaving slippery mud and broad shallow pools everywhere. The sandy soil slowly soaks it up, but the humidity and moisture wakes the dormant larva of every imaginable insect. “Sudan is an incredibly harsh environment.” -- Dave Mueller, one of our missionary hosts (Werkok, Sudan) who knows the definition of “harsh” from his 17 years of missionary service in Papua New Guinea.

Wherever we went, people wanted to hear first not from me (the doctor) or from our Regional Director, but from our water engineer. It costs ~$10,000 to drill an equip a deep water borehole – 70 meters down – through mud which often collapses. Many aging hand pumps desperately need repair by skilled hands with the right parts.

On the side of health, most people receive meager medical care by minimally trained Community Health Workers. In two states we visited only three doctors served in each state, making the doctor-to-patient ratio about 300,00: 1. Many women must be dying in the village from childbirth related causes in light of the almost complete lack of transportation, communication, and extremely limited surgical obstetric services.

The needs of the Sudanese who have been at war for most of the last 50 years boggle the mind:

Roads impassable in much of the country for 6 months of the year due to rain.

The enormity of the country with the population thinly distributed and towns widely scattered.
Nearly complete lack of electricity, radio and phone service.

Continuing efforts of the northern gov’t to destabilize the southern rebuilding process by promoting tribalism through the supply of arms to rebel factions.

Heat, insects, lack of supplies and an inflationary economy.

The challenges tempt one to despair. Where, with whom, how will WHM begin a work in Sudan? Even after a 10 day exploratory trip, the answers to those questions remain unclear.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
--Matthew 9: 37-38

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
--Mark 8:35

So, please pray with us for faith, courage, wisdom and God’s leading.