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Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I found solace in an unexpected place, thanks to Scotticus, who bequeathed upon me a great book.  
This has been a very very emotional and intense week so far, and it is only Tuesday.  Our oldest is struggling to overcome homesickness and injury, our second has been glumly lonely without him, and our third was knocked down by the non-party birthday edict.  But the real stress is our youngest, whose sadness has bowled him and us over.  He began with some very sad and tear-filled days a month or two ago, after a fever and rash, in what seemed like a post-viral depression, that resolved. But now it has returned.  He's had plenty of reasons to be pushed over the edge this year, besides the virus:  the forced inactivity of stress fracture-like orthopedic issues, being an outsider in an insular culture, going into a Ugandan secondary school as a 10 year old, saying goodbye to his neighbors the Grays and his friend Joe Bartkovich, leaving his parents abruptly in the dangerous uncertainty of the ebola epidemic, and most significantly leaving his adored oldest brother at boarding school. Not to mention the spiritual forces at work in this place.  So as we enter the Masso count-down-to-departure week, a bit of an implosion should not have been unexpected in this child who thinks deeply and feels intensely.  But the magnitude of his sorrow  . . . . none of us could have predicted.  It didn't help that Scott had to go to Kampala for much of the week, to re-stock medicine and retrieve our newly repaired truck and run a couple dozen errands.  In short, Jack has been inconsolably sad.  Hours of tears, and desperation, leaving us heartbroken and confused.  
In this context I came home today from the hospital, no workers due to the national holiday (end of Ramadan), kids still in school for another hour, Scott still in Kampala for another two days.  I sat down to eat some lunch all alone, which I usually either skip or eat with Scott.  So I picked up the book I'm reading to keep me company as I ate, since it is a book about food.  I had reached the last chapter, called The Burning Heart, which begins as  an ode to baking soda and then transitions to the larger heart-ache of living in this world.  
Having provided baking soda for your solace and soup for your sustenance, I press on to the last consideration of all:  the higher distress for which earth has no cure--that major, vaster burning by which the heart looks out astonished at the world and, in its loving, wakes and breaks at once. . . . For all its rooted loveliness, the wold has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a foreign home, a session in via to a better version of itself--and it is our glory to see it so and thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last.  We were given our appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great.  That is the unconsolable heartburn, the lifelong disquietude of having been made in the image of God. (from The Supper of the Lamb:  A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon, my new favorite book)
I actually read these paragraphs to Jack later, who grasped it.  This is the true cause of sadness in the midst of fellowship and learning and family and goodness:  we long for that place we can not yet grasp, we know the tears will be wiped away but not yet.  And so we live in the tension, and ache with the longing.  
And so in the final pages of a cook book, the reflection that encourages me to press on in the sadness.  Capon says we must no just cut and run for cover when the bother of love itself overwhelms us.  We must fight.
Love is as strong as death.  Man was made to lead with his chin; he is worth knowing only with his guard down, his head up and his heart rampant on his sleeve. . . .playing it safe is not Divine.  We have come to the end.  I tell you simply what I believe.  Love is the widest, choicest door into the Passion.
Jack's heart burns, and mine burns for him, until we feast in the New Jerusalem.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Our Widow's Mite

Today we sat through over 4 hours of church and goodbye . . . because
it is the Masso's last Sunday in Bundibugyo. Kisembo continued his
sermon on giving, this time from Luke 21, the story of the widow's
paltry offering being recognized by Jesus. As with the other weeks,
the Spirit-led words worked on my heart too. I'm tired of giving the
things that are precious, the things that I feel are the heart of our
resources, like our kids and friends. So when Scott rose to spoke at
the goodbye section of the service, he pointed out that we as a team
and a community are giving our two mites as we send the Massos off to
Sudan. They are an integral long-term serving family; they have
provided our only engineering and goat-nutrition and tracking and
fundraising and community development and church-encouragement
skills. We do not send them to a new field out of excess; it is a
sacrifice. And of course the Massos themselves are embracing
sacrifice as they leave some 13 years of home and relationship and
ministry to start anew in a country that is unstable. In terms of
daily life, it will be like stepping back more than a decade to the
Bundibugyo of the mid-90's. Kisembo's sermon concluded by pointing
out the compassion of Jesus, who saw the sacrifice of the widow, and
blessed her. Tonight we cling to that reality, that Jesus sees, and
knows how hard it is to say goodbye to yet another family.

Many people spoke, including the grandmother of Kobusinge, the
orphaned infant whom Karen (and JD) took in to nurse and foster for
several months when Liana and Louisa were babies, and whose plight
drew their hearts into the motherless baby ministry. Her testimony
gave God glory, because it was amazing to her that people she did not
know who were protestant even (she was catholic) would help her!
Others thanked the Massos for the water flowing, for the teaching they
have done, for the goats and the perseverance to live here with a
family so many years. Karen and Michael also spoke, and the afternoon
closed with the elders laying hands on their kneeling family and
commissioning them to go to Sudan.

On fairness, culture, and turning 12

In the midst of three brothers who are struggling to find their way as
American teens in rural Africa, Julia has been an unexpected joyful
presence. She takes school and all its idiosyncrasies in stride. She
thinks spending a Friday evening in Knitting Club with a dozen girls
is fun. She thrives on the camaraderie and exercise of the girls'
football team. She still welcomes her life-long Ugandan friends on
Saturdays and giggles in games. She's responsible and kind and lovely
and smart. And she's turning 12 this week, stepping closer to being a
woman in a place where it is not easy to do so.

Like probably most American 12 year olds, she wants to invite some
friends from school to celebrate her birthday. Unlike most, however,
she does so in a place where birthdays are a foreign concept, where
being friends with an outsider carries the risk of ostracism, and
where singling out any handful of girls will lead to jealous
repercussions from the others. So we thought we had hit on a workable
solution: provide dinner for the entire girls' football team after
practice on Friday. It will also be Acacia's last practice before she
moves. The team is already a selected group of 21 girls and includes
the handful she most wants to have over. It seemed to be a treat for
these girls who have worked hard to become a team, a boost to Miss
Ashley the coach, and fun for Julia. Repeatedly when we study the
idea of "friendship" here, it includes sharing food and visiting each
others' homes. So we planned.

But then we ran into the wall of culture. Some of the teachers come
from very strict post-British boarding school culture in which the
frivolity of a special event is seen as dangerous to the seriousness
of school, and resist any special privilege accruing to the boys'
football team let alone the girls. Others suspect that any student
who visits a missionary house will take on airs of superiority that
make trouble at school. Others insist that fairness demands that no
student do anything that all are not doing. So we were told, no, it
would not be OK.

Last night at dinner, we were going around the table doing "highs and
lows" of the day, and the normally cheerful Julia sadly mumbled her
low was that she could not invite her team for her birthday. Sigh.
It has left me really struggling. How much do we ask our kids to
follow the apostle Paul's prescriptions on culture, that we do nothing
that will cause our brother to stumble, that we "refrain from meat" if
it causes misunderstanding, even if that puts a damper on a 12th
birthday? Or do we examine this whole idea of "fairness" and push
back against it? I admit I am really confused.

As humans, it seems our relationships are inherently unfair, if
fairness is defined as being the same to all. We leave to cleave. We
take more responsibility for our own children than others. When 8 CSB
A -level graduates qualified for University, missionaries were only
able to sponsor three. We are limited, but I don't think that means
we should not have sponsored any at all. Only God can be infinitely
intimate. For the rest of us, what we give to one means less for
another. And in this culture in particular, where we are perceived as
the ones with the resources, if we enter relationship with anyone,
there are sure to be others who are irritated about it. And I can't
completely blame them. Yes, there is sin involved in jealousy, a holy
person would be happy for the goodness that accrues to their
neighbor. But there is also good reason for closely monitoring
anything that smacks of favoritism, in a culture where the politics of
all relationship from polygamous marriage up to the presidency are
tainted by nepotism and corruption.

As always, we cry for wisdom! To be fair in giving equal
opportunity. To be completely just in the assignment of grades and
the offering of medical care. But to also enter the risky mess of
relationship which requires moving closer to some individuals and not
to all. To handle the repercussions with grace for the disgruntled.
To resist the temptation to become a walled off institutional concept
rather than a flesh and blood human neighbor. And to lead our kids in
doing the same.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Duty is only a substitute for love.

---C.S. Lewis, excerpt from a letter.

I do not discount the power of duty, because I know my heart to be so imperfect in love. Duty means continuing on, cooking another meal, answering another knock, accepting the burden of another patient's illness, preparing another lesson or biking another mile. Yes, it would be better to do all of those things out of love, out of the joy of relationship. . . . if I play a card game with my kids because they deserve attention and it is my duty to give it, that is good. If I play because I love their company, that is better, and more honoring to them. Which is the point. We press on towards the goal of God Himself, but I confess He remains elusive and my love hobbles forward on the crutch of duty. But I believe, by faith, that that hobble is better than a sinking refusal to go anywhere at less than a flying pace, and that the crutch will one day be flung away, useless.

But not yet. So here is a summary of the day: no milk from the cow is the first bad news of the morning, who is either rebelling the lack of dairy meal (a casualty of no truck) or is pregnant (our hope). Staff meeting at the hospital, good, about 20 show up, I give a Bible study I prepared the night before on Ezra and the concept of accountability. This is in response to accusations that at least two new staff members are illegally charging patients extra fees. Interestingly this issue came to a head through a drama group who presented a public play on corruption imitating health workers, a really interesting example of non-violent protest and expression. It seems that a certain midwife was demanding 5,000 for delivery of a boy and 10,000 for delivery of a girl, also an interesting twist justified because girls bring in bride prices later which enriches the family. Hmmmm. Good discussion of all we have been given and our accountability to God, self and others. But as I'm walking away the in-charge regrets to inform me that Ammon's just-vacated house has been given to a very unreliable and dishonest worker, one of the two charging illegal fees. I feel crushed, because just that morning Scott had made a political visit to make sure that a new clinical officer was transferred here, just to keep that from happening. I try to call the management committee to protest, the chairman's phone is unavailable. The health care of the town seems to spiral downward before my eyes and I feel a strong desire to just run away rather than continue struggling with this person. I get three steps closer to the ward when the in-charge of one of our two outpatient decentralized nutrition programs approaches to inform me that the nurse who has been leading the effort quit. She had been putting pressure on our mission for extra money, which we did not agree to give. In our view malnutrition is just one of many diseases, and a salaried government health worker should not be paid extra to treat one particular category of patients just because we supply the medicine. The in- charge assures me that he agrees with me and that the program can continue without this nurse. I'm skeptical. Now I'm through the door. My most worrisome patient, whom I had arranged for a blood transfusion, I find still deathly ill. After about 45 minutes and 10 phone calls trying to trace the murky path of requisitions and order forms and transport money and people responsible, I am no closer to understanding why the person we sent to the Fort Portal blood bank returned empty handed. But I have a commitment from Bundibugyo to send three units and a commitment from Fort Portal to send the rest of the order. I hope the child in question lives long enough for the blood to arrive. Before I can see any more patients the new doctors who have been hired by WHO to serve in Bundibugyo, a huge answer to prayer, call to say they are canceling on our invitation to come and see Nyahuka Health Center and have lunch because they don't have any transportation. I don't have a vehicle either. I SMS back that the rooster is already dead, so they should come, and then arrange for the hospital truck which is picking up the blood, to get them too. Then the rest of the patients, including one little boy whose skin-and- bones pitiful state inspires us to put in an ng tube for milk, and arguing with the mother of a patient with severe burns to the hands that she has to stay until the little girl heals, that if she runs away now the girl could have contractures which prevent normal use of her arms and hands. And so on. On the way home I drop in to greet the Pierces and hear more about the unrest in the S3 class, which Caleb had thought was just boys and girls disputing with one another but which Annelise believes could relate to a particular boy who may have been a violent ring leader in a previous school trying to stir up chaos in ours. And to check up on the food procurement officer who was arrested yesterday when trying to buy massive amounts at the market across the border in Congo. It seems that the school has to hire someone to sort the problem out and free their caterer. Back home, our nutrition extension worker waits to report that the other outpatient site is also complaining about not being paid extra money, requests that I go talk to them. I promise, but admit that I'm probably not going to make it as soon as they'd like. Then our doctor guests finally arrive for lunch at about 3, just as a hydrocephalus patient and family show up in the kitubbi and the kids are filtering home from school. There are four of them, Louis, Simon, Philip and Dennis. I try to grasp that this is exactly what we were trying to do, recruit young doctors, and here WHO has done it. They are fresh from internship, former classmates in med school. And they are already frustrated with Bundibugyo, with promises not kept, with ineffective leadership, with corruption and laziness and the difficulty of doing their jobs. Scott and I listen and sympathize and encourage and feed. Mounds of rice and chicken to soothe the loneliness of being far from their homes. We play speed UNO and take a little tour of the yard and cows; we talk about our team and our life; we invite them to make this a meeting place and feel at home. As the day fades into evening they leave, to go back to Bundibugyo Town where they are managing to survive in spite of the lack of promised housing. We clean up and convince our kids that it would be great fun to eat popcorn for dinner . . .

And so a Friday draws to a close, some love and a lot of duty,

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A deep breath

While Luke's MRI results were good, his symptoms continue, so we remain a bit edgy, hoping that the enforced 4 week rest brings healing and not merely an additional delay before surgery.  He's no more patient than I am, so the weeks stretch out, long days away from home and missing soccer.  In the midst of this I cling to several rocks:  the prayers of friends.  The wise kindness of his guardians, dorm parents, and the student health nurse.  The faith that this suffering works weighty glory, somehow. The growing identification with a parental God whose child felt alone in His hour of need in a distant country.  And the mystery that Luke's position pulls me towards my other students with their teenage angsts and their orphanish needs.  Godfrey very nearly ran away from his eye surgery, in a panic of denial and a despair over missing classes (sounding familiar now).  But God completely changed his heart, gave him courage, and yesterday the glaucoma surgery was accomplished.  We are grateful.
And in the background, the inexorable march towards the Masso departure, meetings, handovers, packing.  Watching the kids feel their way through another loss, both ours and even moreso the PIerces'.  Treasuring an hour stolen for conversation, or an evening for the fellowship of a meal.  And further back, the rumors of threats from disgruntled students, the passive-aggressive filthiness of the hospital ward, the gap in political will that leaves crucial positions unstaffed, that lets the road slide weekly into muddier ruts.
Annelise led prayer this week, and one of her two passages was back to 2 Cor 9, the same one that the Spirit had used in our hearts from church this week.  Whenever a particular set of verses comes from two directions simultaneously it is good to listen.  Annelise's meditation was on breathing in God's love to breathe out grace, mercy and peace on others, a rhythm of respiration that sustains our lives.  It is easier for me to sense the exertion of the exhale these days.  So I know the need for the deep breath in, the life-giving spirit filling our lungs.  Here is the Message version:
God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything, and everything, more than just read to do what needs to be done.  As one psalmist puts it, 
He throws caution to the winds,
giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
His right-living, right-giving ways
never run out, never wear out.
Let us gasp in that reckless abundance, and soar.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday Night report

Thanks to all for praying, two big answers: 
Luke's MRI shows bone bruising and a slightly abnormal signal that is not clearly a tear, so the doctor wants to keep him on rest for four weeks and hopes to avoid surgery. If there is no meniscal tear he should heal on his own. So now just keep praying for full healing and relief from pain. Looks like soccer is still out for a while, but maybe he can resume in the second half of the season. 
Secondly, Godfrey had been ready to refuse surgery yesterday, he was imagining all sorts of horrors and very afraid. With firm encouragement and much prayer he took the step of faith to go to the hospital, and tonight he says that God has given him courage. He will be operated on by Dr. Bonner tomorrow. We continue to pray that this treatment will arrest the progression of his blindness, and that with the glaucoma under control he can resume studies.


This letter was handed to me today, sent by Baluku Moris.  I am posting it in its entirety so that the people who are donating to the Dr. Jonah Memorial Leadership Fund can also enjoy this young man's spirit of appreciation.  Please remember to pray for him, Amon Bwambale, and Monday Julius, all beginning medical school in the wake of Dr. Jonah's death, all the first sprouts of the seed he planted.  Money is only a fraction of what they need; prayer will carry them through to become three dedicated and competent colleagues caring for this district.
Dear Sir/Madam,
I am very thankful and appreciative of the sympathy and faith you have had to afford me this opportunity as an individual and also as a community of Rwenzori.  My thanks to you are endless but I strongly believe God the almighty will reward you in advance.
My strongest promise is transparency and not to let you down in academic and professional conduct.  I know that the journey I am going for is thorny and sacrifice demanding and given that I have the spirit of competitiveness, inquisitiveness and the zeal to serve this population, God will be by our side.  
I also ask you to send my heartily thanks to our worthy donors in the United States.  
On University fees, I will establish from the university registrar the exact figure before paying in and then notify you coupled with the receipts to give proof of that.
In a nutshell, I will stand firm to be what you and the entire community would like me to be.  
Thank you Dr. Scott, 
thank you Dr. Jennifer, 
and thanks to the good samaritans in the United States of America.
Baluku Moris
(P.S. The featured rooster was given to us as a gift of appreciation by his parents)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday afternoon news

On Luke: no news really. He had the MRI, thankfully, but they were unable to wait for the films to be developed and read. He is supposed to see the orthopedic surgeon tomorrow, not clear if this will come off since he came back without the data. So maybe tomorrow it will all come together. I hope so. He is still in pain daily, so it would be good to start making progress on diagnosis and treatment. We feel restless, expecting at any moment to make plans to go .. .

On Basiime Godfrey: Just heard that the doctor is very kindly arranging to get him from his University to the hospital in Kampala (Mengo) tomorrow, which is no small feat, it is about an hour's drive. We assume this means he's on the surgical schedule. We are now trying to figure out if we need to mobilize someone to go care for him post-op, since in Uganda much of the nursing care is performed by family members (he says no, but we are not sure). Please pray for him as a boy out of his element, newly enrolled in college, missing classes, going to an unfamiliar hospital alone. Thank God for Dr. Bonner who is going to such trouble to save Godfrey's vision.

On life in general: Holding on. Good moments today, a rooster and a sack of potatoes and onions and tomatoes and bananas and sugar cane and great thanks from Baluku's family as he heads off to school; greetings from Ammon and his family as he does the same. Trying to focus on immediate issues but pulled again in too many directions, and waiting for sufficient grace.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On rice seeds and bounty

Today the sermon came from 2 Corinthians 9, sowing bountifully, and again I found that the sermon on "giving" which I could have tuned out as yet another attempt by desperate church leaders to raise money, was instead spirit-directed to reassure and comfort me. The pastor used rice as the example (no wheat here), the tiny seed which is mysteriously transformed and multiplied. The more you sow, the more you reap, the posture of cheerful expectant hope, willing giving. Then the promise of v. 8: God is the one who multiplies and makes sufficient, just as He did with the five loaves and 2 fishes. It is all grace.

I found myself profoundly tired sitting on that church bench, and let my mind wander a moment to analyze why, reviewing the last three days. The Kwejuna Project Distribution/team meeting/visitors arriving day on Thursday, followed by the marathon Christ School Parents' Day on Friday, mingled with an unplanned visit by a remarkably talented and personable young man filming footage for a possible documentary project about Ebola whose questions dredged up hard memories and a few tears. Saturday is usually a bit of a catch-up organize cook and pay attention to kids day . . . but this week as I tallied I could think of no less than 28 visitors, 27 of whom were people that I know fairly well and share significant relationship with and truly want to attend to when they drop in to greet or talk or present their problems. The first came by 7:30 and the last left at about 10 pm. In the middle of all that dealing by phone with Godfrey's diagnosis and talking to Luke. Oh, and feeding my family and playing a game or two with kids. No wonder I feel tired.

The promise stands: sufficiency for all things, abundance for every good work. Giving extravagantly, receiving bountifully. May God multiply our small scatterings of seed to bring a richness of glory.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The blind and the lame

Let me cling to the categories of people whom Jesus said would usher in the Kingdom.

Basiime Godfrey, the orphan student of ours whom God opened doors to get into Uganda Christian University, had an eye exam today. A visiting American ophthalmologist had graciously contacted us by email and we took the opportunity to set up a check-up for Godfrey, who had a history of some chronic eye complaints. When Scott filled out Godfrey's pre-admission University forms, he did a physical exam and noted that Godfrey's vision was significantly impaired in one of his eyes . . . Today he finally got to see this ophthamologist and we got the news that Basiime Godfrey suffers from severe glaucoma. He is nearly blind in one eye already, and will be completely blind in both in less than five years if nothing is done. I just want to cry. First, that this boy who has struggled to get where he is now has this crushing prognosis. Second, that like Jack's heels, we did not take his occasional mention of eye pain or redness as signs of serious disease. He was boarding at Christ School when this started, we did not see him often, and his issues were one of the dozens that get put before us daily. He did not perceive it to be a major problem, and neither did we. Now much irreversible damage has been done. The doctor's schedule for surgery next week is full, but we are praying he'll be able to squeeze Godfrey in. Then later he'll need surgery on the other eye, plus daily medication. He's far from home and just starting school and worried about missing classes. After we talked to the doctor on the phone we talked to Godfrey again, and he was planning to refuse the surgery under the mistaken impression that his eye would be removed. We assured him it would remain, and that surgery was his best chance in delaying blindness.

We had just gotten off the phone with Luke when we called Godfrey's doctor. Luke is still having pain, and his MRI is scheduled for Monday at 2:30. Ashley told us an encouraging testimony of her own knee injuries in soccer, she had been diagnosed provisionally as a meniscal tear but the MRI cleared her inexplicably, and she improved without surgery. We would love to see a similar outcome for Luke! He's hanging in there pretty well, considering. He moves about campus but can not do much.

I did not expect to find the blind and the lame among the kids on my heart, nor to be so helplessly far away as they face their diagnosis and treatment. I suppose that puts me in a category in the beginning of the same passage in Luke 4: in need of healing for the brokenhearted.

Parents' Day

As a biological mother of three CSB students and a sponsoring mother of five more, not to mention wife of the Chairman of the Board of Governors . . . I try to attend Christ School's annual Parents' Day. So I went to work at the hospital early, tried to make my staff meeting and teaching time efficient, saw all of the inpatients, and then headed over to the school. The event would be similar to an open- house, back-to-school night in the States, combined with the annual choir concert, drama production, and graduation ceremonies. In other words, a long day to fit in the primary official parent/staff/student/ administration contact for the year.

Upon arrival the parents sign in at the gate and then are assigned a group tour guide who escorts them through the grounds, inspecting dormitories, admiring the agriculture projects, and being entertained and amazed by demonstrations in various classrooms. As soon as I arrived Julia spotted me, so I did a personal tour, beginning with her "knitting and crocheting" club group who had spread their handiwork on tables in a classroom and eagerly told interested parents about their creative process. From there Jack found me and pulled me into Caleb's classroom where one of the boys we sponsor, Kadima, was spokesperson for the agriculture club, and had set up a model of a three-pit system for composting. In the labs we saw a frog and a rabbit dissection in process, and students were on hand to discuss insect parts and preserved biological specimens. The cooking club had set up a small kitchen and discussed their recipes as they cooked. Then Caleb took me to his math club demo, where they used a surveying method to measure the height of a tree. All of these stations are an opportunity for the students to show the parents skills they are learning, and for the parents to appreciate the opportunities the school affords. Occasionally there is also a take-home message; in the frog lab the opened intestines were crawling with a mass of roundworms, and the teacher in charge was using this as a public health opportunity to remind parents of the importance of deworming children.

By noon most people were gathering in the student's assembly area, an open-air hall which is used for chapel. Yesterday it was decorated with balloons and flowers and crowded with several hundred parents in their best clothes. Then came the program, which went for a good five hours. Songs, speeches, poetry, traditional dance, and a long play, all interspersed with speeches from various representatives. Most of this was good even if a bit long, with striking harmonies and amazing rhythm. In Ugandan "demand" culture, it is typical for parents to present their requests and administration to answer. I realized this year that most of the major points parents make every year (we need an infirmary, there should be a school canteen for buying small essentials, the dorm space is too crowded, the library is not well used) had ALL been answered at last, with the completion of building projects and more recently even the work that Annelise has invested in the library. David gave a good speech introducing himself as the new headmaster but emphasizing from Psalm 126 that the school is Christ's, not David's or Kevin's, and that we are here to work together. He told the parents that he valued transparency and wanted to address problems openly and together, and asked for their cooperation and prayers. Scott was the final speaker, and used a passage from Philippians 2 talked about Christ-like humility.

Which was appropriate, because the only really distressing part of the day was the student council representative's speech. This boy is the soon-to-graduate son of a recently-investigated-for-fraud political leader, and he was shockingly disrespectful of the teaching staff, the administration, and even the parents. I will not repeat his allegations, but I was most appalled when he basically threatened violence, and many others were shaking their heads. Most sadly for me, one of my students was the translator (the speech was in English so he was translating for the vast majority of the parents who can not understand English). I was not the only person who cares deeply about the school and the kids there who was nearly in tears by the end. However since then I've tried to realize that the students have not learned how to express dissent and opinion in a respectful way, how to be heard while still saying what is on their hearts. They got a taste of the power of free speech and blew it. They need smaller steps of learning to protest.

This is a battle ground, and so often our hearts want to withdraw, or give up, particularly if we are under attack. Pray for supernatural love to propel us towards the unruly and the proud, the immature and the ungrateful. Jesus moves towards me in love in spite of my indifference and selfishness. Praying for the parental love to do the same.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Counting Kwejuna

204-- HIV positive women who flocked to the Community Center for the  all-day process of talking to us, being weighed and counseled, tested and encouraged, and going home with food. 70-cups of beans each woman carried away, in a sack. Food to boost the family. 3- litres of cooking oil, to add calories . 500--grams of salt, adding the flavor. 3--dollars given to each for transporting the above home. Some come from 20 miles away, some from a stone's throw. Some are thriving on their treatment, some are so weak they could not begin to carry their sack of goods ten feet. So we provide a token gift to enable them to get their help home without losing it. 26--children coming with their mothers, who were over a year old and weaned, and had not previously been tested. 24-children out of the above 26 who were HIV-negative, a cause for celebration. This is not a random sample so we can't draw too many conclusions, since the sickest or deceased will not show up. However any time our transmission rate seems to be on the order of less than 10% we are pleased, rather than the expected 30% with no intervention. 17--number of babies too young to be tested by the rapid antibody test who are waiting for the sophisticated polymerase chain reaction viral detection test, whose samples have to be carried to Fort Portal for analysis. These will then be encouraged to wean earlier than normal, and be absorbed into the Matiti project to receive milk-giving goats. 41--number of women who elected to receive a family planning injection, enabling those who have delivered babies to now rest and regain some of their own health and strength, to perhaps live longer to care for the child they already have. 13 and 5--number of kilograms a mother and baby pair gained this year in the program. Luci came weighing 35 kg (this is an adult woman!) in February, but was up to 48 today. Her son Byamukama doubled, from 4.5 to 9 kg.
5 and 15--number of missionaries and Ugandans, respectively, who labored all day to pull this off, including nurses and lab techs, pastors and manual laborers. Kwejuna project affords us the opportunity to pull together for a common cause, to be blessed by the diverse gifts of the people God has placed here. Intangible--the real reason people come, Heidi commented after watching all day, is not to get so many beans or that extra bag of salt. It is to spend a day where being HIV-positive is normal, where you are only one of two hundred women in the same boat, where a polite and caring group of people have assembled just to care about you, where you can tell someone about your anxieties and be understood, where you can hear words of hope and life that are matched by deeds of love and sacrifice, and perhaps catch a glimpse of God.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Babies with babies

Here are some "snaps" of my patients cradling the dolls that Karen's mom sent. Kansiime is the little girl I wrote about a few days ago, who sits in wide-eyed silence, waiting. Jackline, in the next bed, has far to go, just admitted with the yellowish skin and scant hair and puffiness of Kwashiorkor .. but at least she can hold her doll while her mom nurses the newborn baby that pushed her off the edge. Her neighbor is Bakaswala, who giggles as she plays with her doll, and is more hungry and less chronically damaged than the others. Alisemera Jane is named after our member of parliament, and I hope she's elected some day, able to represent the hungry and struggling. Lastly Muhindo Richard, who made the most amazing recovery I've ever seen .. . his mother had run away with a soldier and his father's whereabouts are unknown, so he was passed through relatives until he landed with his very competent grandmother. As soon as she had the resource of milk, she poured it in, his edema melted away, his smile emerged, and he was ready for discharge in a week and a half. No shame in loving a doll here if you are a 5 year old boy.

It is a privilege to be the conduit for international protein (milk from the UN) or American baby dolls, and to gently re-awaken body and heart in these kids.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This interview in today's Guardian newspaper with Uganda's minister for primary health care again reemphasizes the long-standing difficulty of recruiting doctors to rural areas.
More fuel for our strategy of sending "sons of the soil" to medical school who are then willing to come back and serve as doctors for the long haul in their home place.
If you missed the post about our newest student, Baluku Morris,  see our post from yesterday below...

A torn heart

This morning I was moving around pediatric ward seeing patients when I got the message that Luke's knee injury was potentially as bad as we feared, and that the orthopedic surgeon had recommended an MRI in Nairobi to help make the decision about surgery. And after that I found it hard to concentrate on the kids in front of me, thinking of my own child. Again the paradox occurred, where both extremes are true, even extremely true: deep compassion compels me to stay, and a numb despair pushes me to escape. There is a sense in which being a mother who has entrusted her son to the care of other doctors heightens my sense of responsibility for the patients in my care. I can easily put myself into the parents' shoes (not that many wear them . . ) and I want to do my best, just as I hope the doctors in Kijabe are doing their best for Luke. On the other hand, I struggle to wonder why I am here helping other peoples' kids when my own is not well. So much of me wants to pick up and run. When Luke's news came, I was actually standing by the bed of 2-year-old Nyakato: she came yesterday barely breathing, a slowing heart rate, cold, in shock, unresponsive. Her father had red eyes from crying all the way to the hospital; her mother sat in the corner and prayed into her hands Hannah-like. Nyakato was the only surviving twin, and her mother's heart was breaking. Heidi, Olupa, the head nurse Mwenge, and I all went to work. Whether the fluids, the medicine, the prayers, or all of the above, she revived, and today she was sitting up eating a lollipop I gave her. A very satisfying snatch back from the shadows of death, except that as I stood there the price paid by Luke to have us here and him there, well, it seemed steep. Praying for the wisdom of Solomon, and feeling the tearing of my heart.

Monday, September 15, 2008

An unexpected opportunity

On August 26th in a post titled "In Praise of Fathers", we mentioned our involvement with a young man who recently came to us for sponsorship in medical school. Without any recruitment effort on our part, this Bundibugyo-born student, Baluku Morris, gained admission to the newest medical school in Uganda, the Kampala International University Medical School. He just showed up at our house with his admission letter and a letter of reference from the LC5, the highest ranking politician in Bundibugyo. At the time, we hesitated. Our lack of knowledge of this young man and the lack of money in the bank made this seem like an unwise decision. We pledged that we would give him 25% of his first year's requirement. He and his father went home, discussed their options, and returned. They didn't have any savings that could begin to pay the balance of the tuition so they appealed to us about whether we would consider sponsorship in nursing or laboratory medicine schools (institutions they knew where we had previously sponsored students). Their humility and persistence in this process caused us to reconsider our first decision not to fully sponsor him. Then, we began to receive inquiries and offers from generous blog readers interested in assisting Baluku.

Baluku expresses a fervent desire not only to study medicine but also to serve the people of Bundibugyo. His father who we have since learned is a "cousin-brother" to Jonah (seems everyone is related to each other in Bundibugyo if you go back far enough), says that Baluku "has the heart of Dr. Jonah." We believe the academic credentials and intellectual aptitude are "required, but not sufficient" to be a doctor. This heart of compassion for people is what we always seek as we recruit doctors for Bundibugyo. Hearing Baluku voice a desire to serve has given us confidence to move ahead with him.

So, by faith, we have made a commitment to Baluku Morris to sponsor him for five years of study at the Kampala International University Medical School. It will cost an estimated $3500/year. Classes begin October 3rd, 2008.

(We have previously raised the full amount to sponsor Monday Julius at the Mbarrara University Medical School for five years through the Dr. Jonah Kule Memorial Leadership Fund, but don't have any additional funds beyond the need of Monday Julius).

If you would like to contribute towards sending Baluku Morris to medical school, you may send a gift to World Harvest Mission (see the sidebar links for how to contribute by snail mail or by electronic transfer) designating your gift for the Dr. Jonah Kule Memorial Leadership Fund. And then begin praying for is a long hard road full of barriers - frustration, distraction, difficulty, and even despair. He'll need an army of prayer warriors backing him up.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

on paradox and cannibals

Kisembo preached for communion this morning from John 6.  As he re-told the story, the language Jesus used in talking about his body and blood implied that the Jews were bhalogo, cannibals, a shocking insult that would have riled them to violent reprisal.  It is good to take the Scripture into African culture and see some things that do not make sense in America, such as the taboo of cannibalism, the raw boldness of Jesus' speech.

So what was Jesus saying?  Clearly, murder and the eating of a fellow human being are perhaps the ultimate acts of destruction, the furthest from godliness.  Yet just as clearly, partaking of the body and blood of Jesus through the Lord's Supper is the ultimate act of communion with God.  I'm reading GK Chesterton's Orthodoxy, and he makes the point that non-Christian culture tends to find a moderate medium between two extremes.  In this case, that could be either asserting that human bodies are no different than animal life so that the act of eating human flesh would be the same as eating a cow or a goat; or glossing over the language of John 6 as purely symbolic metaphor.  Maybe.  But Christianity is rooted firmly in paradox, that two apparently contradictory things are both true.  The heart of our faith is Jesus, very God and very man, not a compromise between them, but the furthest extreme of both.  

So we enter into worship through the service of the Lord's supper. In this case, "bread" is not really part of the culture, so the leaders buy little packages of cookies in the market, alphabet-shaped crackers.  And "wine" is also nowhere to be found, so we sip flat syrupy soda.  Through experience they've learned not to pour it out until the moment of the drinking, after ants one time infested the table during the sermon.  But munching my S-shaped cracker and sipping my modicum of soda seemed appropriate to the truth:  common daily humble items transformed by the power of love into life-giving substance.  A paradox, Christian cannibals, looking for mercy.

Superstitions and Reality

In Bundibugyo, no one wants to be too open about their good news.
Pregnancy is not mentioned; school success is minimized; happiness is
hidden. There is a strong fear that attracting attention will lead to
negative repercussions, jealous relatives or malevolent spirits will
notice the good fortune and respond with curses.

After so many years, I fight the creeping insinuation of cultural
fears. We publicly prayed for sports to be part of Luke's adjustment
to RVA, and very unabashedly rejoiced that Luke made the JV soccer
team. He played his first game Saturday, a 1-1 draw. After the game
the boys were still full of energy and the joy of the game, so a
"friendly match" was organized to play a second unofficial round.
Luke was able to get out of his wing position which he does not
prefer, and be a midfield striker. He scored three goals, and had a
blast. The last time he dribbled down the field, though, it seems an
opponent in frustration clipped his knee from the side. Now he has
what may be a significant injury. We are not sure, very hard to tell
from this distance. Were we wrong to be so glad about soccer?

Yesterday I posted about the blessing of frequent communication.
Since then, not a single SMS has been able to leave my phone, I keep
getting the cryptic "no network support for messages". What? The
combination of knowing our kid is injured, and being powerless to
respond, is painful. Of course we are contacting his guardians by
email, and praying that this is just a bruise and not anything serious.

Much in my heart just wants to say: how much more? Can't we just fly
under the radar and be at peace? All this may seem trivial, but in the
context of grief and separation, and some hard times with people we
care about at home, it seems like Satan is on the attack.

The response of faith: God's truth abideth still, His Kingdom is
forever. I admit the posture of hiding sounds more appealing than the
posture of advance, so we need faith.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Raining Mercies

Small but significant things to be thankful for rain down, in drizzles with occasional downpours. The biggest, a clap of thunder sort of of storm: Luke's room mate got called up to play JV soccer, from the wait list, because another boy broke his arm. Sorry for the kid with the arm, but I know that being new in the school as Luke and his room mate are, the chance to be on the team is HUGE. And that it was very hard and sad when one boy was selected and the other was not. We prayed for grace in their friendship. This is a huge boost. A downpour: that we can communicate so well with Luke by SMS and email, multiple times per day, so that issues like a computer stick that is improperly formatted or whether to choose Martin Luther King Jr. as a subject for an English report are still life details that we can know an interact about. At team pizza last night we called and passed the phone around; it was fun to see Gaby, the almost-little- brother, talking to Luke, and to be reminded that we share him with this team family of committed people who also love him deeply. A brief shower: Karen donated a handful of spiffy new, brown-faced, cuddly baby dolls to me, and I distributed them to four little girls admitted for severe malnutrition this morning. What an uproar! The grandmothers and aunts could hardly keep their hands off, and half the ward came running over to admire the babies, laughing and clucking out traditional greetings to the little patients as the mothers. The newest admission, Kansiime, had been sent to live with her aunt two months ago because both parents died of AIDS. She is wide-eyed and silent, a stunted 3 year old who has been bowled over by life already. But today she got a soft clean new UNICEF blanket, a baby of her own to hold in the chaos of her bereaved life, milk and eggs and beans to satisfy her hunger. Very nice. The long rains have begun in earnest, a drenching morning, sloshing ankle-deep in puddles just to walk across the lawn. In Africa rain is blessing rather than an inconvenience. Food prices have nearly doubled for many items this year, from drought, from over-use of land for cash crops like cocoa, from rising population and demand. So the rains bring a promise of abundance, of hunger satisfied. Beans were 350/= a cup a few years back, 500/= a cup (half kilo sized cup) last year, and now 800/= this week. Rice has gone from 700/= to 1200/= per cup. May the rains produce relief!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On War

In Uganda we write the date logically, day/month/year, so all morning at the hospital I was noting 11/9/08 on the charts, which has much less emotional impact than 9-11.  But I remember well huddling around our short wave radio as we listened to events unfold, and the feeling that the world as we knew it was imploding, and the eeriness of wondering what it would be like to be untethered here in Uganda if America fell apart.  My family was all within a few dozen miles of Washington DC, and we had no easy communication access then to know if they were OK.  It was weeks before we saw the terrible video images that by that point had already been seared into the collective memories of most of the world.  
9-11 shattered many lives. And it shattered the illusory assumption that America was safe, and Africa was dangerous.  For the first time we felt more secure than our supporters, at least for a while (until reports began linking Osama bin Laden with the very rebels who plague our border).  
We're watching Band of Brothers (a ten-part HBO drama on WWII - really, really well done) with whatever team mates wish to stay after pizza on Thursday nights.  The next episode is entitled "Why We Fight", and pictures the shocking discovery of a concentration camp by the American forces as they enter Germany, and certainly leaves me with the assurance that the sacrifice and suffering of those soldiers was meaningful and worth the cost.  But I also just read All Quiet on the Western Front, which describes trench warfare in WW1 from a young German soldier's perspective, and the cruel horror and waste of war.  Heidi said she saw a bumper sticker in Kampala: "When Jesus said love your neighbor, I'm pretty sure he meant 'don't kill them'".  I'm not sure what I make of all that.  I'm glad and proud that my uncles (5 on my dad's side and 2 on my mom's) fought in WW2.  But I don't want my sons to be in a war.  But I'm thankful for the UPDF soldiers who patrol our town and mission, and protect us from the greed and whims of unscrupulous rebels who roam across the border.  I've been under gun-fire, and while I didn't fight back personally, I'm glad someone eventually did.  And so we go, around and around, in dilemma, never fully innocent in fighting for justice and yet never fully convinced that all fighting is wrong.  
Meanwhile today is a day to remember American lives lost to the evil of attack, in my own lifetime.  And to honor the courage of men like my uncles who were willing to resist that evil before I was born.  And to be thankful that my family has survived our brushes with war.  And to pray that my sons never have to face the need to hold a gun and choose whether to kill or be killed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

six inches above the mud

This is Mumbere and his grandmother, one of my favorite patient pairs.  If anyone recalls, she is the old lady who took over care of her grandson when his mother Dorothy died of AIDS and TB and he was well on the way to dying himself.  She commented he was the only picture she had of her daughter.  Now that he is four, and on the miraculous ARV's, he does look remarkably like his mom when she was a recalcitrant teenager who refused to acknowledge her positive HIV test.  We have been through a lot together.  Last visit this tiny lady, who can't weigh more than 70 pounds herself, told me she wished for a mattress, because she and Mumbere sleep on dried banana leaves on the mud floor of their home.  She is not in great health herself, has a husband who is probably dying of heart failure and in the meantime stole and ate the goat she got from our project.  She faithfully walks miles to come for care each month.  I tried to help her by giving her money for a boda, but there she was on her bare feet again today, finally admitting she spent the transport on the simple necessity of salt for cooking.   Sleeping on a mattress doesn't seem like a lot to ask from life.   In the spirit of one of the main characters in Blue Clay People, I decided to give her one of ours (this is a book about Liberia, aid, cross-cultural stress, war, poverty, and life in Africa, and in it one of the somewhat wild CRS staffers sums up his philosophy of development as giving everyone a mattress to raise them 6 inches above the mud of life).
So hopefully tonight Mumbere and his grandmother will luxuriate, probably for the first time in their lives, sleeping on foam.  I hope they can keep it from the rats and rain, and enjoy a few hours a day of repose.  And I would not be surprised if in Heaven, this little old lady who plods through life with her grandson on her back, won't get a queen-sized bed in a palace from which she rules over a whole tribe of bankers, analysts, doctors, missionaries, and others who now sleep in comfort. 

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Slow Saves

Occasionally saving a life is dramatically fast, visible in real-time moments, as the unconscious child is rehydrated and awakens. Usually, though, a bit of time lapse photography would be helpful. Today five kids went home "cured" from the nutrition program. Several had been admitted for weeks or a month; Kato took the prize with a 53 day stay. He arrived in July, skeletal, the unlikely bone-and-skin twin of a healthy sister. I remember clearly wincing at his frail body lying limp on the bed, and sensing that his mom had all but given up hope. But a month later I remember seeing her dancing and singing down the aisle of the ward one day, and the nurses told me that she never expected him to live and now she was rejoicing. From 4.1 to 6.4 kg, his flesh filled out on milk and TB meds. He began to sit, and then to crawl. He is 1 1/2 years old but he still can not walk, though when I led him across the floor by hand he giggled yesterday with the effort. I like to wonder what plans God has for him, that made him such a target of destruction, and yet worth rescuing. Perhaps to be a teacher, or a caring father, or an artist, or president. Who knows.

Next, Bwambale, a child I personally thought would either die or be whisked away in the night by his tired mother. He came with dangerously severe kwashiorkor, and an also-malnourished little sister. Soon we realized that he was much worse off than she was, and slower to respond to milk, because he also had sickle cell anemia. It took over a month but his swelling finally subsided, new skin finally appeared under all the peeling patches, he finally took interest in the world. Meanwhile his sister also began to thrive, so his mom is now lugging home two heavier kids.

Mbusa's mother brought all four of her kids to live on the ward for the last few weeks, because she had no one else to help her care for them. He smiled mischievously as we prepared his discharge today, and his sisters clamored to have their picture taken too. They will probably find home rather tedious after all the excitement.

And then, Gloria. Gloria's lethargy on admission was heartbreaking, and her mother's almost as significant. And no wonder: this mother was from another part of the country, had had her 3 month old infant die this summer, and now was watching her 2 year old dwindle down the same path, and she was going through all this basically alone. In the 32 days of her admission, Gloria's father only came one time to see her. In spite of all that, she departed 2 kg heavier than she arrived, with a new hold on life. And her mother did some hard thinking about her own situation and decided to take Gloria back to her ancestral home in hopes of both of them surviving. I pray they will.

Lastly, Rick Thomas, getting his third lease on life, discharged and well when he could easily have been dead.

Their beds were being refilled before they could even bundle their belongings out the door, but for a moment there was joy over these slow saves.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Humbly Grateful

Luke made the JV soccer team at RVA. It is hard to overstate the greatness of this news for him. You would have to have known him all his life, kicking a ball as soon as he could walk, playing hours a day with his friends, loving the sport. You would have to have watched him over four years at Christ School, trying to fit in, thankfully allowed to come to practice, but always a bit younger than the others, and a bit on the outskirts as the only American and the only non- boarding student, never really ON the team. You would have to have seen his pain when as a "senior" he practiced whole-heartedly (thinking it was his last chance) but never got to even put on a uniform, let alone play in a game, and when the team went to nationals he was one of the two or three regulars (out of 20-some) who got left behind. In spite of playing almost daily, and being pretty naturally athletic (his father's genes, not mine), the only opportunity in his whole life he's had to be on an organized team and play in competition was in 2nd grade when we were doing our MPH's in Baltimore. He was the star way back then, but most of his life since then the predominant message he's had from sports is that he's not quite good enough. You would also have to know how important sports were in his dad's life, and how much he's longed to taste of that experience. You would have to have seen him continue to practice with Alex, the CSB coach now, even when he was no longer a student there, and with Ashley, who was captain of her college team and gave him great instruction this summer. And you would have to imagine how as a new kid at a school among many who have spent most of their lives together, being on a team could help one feel connected. So with all that in mind we rejoice that he was selected. He was told that this year was one of the most competitive ever . . . 60-70 high school boys started tryouts, but only two (JV and Varsity) 15-man squads were chosen, with preference to seniors. He was so worried that he would not be one of the players. And sadly both his room mate and the boy across the hall whom he has gotten to know a bit, did not make the team, which is awkward for Luke and sad for both of them. So we are grateful, but humble, knowing that Luke's gain is tempered by representing loss for others. We thank you for praying.
(P.S. - the photo of Luke above was taken by his dorm parent (Troy Gallagher) during the tryout period at RVA.)

Fragments gathered

Before Luke left, I completed a quilt for his bed, the scraps and fragments of our life pulled together to make a colorful whole. Included were pieces from old clothes we have worn out with use, former and current couch cushions and curtains, as well as familiar patterns from the market. I hope it reminds him that what seems shattered and disconnected can be arranged creatively into something more beautiful. . . .and that the re-arranged realities of the past continue to cover and protect and comfort as we move into the future.

Scott has posted a flicker set of pictures taken around the RVA campus, for those who have never been and would like some context (click from sidebar).

The Paradox of Giving

In church this morning the first reading was from 2 Cor 9:  
But this I say:  He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. . . . Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have own and increase the fruits of your righteousness . . .

The pastor is doing a series on giving, and we were meant to hear these words as we give up the precious possession of an intact family, of daily interaction with our son.  It struck me that "seed" often refers to progeny in the Bible, as in "Abraham's seed".  And like Abraham, we sometimes are called to offer that seed, to throw it far not knowing what will happen.  When Jonah died we were drawn to the John 12 passage about the seed going into the ground and bearing fruit, which we are seeing already from his life and death.  In this passage the focus is more on the one who sows, promising that abundance will flow from giving away.  The paradox:   filling coming from emptying; life coming from deaths literal and figurative; good flowing from sorrow; the sowers going forth in tears and returning in joy (Psalm 126).

Well, I haven't been the most cheerful giver this week, though I know God understands.  I was also thinking during the service that the passage leaves much to the individual, to decide what is to be given.  I do not believe God ever called us to send our kids to boarding school before now.  What He asks of one family He may not ask of another.  I was praying with another missionary recently and she commented that we missionaries sometimes assume that God calls us to give up dreams that may be good, that we over-sacrifice.  It would be easy to err in either direction:  denying ourselves good things when the sacrifice merely makes us feel self-righteous; or claiming good things that we should lay aside for better.  No easy formulas dictate where the balance lies for any person or family, it is a walk by faith, a daily laying down of life, a daily sowing of the seed and waiting for the harvest.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Back Home, at least some of us

It is an ill wind that blows no good . . . I was explaining this saying to my kids, sort of the idea that some good for someone comes out of most problems. It reminds me of the rainbow that appears only in the rain, good and hope and beauty which arise in suffering, which we had spectacular example of in Kijabe (see above). A prime real-life example would be today's travel. Our truck has been having difficulty starting for some time, and the cold air and high altitudes of Kenya made this issue even more urgent. So we left it with the Land Rover doctor in Kampala, a trusted mechanic, for diagnosis and treatment (he suspects a major overhaul will be necessary to re-bore  the pistons) and flew back to Bundi today on a Caravan with Ashley and Sarah. Now it is 5 pm, the time we would normally be jostling into town, dusty and exhausted after 8 hours on the road. Instead we soared over the uneven terrain at a smooth 10 thousand feet (we ascended briefly to a mind-tingling 15 thousand but the clouds prevented a pass over the peaks so we dropped back down to the usual pass), and were lovingly received by the team only an hour after we left Kampala, with a lunch at Pierces and time to hang out and debrief and tell stories of our time apart. Now the food is unpacked and the fridge beginning to get cold, the laundry in piles, the trunks opened, and the tedious process of settling back into life has already begun.

I am grateful for the easy final leg of this trip, the respite from the road, after many many hours and jolts to and from Kenya. We are physically and emotionally spent. Driving away from Luke as he stood watching us leave under a tree at RVA was perhaps one of the low points of our life (and we've had a few lows, so that is saying something). We were all crying, and it was all rain and no rainbow at that moment. I am now dully sad, and Scott is beginning to recover, but watching him as a father part from his first-born son was brutal. We all (even Luke) still believe it was the right step. But it was a hard one. We are particularly anxious about his soccer try-outs which have proceeded daily this week. Like most boys who grow up in Africa, Luke loves the game. He is not alone. There are still over 50 boys trying to fill the 15 JV and 15 Varsity spots. The opportunity to be on a team was a huge factor in his desire to give boarding school a try. We of little faith feel the parental angst of wanting this good thing for our child and fearing it will be denied, and the ambiguity that if he makes the team someone else's kid won't.

And all this sorrow comes in the context of a year of goodbyes. Many readers of our blog have also been following the blog of Dan and Nancy Macha, missionary colleagues in WHM. Nancy died of breast cancer in Philadelphia as we arrived at RVA, and her funeral was held as we drove away. I suppose the terrible finality of that parting should put ours into perspective, and it does to some extent. But both are reminders that this world goes not well, that things are not quite right, that the separation which began when Adam and Eve hid in the garden plagues us to this day. Whether it is for a school term or half a life-time, we grieve the loss of fellowship, of joy, of presence when we part from those we love. Both partings may not have happened, or at least been delayed, if we were not walking this difficult road of mission. And again, both remind me that it is one thing to accept the cost for ourselves, but quite another to accept it for Luke who now lives in a dorm instead of a home, or for the Macha kids who now have no mother to turn to on earth.

So here we are, back in Bundibugyo, relieved to be home but slightly uneasy and guilty that we should feel the respite of resettling without a sixth of our family. And a hundred times a day our thoughts turn eastward, feeling the weight of the almost three solid days of travel that lay between us. We need the memory of the rainbow.

Monday, September 01, 2008

At the Rift Valley Academy (Kijabe, Kenya)..

Here we sit in the simple, sparse, Kijabe guesthouse, with cold Kenyan winds whipping down the escarpment, and only three kids getting ready for bed. We moved Luke into his dorm today, his siblings helping tack family photos on the wall above his top bunk, and making his bed with his new quilt, filling his drawers with clothes. Just before that we had an informal meeting with the math department head who quizzed Luke on the spot with about 10 questions on the order of "What is the sine of pi over 3?" and "What does your room look like at home?" and thereby decided he was ready for BC Calculus (no one has been quite confident of his peculiar transcripts and patchy educational background, but we are betting that Desmond, Kevin, and Sarah will be vindicated!) . . . we almost missed that appointment because the news went around that elephants had blocked the road to the school preventing students from arriving. There is this curious juxtaposition of American accents and American curriculum with the African setting, and for our kids who have been in a British-descended African curriculum in a poverty-setting for years, the changes are mostly good but still a lot to adjust to. Water fountains and a cafeteria that serves hot dogs, an air-conditioned computer lab and a carpeted library. But ambling elephants, and serious perimeter security, and the memory that this country was nearly imploding in post-election violence a few months ago. The last 48 hours have felt like weeks as we've gone through a tremendously informative and helpful "New Parent Orientation". Too much to tell . . . tonight I will mention only three things. First, that we have been overwhelmingly impressed by the quality of the school and the dedication of the staff. Every step we have sensed God's provision. At one point I felt amazed by my own arogance that I could have ever imagined that I could cobble together two more years of high school at home in Bundibugyo that would be anything comparable to the dozens of excellent teachers, administrators, counselors, coaches, dorm parents, and support staff that pour their lives into the kids here. The classes, the activities, the sports, the social connection with other missionary kids, are all invaluable. These people understand teenagers, and missionary kids, and crossing cultures, and growing up. Second, that we can look back and realize the many threads of our lives over the years that make this moment of separation more palatable. We had dinner tonight with the family of the resident dentist, who befriended us more than a decade ago when we had to evacuate and live here. After dinner Luke headed back to the dorms with the dentist's two sons, one of whom Luke had briefly attended Kindergarten with. Our guardian family is another doctor whom we became friends with while living here and have visited and vacationed with over the years. Every couple of hours we seem to run into another person with whom we have some history and connection, and as the hours accumulate I sense the wonder of the Kingdom of God in Africa, the incredible labor of all these faithful men and women. We are sometimes isolated in our small circles in Bundibugyo; coming to RVA is a blessing to all of our family as we meet (and re-meet) the saints. And thirdly, I am impressed that Luke is ready. He is a great guy, and seeing him in this setting I can see that he fits here. My confidence in him grows. All that said, no matter how right the decision and how great the offerings, the pain of separation is almost upon us. We'll touch base a couple of more times over the next 24 hours, and then on Wednesday morning we'll head back to Uganda and leave Luke here. One sympathetic "how are you doing" from the dorm mom brought me to tears today already. God's will is like that. Even when it is right and good it can hurt, as in the cross. I think that CS Lewis wrote that anyone who does not believe a good God can allow pain has not been to the dentist . . . While we believe that this step is GOOD for Luke, we grieve the loss in our own hearts, and what is even harder is to accept the inevitable pain he will bear. No matter how clean, safe, efficient, and friendly the dorm is, it is still a dorm, not a family, and for a 15 year old finding his way through adolescence, through American school, through living away from his family, all at the same time . . there will be rough days. So tonight he spends his first night in the dorm, and we spend one more day in the neighborhood, bracing for goodbyes.