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Monday, February 25, 2008

Food for the Hungry

34Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? 4
And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.
- Matthew 25:34-40

One of our great joys and privileges comes in providing food to the HIV+ women of the WHM Kwejuna Project for the Prevention-of-Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV. Today 150 women came forward to receive a bag of 40 pounds of beans, two mosquito nets, a bag of salt, and for about a third of the women, a long-term contraceptive injection. Luring these women out of their homes to receive food is no small challenge, as we know from previous surveys that as many as 90% of women who are found to be HIV+ through testing in prenatal clinics never tell ANYONE-not their husbands, mothers, sisters, neighbors.... So getting the opportunity to talk to them, encourage them, teach them, weigh them, test their kids for HIV, and just make sure they're alive is no small miracle.

At the distribution today, our visiting team from the States (including our Executive Director, Bob Osborne) received women in groups of 3-5 who responded to their offer for prayers. Sharing their hearts, their fears, their worries...holy moments. One woman came in with huge purple shiners under each eye. Her husband beat her to a pulp because he said she was shaming him by coming to receive food through the Kwejuna Project. She took her beating, but came anyway. Was it for the $20 worth of beans or because she knew it was a place she would be respected and encouraged? Probably for the beans, but the love and respect may help.

There are a lot of pictures of these precious women and their kids here.

(PS-The food given out to women today was made possible through a generous gift from a donor at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Safe Arrivals

The Bartkovich family arrived in Charlotte NC a bit the worse for wear, after what sounds like one of the most horrific two days of travel ever, involving lost bags, airline strikes, vomiting twins, a broken stroller, and missed flights. The EU is publishing the sad plight of illegal immigrants who try to sneak out of Africa to Europe as a way to thwart the flow, so perhaps we should post the Barts’ story as a similar discouragement to missionaries who want to leave the field! Seriously we are thankful that they made it safely home, even though it was a difficult trip. Continue to pray for their rest and refreshment, for their vision and connection.

Meanwhile as they landed in the US, a team of seven visitors took off for Bundibugyo. We have been affectionately referring to them as “the Big Dogs” because this team includes our Executive Director, Ministries Director, two Board members, and a missions pastor of a supporting church.. Thankfully they understand that we are still frayed around the edges, and are here to love and encourage us. Two hours ago they touched down on our airstrip after what sounds like one of the most spectacular MAF flights ever, right over the peaks of the Rwenzoris. They left winter and landed in a typical dry season day, with blazing temperatures and a hanging pall of dust, squwaking motorcycle horns and heaped baskets of market day traffic. Right now they are headed for a quick tour, weaving through the chaos of market day to sign in with our local government (a required security measure) and to greet Melen, the widow of Dr. Jonah. They brought her a framed copy of the upcoming WHM Harvester which features his story, a lovely gesture for which I am grateful.

I will close with the words of Nicholas Wolterstorff, from his Lament for a Son, which provide an appropriate posture for entering life in Bundibugyo:
The Stoics of antiquity said: Be calm. Disengage yourself. Neither laugh nor weep. Jesus says: Be open to the wounds of the world. Mourn humanity’s mourning, weep over humanity’s weeping, be wounded by humanity’s wounds, be in agony over humanity’s agony. But do so in the good cheer that a day of peace is coming.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Need builds community

Yesterday, in the market, strolling along with a friend from the hospital, asking for help.  Need builds friendship.  Self-sufficiency, though an American ideal, does not lead to real relationship.  Most days I forget this, feeling I am here to meet others’ needs, to have answers to illness, to bring resources against ravages of poverty.  But yesterday I found community in the unlikely exercise of shopping.  I’m not a shopper.  I wear whatever my sister hands-me-down, or departing missionaries as they clean out their wardrobes for packing.  I’ve never had a nice African outfit made, somehow in 14 years managing to avoid the (for me) discomfort of choosing cloth and hiring a tailor.  But with Ndyezika’s wedding approaching, I could put it off no longer, and so I took the plunge..  There is a nurse at the hospital whom I have known for many years.  My respect for her grew when she was one of the only people willing to come and visit Melen after Jonah died.  Though we’ve worked together I never asked her for anything . . . But yesterday I told her that I noticed how nice she always looks, and wondered if she would assist me in commissioning a dress.  So I moved from doctor/in-charge to fashion-deficient unsure outsider, and let her guide me through the process.  It was actually sort of fun.  We took off our shoes and sat on a mat among heaps of material scraps, in the shade of a shop near the market where two middle-aged women sit side-by-side pumping their treadle Singer sewing machines.  Though the machines look like something you’d see in an antique store or museum in America, these ladies manage to turn out lovely tailored dresses from the bright African cotton prints.  It took about an hour of negotiations, discussing sleeve style and length, and what hem-line would be appropriate for my figure.  I was measured in every dimension, the numbers jotted on a scrap of material in what appeared to me to be a random order, and all rather similar, so who will remember whether this one is my shoulder to elbow length or my waist?  Oh well.  We’ll find out on Tuesday what comes out.  I found it refreshing to be just another woman in the market, watching people walk by, with a toddler who did not fear hidden injections crawling behind me, leaning up against my back in the typical no-personal-space manner.  Later I walked over to my neighbor’s to ask her to cook lunch for the visitors on Monday, and later still to another neighbors’ who had called me in to talk about the unruly behaviour of their 12-year-old daughter, and whether I could have a talk with her..  It was one of those rare afternoons of feeling that in spite of all the national/racial/educational barriers that exist between me and my surroundings, I can occasionally experience true community.  And a reminder that the beginning of those interactions is need, MY need, which allows people to relate to me.  Even Jesus asked the woman at the well in Samaria for a cup of water.  I need to remember that.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Visitors in the Dark

Here is what Eugene Peterson writes on Psalm 30:   “The man who in the darkness took in the dark guest to sit by his fireside finds in the morning that she is transfigured and her name is Gladness.”  (Alexander Maclaren)   Hard experience offered to God results in the discovery that joy and blessing permeate life. ‘

I love that image.  We’ve had hard experience recently . . . Goodbyes, sorrow, loss, change, transition, sickness.  But instead of bemoaning it, let us offer it to God, and find that when the night is over the light of day reveals the trials to be truly transformed to joy.  As a team we’re barely recovered from the exhausting pull of goodbyes, we plunged ahead into the first week of the Pierces in charge of CSB, Jack and Julia began their studies there for the first time, the nutrition and Kwejuna projects that have been dampened by Ebola are now revving back up to full speed, and tomorrow a team of seven US visitors lands to see the way the Kingdom is working itself out in Bundibugyo.  All of that seems a bit stressful, but we are praying by faith to see Gladness.

It's official...Ebola is over

News agencies around the world are carrying the news from yesterday's press conference at Uganda's Ministry of Health in Kampala where Dr. Stephen Malinga announced that the waiting period to mark the end of Ebola in Uganda is now over.
The Reuters news service is one of many carrying the story.
Next Wednesday, the Official Party will happen in Bundibugyo...prayers at the graves of the fallen health workers, singing, dancing, eating, and speeches, speeches, and more speeches!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fraying, Tuesday afternoon thoughts

The toll of the heartaches begins to catch up and demand payment.  The weekend of goodbye was everything it should have been:  memories, fun, shared pictures in a fantastic slide show by Luke, laughs at take-offs on game shows and a Toby Mac rap, gathering around to chat and swim, gathering around to pray.  Expressing thanks from the heart.  Celebrating milestones.  One glimmer of hope in the midst:  David did a satirical New Vision front page that roasted Kevin in a way that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe, which hasn’t happened a lot lately.  It’s great that we get to KEEP him and his creative humor.  But when the time finally came that could be put off no longer, when all the other team mates had said goodbye and pulled away, our families finally had to part ways.  Joe was still relatively cheerful, he and Jack more inseparable in the last few days than they had been for months, Joe joking about Jack’s spine-crushing hugs.  Classic Bundibugyo, Savannah left with a fever, so our final five minutes involved pricking her finger for a malaria test.  Nate was worried about his little cars getting packed, and keeping close tabs on his mother’s presence.  Louisa looked wilted, she is a girl with a high capacity for friendship and loyalty in spite of conflict, and I think her world rested heavily on Liana and Naomi.  Watching Karen hug JD started my tears, which kept flowing as we gave our final hugs.  By the time I got to Kevin I was too numb to even talk.  And so they drove away (well, they came right back for a forgotten chameleon, and THEN they drove away).  We discussed this week:  is transition a natural part of the created world, or a symptom of its brokenness?  We knew it was coming, we prepared, we entered into the process, we persevered through, but now on the other side of goodbye I find my spirit frayed.

Not a great condition to begin to face the rest of life.  Today was Jack and Julia’s first day at CSB.  I accompanied them down this morning, not sure of proper protocol.  A moment’s pause on how strange our life is: for breakfast I cooked eggs that were one of Luke’s two graduation presents (the other was a tree seedling), here are my two youngest children starting secondary school ahead of their time, wearing clunky regulation black shoes and second hand clothes from the market, breezing through a cluster of men in camouflage armed with AK 47’s as if it was nothing (because it is nothing, just the normal night patrol of UPDF coming off duty), dodging a goat nursing its baby in the middle of the dusty road, then nervously standing with clusters of other students as they make their way into a classroom with ripped screens, dusty floors, a chalkboard painted on one wall, choosing a hard wooden bench, waiting, no teacher but some helpful upper class students instructing them on where to find benches to carry into the room.  And so begins their CSB career.  As we walked down to the classroom block some girls greeted Julia by name and said “don’t be afraid, we’ll watch out for you.”  That was nice.  But on top of everything else, it was hard to leave them there.  I take comfort in the fact that Jack is an intimidating bulk of a brother body guard.  But I admit the sheer grit of moving forward through life had experienced some unraveling this week.

Ndyezika Triumphs!!!! And other good news.

Today’s HAPPIEST of all: Ndyezika PASSED!!!!!!!! Hallelujah, literally. Thanks to all his prayerful fans out there. He took the only remaining exam yesterday, then waited nervously while it was graded. Late last night he found out the good news. Now he’s registering officially as a Laboratory Assistant. It will still take months if not most of the year to be recognized, apply for open positions in Bundibugyo, and get on the Ministry of Health government payroll. But he’s done with the training, and we are so thankful to celebrate this success.

Today is the final day in the 42 day count-down post-discharge of the last Ebola patient. Tomorrow the epidemic will be declared officially over. But this being Bundibugyo, the organization of the party to commemorate the end took longer than expected, so the official party is not for another week. Meanwhile there was only one empty bed in the Paeds ward this morning. Weddings that were delayed are starting to reorganize, I know of three in the next few weeks. Students are back in school in full force. Life is finally going on.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ndyezika's Final Attempt

Tomorrow, Monday, the 18th, Ndyezika will attempt to pass his laboratory assistant certifying exams once again.  Last time he was nearly there, so this time he only has to repeat one portion of the exam.  The director of our lab with whom he has worked for these past months assures me he is capable and ready . . . But we know that Ndyezika struggles in the pressure of the exam setting. Please pray for him to remain calm, to remember what he has learned, and to find favor in the eyes of the examiners (it’s pretty subjective).  If he passes, then he can apply to be PAID for the job he’s essentially already been doing at the health center.  And since his Ebola-delayed wedding is now rescheduled for March, it would be very helpful to have this behind him as he starts his new life.

Friday, February 15, 2008

They're Off

The Bartkovich family drove out in a convoy this morning: first a truck of CSB teachers, about half the staff, whom Kevin invited to hike over the mountain trail with him and spend the night in Fort Portal. Then JD and a few team mates in cars, who will drive instead of hike to Fort. The rest of the team was asked to wait and join them in Fort Portal tomorrow at the newly renovated Mountains of the Moon Hotel for a final day of goodbyes. God has really answered prayers to make their week between announcing their resignation and driving out a great time of honor and closure. In spite of the abrupt timing, the students, the staff, and the team have all had significant opportunities to spend time thanking the Bartkoviches for their sacrificial service. We were privileged to be allowed to attend both the final chapel time for the all-school goodbye on Wednesday, and the staff dinner last night. At chapel the girls sang a few original compositions with words like “goodbye is the saddest word, I shake my body to you” and a chorus naming each family member with dramatically acted tears. Kevin recounted the challenging history of the school, remembering days of anxiety over the ADF rebels, months of evacuation to the safer side of the mountains, riots after football matches, locking wills with the corrupt sports administration, the pain of firing teachers who had abused their position to take advantage of young girls . . . And also the triumphs of four consecutive trips to the national football tournament, of ever improving scores on national exams, of the emergence of the school as the top academic institution in the district.

Last night the staff room was lit by candles (low solar weather these days), we sat on hard wooden chairs and benches in a big circle with tables of amazingly delicious food prepared by the school’s new caterer Pamela in the center, with crates of lukewarm sodas, toddlers running until they fell asleep in their parents’ arms, friendly chatter. After dinner about a third of the staff stood up to make speeches which lasted for a couple of hours, thanking Kevin for his work and JD for her behind-the-scenes advice to him. Several spoke of getting to know Kevin over the last couple of years in a deeper way, getting beyond his intimidating persona and becoming his friend. Others were grateful for what they had learned about leadership or teaching, grateful for opportunities to do new things, to get feedback on their teaching, to improve. Others were pleased that the school’s success had lessened their embarrassment among their Kampala colleagues over being from Bundibugyo! And several mentioned that they know all missionaries will leave here, and that this is THEIR school, their work now to carry on.

Scott is chairman of the board, and the Pierces attended as the incoming headmaster; we came in that official capacity, but for deeper reasons too. We wanted to be part of honoring the Barts, to bear witness to their accomplishments, to stand with the staff in their grief, to embody the reality that the mission remains even when key people leave. I found it harder than I expected. Of course the last hour retrospective comes in rosy colors that make us all question: so why leave? In many ways it is harder to see someone go after watching the Ugandans they work with speak so highly of their service, after getting a rare glimpse of the connection Kevin has nurtured with the staff. And the more their accomplishments are lauded, the more panic I feel about what we will do without them! Afterwards I found the school secretary on the porch in the dark alone, and though I couldn’t see her well I suspected she was crying. So I put my arms around her and she broke down in convulsive sobs. Like my kids, she wonders, why do people have to leave? How many more missionaries can these kids or these Ugandans give their hearts to and then say goodbye?

After it was all over, at nearly midnight, Kevin quietly gave his office keys to David. So as of today, the transition in leadership is official. Please pray for the school, for the Pierces, for the CSB leadership team, for us. We will all make some grave mistakes that the Barts would have had the wisdom of experience to avoid. The students, and some less mature staff, may push the limits to see what they can get away with now that Kevin is gone. Yet the reality of the story of this world is that God takes things that are hard, painful, wrong, deathly . . . And makes them new, brings good out of sorrow. We need hope to believe that a year from now we’ll be able to look back and praise Him for the new things He will do at CSB, and in all of us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Quote from Nouwen

Mortification—literally, ‘making death’—is what life is all about, a slow discovery of the mortality of all that is created so that we can appreciate its beauty without clinging to it as if it were a lasting possession. Our lives can indeed be seen as a process of becoming familiar with death, as a school in the art of dying. I do not mean this in a morbid way. On the contrary, when we see life constantly relativized by death, we can enjoy it for what it is: a free gift. --Henri Nouwen, A Letter of Consolation

A small mercy, a glimpse of redemption, to ponder that the pain of death, of goodbye, of change, of loss, even though representing wrongness in our world, can become a way God loosens our grip on the temporary and fills our hearts with a longing for the eternal.

On Community

We prayed this morning about the brokeness of this world, both around us and in our own hearts, and asked for eyes to see the redemption God is accomplishing even here in Bundibugyo.  The ripping apart of our team life as the Barts depart is yet one more area of brokeness—as I prayed the words came to me that we were created for permanent relationship, not for project cycles, so that coming to the end of even a decade of good work and closure still feels painful.  Yet we have hope that our true community transcends space and time, as we move through life we are continuously moving back towards each other and the perfect friendship we will have in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  And we get a glimpse of that permanence and continuity as we keep in touch with each other after departure.  Scott Ickes taught here for only a year, yet left his mark on our community and in our hearts.  I have thought of him often this week as the track he labored to create for the CSB cross country team has been getting a new layer of marum.  Then I checked his blog, which has been dormant, and found he had posted a great poem that expresses the pain of leaving here.  Check it out:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rainforest Photos

Luke took a lot of pictures on our hike to the Semuliki river yesterday (and Scott took a few when he could get his hands on the camera). He has a creative eye for detail, color, lighting, motion, and composition. A handful of his photos are included in our "Bundibugyo-General" FlickR set.
We walked 24 km (about 16 miles) through areas of old-growth forest (ironwood) with a sky-high canopy and quiet, through palms and vines, with glimpses of red tailed monkeys and the calls of hidden chimps, the trills of piping Hornbills, the confetti of bright butterflies. Another side of Africa, the green side.

Goodbyes Ahead

The departure of the Bartkovich family, though mentioned in the last post, deserves a fuller story and picture. We have lived with the impending reality for some time, but have honored the Barts’ request to delay disclosure because of their concern that public awareness of their plans could negatively impact the school. However they told the teaching staff on Friday, and today Pat reminded me to tell the church. So I’ll repeat here on the blog what I said in front of the congregation (though you won’t read my tears which came in spite of all efforts to focus them away this morning).

Kevin and JD moved to Uganda ten years ago to start Christ School, at the invitation of the mission. I will not even attempt to sum up that decade of effort, except to say that we now see the fruit as several hundred students per year receiving a solid grounding in Biblical discipleship and the best education in the district. They planned to stay six or seven years, then that stretched to 8 as the process was more complicated than they anticipated, and their own hearts became so tied to the team and community that the “next steps” they assumed their career would take looked less attractive. At the 8 year mark they told the team they would definitely need to leave by the 10th year, so we should pray for their replacements. Soon after that meeting, in one of our more frequent trips to the US due to my Dad’s ALS, a member of our main supporting church heard the need for a new future school administrator and called her daughter and son-in-law, and a few whirlwind months later the Pierce family joined out team. For the last year and a half they have been coming alongside the Bartkoviches to learn and partner. But now the moment of transition is upon us, and even though we can see God’s hand and thank Him for His provision, it is hard for all of us. Hard for Kevin and JD, for the Pierces, for the team, for the school, for the community. Taking the Bart family out of the Bundibugyo team is like tearing off a piece of our body, a real wound, that will take time to heal.

I asked the church members to take time to say thank you, for many of them have had children who were blessed by the school, and even if none of their children have yet attended we know that the long-term impact of CSB will bless their families for many years to come. And many people who read this blog will have the opportunity to meet the Bartkoviches in the coming year, and also thank them face to face. They will be on “HMA”, Home Ministry Assignment, a time to rest and reflect, to be nurtured, as well as a time to thank supporters. As they thank you, please take the time to thank them! They will be based initially in Charlotte and then in Durham NC. They do not know what their next step will be, only that they will not come back to Bundibugyo. They are leaving by choice and by plan, but after a very stressful and draining year. They would appreciate your prayers for their renewal, and for vision.

I ended with the most frequent command of the Bible: Do Not Fear. That needs to be said so often, to all our hearts. It is important for the community, who see missionaries come and go, to put their trust in God not in a particular person. And important for them to be assured that WHM is still fully committed to CSB, and that David Pierce will be in place as the new headmaster as Kevin goes. The elders prayed not only for the Barts this morning, but for the Pierces in their new role, and for all of us missionaries in our grief. It feels like a long week ahead, culminating next weekend as the entire team escorts them out as far as Fort Portal where we’ll spend a day and night in honoring them and saying goodbye.

Holy Moments

Holy moments, slices of our time on earth when we glimpse behind the veil to what is more real. One of those occurred yesterday when I read a comment on the post “But the Kingdom Comes”. Look for it. It is signed “Cindy”, as in Cindy the mother of Jessica, the 21 year old woman who died in a car accident while at our pre-field missionary orientation on her way to join WHM’s Spain team. As a mother she could be bitter, angry, bewildered, hopeless. And if those emotions are part of her grief in this fallen world, then she could find plenty of psalms, laments, and Biblical cries to reflect her protest. But instead she wrote to connect with and encourage us, a holy bond of grief and common cause. I held my breath reading her words, unworthy to be included in her burial-day thoughts. The closest I can come to imagining her loss were three babies of ours dying by miscarriage in 1991 and 1992, starting the month we joined WHM. An unseen baby nearly broke my heart; how much more a 21 year old daughter. So I can only thank this woman for expressing her faith on this blog, and choosing to hold on to God in the midst of her storm. A friend and fellow-missionary in Prague put an excellent book on grief into my hands Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff, which I’ve been reading. Whether we infer that there is an Enemy working against the Kingdom by murdering new recruits, or just that following a call from God does not serve as a ticket to a long and easy life untouched by the chaotic evil of illness and injury, Jessica’s death sobers us all. The Kingdom is, once again, confirmed to be serious business. People get hurt. A few other holy moments this week:
  • Annelise and I both got sick, and at about the same time took the uncharacteristic decision that we needed to go to bed in the middle of the day . . . When I got up I found that (unbeknownst to either of us) her kids had had been dropped off at our house. . . And they had a holy afternoon of great play, allowing both of us to rest and recover, entertaining each other harmoniously. Whenever kids of disparate ages who have spent months apart from each other are able to be happy and independent for three hours, there is a sense of God’s presence.
  • Friday, Luke’s birthday, the three friends he had invited did not show up all afternoon, and at nearly 7 pm we had almost finished cooking his “feast” and were searching for ways to soften the blow of disappointment in this season of disappointments for him, when they at last arrived. When my kids can spend a weekend with friends who are 3 to 4 years older, and of a completely different life background, and yet laugh and watch a video and hike through the forest and play cards and read books and eat . . .I sense the holiness of God’s presence with us.
  • Also on Friday, Kevin was finally able to share with the CSB staff the Bartkovich family’s plan to leave Bundibugyo after their long service to CSB. Though most probably realized that a trip to the US was in their near future for one of the Home Ministry Assignments (HMAs) we all take, they were appropriately distressed and shocked by the news that he would not return to CSB after this break. I’m thankful that Scott and David could be present to witness that moment, and Annelise and I were able to be together at home praying for Kevin’s words and heart as he spoke. This is a huge turning point for the school, and the team, and a bit more like Jessica’s death in that we glimpse behind the veil here to believe God is present and at work, but the rending of the veil is painful.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Luke Turns 15

Today is Luke’s 15th Birthday, here in the very spot where he celebrated his 1st Birthday. Then he was a strawberry-blond toddler with a skinned nose from learning to walk on the rough cement floors of this house which we had moved into a few days earlier, delighted by the attention of the “big kids” (Matt and Libby, Lydia and Luke H). Now he’s tall, strong, competent and accomplished, and by far the biggest kid around. We gave him a couple of photography books, as he enjoys the artistic composition of pictures as well as the technical challenge of working with digital imagery. Today the only person (besides his parents!) who was present when he turned 1 as well as 15, Pat, will have him work with her on a mural she’s painting on the Paediatric Ward. Tonight he’ll have three school friends eat with us and sleep over for a big hike through the Ituri rainforest tomorrow, one of his other passions being the African wilderness with its unpredictable beauty and the physical challenge of a day’s trek. Pause with us to thank God for Luke. It is no small thing to grow from baby to man in Uganda, no small thing to have not only survived but to have come to love this place and have friends here. We’re grateful.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

But the Kingdom Comes

As a team, as a mission, it is much more clear to see that the World Goes Not Well this week than that the Kingdom comes. Violence continues in Kenya, the death toll is getting uncomfortably close to 1,000. Those are not just numbers, they are real people who fled for their lives, whose last moments were terrifying and painful, almost all due to the blunt force of machetes and similar weapons. A Kenyan friend Esther called us this week, to assure us she was still OK. The Carrs and Kimberly are bravely attempting to aid the displaced and disoriented while the country struggles to regain equilibrium. On Sunday we felt tremors from earthquakes that hit Rwanda and Congo. Today we learned that one of the newest WHM missionaries, a 21 year old woman appointed to the Spain team, was killed in a car wreck in Colorado when she traveled from the pre-field training program (MTI) to church. I’ve chronicled some of the heartache of disappointment and loss in the last couple of days here.

Yet the Kingdom comes, even when we can’t see it. Stephanie led a great meditation this morning, hearkening back yet again to Psalm 130, which God seems to be bringing to us over and over, the idea of watchmen waiting for the morning. In the darkness we strain, knowing that light will surely come. She spoke of deliverance, which sometimes comes so subtly and quietly we fail to notice the mercies that flow over us, food and friendship and sunshine and health. Sometimes, it comes dramatically in the 11th hour, just when hope seems to be beyond our grasp, as God keeps us in suspense and stretches our faith. And sometimes it comes after hope has gone, after the worst has happened, after what we dreaded has occurred, as in the death of Jonah. This deliverance is only found in the resurrection, the assurance that death is not the end.

So today let me give a small testimony to 11th hour deliverance, to a taste of Kingdom Come. Mumbere is alive (see his picture above from today and one below from one year ago). I left him yesterday comatose, grunting, floppy, with a body full of malaria parasites and thick snot flowing out of his lungs when I tried to give some chest PT. I really did not think he would pull through this time. As I biked to the hospital this morning, I was trying to decide if I could still manage all I had committed to today if I went to his burial, because I’d really want to be there. But when I walked through the doors, there he was sitting with his grandmother. Awake, alert, grumpy. I gave him a piece of candy I had in my pocket, which he snatched up and opened with no problem. Amazing. His life still hangs by a frayed thread, but he’s not gone yet. The Kingdom Comes, in small slow steps, in small dark bodies, one at a time.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The World Goes Not Well

I’m reading Tales of the Kingdom aloud at night, and in it the Rangers call out a watchman-like greeting: “How goes the world?” And the answer is “The world goes not well. But the Kingdom comes.” Tonight is one of those nights where the NOT WELL aspect of this world weighs heavily. I was sitting outside a government office today when one of the officials came to greet me, and commented “You really love Bundibugyo, don’t you?” And I said “Yes, but sometimes it is not easy to love.” How many trite and cliché verses are written about the danger of loving something weak and fragile, the way love opens us to disappointment and suffering. That is how I feel today.

For starters, as I was trying to zip through patient rounds in order to get on with the other pressing concerns of the day (see below) a nurse brought me a patient who had not yet been evaluated but was “bad off.” I was tempted to find some reason someone else should see this kid when I looked up and realized it was Mumbere, the little boy with AIDS who has been revived in the care of his frail little grandmother. Now he’s a chunky 11 kg (probably quadruple his weight when he was dwindling with AIDS) and thriving on ARV’s, until today, when he arrived anemic and gasping and unconscious. Probably just malaria, but in a kid with marginal immunity and in a family without the resources to get him care until the situation became desperate. Our nurses and lab staff rallied to resuscitate him and he’s still alive tonight, but I fear for him. He’s the one with the grandmother who said “Of course I want to take care of him, he’s the only picture I have of my daughter.”

Then on the way home I got a call with Luke’s O Level results. He and five of his classmates received Division 1 scores, which is good news, and means CSB earned 6 of the district’s 9 Division 1 passes even though they had only 10% of the district’s students. And NO FAILURES, even though 11% of students in Bundibugyo failed. Reasonably good news for CSB. Since Luke is a few years younger than the average student and did not take all the classes others did, we should be very proud that he scored in the top 2% . . . But the good news was marginal when he heard his actual grades. Most were significantly worse than he had scored on practice tests, and certainly much worse than he expected. In one class he was particularly committed to and confident of (he had never made less than a 1 in that subject) he earned a 5, even though post-exam he had gone over all his answers with others and was quite sure of his performance. So it was another example of frustration, of his perception of disconnect between work and outcome, of the inscrutability of the system. Another experience of being told “you’re not nearly as good at this as you could be”. Another reason to question the value of his education.

From that emotional low I headed up to Bundibugyo town with Ivan, a 13 year old boy who is one of our family’s best friends here (especially Jack). He was hoping to get into CSB but his PLE exam score was inadequate, and I was told today that though he’s on the waiting list he’s unlikely to be offered a spot. Hard, because he really wants to be with Jack and Julia, and they with him, and I suspect he’s at least as bright as most of the kids I sponsor, but has had a rough life and poor education. So our plan was to put him in P7 (final year of primary) in the “best” primary school in the District, located within Bundibugyo township 12 kilometers from our home. They had 10 PLE Division 1’s last year. Not exactly like a Kampala school, but OK. He had to take a surprise entrance exam in the headmaster’s office which he at least passed. While he was struggling with that another student helped me rummage around town for the requirements, including a mattress, basin, cup and plate, red socks, books and pens, a small metal trunk to lock things in. A few hours later we were escorted for a tour, and I just wanted to cry. This is Bundibugyo’s best primary school, but the conditions were no better than anything I saw in Sudan, in fact I wondered how different they were from a concentration camp. Small space, open unfinished mud-brick buildings with dirt floors, no grass, a room about 15 by 15 feet square to house over 30 boys in stacked bunks, kids standing along the reed fence with nothing to do after class, no running water, no electricity, no library, no books, a shack of a kitchen, and I even spotted a teacher “caning” a line of students (smacking them one by one on the bottom with a stick as they knelt). “Isn’t that illegal?” I asked. I held back tears as I left Ivan there. He wanted to stay, he’ll grasp at this hope for education, this possible ticket into CSB next year. But I wonder if it is worth it.

And if that was not enough in the realm of pounding on my heart, in facing the vulnerabilty of kids I love . . . My third task of the day was to take scathing letters to the headmaster of our local primary school, the District Education Officer (DEO), and the Chairman LC5, about the teacher who sexually abused my young neighbor N. She is improving, but a shell of herself.. And I heard today that as schools started the man was not in jail but instead reporting back to teach!! I rarely am able to push this kind of advocacy this far, and even today I faltered, as convinced as I am that this situation is evil and must be fought. If I was intimidated, then I can see more clearly why so few of these cases get reported. The local school seemed to be in favor of “look the other way” and “what can we do.” The District Education Officer was absent. But the Chairman LC5 at least said the right things, called it unacceptable, asked others in his office “what if it was your daughter”, agreed that the man should lose his job at the very least, and called in an assistant DEO to affirm that. Then he sent me with this assistant DEO to the police station, where we moved from office to office trying to locate the proper file and number and person in charge. In the process we learned that another teacher, who is also a neighbor and friend, was briefly incarcerated in conjunction with aiding and abetting the abuser in the case, but had been released on bond that morning. At the end of the day I went to report all I’d done to the family, including her bed-ridden father and his elderly brother, and to make sure that her younger sister switches to a hopefully safer school.

So a day of disappointment, of sitting in offices and pleading, of lamenting drunk police and shabby surroundings, of the stench of corruption just below the surface. Not to mention that I have a nasty cold, and that it is now 10 pm and Scott is at the hospital where he took a friend’s wife who was in respiratory distress. The world goes not well, for Luke (somewhat, though relative to all the other problems his sadness is not so bad), for Ivan, for N, for Mumbere and his grandmother, for Oliva. For me.. It is a badly broken place. But the Kingdom comes.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

O Level Primer

The O-Level Results are out at the national level, and we should know more about our local Bundibugyo results tomorrow when Kevin travels to pick them up.  On Friday the Ministry of Education announced the completion of the grading, and gave summary results for the districts.  Most schools near Kampala have rushed to collect the “pass slips” for their students, and the paper is full of happy stories of high achievers.  

In order to make sense of the results, here is a short primer for those not used to the British system.  Before entering Christ School, the boarding secondary school that is part of our WHM team ministry, children study in primary school for seven years.  At the end of P7 they take the PLE, Primary Leaving Exam, in four subjects:  English, Math, Social Studies, and Science.  The best score per subject is 1, the worst is 9 (failure).  So PLE scores range from 4 to 36, with anything up to 32 (4x8)  considered passing.  Most of our CSB students have entered with PLE’s in the mid twenties, though the performance has improved steadily year by year, and we’re starting to get a good number in the teens.  There are schools in Kampala, many, which take only students with 4’s and 5’s.  So by the time our kids start at CSB, they have usually endured five or six years of marginal early childhood nutrition, lived in a home without even a single book to read, and then sat through seven years of primary school in institutions that are nearly the worst in the country.  Just to put it in perspective.

In secondary school there are four “Ordinary Level” (O level) years, S1 to S4, after which students sit for the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE), which is commonly referred to as O levels.  Students study on average 10 classes, but the best 8 are the ones included in the score.  The UCE functions somewhat like a high school diploma in the US system, but academically more on the order of 11th grade.  Successful students can then study for two more years, “Advanced Level” (A level), S5 and S6, usually narrowing to three or sometimes four subjects.  Then they sit for A levels, which determine admission to University.  Completion of A levels is like finishing a year of community college in the US.  University Bachelor degrees are completed in 3 years.

So back to the O level scores.  Again 1 is the best in any subject, and 9 is a failure.  So the best “best of 8” score would be 8, which some of the thrilled teenagers featured in the stories in the paper have received.  These are tough exams that cover their entire four years of classwork in numerous subjects.  Besides the “best of 8” aggregate, there is a grading something like A, B, C, D called Division 1, 2, 3, and 4.  The cut-offs are a bit complex.  Division 1 means the student a) passed five subjects with “credit” (6 or above) including English and b) passed at least one course each in math, humanities, and science and c) the total score in the best six subjects adds up to 23 or less.  It is not a straight number cut-off, so that students who take more difficult work are not necessarily penalized, and those with a broadly good performance are rewarded.  Division 2, 3, and 4 allow for mere passes (7 or 8, not only credit 6 and above) in required subjects and progressively more lax totals.  

NOW  . . . . If anyone is still with me . . . .the district-level results can be compared by percentage of students passing in Division 1, or by percentage passing at all.   But even that can be misleading, if in a rural poor area most children are unable to attend secondary school, then the passing rate of the few who do make it that far could look excellent because the scores of an elite few are not diluted by the average kid.  So take it all with a grain of salt.  

79 districts were listed in this morning’s paper.  The top district has a 16.7% Division 1 rate, the average was 8.4% in Division 1 among the nearly 200 thousand kids who took the exam.  Bundibugyo had only 9 of 481 students in Division 1.  All were boys.  We don’t know what schools they attended, but hope that most are from CSB!  That is an overall Division 1 rate of 1.9%; and that means our district ranks 67 out of 79 (12 were worse).  If the districts are ranked by failure rate, ours was 11.4%, which was third from the bottom (2 were worse).

Which means that we still have work to do here, and lots of it.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Producing Perseverance

Friday mornings we have staff meetings at NHC.  Today was the first since Ebola disrupted our lives so severely.  The acting In-Charge and I decided it was long overdue, to sit together and begin to move forward into the rest of life.  He asked me to start, so I prayed and then read from James chapter 1.  The Bible does not gloss over sorrow, it assumes that trials and suffering form the fabric of our normal lives.   We lament and we grieve, but we do not despair, and we cling to the hope that this suffering is producing perseverance.  Yet when I tried to talk, the grief which I have kept at bay for weeks stealthily crept up on me.  Friday mornings, squeezed onto simple backless benches, with the 20-some staff with whom I have spent much of the last decade, was all very familiar.  But today, without Dr. Jonah, the former center of these meetings.  His absence brought tears, and this being a culture where people don’t talk much of the dead or cry for them after the funeral, most of the staff were a bit uncomfortable as I took a few minutes to recover.

But the meeting did not end there.  Once I opened the door, several other people spoke.  It was good to acknowledge the passing of an era, the change in our lives.  One thanked us (WHM) for remaining in the struggle with them, and actually said to me “we are of one blood”, which I took as a high compliment to someone like me who so clearly does not look like anyone’s relative there.  A small redemption, the kind of subtle good that God waters from the seeds of death.

And then we turned to welcoming a new nurse who just joined us this week, and introducing all the staff to her.  Instead of dry introductions, I asked each person after giving their name to share one good thing that happened in their lives in the last year.  That turned out to be a blast.  Everyone loosened up, laughed, clapped for each other.  People gave thanks for degrees completed, children with good exam scores, weddings, babies, houses built.  The biggest explosion of happiness came when one of the porters (janitor) stood up and said that he bought his first phone today!  In a season of grief, in acknowledging our loss, it was therapeutic to remind each other of the good things that have happened, too.  And to witness that sharing both grief and joy binds us together in community.  And that is part of what produces perseverance.