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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Launching, take 2

Goodbyes today pulled our hearts, but did not wrench them as brutally as last year.  Leaving two kids together is better than leaving one alone, a year of history of surviving and even thriving helps, and we have a better feel for the school and the pace and the hope of reunion.  And the biggest atmosphere booster:  the student health nurse, an assistant JV soccer coach, and the dorm dad, all told Caleb he should still go to football (soccer) tryouts in spite of his broken arm.  Still I cried in my long last hug, and our car was soberly quiet with just the four of us heading out. 

The chaplain preached on 2 Cor 12 during orientation, the familiar passage about the thorn in the flesh and God's power in weakness.  And his words were once again Spirit-empowered in their appropriateness, echoing the theme we've prayed and meditated on since the Easter season.  If the cup can't pass, it must be drunk.  If the thorn can't be removed, it must be embraced.  Rather than running away from difficulty we are called to move into it, to pass through the deep and the dark, and to emerge to find out that God was with us the entire time, that He designed and orchestrated what feels like death to us in a way that shows His resurrecting power, and actually brings us life.  It is another mystery of paradox:  moving into trial moves us deeper into God.

And so we plod on into another season of loss, another tearing of the heart.  We lean forward into the rough path, wishing there was a smooth detour but trusting that we must instead pass right on through the thorns.  And hoping for more of God, somehow (for us and for our kids), in the pain of separation.

To the Saints

Spending a few days at Kijabe (RVA, Hospital, Moffat Bible College, printing press, etc.) provides an encouraging boost to the front-line missionary.  Because this place is packed with saints and stories, with long history and fresh ideas.  In Bundibugyo we are a small lone team, and the exits seem to be outnumbering the entrances these days.  So we can feel a bit like weary Elijah needing God to remind us of the hundreds of others who are holding to the faith.  In the process of orientation we met parents originating from America, New Zealand, UK, Kenya, India, Sudan, South Africa.  And serving in places all over this continent, some as difficult (or MORE difficult) to reach and to persevere in as Bundi.  And in between enrollment tasks, we dropped in for visits with a handful of local on-station families whom we've grown to befriend over the years, people who are planning medical mission policy for dozens of sites, or who are faithfully caring for children, or juggling disparate classes and duties. Including a surgeon and his wife who will reach age 70 this year, I'm guessing that nearly 40 of those years have been dedicated to Africa.  And our hosts at Sunrise Acres (our stopping point on our return trip) who appeared as RVA staff in a 1975 yearbook I flipped through.  It is humbling to sit in the presence of these saints even briefly, and I thank God for the testimony of endurance.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Big City

Nairobi should not be a surprise to us, but somehow it always is.  When we can order a mocha milkshake and have five choices of salad dressings, when we wander down the gleaming aisles in Nakumatt overwhelmed by the housewares and food, when we go for immunizations to the modern Nairobi Hospital and note Kenyan couples arriving in SUV's wearing jeans and mini-skirts, when five people in the restaurant are surfing the wireless internet on i-phones . . . well, we know we're in Africa but it is hard to believe it.  

This time we stayed at the Mayfield Guesthouse, as Luke put it the epicenter of the AIM universe.  Scott first stayed there in 1983, and I remember keeping Luke entertained in the toy room there in 1994.  It is a safe place with wonderful showers and comfortable rooms and an atmosphere of missionary history.  As members of a relatively small mission, we are thankful for the resources the larger agencies allow to be shared.

After long days on the roads, we appreciated the breather, washing clothes and shopping for notebooks and snacks and other essential school supplies.  And there were some moments, or rather long hours of grace as a family:  stumbling upon a showing of the movie "UP" which our kids had long wanted to see, and being the only people in the whole theatre.  Amazing chicken and naan at an outdoor food court. Escaping a cold rainy morning in a cafe with hot chocolate.

Nairobi would be a challenging place to live, with its snarls of traffic, hordes of thieves, tragic slums, scattering of garbage.  Perhaps even more challenging would be the constant bombardment of the reality of disparity, even walking through the sprawling Village Market Mall and seeing the tasteful interior decorating shops and beautiful clothing made me feel disoriented and shabby.  But is a nice place to visit, a taste of luxury for the road-weary.

Parenting from Afar

This was the topic of the RVA New Parent Orientation seminar we attended today. In between meeting faculty and touring dorms, we listened to a panel of former MK's (missionary kids) who are now RVA teachers and administrators talk about the grief of leaving kids at boarding school, and how to maintain strong family ties in spite of many miles of distance, because we are still the primary relationship in our kids' lives.  Like last year, we appreciated the accumulated wisdom of the talented and dedicated people who make this school what it is.  They reminded us that much of this transition is more difficult for the parents/siblings left behind, than for the kids at RVA who have incredible classes, activities, people, opportunities to distract them . . . and we should allow them to thrive and love school.    I think I could attend a yearly refresher to just be reminded of God's mercy, of parental commitment to love, of faith in the midst of difficulty, of the resources of the Kingdom.  It was very inspiring.  And a bit easier the second time.  The single biggest factor that convinces Caleb he wants to go to RVA, or us that it is the best thing for him, is Luke's overall positive experience last year.  As we pulled into the campus and Luke sighed about the good and the bad of being back . . .he affirmed that the balance was for good, because he had friends here. And that was immediately apparent as he has reconnected with kids as they arrive.  This time it is fun to meet people whom he has had as teachers and put faces with the names, to thank in person the pottery teacher and the guidance counselor.  We're also meeting other families, some we've known from our times at Kijabe and others we're just meeting, to be reminded of the vast network of people from many nationalities living in remote and difficult and dangerous situations for the sake of serving others.

And so we are in the midst of embarking once again on this faith journey of drinking from the bitter cup of goodbye.  We still have another day together, but the parting looms.  We can only trust that in God's mysterious providence this is good for Caleb, and for all of us in some way, in spite of the cost.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On tsetse flies, fractures, and the mysteries of grace

Tsetse flies swarmed us occasionally and pestered us often during our game-park visit.  They are large, bothersome flies, with sandy-colored wings and fierce bites, a bit like horse-flies in America that used to hover around the pool ... Their bites leave itching welts, but more ominously they can be the carriers of a deadly disease, sleeping sickness, which devastates cattle and on relatively rare occasions infects humans too.  Thanks to control programs the flies in the parks no longer carry this disease (or so the tourist books claim . . ), but in the past they were a significant impediment to human survival in large swathes of East Africa.  

The wildlife, however, were unaffected.  And as a consequence, a hundred years later, we can probably thank the tsetse fly for the existence of national parks and millions of wild animals.  In tact Tanzania has such large expanses of unsettled parkland, and such massive herds of animals, precisely because the tsetse flies infested this country and kept the people at bay.  We can glory today in the open vistas, the roaming predators, the grazing herds, because the tsetse fly exists.

I've been thinking about this as a picture for mystery.  From the perspective of a Maasai herdsman, or a German settler, the tsetse fly was an unmitigated danger.  But from the perspective of a 21rst century lover of nature, it was an instrument of God's gracious preservation of an important ecosystem on our earth.

The problem is, in the midst of the flies, it is hard to see God's mercy at work.  And much of our life is spent in the flies.  We took a brief stop at a picnic spot on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, to look back down into the bowl from the heights.  Luke and Caleb started jumping on some logs.  And Caleb fell, on his arm, which had healed with a curve after a severe fracture two years ago.  Whether it was the instability of the curve, his rapid growth spurt, or just an unusual angle of his fall, he ended up with significant pain which did not resolve in the next day.  So when we went through Arusha, we took a insider's tour of the Lutheran Medical Center by signing in as patients to get an xray.  The xray showed a new fracture, a pretty large one considering Caleb's stoic patience.  Thankfully we were able to get a diagnosis and a cast.  But sadly, this once again puts the biggest draw of RVA, the opportunity to play football (soccer) on a team, probably out of reach.  The fracture itself is not a huge deal to Caleb, but the loss of the dream of playing football is crushing to him, and to all of us.

Just like last year when Luke injured his knee at the start of the season, we struggle to see God's mercy in the timing of this suffering.  And we may not see it, with our limited grasp of the mysteries of grace.  Perhaps in eternity when we look back over life with eyes attuned to the unseen worlds of spiritual reality all around us, it will all make sense.  Or perhaps even then we will have to merely gasp at the depth of God's impossible-to-plumb grace.  

But the tsetse fly bites seem a small price to pay for the glory of a sauntering giraffe.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Trekking the Serengeti-Ngorongoro-Tarangire

For the last five days we have crossed the Maasai plateau of Northern Tanzania, a highland of vast savannah, bracing winds, brilliant sun, abrupt rock formations, infrequent rivers, and wildlife beyond counting.  Pictures will say much more than I can write here, but since we're still on the road, a brief summary.  From Mwanza we drove through the "Western Corridor" of Serengeti National Park.  We had barely cleared the (substantial!) fees at the gate before we were seeing girraffe, zebra, gazelle, wildebeest . . . I think Julia counted 25 species of animals.  The terrain is open and endless, austere beauty.  And though the largest herds head north to Kenya in the August dry season, the density of animals left behind was still magnitudes above Uganda.  We camped at a "special" campsite, meaning a spot in the wilderness with no amenities, but plenty of baboons.  Our highlight in the Serengeti was an evening game drive in which we outran a rainstorm, which produced brilliant rainbows in the setting sun.  Luke spotted a rare serval cat moving noiselessly through the high grass near a granite kopje.  We sat on the truck with the breeze and the fresh air, watching ostriches run away or a flock of jewel-bright-green lovebirds descend, a hyena slink across the road behind us, a lioness walk confidently alone beside us.  In all I think we saw ten lions in the Serengeti, and heard many more during the nights!
Serengeti National Park joins the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The road was NOT a highlight--corrugated bone-rattling gravel and choking dust for hours.  But then we ascended to the ridge of this extinct volcano and down into the crater, skirting a salt lake and watching more wildlife.  The highlight here:  cheetahs.  Two, relaxing in the afternoon sun, sleek and unworried.  This is only the second time in all our years in Africa to see cheetahs in the wild.  And mating crested cranes doing their wing-stretching hopping dances.  That night we pulled into the public campground at almost 8,000 feet, cold, with about a hundred other adventurers in their little communities of identical tour-company tents all around the meadow, and our little family.  An elephant walked right by our tents, and later a herd of zebra, as we cooked over our charcoal segeli in the starlight, shivering.  The next morning we visited Oduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys famously excavated many fossils from the layers of cliffs which are now displayed in a museum.
Our third and final park was our favorite, Tarangire.  After the crowd at Ngorongoro we decided to ask at the gate for another special campsite, more expensive but completely private.  Sometimes this week we felt like the only people who were not being herded effortlessly through the country by efficient tour operators driving landcruisers, the only people who had not had everything arranged months ago and paid for.  In spite of this the people at the gate managed to contact their superiors and assign us the most spectacular campsite we've ever had, under a fig tree, miles and miles from anyone, with a dry sandy riverbed and 360-degree views of the wild. From our campsite alone we saw elephants, zebra, giraffe, impala, vervette monkeys, warthogs, and many birds.  I've been pretty scared in the middle of the night before, but never as terrified as last night when massive elephants wandered stomping a few meters from our tent at 1 a.m., a dark outline with swaying trunks blotting out the stars as we barely dared breathe from our sleeping bags.  Having watched them uproot trees, I knew we had no hope if one decided to explore our tents.  We survived. . . and it's not a real Myhre vacation if sweating palms and heart rates of 200 facing potential death don't come into it somewhere.  Tarangire is bisected by an all-season river, so this morning we watched herds of buffalo, wildebeest, and zebra, in national-geographic proportions, moving up the riverbed.
Now we're in Arusha, where we stumbled upon a very reasonable place to shower and sleep in a bed and eat good food (it is no small task to keep a family of six fed for five days in the wild from a not-so-cool cooler and cooking over charcoal).  Tomorrow we'll visit Selian Hospital, founded by our friends the Jacobsons, who are sadly on furlough right now . . . but we still have appreciated following their work over the last two decades and want to see this new medical center which is the culmination of their efforts (more than two decades actually, Scott visited them here as a med student in 1986).  Caleb fell while jumping on logs at a picnic site and hurt his arm, so while we're touring we will also stop in for an xray.  Always something.
We are deeply grateful for this week's fullness, for the soul-lifting horizon of being alone in the wilderness, for the challenge of finding our way and pitching our tents, for the family time around the campfires, for the stunning beauty of a world uncontrolled by humans.  I think that is the element that most points us to God, the reminder, as  CS Lewis says, that His goodness does not translate into safety, that He is unpredictable, fierce, and completely other.  We are grateful to have stepped outside the normal bounds of culture and civilization, the illusions of mastery and safety, to glimpse the Creator through creation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

our TRIP (Travels Round Immazing Places)

When the Bartkoviches returned for their year of furlough in 2008, JD planned a cross-country USA car trip which she nick-named: GAFTA, the Great American Field Trip Adventure.
Along those lines we spent a little time in the car coming up with an acronym for our circumnavigation of Lake Victoria trip...and the finalists are...(you may vote in the comment section)...

1.  The UN-SAFE Trip

(Uganda-Nyanza Safari Expedition a.k.a  Uganda-Nyanza Serious African Fun Expedition; NB, Nyanza is a Bantu word for "lake" often used to refer to Lake Victoria).

2.  The LoVE Trip   (Lake Victoria Expedition)...a sarcastic comment from Jennnifer about the lack of sibling harmony in the car..

3.  The EX-TRUK Trip

(Exploring Tanzania-Rwanda-Uganda-Kenya)

In Mwanza

Yesterday we drove, and drove some more.  From the border we crossed NW Tanzania on dirt (mostly) roads, rough as washboards, choking with dust.  It took us about seven hours to reach the western shores of a bay of Lake Victoria, looking over to Mwanza.  It was 3:15, and the ferry was loading for the 3:30 crossing.  Perfect.  But no, the ferry was full.  Not perfect.  We had pushed through the day but then ended up standing around our car, in line behind two buses and a truck over-stuffed with bales of cotton, waiting.  For three hours.  It was painful timing, to be sure.  The usual truck-stop border-crossing atmosphere surrounded us:  women selling sodas and water, foot passengers congregating by the gates, idling men eating meat kebobs or laughing over beers, truck drivers lying under their engines with greasy hands pulling out wires, tinny music, curious kids, and of course one crazy man who flailed his arms and asked us repeatedly for money.  3:30, 4:30, 5:30 . . .finally the gathered vehicles began to rev their engines and edge up towards the gate, vying for a place in line.  The kids and I had to join the foot-passengers in a separate queue, where a man seemed to be preaching in Swahili then lifted his shirt and gingerly removed a towel to reveal a huge externalized pink loop of intestines pushing out of his skin.  Waiting passengers started handing him money.  Our kids tried not to look.  
Finally the ferry returned to our side, and the vehicles were loaded on, like cattle, inches apart.  Then the gates opened and the foot-passengers flooded on, with much pushing and cramming, until they could not squeeze one more.  People stood wearily along the sides, between the vehicles, on top of the vehicles, everywhere.  And we pushed off from land, to cross about 5 miles of lake water, shore to shore.  Being a mom, I annoyed our kids by pointing out that the ferry holding a dozen or more vehicles and hundreds of people had not one visible life jacket or raft, so if it went down, they should kick off their shoes an swim AWAY from people as fast as possible, then tread water and wait.  But all went well, kingfishers dove for fish, and the town of Mwanza emerged from the far shore, outlined by improbable volcanic boulders jutting out of the water.  
We are here to visit our friends Rob and Liz, a young doctor/nurse practitioner couple, who were college student interns in Uganda 12 years ago.  Rob was the cross-country runner God provided to help us carry our children to safety when we were attacked by the ADF.  Now they are academic missionaries, teaching and managing an ICU and doing research in collaboration with a US University and a Tanzanian medical school, raising their own young family with two kids the ages our were back in 1997.  They enfolded our dusty travel-weary smelly selves into their hospitable care, and we were so grateful we decided to stay two nights instead of one.
Mwanza is a Jinja-like town, the pastel lake-side Swahili feel, the bustle of commerce, the peace of an unbroken water view.  Rob works in a huge referral hospital providing an impressive level of health care, better than the best in Uganda.  He's brilliant, and dedicated, and it was inspiring to round the wards with him as he taught medical students and interns and residents.  Liz has a heart for orphans so we followed her mid-morning out to an orphanage where she volunteers, a cheerily efficient and homey place run by a British couple and a large Tanzanian staff, home to about 40 kids. Some were premature and needed special care, others handicapped, others just growing enough to be returned to fathers or grandparents after the death of their mothers.
This day has been one of respite, thankful for the diversity of the Kingdom, the great things that others are doing for the poor and needy.  Thankful for the cobbling of TZ government, Catholic Church, American University, NGO, and various other partnerships that allows the people of western TZ to access good medical care.  Thankful for the bonds of friendship across many years.  Thankful for a VERY COMFORTABLE apartment made available to us for hot showers and beds and time to wash out our dirty clothes and stock food for the next camping phase.  Oh, did I mention the hot showers again?  
Tomorrow, on to the Serengeti!

Crossing to TZ

We left Rwanda behind, a place of surprising sophistication, as the sun set Sunday, crossing a narrow bridge over chocolate-frothing water at Rusuumo Falls.  Tanzania, with its fluttering trash and frustratingly unavailable border agents, felt a bit more like home.  First shock:  the visa fees for Americans doubled.  Painful.  Second:  the man with the key for the stamp for the paper which allows us to bring in a vehicle, had gone home for the evening.  We were told to just sleep at the border and wait for him the next day.  Not a very appealing prospect.  By this time we had incongruously struck up a rapport with the immigration agents who were charging the exorbitant visa fees, and gradually they took pity on us, and one went to fetch the man with the key.  Only a half-hour of receding dusk was left by the time we cleared all the bureaucracy, and drove eastward.  Our map showed a wildlife reserve . . . but in reality the reserve could only be entered through the official gate 150 km (several hours) away. As the sky faded to pink we came to a small cross-road, the first settlement we had seen since the border.  By this time we were ready to stop almost anywhere.  We turned left.  

Within a kilometer we saw a sign for a Free Pentecostal church, several homes and sheds and lots of grassy space, fenced by rusting barbed wire.  We pulled into the gate, seeing no one.  Scott and Luke (who at least has a year of school Swahili and can ask if we can sleep here .. .) walked around until a handful of people emerged.  Being true hospitable Africans, they were quite willing to give us their house, but we merely asked for permission to set up our tents out by the animal sheds, where there was plenty of space and a cushion of grass.  Curious kids watched as we briskly unfolded our three little tents and blew up mats and spread out sleeping bags.  It was completely dark by the time we lit charcoal and made a dinner of pasta and sausages, the moonless sky full of stars, the audience faded back to their own homes.

Though we live in Africa, and encounter ordinary people all the time, this evening was special.  This pastor and his family had no agenda for us.  They refused our offer to pay for the night.  We were the ones in need, and we took the risk to ask for their help. After haggling with the immigration officials and being parted from a large sum of our cash, it was a refreshing contrast to be simply human beings sleeping unexpectedly at someone's home.  We awoke with the daylight and packed up, shaking hands and offering thanks.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Road through Rwanda

This morning dawns slowly, blue-grey of Lake Kivu meeting the misty blue of the sky on the horizon, as black kites circle and swoop and fishing canoes return to shore.  We swam in the crystal-clear lake waters yesterday, and enjoyed fresh fish at sunset.  This is a Presbyterian retreat center, simple cheap rooms perched on a steep hillside of a quiet peninsula jutting into this high winding lake, a place of enormous calm and beauty.  This is also the town of Kibuye, where 90% of the Tutsi population was murdered in 100 days in 1994.  
This tension between beauty and brutality makes Rwanda an unsettling place.  As we drive the spectacular curving well-maintained road west, vistas of terraced fields and rising hills, cool air at 7 thousand feet .. Julia is waving out the window and getting dozens of people to respond, women with huge clay jugs on their head smile and wave back at her, or groups of youth heading to market.  But then we round a corner and I see a crowd of men presumably heading to work somewhere, and the nearest one holds a machete, and I can't suppress the vision of this group going out to kill.  Fifteen years have passed, the country climbs out of disaster.  But the memories are not far away.
Pamela gave me an excellent book, As We Forgive, which follows the stories of a few real people through the genocide, but focuses on the aftermath, how they have managed to come to terms with the suffering or the guilt, how they have chosen to forgive and live together.  It is a powerful book which I highly recommend.  In one story the boy hid in cliffs around this lake where I sit now, perhaps within view of this very place.  In another high school students refused to identify their friends as Tutsi and before they were shot in their classroom they said "We are all Rwandans."  It was a time of courage and sacrifice as well as a time of evil, the latter calling out the former.
As moving and healing as those stories are, we still wonder as we drive through this country, as we are greeted by smiling ordinary people, how the genocide came to be in a place so beautiful and orderly.  Years and years of fear and hate being propagated and encouraged, yes, that was true.   But the very group action and attention to order reminds one of Germany (and the Germans were the first Europeans to colonize Rwanda, they only lost it to the Belgians after WW1).  Could the same qualities of culture that produce weekly street-sweeping (yes, in Africa!) and forbid trash, that give group identity and make people willing to take collective action for good .. . also be the ones that are bent towards evil?  In our virtues we may be most vulnerable to disaster.  For we are all Rwandans, all the same in spirit, and all capable of harm on such a cataclysmic scale.  And that is probably what makes this place unsettling, the deep knowledge that like the country of Rwanda, the human heart (mine!) can be a place of beauty and brutality.

African Cultural History

Yesterday, Butare, which we learned is being re-named like many Rwandan towns, so not only are signs lacking, but when you do find one it is labeled for a town that you never knew existed:  Huye.  Huye does have a marines-back-slap-charge-into-battle sound to it . . .but the town is a real University town. Various faculties are scattered throughout the community, with a main campus, trees, paths, young people lounging on benches.  As Joel put it, the Charlottesville of Rwanda.  We met up with one of our former Uganda interns, Joel M, who is working in Congo and happened to be attending a conference at the University studying new methods to use computer-based geographic information systems to protect the environment.  Fascinating applications of gps data to agricultural encroachment on parks, or pockets of chimpanzee populations.  We hiked through the town and into an arboretum, a forest planted in the 1930's by Americans and Australians to explore importation of various timbers into the Rwandan climate.

But the main reason we drove all the way down to Butare (nearly the Burundi border) was to visit the National Museum.  This was a gift from the Belgians to celebrate 25 years of independence in 1987, and it is said to be the best preservation of, and monument to, African culture on the continent. It feels like a Smithsonian institution, modern, spacious, attractive, organized.  But behind the glass panes are examples of pottery and baskets, spears and beads, loin-cloths and cooking pots, all from Rwanda.  Some of the artifacts are ancient, but most are from the early colonial era.  In the center of the museum an entire traditional grass hut has been erected, with woven mats on the floor and stools and a bed, which you can enter and explore.  There are striking black-and-white photos of people before their styles of dress were muted by Western culture.   There are musical instruments, translated poetry, and an analysis of the 5-note scale (penta-something, I was going to remember the technical term for Sarah, sorry!).  I was fascinated by a photo of an older woman giving a young baby an enema through a reed, labeled "kwina" in Kinyarwandan, but translated "cleansing" in English . . . very close to "kwiita" in Lubwisi and a cultural practice that I've found very harmful and pervasive in our place.  A reminder that not everything traditional is good . . . 

I enjoyed the afternoon devoted to the serious study of African culture, the way it is displayed as something of value, something to be preserved and honored.  Made me wish we could do something similar on a small scale in our community center, before the terrible pressure of popular western consumer culture erases all the distinctives.  

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In Rwanda

We crossed the border south into Rwanda this morning, and followed a winding smoothly paved road around dozens of the "milles collines" (thousand hills), below terraced fields and above neatly squared off rice-paddies in the valleys.  We felt immediately welcomed by the surprise that Americans are not charged for entry visas, by the neatly organized and spacious border area (such a contrast to the Uganda/Kenya border with its clot of trucks and aggressive hawkers), and by the good tip from our border agent that in Rwanda they drive on the RIGHT.  Wow.  That's a little detail we might have missed until a collision.  The road passed many tiny settlements, each with large signs in Kinyarwandan proclaiming a "Jenocide" site in crude stenciling.  I suppose the country is small enough that everyone knows there way, because we have yet to encounter so much as a street sign . . . leading to lots of stops to ask questions, and lots of puzzled looks as our English does not go so far here.  

Our goal for the afternoon was the National Genocide Memorial in Gisozi, just outside Kigali. It was a powerful experience, extremely professional, factual, with personal stories, videos, photos.  What struck me most was the first-person plural point of view, rather than a dry historical style, the events were told "We were colonized . . . we were told . . . ".  There were copies of the identity cards issued by the Belgians in 1932 which began to divide Tutsi and Hutu, copies of the Hutu 10 commandments, the pamphlets that led up to an organized and systematic horror.  There was the report sent to the UN months prior to the genocide which warned of imminent disaster, and was ignored.  There were photos from the insides of churches where hundreds, even thousands, of bodies decomposed.  There were a few display cases of the farm implements, machetes, chains, weapons, and actual news footage of the carnage.  There were stories of heros, an elderly lady who hid potential victims in her animal sheds then pretended to be possessed in order to scare away the Interhamwe death squads, the man who managed to get 400 children to safety.  There was an entire room where hundreds of family photos were hung on strings of clips, poor quality serious typical photos, of relatives lost, real people not numbers.  There was a section devoted to the truth-and-reconciliation community-based court system called gacaca, where thousands and thousands of perpetrators have been tried.  The atmosphere was somber, with some stained glass windows and sculptures, and even gardens transforming the mass graves.  The message is clear:  this was a human tragedy on an unimaginable scale, the trauma has warped an entire generation, and we must keep the memory alive, educating and proclaiming as a means of prevention.  A disturbing history, but one we wanted our kids to encounter, something that happened within Luke's lifetime and not very far away.  Jesus said the truth would make us free.

Back in Kigali we explored, found the hotel upon with the "Hotel Rwanda" movie was based.  We bought cheese, crackers, and imported grapes and made an impromptu picnic by a spectacular fountain in a small park in the center of the city, which made us feel like we were real tourists in Europe instead of dusty missionaries in Africa (memorable!).  The city is clean, low-rise, quiet.  In our guidebook we found a reasonably cheap hotel, in an obscure corner of the city, up on a hill, peeling paint and past-its-prime but a good resting place for the night.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

cold water and hot fires

Don't know how . . but our techno-savvy teens connected us to the
internet from the remote Bushara Island, a tiny non-electric sancutary
in the middle of a long winding finger of lake in the highlands of SW
Uganda. We are here in the dusk as a bonfire crackles, eating by
candlelight after a day of hiking around the island observing birds
and swimming in the freezing waters of the lake. The highlight of the
place is a rope swing, a long knotted rope tied to a tall eucalyptus
tree which arcs far out from shore, allowing the intrepid to drop
screaming into the water. We're here with the Massos, and the
combination of quiet, rest, simple tents, good food, warm night fires,
clear breezes and exercise, has been therapeutic. This is an oasis,
the entire small island owned and operated by the church of Uganda as
a retreat, where we can exist without being stared at, which is
perhaps the most relaxing thing of all.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Circling the Source

Tomorrow morning we will embark on our odyssey to take Luke and Caleb to school, the LONG WAY AROUND, counter-clockwise around Lake Victoria . . . first around the Rwenzoris, then south, through Queen Elizabeth Park for our first stop. Then southwest to Kabale where we will join the Massos (and we're bringing Ashley) for a few days on Bushara Island in Lake Bunyoni: cool air, otters, bracing lake water, tents, and sweet fellowship for the soul. Then further south, across the border and into Rwanda. Though we lived within a few hundred kilometers of the 1994 genocide and suffered through some of the after-effects of war in Congo and incursions to Uganda, we have never visited this country. We would like to encounter, as a family, both the memorials to the unspeakable loss and suffering, and the testimony to forgiveness and rebuilding this country has given the world. From Rwanda we head east, around the southern tip of Lake Victoria, to Mwanza, Tanzania, where our friends the Pecks work, and then on to Arusha where other friends the Jacobsons founded an incredible new mission hospital. The Pecks represent the generation following us: Rob was our intern in 1997 and is now a doctor with a family in TZ. The Jacobsons represent the generation we follow: Scott visited them when he was an intern in 1986! In both places we hope to have our vision expanded for medical missions in East Africa. And in between the two lies the Serengeti, the vast plains and rift escarpments of northern Tanzania, where we will camp in the game park and enjoy some family memory-making with the wild animals. From Arusha we turn north, back to Nairobi, and on to Kijabe for the New Parent Orientation as Caleb enrolls for 10th grade at RVA. Once he and Luke are settled, we go west, back to Kampala, and finally Budnibugyo!
The entire loop will take us three weeks. We will be driving thousands of kilometers, much of it on questionable roads, in places we have never been. We will completely encircle Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile, and quite possibly the cradle of humanity. We are praying for a rest from the day to day wear and pressure of Bundibugyo, for family focus, for good conversation, for love for each other. We would also hope for a minimum of mechanical problems, punctures, difficulty finding food or places to stay, encounters with bribe-seeking police or dangerous animals. Please join us in praying that we would go with God, the true Source of all life, and see Him in new ways as we see the wonder of what He hath wrought.

Praying Away

While we are away . . . not sure how often we will be able to post, so leaving you with a summary prayer request for our team:

Bundibugyo Team Praise Items
1.  Scott closed up the Kwejuna Project after five years of partnership with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.  The work will continue, but has now been put completely into the hands of Ugandans in the district.  Over this time period we enrolled 46,539 women in prenatal care, identified over a thousand as new HIV-positive patients who needed treatment, and increased health-unit-based deliveries three-fold.  Many heard the gospel, many were prayed for, and many more got a very concrete picture of God's love in the help extended to them.
2.  God blessed us with many sweet reunions this summer as we hosted former team mates, family members, and potential recruits.  We are asking God to call at least four of them back for long-term service.
3.  As we entered into a season of evaluation and planning for Christ School, God very graciously led us to two excellent consultants who reaffirmed the value of the school and encouraged us with vision for its potential, while also giving practical advice that would enable us to improve sustainability and performance.  The next step will be a visit from Paul and Ward in the first week of September, so pray God would continue to make the path forward clear in that time.

Bundibugyo Team Prayer items:
Our theme for 2009:  "By prayer and partnership, investing in emerging Ugandan leadership as we work together to show the compassion of Jesus to the poorest."  
1.  Pray that we would become, more and more, people of prayer, waiting upon God's powerful rescues, seeing His Kingdom come.
2.  Pray for our partnerships, specifically with large NGO's that help supply our nutrition programs (UNICEF, NuLife); and with other Christian churches and educational institutions that could assist us in improving Christ School.
3.  Pray for leadership to emerge in the church, in health, in agriculture, and most of all at Christ School, where we desperately seek a qualified committed Ugandan Head Teacher.  Pray that we would wisely formalize the boards of governance for the school in a way that protects the vision of raising up Christian leaders for Bundibugyo.
4.  Pray that we would not grow weary in showing the compassion of Jesus to the poorest . . . our patient load has dramatically increased in the last few months, and we are stretched to the limits.

Thanks for your prayers!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Quilting with the Spirit

I asked our team Wednsday to pray for me like the artisans sewing the temple curtains . . that I would be able to finish a quilt for Caleb that would send him off to boarding school blanketed by beauty and memories of home. I'd been working on it square by square over the last couple of weeks, but the deadline was fast approaching. I had cut out the centers of several favorite old T-shirts, including his only organized sports team, community soccer in Kindergarden . . plus scraps from old couch cushions, curtains, dresses. In the center I wanted to put a cross-stitch piece that I started FOURTEEN years ago when Caleb was a baby, and then laid aside. So between cutting and piecing fabrics and frantically stitching, I was getting pretty desperate to finish on time. Thursdays are the day I set aside for prayer, and this week I decided that I would consider the creative act of sewing to be one of prayer and love for Caleb as I went. And God met me in the process, in a focused day of grace. I had just enough of the fabric I had hoped to use for the borders and back. It all came together over about 8 solid hours of work yesterday, and I finished up today, in time to pack tomorrow. Whew. It is as beautiful as I hoped, not perfect (none of us are), but reflective of Caleb's unusual life and honoring to him. I'm glad God cares about the details of mothering, often giving me ideas for a meal out of sparse and mismatched ingredients. Or providing friends . . Ashley and Pat are busily sewing on NAME TAGS now while I recover from finishing the quilt and start to think about packing. The front room has become a good community gathering point as Luke and Caleb experiment on guitars and Julia on piano, some of us sew, and others come in and out to visit. We leave in about 36 hours. Lots to do.

Media Pressure

This summer, your prayers and the press are having some impact on justice in Bundibugyo and beyond.  Today the Monitor reported that as part of the investigation into the shortage of ARV drugs in Uganda, it became clear that HALF of the money allocated for their purchase was diverted by Ministry of Health into salaries for health workers and investments for the Ministry.  Now salaries and investments are important, but it should all be transparent, and based on a thoughtful prioritization.  Earlier in the week another paper reported that MOH had unofficially been instructing doctors NOT to start new patients on ARV's, something we've been hearing for months, but which no one wants to say in writing because no one wants to admit that we can't treat our patients.  Meanwhile we did get a supply here, to tide us over a bit longer, but the need is still acute.  

Also last week we linked to an editorial following up on an article about the delay in paying out medical worker compensation post-Ebola.  Yesterday it was announced that the compensation will finally be paid (more than a year late, but at least there is progress).  The widow and six children of the late Dr. Jonah will receive a substantial sum. . . equivalent to about 7 years' salary for a doctor in Uganda, or less than 7 months' salary for a doctor in America.  Luke put it in perspective that their entire life-sustaining-compensation package is TREE THOUSAND times less than Ronaldo's recent signing bonus as he switched football teams.  

So justice moves forward, slowly, pushed by truth.  Thanks to Amy and others who called newspapers and recruited prayer for these issues.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Healing, and far to go

Masika went home today, which was definitely my HIGH of the day (we do family highs and lows at dinner). When she arrived, 5 years down a road of neglect, malnutrition, and apathy, with her edematous limbs and peeling skin, I doubted she would survive. In fact she comes from the furthest town away from us within the district, and only came to our health center after being sent home from the main district hospital to die. I rather agreed with their prognosis when I saw her. For the first two weeks she only seemed to get worse. Her father was in jail for stealing cocoa, her mother had long ago abandoned her, and the two grandmothers who could have cared for her had clearly already failed. But God had other plans, and slowly rescued her. By the third week she was sitting, then standing, and for the last few days walking. Today she was trying to get into my pockets for candy, take my pen, or play with my wedding ring on my hand while I wrote. Her swelling melted away, and her life returned, with a measure of smile and peskiness. This one-month time-lapse resurrection is an amazing thing to see. We ended July with 35 severe acute malnutrition admissions (just shy of TRIPLE the average month's intake!!!). Frankly the sheer weight of misery and numbers of sad stories boggles my ability to engage fully with each one. But Masika stood out, partly because of her age, partly because of the distance her grandmothers came to get help, partly because of the miracle of her transformation. And partly because she represents hope for all the others, hope that if she can heal then they can too.
There are two tiny ones whose mothers have recently died, with dedicated fathers, unusual to see men caring for small children in this way. One disappeared for two weeks then came back, clearly not within the rules . . but her father explained that demons had haunted her from her dead mother, and he had to pay a witch doctor to get rid of them (it only cost about a dollar . . but I still challenged him with the truth that Jesus is more powerful than any demons, or any witch doctors). There are three with AIDS. There is one whose mother took her to have her baby teeth cut out of her gums in what is believed to be a cure for diarrhea. There are several with TB. There is one whose only misfortune is that her mother is pregnant and weaned her too early, a circumstance two of my own kids survived without ill effect in the environment of our relative wealth. There are a handful with sickle cell disease, and more who have washed up on the shore of a grandmother's care after a loose marriage finally shipwrecked. Luke rounded with me today (hence the decent phtotos) and it did not take long for him to comment: behind every sick child there seems to be a story of a family with relationships in distress. So true.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Caleb graduated officially from Rwenzori Mission School today. Classes continue for two more days . . but Miss Sarah and Heidi leave tomorrow, so we wanted to get in a moment of closure and recognition. I'm thankful for our team who rallied to make it memorable: singing American and Ugandan national anthems, an exhortation to the graduate from his newest teacher (Nathan) based on the Biblical roots of his name, the Sarah-phim singing a hymm (Sarah, Nathan, and Luke . . we were missing Acacia!!), funny story take-offs of books by Annelise and me, a bag of show and tell memories, and a photo-spread time line of RMS over the last 15-ish years. Ashley pulled it all together and opened in prayer, and Scott closed praying for Caleb as he goes forward from us to RVA. There were balloons and snacks, the elements of any good party. Our kids have been incredibly blessed by the dedication of their teachers over the years, both the missionaries and the CSB teachers. We could not have stayed here so long without RMS, and Caleb would not be ready to launch out into the world of 10th grade without the work they have done. Pat was the team teacher when we arrived, and though she never taught Caleb officially, it was also a blessing to have her here today, representing the many others over the years (Heather, Sandy, Michelle, Natalee, Jenny, Kimiko, Becky, Catharine, Larissa, Jessica, Bethany, Becca, Matt, Kim, Amy, Scotticus . . as well as Ashley, Sarah, and Nathan). It takes a village! Thanks!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Making Peace

We asked the Lutjens and the Elwoods to consider teaching seminars on the Biblical approach to conflict as part of their visit. Pastor Lutjens took the lead, and we spent the bulk of the Saturday in the community center with between 50 and 60 people from the community. It just so happens that the evening before I had been present when a class of students organized a peaceful sit-down protest over issues they are unhappy with (mostly the lack of a class trip out of the district, something that is expensive and considered an unaffordable privilege by the administration when the school runs at a deficit . . . but deeply desired by the students in their S3 year . . this is the first class to miss the trip and they see themselves as fighting potential corruption by pushing for money they assume is there somewhere for them). We had also had just had a visit from a potentially hostile and powerful community leader related vaguely to the man who broke his ankle falling out of our tree; the leader was investigating the accident with a view towards opening a legal case against us. And we learned that morning of a conflict evolving between one of our community agriculture extension workers and her part-time hired farm worker, involving angry words and tears. Not to mention the fact that one of our watchmen was discovered stealing from the garden of mission tenants last week (the very property he's supposed to protect?). Oh, and you can add to that some unhappiness over decisions we've made in the last week as team leaders. And the general push-back from teenage kids who don't always agree with our plans. In other words, life is full of conflicts, and ours seems to be brimming over this week.
So we attended the seminar, not so much as organizers but as thirsty participants. And God faithfully spoke to me during the hours. The message I heard through the Lutjens was to remember that GOD IS IN CONTROL. In our conflicts we tend to want to work things out the way we see as best, and feel discouraged or anxious when we don't know what will happen. But Susan encouraged us to pray, and Kurt pointed us to Bible stories where God is at work even in adverse circumstances and through people who want to harm us. This was so encouraging to me, to be convicted of my lack of faith and be pointed towards God's sovereign care.
The other thing that was encouraging was the turn out. This was a no-free-lunch seminar, on a Saturday (market day). I told the Lutjens we'd be happy to get between 10 and 20 people coming . . but we had five times that many. And more than half were people I don't really know, people who don't just come to our events because they are our friends. We cast our net widely with invitations (Church of Uganda, Pentecostals, Catholics, Schools, our Local Council Political leaders, Health Staff . . in addition to the usual church and school and nutrition programs we work with), and people responded. I enjoyed seeing the mix, seeing a Christ School counselor meet a Health Center nurse, or a teacher from a local primary school ask questions of an elder in our church. Part of making peace is to strengthen community, so it was heartening to see the day doing just that.