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Monday, November 30, 2009

On Stealing and Belief

Two moms on the pediatric ward were busted, for taking some of the food we give their malnourished children, and selling them it in the market.  An alert nurse noticed, and did some detective-work, uncovered the truth, and led us to tighten our distribution policies.  But the whole scenario raises disturbing questions.  What kind of mom takes food from her already-starving child and sells it?  Well, it could be a heartless or cruel one, but in my observation it is more likely a desperate one.  One who does not believe her child is helped THAT MUCH by our care, and one who is so marginal in her own existence that she is willing to take the risk of selling off her food to buy something else, one who believes that there is no other option.  Would I?  I know I had a hard time coming up with enough food this week for my family and visitors and team, and that there are times when my reserves of attention and provision and care are just plain depleted.  In what ways do I sacrifice my kids' well-being for my own survival?   What these moms did was wrong, and jeopardizes the program for others.  But I'm learning not to judge so harshly, to realize there are life circumstances which I can only guess at, and to avoid punishing the children for the sins of their parents.  I also saw a malnourished twin today, whose mother had for months claimed to be the aunt taking care of orphans, until we realized that she was actually the biological mother enrolling in our orphan program just to get some help.  I don't trust this lady, but I also respect that she was merely trying to make it.

Today was our first day of RMS school at the former Tabb house.  And Jack's bike was stolen, right smack off the front-door-stoop, in the middle of the school day.  Again.  In broad daylight, some kid must have slipped in the ajar gate and boldly come right up to the door to steal the bike.  Scott and I each went around to some of our neighbors to inform them and ask them to be on the look-out.  I'm a bit less sympathetic to this thief, a kids' bike is not quite so directly tied to issues of life and death and margins of survival.  I also heard today that someone's clothee-line (the actual wire lines) was stolen off the poles.  I'm sure it looked appealing for some practical purpose, and the thief rightly guessed that we missionaries could afford to replace it.  

Stealing is a way of life in Bundibugyo, perhaps in most places.  No one likes to be the victim.  When I announced our new policies and the reasons for them on the ward, there was much sighing, clucking of tongues, and shaking of heads.  When I made rounds to our neighbors, there was the same reaction of shock and dismay and sympathy and disgust.  EVERYONE in Bundibugyo has been the victim of a thief, and often suffered much more, losing all their clothes, or their only mattress, or the month's crops, or a goat that represents a significant portion of their net worth.  If a thief is caught red-handed in the market, he could be killed by the mob.  There is an innate sense of injustice that translates across cultures that can flare in the excitement of the immediate.  But usually the thief gets away with their crime, the victim is annoyed but must go on with life, the friends who may have witnessed the crime may respect the cleverness of the thief or just want to avoid conflict, and the culture tends to cover-up and continue-on.

At the root of stealing it seems to me there is the belief that we are on our own, that every person must scramble for what they can get, that a small gain at someone else's expense is justifiable if that person had more than you did to begin with.  In a spiritual milieu of a myriad of random and potentially malevolent spirits and relatives, cleverness, stealing, deceit, are all simply means of survival.  And so the kids around our neighborhood pedal off on one of our kids' bikes, believing that we don't deserve such riches all to ourselves, that their need for a Christmas set of new clothes trumps our claim to own six bikes in one family, and that no one else will help them if they don't help themselves.  And a few moms decide to sell off their food, believing that the resource is endless, that they can always get more for their child, or that their need for charcoal to cook food justifies their selling off some of their resources.  

And looking at most lives, I'd be challenged to believe that God cares for His children so completely that stealing is an act of unbelief.  

Praying for the bike to come back again miraculously.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sir Loin (2005-2009)

Sir Loin, fiercest bull in all of Bundibugyo District, died in his pasture of complications of a septic knee joint Saturday night. He was four (maybe). Sir Loin, widely known for his strength and savagery, was most highly regarded for his studmuffin, chick magnet abilities. The husband of DMC (Dairy Milk Chocolate) and the father of a Gernsey exotic known as "Truffle", he left his genetic mark on a district with few true blue-bloods. His owner, Dr. Myhre, dragged his 900 pound carcass to the nearest trash pit with his truck and pushed him in with the help of six strong men.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In Praise of Teens (and lots of them)

This morning we moved RMS: shifted our missionary-kid school from a half of a former girls' dorm at Christ School, up to a vacant mission house (the former Tabb house). This will free up space at CSB for more teacher housing. And it will make use of a very spacious home that SIL graciously allowed us to inherit. There is a whole library-room for books, and probably three times as much space inside and ten times as much outside as we had before. We are so grateful.
From the Lee and Herron days, through the Leary, Tabb, and Myhre era on to the Massos and Barts, Fillyaws, Pierces . . .we've accumulated a serious number of books and great curriculum and resources. But moving it all is quite a monumental task. Ashley and the other teachers worked hard to organize for weeks, but the final effort would have taken us days instead of hours were it not for the willing and able teens we are blessed to have around. Fourteen boys and Julia, to be precise. They hefted shelves and loaded trunks with books, carried them to the truck, and unloaded them. We had crews on both ends to unpack and return the trunks empty for the next load. Desks, tables, even a couch and chair set, huge chalk boards, art supplies, notebooks, sports equipment, all the assorted paraphernalia of a primary school. And all the furniture handmade locally of VERY HEAVY wood.
This afternoon they're having lunch in a local "hotel", playing soccer, and generally recovering. So a moment to pause in praise of growth, maturity, service . . an muscle power.

Thanksgiving, take 2

Our WHM team celebrated an American Thanksgiving dinner a day late, in order to free up Thursday for the end-of-the-CSB-school-year events and the very thankful goodbye party honoring the Pierces, as well as Roselyn, a departing teacher (there was an honoring of Desmond as well, a very senior staff who has taught our kids math and feels the pull of family health issues may force him to leave . . but in the end of his goodbye speech he committed to staying for one more year! Hooray!). So Friday saw us butchering two turkeys (see picture below of RVA friends helping with feather removal), and in between staff meetings, rounds, and general survival preparing for a 27-person sit-down spread. Thankfully the whole team cooked up storms in their own houses, so when we put it all together, it was more than adequate, amazing actually that pecan pies and green bean casseroles and cranberry-studded stuffing could materialize in the heart of Africa. About a third of the group hailed from Uganda or other countries, so that was appropriate too, a celebration of survival and blessing amongst many cultures. Though everyone misses their extended families on days like this, it is one of God's good blessings that we have a team family with which to feast. And whenever we sit down to such a table, we are reminded of the final feast on the mountain for all nations with the Lamb (Is 25 and 65!).

Thursday, November 26, 2009


TNTC: that's the lab shorthand for "too numerous to count", something seen through the microscope eyepiece, usually referring to bad stuff that you don't particularly WANT to see in a body fluid. But today, it refers to blessings for which we are thankful. Too numerous to count . . . but spiritual health requires that we at least list a few which are front and center in our field of view today. So let me focus the microscope and thank God for a safe landing on our soggy airstrip a few hours ago: Luke and Caleb are home (!!!!) accompanied by Sam, Greg, and Adam, three of Luke's friends and dorm-mates whose families also live in Uganda, and released them to us for the next five days or so (none are American so celebrating Thanksgiving away from home was OK). The MAF flight was delayed, first because the commercial flight from Kenya was late, and then even more because Luke and Caleb's one and only duffel bag (they packed together) from school was misplaced by the airline (and is still missing). That delay was another item of thanks today, because a torrential, sky-darkening, earth-soaking rainstorm blew in about the time they would have been arriving had they been on time. We spent most of the morning juggling phone calls, trying to determine the safety of landing once the storm lightened, starting to set up contingencies for the boys to land elsewhere and come overland . . but in the end the pilot decided to give it a go (later he said it was actually much worse than last week's monsoon that nearly derailed Barb's travel plans . . ). It was a difficult landing, with mud spraying and wheels skidding, but all's well that ends well. It is GREAT to have them home.
Once they hit the ground (literally) I left Julia in charge of lunch for 9 teenage boys (mine, visitors, and a handful of friends from here who were waiting to welcome Luke and Caleb home) and rejoined another Thanksgiving. Today was the last day of the year for Christ School Bundibugyo! We celebrate a year completed, with all its sorrows, victories, memories, stresses. The Pierces generously decided to buy all the students a logo-T-shirt which Scott ended up working on designing and procuring. It was a lovely gesture, everyone was thrilled with their shirt and the school was awash in green, the color of Bundibugyo really, of life and leaves, banana trees and rice crops. This was also the end of the Scripture Union crusade, three days and evenings of worship, Bible teaching, and prayer. Scott was the last speaker, on the Kingdom of God, or how being a Christian impacts development. This is the essence of the school vision: reaching a generation of young people spiritually and intellectually to equip them to transform this district! Along with his teaching there were numerous choirs, and David and Annelise also gave words of farewell and blessing and encouragement to the students. We thank God for the Pierces and the life they have poured into CSB in the two years they have carried the burden of leadership there. Tonight we will recognize them more fully with a party for all the staff and team down at the school, an opportunity to give God glory for these years together.
And we thank God for Deus, the new head-teacher. He spoke briefly to the students today, too, generating immediate connection, and respect. He told them that this was the school he had always wanted to lead, and that God had put him on earth for this purpose. It was very encouraging as we face the grief of the Pierce departure and all the uncertainty a leadership transition involves.
I'm thankful for my courageous husband, my loyal kids, my persevering friends. For patients who gain strength, for toddlers who regain their smile. For the prayers which sustain us. For a family that loves us from afar. For the privilege of standing for the Kingdom in this place. For the hope that it will, one day, come.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Proverbs 31 Woman

Today marked the end-of-year celebration for Alpha Nursery and Primary School, the project Melen Musoki, wife of the late Dr. Jonah Kule, started in Nyahuka. Let me say that we've paid a lot of school fees and made a lot of loans for projects and businesses in the last 16 years, but none have had this kind of return. When Jonah was in medical school, Melen approached me to see if we would be willing to help her become certified as a nursery school teacher, since she was in Kampala with him. It seemed like a great combination, doctor and teacher, and a relatively simple upgrade to her high school diploma. She finished the course and got experience working in the city before he graduated, and when the family moved back to Nyahuka she asked for one more thing: a very modest start-up fund to establish her school. Scott's parents invested, mostly to get the uniforms, signs, and minimal equipment to convince parents to enroll the first class. Since then she's taken the ball and run with it, through the death of her husband, through delivering their last child as a single mom, through being stolen from by extended family members, through tedious bureaucratic hoops, through sending three daughters to boarding school, through untold difficulties.
Today about 130 happy children, in their smart blue uniforms, performed songs and speeches for their parents. These kids range in age from about 3 to 8 years old, three "levels" of preschool/kindergarten and two classes of primary school. Scores of beaming parents watched from their benches, decked out in their best. Recently completed classrooms surrounded the courtyard where we sat. The "graduates" wore diminutive caps and gowns. Teachers bustled here and there, handing out colorful "files" where the students' work had been collected, or escorting classes on and off the stage area. And the quiet, unassuming presence behind it all was Melen, a maternal force of competence and care, a woman who has courageously continued in life after losing everything. I was so happy to celebrate with her today. We pray that the children who receive a firm foundation at Alpha will be our CSB entering class in the next decade!

a death and a life

Kabasunguzi Grace died.  For over three years she had held onto a tenuous life.  She came to us emaciated beyond belief one summer, febrile, dying, carried by her bewildered and desperate mom from the far reaches of the district, and when I realized she was Julia's age, I committed to fighting whatever was killing her.  We didn't exactly ever find out:  we treated her for TB, and for cerebral schistosomiasis, and we sent her to every possible referral help we could manage in Uganda (Mulago, CURE in Mbale, OURS in Mbarara).  She saw specialists, even had a CT scan of her head, which may make her one of the only people from Bundibugyo to have ever done so.  Kaba became paralyzed and blind from her disease, but with our milk and her mother's dedication her cheeks filled out and her spirits rose.  She had an infectious laugh, and a never-complaining cheerfulness.  She particularly drew out the compassion of a couple of different summers of interns:  the group who read books to her and befriended her when she was first in the hospital, and a second group that raised funds to buy her a wheel chair so she could be wheeled into a school room and listen even though she could not see.  I used to go visit her on bike rides with Bethany or Kim, because SHE ministered to US.  I have to confess that in recent months I had not seen her.  It seems she and her mom had migrated back over the border into Congo.

But over the last few days I've been getting repeated calls from an unknown number.  If I answered, the person would begin to talk, but not understand me in Lubwisi or English, and would not talk back.  I sent text messages asking who it was, but no reply.  I figured it was a wrong number.  Finally this morning on rounds the voice called again.  And I realized it was some patients's mother, so I gave the phone to Olupah, who finally communicated and got the story that Kaba had died.  I am touched that her mom worked so hard (even when I could not understand her!) to tell me, but I think it probably is because no one else invested in this girl and made her feel her own care was worthwhile and important, so she wanted to share the news with someone who would also grieve.  I wish I could find her now.

Kaba only lived to be about 14.  And the last few years most people would have been appalled at the life she did live, confined to bed, in a dark room of a mud hut.  But I see beneath the failing body and bleak surroundings there was a precious little girl who had joy, affection for and from her mom, and an undemanding acceptance of life.  I pray that she is running, dancing, and looking at unbelievable splendors through resurrection eyes right now.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Six still standing

Last week I posted pictures of a handful of kids "standing in the need" of prayer. I'm sure many people ARE praying, and deserve an update.  From top to bottom:  Baluku's grandmother is smiling, as he's put on a whopping 300 grams which is a 10% increase in body weight on the formula we buy with BundiNutrition donations, AND the first drops of breast milk are appearing in her breasts in response to his starvation-eager sucking. in spite of the fact that the last and only baby she nursed was 14 years ago, the teenage mom who just died.  Bhitigale just left my house a few minutes ago, we were able to get him a slot for surgical drainage of his infected knee joints, and he's on his way to Bundibugyo. Nyangoma and Kato both reached their target weights today (!!) but are still weak and floppy-toned, and need a major social-work plan for discharge.  The preemie went home today with her delighted mom, the smallest baby yet to survive in our care.  Spice, and her colleague Birungi Chris, are smiling and drinking their milk and taking their medicines, inching their way towards a longer survival in spite of their eventually-fatal disease (maybe they'll outlive some of us).  And ScottWill shouldered at least half the burden of the day, and Nathan got a kid to at least NOT CRY when we examined him by giving him a car, so all in all many signs of mercy.

No Condemnation

Coming home was NOT EASY, though I'm glad to be here, the relief of the two days away seems elusive.  Tears are coming easily.  Holding on is coming, but not so easily.  I missed Luke's first-ever-concert, singing in the RVA choir on Saturday, which he thoroughly enjoyed.  We're dialoguing daily about college apps.  Parenting from afar feels hard.  Sarah and the Pierces begin to count down their last weeks and months, and the end-of-year events mount.  Last night we attended the CSB staff party, which was a pleasant outdoor affair with the requisite speeches, malfunctioning sound system, stunning dresses, and good bountiful Ugandan food.  Team calendars are out, planning ahead, and the reality of change looms.  Assusi, who has lived in our guest room the last few months, moved down to hospital housing on Sunday, good for her and good for us as we prepare for more guests ourselves, but still another grief and change.  I noticed a good bit of anxiety in the parents of a patient I was discharging today, then noticed that he had a traditional twin name . . . only to learn that these two parents before me had brought TWO babies to be admitted late last week, but one twin died within the first few hours.  No wonder they were worried about taking the remaining twin home.  My easy tears almost flooded again.

I had our team pray for me last week, as we process the year behind us, and I recognize my failure to make people feel as loved and affirmed as I would like.  My analogy was the poisoned ice cream I distributed last month:  I was trying to bless our team and ended up sending everyone into spasms of deathly diarrhea!  In the same way I have come to face my relational poison ice cream, words that are not well-chosen, or interactions that are too rushed, that communicate pain.  I have grieved that, and struggle how to be Jesus-like in speaking the truth in love, with everyone from my own kids to the nurse who did not show up for work on Saturday.  I thought about staying home from church yesterday, but went on faith that God meets us in the community of believers.  

The second reading was from Romans 8:  who can bring any charge?  There is therefore now no condemnation. . . .  Once again the words brought me up short, because I've been feeling a LOT of condemnation.  Grace, a nice word, a pleasant concept to talk about, when you don't feel like you need it.  But the whole point of grace is that I DO need it.  Making mistakes, speaking too quickly, failing to love, missing choir concerts, saying goodbyes, looking ahead to a year with huge question marks,  in all of these things God's grace covers me, and all of us here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ecstasy to Agony

For 48 hours, we stepped out of normal life into the parallel universe of beauty and wholeness. A lovely setting, quiet, a cabin-like porch overlooking forest, delicious food served just to us, a small pool for dipping in to cool off, good books, conversation, sleep, stars, exotic birds, a family of colobus monkeys performing in the tree-tops right outside our tent much of the day, more sleep, prayer.  I was actually reading a book called "Eat, Pray, Love" which pretty much sums up the get-away.  God put us in bodies that need the balance of sabbath, that celebrate pleasure, that inhabit the infinite.  Being human, we need the step away from Bundibugyo to think about more than how to pull together another meal or treat another patient or weather another storm.  These 48 hours provided just what we needed with God and with each other.  

As we pulled out of the gate to drive back, however, we lost Paradise pretty rapidly.  A military armored car pulled off the road ahead of us and pointed guns in our direction.  We were 90% sure they were the good guys, but it was unnerving until they waved back all smiles.  Half an hour later we pulled up to the T-intersection in Karagutu, the only stop and turn on the 2 1/2 hour journey home.  Or so we thought.  As we rolled right smack into the middle of the intersection, the engine died as the clutch failed.  There we sat, at 2 pm, still 2 hours from home, with gears totally locked up.  But one of the only people we know in Karagutu was at our window in under thirty seconds, followed by the town mechanic whom he vouched for.  The town mechanic was about 25, chiseled, muscular, fierce looking, with a bundle of wrenches wrapped in shredded rubber tied to the waist of his tight black jeans.  He dove right under the car and came up covered in sandy dirt, confident he could fix the problem.  An angel?  So we hoped, though his general demeanor made him look a little mentally unstable.  Until the real town crazy man began harassing us, poking me with his finger and waving his arms and dancing around our car, at which point the mechanic began to seem sort of sane.  I had been waiting to get through town for a more secluded bathroom break so I was not so comfortable as we watched in the hot sun, hood open, umpteen people telling us as if we didn't know that our car was in the road and should be pulled off (we couldn't because it was jammed in gear and could not move into neutral), feeling helpless, at the mercy of a man who could have been sent from God - or not.

Communication was tough.  Scott called our usual mechanic in Kampala to have him talk in Luganda to the Rutoro-speaking mechanic.  They seemed to have a plan.  More people gathered.  The sun beat down, the crazy man orbited, the cars beeped their horns and threw up dust, the clutch slave cylinder was dismantled and re-assembled, more brake fluid was decanted into various holes.  No change.  More truck drivers came over to advise.  We repeated the whole process.  Our Kampala mechanic friend was no longer answering his phone.  It was now an hour and a half since we had stopped.  My bladder was in pain.  Paradise was becoming a distant memory.  Scott called our friend Atwoki in Fort Portal, again to have him talk to the bizarre mechanic who was glaring at us.  After they talked, he took the phone back:  "Dr., I am coming to rescue you," our dear friend said.

Coming, that is, in the loosest sense of the word.  I found a latrine.  We bought cell phone air time.  We sat in the middle of the intersection.  We met a group of pastors coming out of a conference who all wanted to greet us, and ascertain the extent of our mechanical failures as they weighed whether it was worth hanging about hoping for a free ride.  They hovered, then gave up.  We chatted with the RDC who passed by on his way to "the war office", trailed by armed soldiers.  An old man from Bundibugyo came up to get medical advice about his son.  The corn-roasting stand across the road began blaring a scratchy radio replay of a fight, which went on forever.  We sat in the car, stood by the car, waited.  For about 3 more hours.  When you're in need of rescue you can't rush things.  The local mechanic perched himself on the front bumper, and then we realized that the bag of green leaves he was carrying was not the local spinach equivalent that he was taking home for dinner, even though he looked like Pop-eye.  It was khat, a drug, he was chewing.  That explains a lot.  In the end he was reasonably competent, but high.

Atwoki was a welcome sight at dusk, breezing into town with his three side-kick mechanic buddies, all wearing their "Stitch and Sew" (the name of his mechanic shop) red uniforms.  They pounced on the problem all at once, replacing both cylinders which are clutch related.  No change.  Now it was dark, and they did the whole process again using my tiny pocket flashlight and the little illumination on their "ka-torchi" cell phones.  It was pitch dark, a wind picked up, and then rain.  For another two hours they tried.  Each failure seemed to make Atwoki more sure of just where the problem lay, but it was now 9 pm, and the next step he estimated would take 4-5 hours, removing the entire gear box to get at some sort of clutch plate, which would have to be replaced by a spare, from Kampala.  On a brighter note, he did manage to get he car to start in gear and pop out into neutral, so we could tow it off the road to the police station.  It was now 7 1/2 hours since we embarked on our short journey, we were wet, no one had eaten dinner, and our car was immobilized at the police station.  Atwoki told us to get in his car, so we did.  We thought we were all heading back to Fort Portal, but no, he had decided that since he had to come to Bundi for another errand anyway (Pat's broken car), he'd just drive us there now.

And so for the first time in our long history here we broke all our don't-travel-after-dark rules and got home before midnight.  Our gracious team prepared mattresses and food for the Stitch-and-Sew crew of four, and we slipped into our own house where Ashley had waited with the kids.  All the way we had talked to Atwoki, about our kids, his kids, fellow-missionary friends, farming, the church, preaching, cows, and memories.  We actually have more in common with our Fort Portal mechanic friend than with most other people in this world. I laughed when Scott was telling a story about an old Herron truck, and Atwoki came up with the license plate from almost two decades ago, "Oh you mean UPO-426?"  

It was a full-circle experience, actually.  The morning we first landed in Uganda in 1993, all our team mates were sick and unable to meet us at the airport.  We really didn't have much communication in those days, so we sat on the curb in the dawn, hoping someone would remember us, with the sinking realization that we had no idea where to go or what to do.  For what seemed like hours, though it was probably less than two.  As we were about to give up, Atwoki came driving up in that Herron truck, good old UPO-426, apologizing for being late.  It was our first time to be rescued by him, and yesterday probably won't be our last.

Ten hours of agony did not fully erase 48 hours of paradise.  But since our disaster motorcycle ride to this get-away a couple of years ago, and the all-spares-tires-deflated, stranded-on-the mountain return trip from this same outing last year, we are a bit wary.  Paradise has a high price.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heading out, the luxury of wilderness

Tomorrow morning Scott and I will head out to the north end of our
district, into the game reserve where we have been granted two nights
as the guests of the managers of a luxury tented safari camp. This is
about the 4th year we've done this November overnight (though the
first time to get two nights!). It is God's good provision for our
weary souls, which are about as weary as they've ever been. 2009 has
been a long and trying year, for many reasons of loss, transition,
conflict, pressure, work, change, grief . . . our margins are almost
non-existent, and our time as a couple apart from kids, team, and work
is even smaller. So . . .if you think of us over the next 48 hours,
pray for rest. For reflection. For refreshment. For hope. And pray
for Jack and Julia left behind to complete their week of end-of-year
exams, in the capable hands of Ashley, Sarah, and Anna, with
enchiladas on the menu.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Standing in the need

. . of prayer. I'm posting pictures from rounds this morning, because I believe that pictures lend reality to another person's life, and draw in intercession. This is Baluku. His story is a couple of posts below: 14 year old mom who died, 35 year old bereaved grandmother who is now trying to be his surrogate breastfeeder. He's also getting baby formula from us. Pray he would thrive. Bhitighale, which means "they left me behind . . ", who has spent half his sad little life in the hospital with his barely coping grandmother. If he survives to a year it will be a miracle. Twins Nyangoma and Kato, whose disengaged mother usually leaves them sitting alone in the bed, and came in near starvation. Preemie who has gone from 785 grams to 1,610 . . . a life in the balance. And lastly Spice, with mom M., whose spunk and desperation speak to me. If she can gain a little more, we'll send her with her AIDS medicines and food back to her relatives in northern Uganda. Thanks for lifting these little lives up and asking for miracles of mercy.

Healed and Healing

Below see Jennifer, smiling with her grandmother, this 9-year-old had a severe hemolytic anemia and nearly died, but 5 blood transfusions, some steroids, and a week later she's on the way home. This is Kansime, the little girl whose mother began the death-wail on Friday when she thought her daughter was dead, now smiling and sitting and ready to go home after two blood transfusions and major malaria therapy. And above, M.T. who turned out to NOT have TB, and to NOT be HIV-infected from his mom, he was just HUNGRY. He's probably within a few days of reaching his target weight and going home. So thankful. And last one happy customer, the baby I mentioned whose mom I see singing to him, and kissing him. Seems he also just needed a nutritional boost and is nearly ready to go home. Praising God for these good stories today, because bearing witness means telling the happy endings, too.

In praise of teamwork

This is my dream team. Betty, who is a nursing aid but also a grandmother, knows everyone and everything about this place. Heidi, enough said, my can't-do-without person. Balyejukia, back from nursing school, competent and compassionate, a go-the-exra-mile man. Agnes, a woman of God who personifies Proverbs 31, abandoned by her husband, living far from her home district, responsible and capable. Assusi, nursing officer, completely trustworthy in clinical judgment AND personal character. Olupa, cheerful, hard-working, just back from maternity leave, wonderful to work with. I can't believe all six of them happened to intersect. If this could happen every day I have no doubt we'd be nearly in Heaven. Scott Will, who never complains, so thankful to be sharing the burden of patient care with him. Ndyezika, in the lab, saving lives by identifying malaria parasites and cross-matching blood for transfusions. Baguma Charles, heading out to one of the outpatient BBB sites with locally-produced gnut-soy-moringa leaf paste to be distributed to malnourished kids. Nathan should be in this picture too, but I missed him this morning. Loren, Salim, and Costa registering dozens of new pregnant ladies for antenatal care. All of these snaps are from the last hour or so, and as I look over them I am deeply grateful for those God has called alongside us to work here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More witness on Friday

Tears were shed Friday, at the health center. As soon as we arrived in the early morning we found a child with severe malaria, who nearly died on us. Heidi and I were just trying to do weights on all the kids before our staff meeting, but when this child was laid on the scale we saw she was limp and barely conscious. We sent them into the treatment room where within a minute the mom began a death wail. But she was not really quite dead, yet, and when Heidi injected her with medicine she cried a bit. Six of us (half the staff eventually passed through the treatment room, though Heidi and I struggled alone at first) tried about a dozen different places to get IV access on this child, before one of the way-more-competent-than-I Ugandan nurses managed a line. Her hemoglobin came back: 3 gm/dl, and many malaria parasites. No wonder she was barely alive. With immediate transfusion and treatment I'm hoping she pulls through, an otherwise beautiful and normal little two-year-old whose family mobilized as soon as they realized the dose of medicine they had given her from home the day before was not enough.

Later more tears, quiet ones, not the dramatic "help me right now" wail from the first case, but the seeping of tears from a broken heart. This time we were trying to understand why the 3 month old baby in front of us was so malnourished (breastfed infants tend to thrive the first few months). The woman I took to be her mother was, it turns out, her 35-year-old grandmother. The 14-year-old mother of the baby had died last week, after a 2 month hospitalization elsewhere. The story does not hang together very well, but we were told that the 14-year-old mom had an "intestinal problem" a month after delivery, required surgery, and that her surgical wound became infected. Tragic in every way. More tragic as her mother, sitting with the malnourished grandchild, related that the dead daughter was her only child. This is what our motherless-baby program is all about: helping this grandmother save this baby.

Meanwhile the 785-gram preemie doubled in the last month to reach 1.5 kg (!). A child whose desperate parents had taken him out to a "witch- doctor" when he did not immediately improve and then come back when he became even worse, whom we prayed over in Jesus' name with only a grain of faith on Monday . . went home, cured. Three children in three consecutive beds each had 5 units of blood last week: one with sickle cell and two with unexplained hemolytic anemias. After losing two children with similar symptoms the week before, we rejoiced to reach Friday with all alive and improving. The women whose stories I told a few days ago are hanging in there, no dramatic resolutions, but at least stabilizing. Caught another mom playing a singing a game with her baby who has begun to round out on UNICEF milk.

The week ends, with some tears, and some signs of tears redeemed, of effort and prayer and struggle resulting in healing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

perfection x perfection

My man reaches a milestone of Biblical proportions today, 7 x 7 . . . a number that represents completeness x godliness. I've known Scott 29 of those 49 years, and been married to him for over 22 of them. So at the risk of causing embarrassment or losing my blog access privileges, I will bear witness. One of my favorite books is The Time Traveler's Wife, because it takes a human relationship above the vagaries of time, and shows that the person we are becoming is part of all that happens along the way. Embedded in time, however, we can look backwards with thankfulness, but only forward by faith. On such a milestone as this I look back to say the years have forged a man of integrity, grit, humility, strength, and love. One who can doctor a cow or a person, fix a motorcycle or a computer, read a novel or a sports page, teach about the Bible or AIDS, score a soccer goal or bake a pizza (and usually all of that in the same week). Each year only increases my confidence in his judgement and gratefulness for his patience as father of my children, lover, friend. So today I look forward by faith for all that is not yet seen in the next 49 years. Having survived loss of loved ones, rebel war, ebola, and more importantly the daily wearing challenge of life in a broken world among other sinners such as ourselves . . . I am not afraid of what comes next, with him.
Note that according to Leviticus 25, we should be due for a year of Jubilee: sound the trumpets, proclaim liberty, return to family, and dine on the holy grain and grapes. Sounds like an HMA?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

You say hello, goodbye

Anna Linhart arrived almost two weeks ago, and already feels like a very integral part of our team. Pray for her to really engage in language learning and cross-cultural friendship even as she finds her feet in ministry with our kids as a teacher at RMS, and with the CSB orphan sponsorship program.

Scott Will, otherwise known as Superman, has been here for a month, working as a physician assistant at the health center, and reaching out to neighborhood kids. And just being an all-around voice of cheer and sanity and passion for God. He is committed to Mundri, Sudan, but in a clever deal negotiated in the smoky inner board rooms of WHM, we get him until the end of January.

Today Dan Thrush departed after a one-month rotation as a Physician Assistant student, half of that time accompanied by his wife Karen who is a marriage and family therapist and did play therapy with the kids on the ward. We are not-so-subtly praying and begging that they come back to Africa with WHM after finishing school.

Barb Ryan landed on the airstrip a few hours ago, and has a week-long agenda of love. She has come in a pastoral care capacity to listen and counsel and re-connect with us, after spending a month here last year with her husband Skip.

The Massos landed for an interlude from Sudan . . . Karen and kids now, Michael to join soon. This is an opportunity for some closure before the Pierces move on next year, and gives time for organizing their old house for the Johnsons to move in (we hope by January). But mostly it's just great to see their familiar faces and bask in their friendship.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Women, Bearing Witness

John 12 is one of my favorite chapters, and has been a very spiritually significant one in recent years.  It opens with Mary pouring perfume on the about-to-die Jesus, an act of devotion and prophecy that his body will soon be prepared for burial.  She can't stop the march of tragic events, but she can bear witness.

So today, I bear witness to some women and their lives, unable to stop their suffering, but called to testify about it. 

This morning began with a mother and grandmother arriving somewhat breathless on the ward, carrying the bundle of Achelo Jeneti, a very sick 2-year old.  Normally patients are supposed to begin in the outpatient department, but a quick look at Jeneti and I knew she needed lots of help, fast.  It turned out that she was HIV positive, though her mother out of denial or misunderstanding had never brought her for care until today, when it was too late.  In spite of our best antibiotics, and a blood transfusion, her little body had decompensated beyond the point of return.  Jeneti's grandmother was hysterical:  of her six children, five had died, and this daughter with AIDS was her last living offspring, and had now left her without a grandchild. Jeneti's mother's wails pierced the ward, she had been abandoned long ago by the baby's father, a soldier who fled back to his home in Fort Portal when his health began to fail.  Two women who had come too late for help, and lost everything.

The ripples of AIDS are most acutely felt by the young women, the outsiders, the abandoned wives.  Two on the ward are in their late teens.  One I can picture a few years ago, full of hope and importance, sent by her father to a good school in Fort Portal. She returned pregnant by a school staff, and infected with HIV, and now her child is malnourished and struggling, as she lives back with her parents, her education suspended probably forever.  The other is from Kitgum, far away in northern Uganda.  Her parents brought her here when her soldier father was transferred this way.  Both have since died, and she has been left to survive as she can.  For a young woman in Bundibugyo, that means finding a man to pay for her needs, and giving him what he wants.  In this case she also received the HIV virus.  Her baby also has AIDS, and she spent the weekend out searching for money from any acquaintance from her tribe who would help her get to her uncles' homes up north, because there is no one here to whom she can turn.  She is right beside a listless young woman from Congo who has not seen her family home in eight years.  Her husband has refused our plea to send someone from the family to help her with her malnourished twins, and she looks tired and vacant as they whimper side by side on the bed.  

A woman's voice here is only felt if she has brothers, a father, or uncles to back it up, or a grown son to stand behind her.  Without that she is a trade-able commodity, a potential producer of more clan members for a temporary husband, easily discarded when she becomes sick or inconvenient.  Too many suffer alone, perhaps the greatest loss is to see them emotionally withdraw from a child they suspect will either die or be reclaimed by the father's family.

Our pouring of perfume is more like milk, some nourishment, a prayer, kind words, eye contact, listening.  And remembering.  And giving witness to the suffering we can't stop.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A tale of two boys

In 1993, sixteen years ago, we were fresh young missionaries (less than two months' experience) when the rest of the team left for Christmas.  And two little boys, about 11 or 12 year old, came and asked us to buy them used shoes for the holiday, little boys who had become acquainted with some of the other missionaries and therefore hoped we would be sympathetic to their needs.  One was an orphan, his father had died and his mother remarried a man who did not accept any responsibility for him, so he lived with his late-teen and somewhat mentally unstable older brother in a small hut, subsisting, and primarily taking care of his sibling.  The second was the son of a man debilitated by severe alcoholism, but a little more connected with family and clan.  Both found their ways into our hearts and lives, beginning that first Christmas and continuing through the years.  We bought paper and pens for their primary school classes, or occasionally new material for school uniforms.  When they were ready for secondary school, the orphan went into the inaugural class at CSB.  The other boy was a year or two ahead, and since CSB was not then available, we helped him get into school in Fort Portal.  

And that is where their paths diverged.  The orphan struggled academically but thrived spiritually.  He became a Christian.  He worked hard and persevered even through failure.  He completed training as a lab tech, married (in the church no less, and prior to moving in together, very rare) a lovely young woman who shared his values, and now has a sweet 7 month old baby. They were eating dinner with us this week and I was so thankful to see this young man, now in his mid-20's, has become an amazing father.  I rarely have seen a man play with his son like that here, helping him stand and walk, getting him to giggle uproariously.  God's mercy in his life is so evident, taking him from boy to man against incredible odds.

The story of the other boy has been more of a tragedy.  He was much more gifted academically, and did well enough in school to become a teacher.  But he lost his job when he was found to have had an inappropriate relationship with a student, he began to slip into his father's alcoholic patterns, he borrowed money and lost it, he floundered, he had a failed marriage and then another.  For about seven years his path has led mostly downward.  Many times we have sternly warned him, or prayed, or pleaded, or advised.  But our lives grew apart.

Today he stood up in church and told the congregation that he wanted to become a Christian.  He told about two dreams:  in the first he was sitting by the road drinking with a group of men, and people came up behind them singing.  One of the singers looked directly at him, and would not stop looking at him, so he ran away.  This dream made him feel convicted of his sin but he was still helpless, or unwilling, to leave it.  In the second dream he was crossing a flood-swollen river on a log, which began to break, and as he fell into the torrent where he could have drowned, he called on the name of Jesus, and the water dried up.  The combination of an awareness of displeasing God, and then a hope in the greater power of Jesus, led him to take the courage to stand up today.  

These two boys started in nearly the same place 16 years ago, but have taken very different paths, partly by their own choices and partly because one was the end of the pre-CSB generation and the other had six years of discipleship and oversight there.  Yet God was at work in and for both of them.  Pray particularly that the young man who professed faith today will have the power to turn away from the destructive cycle of alcoholism. He said that after giving his testimony he knew by evening that his old "friends" would be laughing at him and tempting him to rejoin his former patterns of life.  

I would love to see both young men with us, worshiping, this Christmas.


Scott stood up in the time for nkaiso, testimonies, at church today, to give God glory for working through a very challenging and unknown process over the last few months culminating in the unanimous vote of the board on the new Head Teacher (see post below). So much remains to be seen, but we have to affirm that prayers have carried us through everything up to this point and trust that the Spirit has been leading. How could a dozen people from different language groups, skin colors, education levels, genders, ages, experiences, with different goals and hopes, otherwise agree? If Scott had sorted through the paperwork alone and presented his choice, he might have felt more in control of the outcome, but there would not have been the sense of community ownership and spiritual intervention. We are grateful.
And this outcome fits into a general pattern of movement, risk, change, hope, that we and others sense. A few posts below I wrote about background anxiety. We knew this was a crucial weekend, and asked many to pray. I am not on the board, but invited all our team and all the CSB staff to join in an extended prayer time during the board meeting, quietly and on-the-side asking God to move. The chaplain seemed to catch the vision for this and announced it to the school. He requested me to type up a list of prayer requests, and I asked him to lead or delegate the leading of the time. Fine. But on Saturday morning, I found the room locked and no one waiting to pray. I had envisioned a significant coming-together of most of our team and most of the staff and even a handful of students. Instead one CSB staff and one missionary joined me and a half-dozen boys. I had had a vivid, disturbing dream the night before which I wrote down that morning (something I RARELY ever do, but it seemed to combine all the anxieties of the last weeks). As Eunice opened, she described dreams three people had told her that week, and all were very similar to mine, and led to a sense of need for prayer. Africans put a lot of stock in dreams, more than we tend to. If it stirs people up to pray, then that's a good outcome. I only wish it had stirred more!
But my testimony is: it was a great day. I enjoyed the time with Eunice, the counselor, as we prayed through the book of Ephesians. We prayed against deep patterns of destruction that have been etched for centuries in Bundibugyo, we prayed for love, for unity, for wisdom, for change. And the handful of students joined in. When the lunch bell rang, Eunice asked them if they would like to go, or take a break. No, they replied. So on we prayed. Instead of people coming in and out, the small group stayed the WHOLE time. I kept wondering when the rest of the people invited would show up (only one more eventually did). . but mid day God brought to mind the story Gideon in Judges 7. He mobilizes an army, but God whittles the group down to a mere 300 men, to show that He does not need numbers to accomplish His will. So those few boys and we few women were who He wanted to pray for that day.
And in the 24 hours since, here is more testimony. The biggest, that a new Head Teacher emerged. But more things are happening. A group of Dutch doctors from a Christian NGO showed up to meet us . . . never heard of them before, but there they were saying they wanted to find medical projects to fund. A young man in whom we invested deeply early in our time here who had been taking wrong turns for seven years stood up in church today and became a Christian. Another young man gave a testimony of God working in his life. Worship was lively. My child, whom I worry about having friends, spent a whole day hiking with a group of boys yesterday and had a great time. Some students asked if they could volunteer to teach Sunday School at church. All of these remind us that the Spirit is moving. Stay tuned.

A Pivotal Day Ends...

Scott here...
Nearly two months ago, we ran our first advertisement in the national newspaper recruiting for a new Head Teacher at Christ School - Bundibugyo. We ended up running three adverts in two different newspapers. Twenty applicants clogged my InBox with every certificate and degree imaginable. Hours and hours I have pored over these apps, trying to distill the details down into bite-sized chunks to plug into a summary spreadsheet for committee consumption. Hours and hours we have discussed the relative merits of experience, degrees, age, and spiritual life.

It all came down to today.
Seven applicants were short-listed (I know, it's not a very short list) from three corners of Uganda. By definition, all were "big men" with a treasure of experience in teaching and leading secondary schools. We, the Board of Governors of Christ School-Bundibugyo, spent the first four hours of the day in Phase 1 - interviewing every candidate for a half hour, trying as David put it, "to triage our applicants." We were able to narrow the field from seven to five who we would focus on after lunch (not very impressive sounding, but it was a lot of work!).

After lunch, we had some difficulty making progress in Phase 2 but were eventually able to narrow the field from 5 to 2 using a "rank order voting system." The whole process was excruciating. Letting go of any candidate seemed like a death, a loss to the school.

The scariest part of the day (at 6pm) is when we all agreed to cast our votes for one of the two remaining candidates.

The final vote: 12-0. We agreed!

We have selected a new Head Teadher for 2010 for Christ School - Bundibugyo, our first time to have a Ugandan lead our school.

(We have not yet established what kind of financial package we will be able to offer the chosen one so we have not yet informed the candidate. So, the identity of the new HT is still a secret.)

God seems to be in the result with such a definitive outcome.

When I did the final briefing with the candidates, apologizing that I could not yet reveal the result to them, one stood and asked to speak on behalf of the others. He thanked us for our hospitality ("in Uganda in most interviews, one doesn't even get a soda, let alone two nights food and accommodation and return transport reimbursement!). He then said that the whole group decided that they would like to "continue to be a friend of the school. We would like to make ourselves available as a resource, offering free consultation, whenever you need us." What a privilege and a blessing this day has been.

Many, many thanks to all who have who have showered this process with prayer over these last hours and days.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A Pivotal Day Begins

"Now my soul is troubled,
and what shall I say?  
Father save me from this hour?
But for this purpose I came to this hour. 
Father, glorify your name."
Jesus in John 12

We are keenly aware of the soul-troubling times we are in, and which lie immediately ahead of us.  Today Scott as Chairman of the Board of Governors for Christ School Bundibugyo will be leading the board in interviewing 7 of the educators who have applied to become the first Ugandan Head Teacher of the school.  In just over a decade, two missionary head teachers have brought the school from ground zero to the most successful secondary school in the district, serving over 300 children and employing two dozen teaching staff, covering 6 grade-levels equivalent to middle/high/junior college.  Over the past year we have examined the school closely, hired consultants, held meetings, and we believe it is the right time to make the staff fully indigenous, while continuing to provide vision, support, and overall direction from the mission.  We are looking for someone with the wisdom and experience of a lifetime in the Ugandan school system (something we can not begin to achieve) . . . combined with the integrity, vision, and Christ-like love of a real leader.  This is a tall order.  And the lives of many of our friends seem to hang in the balance, orphans for whom this is their only chance, staff who have laid down their lives here for many years.

CSB has always been, and will no doubt continue to be, a battlefront of the Kingdom.  Within the fenced compound we (mission, teachers, other staff) are attempting to treat children as valuable image-bearers of the Creator God, to bring TRUTH to bear upon all of learning, to model lives of holiness, to worship with passion, to enable health and fun and growth and safety.  In short, exposing the next generation of Bundibugyo's leaders to the ultimate reality, the way the world should be, to give them hope and direction as they move out to change their world, to give them the tools they need academically and socially and spiritually to succeed.  Which is, of course, met with trial and opposition, sickness, budget shortfalls, teacher anxiety, student unrest, a general pattern of need and crisis.  The missionaries who have been most involved will finish their commitment soon, and to this point we do not have other missionary educators applying to join our team.  The hour looks difficult, to say the least.  Like Jesus, we would like to pray for the cup to be removed, we would like to be saved from this hour.

But by faith we say this is, after all, CHRIST School, and for this purpose we have come to this hour.

Please join us in praying:  Father, glorify your name.

If you can, please set aside time to pray on Saturday.  Ask God to glorify Himself by clearly providing the right person as Head Teacher, someone with whom we can partner.  This is extremely important to the future of Christ School and our WHM team.  Thanks for your care.
Jennifer and Scott

(This is the prayer email we sent out last night . . so thankful for dozens of gracious responses, which represent untold hundreds of other prayers lifted up.  The day has just begun here, with the board gathering and the interviews beginning.  Meanwhile the missionaries and teaching staff have decided to hold a half-day prayer meeting on the side to acknowledge the importance of this day for the Kingdom.  And life goes on for others, visitors are here, Luke takes SAT's today, etc. . . . )