Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Richard, whose body is riddled with painful tumors, being sent to the
bowels of Mulago hospital on a quest for life-saving chemotherapy,
armed only with hope and a hundred dollars. Daniel, whose intractable
vomiting notches his skeletal frame closer to the grave daily in spite
of milk and therapy, 4 years old and 13 pounds, we cry out for his
healing. Basemera, weaned too early, her body swelling from lack of
protein. Mbabazi Kristine, struggling against both TB and AIDS, a few
pounds of humanity frail in the face of those two foes. Kabonesa
Malyamu, in spite of being unable to wrest enough to survive from the
dry breasts of her ill mother, still looks at the world with hope and
trust as she smiles at me every day and sips her milk. For these and
the dozen others whose lives hang on the edge, we ask for today's
mercies, for swallowing without pain, for absorption of food and
medicine, for warmth in the rain and the comfort of familiar arms, for
laughter and respite and safety and wholeness.
orchestration of a light-clothed heaven-stretching Being, working
above and beyond and behind the scenes of time (Psalm 104, from Pat's
prayer meeting . . . ).
My neighbor's oldest wife, who stays in Congo most of the time, came
for a visit, trailing her 10 year old twin boys. As they kicked a
soccer ball around in the yard with Jack and Julia, it dawned on me
that these boys were born in our car, delivered by Scott who had been
trying to get them to the hospital in labor all those years ago.
In chapel the S6 students came forward for prayer, before they begin
their final period of University-qualifying exams. There are only
about a dozen of them, and many have been with the school all six
years and we therefore know them well. One is one of our sponsored
boys. Another is a former m'lm orphaned boy who became a Christian at
school. One of the girls is the daughter of one of Bundibugyo's
freedom fighters, a man who led the rebellion many years ago that
threw off the domination of the Toro Kingdom, and who has inherited
his charisma and leadership. But I was mostly focused on three girls
who were in my cell group for several years in their O-level days. I
am not a very notable evangelistic missionary. In all my years here, I
have only had the privilege of being present with about 10 people as
they became Christians. That's OK, we are a body and I am more of a
hand, touching, feeding, healing, typing, than a mouth or a head who
preaches and sees conversions. But those few are important to my
heart, it is a remarkable experience to watch over months and even
years as a girl weighs her beliefs and takes the courageous step of
change. Two of those three girls from my group who stood yesterday,
nearing graduation, were among those who made professions. I have
seen genuine faith slowly blossom in both, and I am grateful.
Physical and spiritual new life, a good legacy. And the two come
together sometimes, too, in Kwejuna project. Yesterday was a very
trying day at the health center. We are in the midst of Child Health
Day outreaches, meaning that most of the staff has been deployed to
villages to dispense vaccines and vitamin A and deworming tablets.
The malnourished and HIV-infected seemed to pour in in their absence,
lots of new admissions and new patients. I was very stretched by the
onslaught of patients and the exodus of staff, if Pat had not plugged
on I might have given up. So it was another gift from God to review
two of our last patients together, bright spots that made our tired
and hungry and grouchy faces smile. Sera Sedrack had been admitted
last month in a pitiful state of starvation, which led us to discover
that his mom was HIV-infected, his sister had TB, and he was somehow
free of both diseases and just hungry. Now many packets of milk and
days of monitoring later, he's unrecognizably rounded, from 5 kg to
7kg as he returned for follow-up, and his mother and sister are
getting treatment. The second was Crispus, whose PCR results just
came in. His HIV-positive mother had been screened in pregnancy, took
her drugs, delivered her son, fed him only from the breast for six
months, and brought him for viral testing as instructed. He was
negative! In fact all the results just in from last month's Kwejuna
batch were negative. So he will wean while he's safe, and hopefully
live a long and joyful life. And his mother will be followed and
treated and hopefully get to live many of those years with Crispus.
And these families will hear the good news of God's love for them at
the same time they see the evidence in the care they are offered.
Which brings us back to Psalm 104, the transcendent God who rebukes
oceans and spins moons, also directs rains for the grasses and trees
and vines that make the oil and wine and bread that bring beauty and
joy and strength to the heart of man (14-15 in the middle). Decades
ago he new that Nalongo would be in labor, that Winnie and Farida
would be searching for truth and meaning, that Sedrack would be hungry
and Crispus would be threatened by HIV, and He brought together the
people and fuel and pills and money and books and love to reach each
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
the month draws to a close I was thinking about this, about the
changes in our neighborhood over the last decade and a half. More
mbati (tin) roofs instead of grass. More vehicles, motorcycles, and
bikes. More kids. More schools. More people wearing shoes. More
buildings, shops, paths, roads. More trash. More choices, for us and
others. More expenses. More organization. More communication. More
Our newest team mate, Nathan, will land tomorrow. When we landed 15
years ago this month, we sat forlornly on our pile of bags outside the
somewhat decrepit old Entebbe airport as the sun rose and smoking
cooking fires filled the air. Luke was an infant being swarmed by
what I thought were malarious mosquitoes (they were lake flies,
harmless, just annoying). We had no phone, no contacts, and no plan
for what to do if our team did not pick us up. Several Ugandan
drivers approached us, but we kept hoping that someone who knew us
would show up. We had heard of the Sheraton Hotel and so were about
to try and hire a taxi when a blue pick-up pulled up two hours late,
and Atwoki, the Ugandan mechanic who served our team over many years,
jumped out. It turned out that both Dan and Betty were sick with
malaria and therefore had to send him. . . we went back to the
Namirembe Guest House, back then a very simple place with common
bathrooms and hostel-like bare accommodations and Ugandan food, to set
up Luke's pack and play and try to get some jet-lagged sleep in the
heat. No A/C, no fans even. To make a phone call telling our
families we had made it we all went to the lobby of the Sheraton
(which was why we had heard of it before arriving), a past-its-prime
somewhat dingy place at that time, where the only international line
was located for pay. No cell phones, no internet. No bottled water,
few sodas. Then Lynn Leary took us shopping--no grocery stores, no
mall, just a 4x8 foot duka, opening onto the sidewalk, where we bought
flour and oil and salt and sugar. The biggest treat was Ribena, a
juice-like drink. I think I still have the shopping list Lynn wrote
us in pencil on a legal pad, detailing all 20-some items available for
sale in the country. Thankfully the Herons went to Kenya in those
days and came back with huge rounds of cheese, which a thousand
kilometers later we divided up to share. When we finally got into our
4-wheel-drive vehicle to drive west, the road soon petered out into a
dirt track. It took two LONG days to get to Bundibugyo. People waved
and stared. A passing truck was a rare event then. We waved back.
This was to be our home, and I remember how stark and National
Geographic it looked.
But I also remember driving into the mission for the first time, and
looking up. The mountains. My heritage is Appalachian, West Virginia
Hills. Somehow in all the anticipation and discussion it had never
dawned on me that we would be living at the foot of Africa's third
highest mountains, the Rwenzoris, where equatorial snow rises above
the palms. Some people feel a sense of belonging in the city, by the
ocean, in a suburb, on a plain. For me the ridges populated by
insular clans, the rivers running down, and the green hillsides rising
up, felt like a gift of beauty and security. My Dad's favorite Psalm
was 121, which happened to be my reading today in Peterson's year-long
Psalm devotional. Driving into Bundibugyo 15 years ago with a baby
and trunks and little else, the hills reminded me that our
transcendent God gives unexpected gifts.
And that, though much has changed in 15 years, He has not. The
glaciers have receded but the mountains stand, unmoved.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
The last Sunday of every month CSB gates are opened to parents who wish to visit. This morning we attended the early chapel and then invited our five boys to have a "tailgate" brunch. It was a good time to hear about the ins and outs of exams and school life, to bring them some news of their neighborhood, to fill their stomachs with a hot meal and sweet banana muffins. Mutegheki (far left) is about to finish O level exams as he completes S4, and Birungi (far right) will soon enter the month of A level exams which mark completion of S6. Kadima and John are in Caleb's S3 class, and Richard continues S5 after graduating with Luke from S4 last year. Through various circumstances God has placed these 8 boys in our lives, from Ivan up to Ndyezika. Four have no father and so we function as the responsible fee-paying parent. Four do have a living father, but we have embarked upon sponsorship over the years either out of friendship or awareness of the students' potential or taken pity on boys whose fathers are alcohol-impaired and unable to provide for them. All have been in our lives for a most of our time in Uganda, which accounts for most of their young lives as well. I'm thankful for them but painfully aware of how stretched we are, and how little we provide of the real love and guidance and support a child needs to thrive. Still we pray that our belief in them is a seed watered by the celestial calculus of grace so that an unexpected family tree blossoms.
Friday, October 24, 2008
This week the stand has taken me to our two outpatient nutrition programs, where we monitor and treat moderately malnourished children using a locally produced peanut/soy/moringa paste. This is an expensive and labor-intensive proposition, but the results have been fairly good. Over the last few months some of the volunteers and health-workers involved had begun to complain, to push for more benefits for themselves, to threaten to quit, and to accuse each other. Heidi and Baguma Charles had patiently put up with this and I finally realized I had to spend the time to go hear their issues and hold the line. So I did. While it is never pleasant to have to be the tough guy, in this case the outcome was encouraging. The troublemakers were revealed and we were able to see that the nurses in each center, Robina and Babika, actually take pride in their work and want to continue. And in each place it was a good reminder to see the patient grandmothers and the skinny babies, the listless toddlers and the too-young mothers, all waiting for hope.
This week the stand has also occurred closer to home, listening and hugging and encouraging not only Jack (who is doing better but still struggles) but also several team mates. It is hard to be far from the familiar. Sometimes when our families are in crisis, it seems even harder, we wish we could be present to lend a hand to the sick or unemployed or depressed. Other times when our families rejoice, we feel left out, missing weddings and births, celebrations and changes. Saying goodbye to team mates only accentuates loneliness. And living in Bundibugyo can impact our freedom to invest in our own relationships (team and family and friends) the way we would like, always having to make hard choices about who gets our attention. I was reminded this week of a spiritual epiphany which occurred in our first or second year, when I was pregnant with Caleb, and had a pretty bleak history of miscarriage and preterm labor and hospital visits and medications that would lead one to doubt the wisdom of being pregnant in Africa. I saw that in my heart I wanted to say: because I'm a missionary now, this pregnancy should be smooth, as if God owed me a healthy baby . . . but instead I saw the path of faith had no guarantees that my family would thrive in the way I longed, but I still wanted to walk on it. Now I'm in the position of trying to stand on the wall beside my fellow team mates, testifying to the cross, but not deciding for them in just what way God calls them to bear it. Wisdom is needed. Some might miss family events. Others might miss opportunities for marriage. Others might miss opportunities for more children. Others might miss the kind of education or experiences we all want for the children we already have. These are hard, hard things, and it takes courage to stand, to not wish for a smoother higher wall further from the mire.
And this week the stand requires advocating for the voiceless. Little Daniel has wasted away before our eyes, a third of his weight lost over the last month, leaving the skeletal essentials, his weakened body unable to swallow and digest the milk we try to give. We cry out for his healing, and daily insist that the staff and his parents keep trying. The ward is packed full again, floor space only, Heidi and I process through, looking for a stand to take for a Congolese child with what will probably turn out to be a malignancy,whose bewildered mother I can not imagine navigating our national referral hospital's hostilities. Or a mother we diagnosed HIV positive today who is terrified to share the news with her husband. Or the jaundiced child whose blood we are sending to screen for hepatitis, a strain of which has spread out of control in northern Uganda. Or twins whose mother died and whose no-nonsense aunt has them sitting in unnaturally quiet cooperation during hours of rounds. One of our potential new doctors, posted but not yet paid, spent the afternoon venting on his frustrations with the corruption and apathy in the district political system, the unfulfilled promises and the financial obscurity. What to do but empathize, and point him to the mercy and justice of God?
Psalm 40 ends with the juxtaposition: the incredible and improbable truth that God "thinks upon me" . . . and yet the desperate plea "Do not delay, O my God." The testimony of mire-extraction, but the awareness of teetering upon the exposed rock, calling for help.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
respect for the marines because they are the guys standing on the wall
that allows the rest of us to sleep safely at night. For some reason
that image has stuck with me, as a paradigm for our role. The Gospel
is supposed to tear down walls between people . . .but sometimes I
sense that our calling is to stand as a wall that limits evil in some
small way. To say this far, and no further, to the myriad of harms
that swarm Bundibugyo. To wrestle a modicum of order from the descent
to chaos. To insist that a lab be done, that a medicine be given,
that staff members complete their work, that food be distributed. To
cook another meal or listen to another problem. To confront brutality
or abuse. To pray. To not abandon the post.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
The return journey begins: Moonset over the Rift, we pile into our loaded truck at 5:55 a.m.. The road climbs to the ridge then dips to the valley, skirting Lakes Naivasha, Elementitia, and Nakuru. Frigid air, long-haul lorries barreling downhill then straining upwards belching black smoke, donkeys (we count 111 by the roadside over the course of the morning, something to keep the kids interested) slung with bags of cabbages or coal shuffle towards market.
Donkeys aren't the only roadside animals: we also pass zebra, impala, antelope, warthogs, and baboons.
The corridor of violence: our route takes us through the heart of the troubles which shook Kenya earlier this year. We stop and buy a newspaper from enterprising hawkers who position themselves at the ubiquitous speed humps. Today the Waki Comission has released their report on the post-election violence, in which 1,133 people died, 405 of those at the hands of the police, a fairly equal mixture of Luos, Kikuyus, Luhyas and Kalenjins, though each of those tribes carries a sense of being victimized disproportionately. The report concludes first that almost two decades of failure to prosecute perpetrators of violence in Kenya led to a "culture of impunity" in which politicians and thugs alike were emboldened to use force for personal gain. Secondly, that the "personalization of power" around the Presidency led to undue pressure from certain ethnic groups to ensure success for their candidate (necessary to the survival of their tribe), and also compromised oversight from other branches of government. The commission has made recommendations to improve the conduct of the police force, and turned over names of 10 key politicians for international prosecution. Both Kibaki and Odinga have endorsed this step, Odinga using a Biblical reference to "let the truth set us free". Meanwhile we still drive past a handful of IDP camps, the tell-tale UN tarps like clusters of alien igloos around the false security of various police posts.
The landscape in western Kenya: weathered board shacks and fences, with a pioneer feel, small herds of cows and sheep, paddocks of corn and grass, open endless sky, muted grassy yellows and browns. Then a splash of garish pink and kelly green. The two main competing cell phone companies ply this trail with their stocks of paint, claiming shops for their advertising. Zain seems to be outstripping Safaricom if building color is any measure.
Milk transport: Roadside cans, picked up by trucks or hauled on bikes, the pipeline of protein from pasture to plant.
Creative advertising: All the pictures here were snapped out my window in transit, so quality and selection suffer a bit at 60 km/hr. I missed "Cockroach Promoters". But how would you like to put your money in the inspiring "Skam Investments"? Or survive the police while getting your clothes spiffed at the "Roadblock Cleaners"? Or learn to drive into objects from the "Ding Wall Driving School?"
Eldoret: The one sizable city on the trip, humming with traffic and people. A country town that received its own international airport and university during the decades of Moi rule, the fruits of point 2 above, personalization of power around the presidency.
The road: Whole stretches are fantastic new asphalt. But plenty of worn patches slow down the pace, lumpy filled and not-so-filled potholed spans where traffic weaves from side to side searching for a level spot. The entire 13 hour trip is on a two-lane road, meaning that Scott has to pass poky tractor-trailer trucks about a hundred times. And that more than once we are run off the road by careless drivers overtaking in the opposite direction. And that we share the tarmac with pedestrians and bicycles. Road trauma remains the leading cause of death for expatriates in Africa. We are sober about the task of arriving alive.
A result of the aforesaid bad road: we stop to change a puncture. Scott, with help from Caleb, can do this in minutes. We always carry two spares.
Contrast: These mud-walled thatch-roofed huts abut this 21st-century cell tower. Africa quantum-leaps forward, investing in communication rather than suburbia.
The trucks: The East African Community has noticed that the over-filled lorries are ruining their precious-few tarmac road surfaces. So they made an agreement to ban the largest trailers, those with four axels in the rear. The enterprising truck drivers have merely removed one of the four rear sets of wheels, probably without a decrement on load, meaning the same weight is now distributed on less surface area, which from S1 physics we know equals higher pressure and more road damage.
The border: Approaching the border we crept around trucks lined up for about two kilometers. Jack counted 221. I can only imagine they must wait for days to pass. We, on the other hand, have found a very speedy "clearing agent". The system of changing countries is an obscure series of steps and paperwork and kick-back designed to ensure that illegal cargo is not smuggled under the tax radar, or that stolen cars do not jump from one country to the next. But in effect the bureaucracy provides income for the young men who scramble to help the unwary traveler, and the hawkers who capitalize on the hours of delay by selling drinks and samosas. We call our agent an hour ahead of time as we drive, and he meets us at the gates to the border zone. He takes our car registration and log book, our passports and departure declarations, and he and Scott divide and conquer the many offices to be visited. I write ten times on ten different colored cards our names, passport numbers, birthdays, reasons for travel. The actual border is a river, and there is a stretch of narrow fenced road over a bridge between the two guarded posts. Since we are officially Uganda residents, departing can take up to two hours, but our return was accomplished in 23 minutes.
Back in Uganda: The day is slipping away. The landscape greens, lush, colorful, vibrant, the harsh dusty highlands of Kenya giving way to the jungle of Uganda. School children cluster home over the Nile River Dam, which provides electricity for the country.
The End of the Journey: The sun blazes directly into our eyes as we head west into the city of Kampala, reaching our destination just as darkness overtakes us.
Friday, October 17, 2008
break, to give the staff a breathing space away from 24/7
responsibility for the boarding students, and to allow the students to
reconnect with their families or guardians. New students are advised
not to plan to leave Kenya since their passports are usually still in
process in some labyrinthine government agency in Nairobi for
acquiring student visas. Since this was our first six-week stretch of
family dispersal, we decided that this time we'd trek all the way back
with all five of us to see Luke. Hence the over 1000 km of driving
each way, about 23 hours in the truck spread over 2 1/2 days, the lost
school days for the younger three, the jumble of making plans for
being gone, the necessity of abandoning many tasks to our capable but
overworked team. A steep investment, but well worth it. We had
initially planned a grand climb-Mt.-Kenya adventure, but after Luke's
injury we switched to a more sedentary plan. God knew we all needed
We rented a cabin at Sunrise Acres, where a steadfast missionary
couple in their 60's runs a dairy farm on the side of their church and
orphanage work. They have constructed four simple houses, the kind
you might rent at a state park in West Virginia, with clapboard siding
and patchwork quilts and wood-burning stoves and shelves of dog-eared
paperbacks, forming a semi-circle around a shady yard with flower beds
and playground equipment, and bordered by pine forest and cow
pasture. My sense is that the decades of faithfulness the Stovers
have put in have somehow cleared this spiritual oasis, so that an
American family can pull into the yard and enter into peace. The
elevation on that side of the Great Rift is about 8 to 9 thousand
feet. It is cold, breezy, quiet, and probably one of the best bargains
in the world (the six of us got our own house, three bedrooms, milk
and strawberries galore, for less than fifty dollars/night).
Mostly we just WERE. I cooked a lot, trying to fill up the weeks of
cafeteria-food cavities with grilled meat and fresh vegetables and
home made bread and pie and cookies. We played ping-pong and shot
baskets, kicked around a soccer ball, put together a puzzle, played a
few games, watched our kids' two favorite movies: A Princess Bride,
and The Emperor's New Groove. We all eagerly listened to RVA
stories. There was a spike of Rubik's Cube mania as Luke and Jack
competed to solve them in close to two minutes, Caleb figured it out,
and Julia decided to give it a go too. We slept, long and hard,
under wool blankets with closed windows, no noises to wake us.
One day we drove down to Nakuru, and visited a national park we had
not previously seen. Lake Nakuru is home to thousands of pink
flamingos. Again, this day was a gift, because riding on the roof of
the truck through forest and savannah scanning for animals is a key
part of our family experience. We spotted two leopards, distantly, in
a tree before they climbed down and disappeared. Dozens of rhino
amazed us with their mass and their prehistoric horns and knobby
skin. We watched V's of pelicans take flight, clumps of flamingos
running like showgirls on their delicate legs and high-heeled
impractical feet, springy gazelle and even a few huge eland resting in
the grass by the water's edge. Warthogs, ostriches, baboons, buffalo,
zebra . . . and a picnic lunch on the escarpment, far above the pink-
fringes of the lake.
Then we headed back to Kijabe and said goodbye. Still hard, but not
as heart-breaking as the first time. Perhaps the key difference is
that we have now seen first-hand that this is a good place for Luke.
He has some great teachers, challenging classes, interesting
activities, a library. He has learned to follow the schedule and pace
himself on work. He's been empowered by independence, and we know
deep down this was the right plan for him. The culture is nearly
American . . . a good laboratory for learning to survive amongst a
crowd of giggling teenage girls and video-gaming boys. Luke's knee
still hurts at times, and he completes his enforced inactivity period
on Tuesday when he will see the orthopedic surgeon again. The
inability to play on the team is still the hardest aspect of his life
there and we are praying he can return next week.
In all a hidden blessing of sending our son away has been the right to
snatch five days of family time from the middle of intense months of
ministry. We're thankful.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Monday, October 06, 2008
What does that say about our team....well, we're not quite sure actually...
One thing for sure...Apple's market share in Bundibugyo is well above 8%.
The bushes by the door that were devastated a month ago are already covered in leaves, and roses are budding out all over the pruned branches. I hope the same may be seen from our ministry by 2009.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Friday, October 03, 2008
A very different party from last night, but fun all the same. I am grateful, knowing we do not deserve the miracle of two authentic Isaiah 25 celebrations in a row, but still hoping for the triple hit tomorrow.