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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Out the Door . . .

 . . in another hour and a half.  Essentials going into the carry-ons now:  dramamine for travel sickness, pudding mixes and pine nuts and pecans and chocolate for cheering us through our first few weeks, a Bible and a change of clothes, and the Yale course catalogue for long-distance dialogue with Luke as he starts classes in early January, the SAT prep book in case I can get Caleb to prepare for the exam, and our new Kindle.  Scott has carefully weighed and measured our ten suitcases, keyboard and guitar.  Too scattered for closing words of wisdom other than thanks.  We would not have reached this moment without our army of pray-ers and supporters.  I moved through the five-month HMA in a fog much of the time.  It's been four years since my last set of America goodbyes.  Next post will be from Africa once again.  Prayers appreciated for:
-smooth travel (no snow here in VA but the world is still reeling from a week of storms)
-God's grace to Luke who is now being left alone in America for the first time, not yet 18, another two days with Grammy then off on his own for the Boston Winter Conference (Christian student meeting) Jan 1-5 and then back to Yale.  Lots of unknowns:  classes to enroll in, major to choose, something meaningful to do Spring Break and in the Summer, general survival. . . 
-God's grace to my mom, who has become accustomed to a rowdy houseful.  It's going to be quiet.
-Our purchase of a decent serviceable used truck in Kenya.
-Friends and sports and community and inclusion for our kids at RVA, and Swahili-learning focus for us in the first two weeks of January.
-That we would be a blessing to Kijabe Hospital and World Harvest MIssion as we move forward.

For the world's good, and God's glory.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Post-Christmas, Flee to Africa

Well, why not, after all, Jesus did.
At some point not too long after his birth, Jesus' parents received instructions to rise in the night and flee into Egypt. As if being IDP's was not enough (Nazareth to Bethlehem), a post-partum plunge into being refugees as well, crossing borders, heading to a far country, one with historical overtones of oppression.
We are also on the post-Christmas path to Africa. In 48 hours we will be boarding a flight to Kenya via Amsterdam, with our suitcases and new piano keyboard (thanks to grandparents), with our peculiar assortment of essentials: a few books (but mostly a Kindle!), guitar, and computers and clothes and chocolate. Another pass through the portal into the unknown. New community, new job, new language, new school, new unspoken rules and unwritten protocols, new methods for shopping for food or finding fellowship.
Vacillating between numb and stressed, anxious and thankful. Said goodbye to all the cousins today, my sister and her husband, who have generously cared for us and rearranged their holiday to be with us. Talked to my aunt on the phone, with the sobering awareness that her health and age could mean that by next visit, she won't be here. Visits from two of the three close family friends (almost-parents) I grew up with. And as we sort and throw out and tie up and book boarding passes, half our heart (or more) remains with Luke, thinking about next term's classes and his new job and how he'll spend the next holiday.
But when I take a deep breath I can see God's provision. He sent the magi with their portable valuable gifts, gold and spices. Cash for the journey and setting up a new home. And He sends us with ours, too. An hour ago we had a phone call from the missions committee of a church we've never even visited: Scott's parents ended up moving across the country to the same town as the mother of the girl one of his med school classmates married, who reconnected us to that classmate and wife, who took our story to their church, who met this last week and decided to give us two very generous gifts. One for our support, and one for our vehicle, in fact the exact remaining amount we were hoping to receive before we left. After a Fall of marginal finances, which carries its own sort of doubt we are very grateful for the generous outpouring of the last month. The magi don't come until the crisis is at hand. This is the way God works.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"The Dream Isaiah Saw"

Lions and oxen will sleep in the hay,
leopards will join with the lambs as they play,
wolves will be pastured with cows in the glade,
blood will not darken the earth that God made.

Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
life redeemed from fang and claw.

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the Violence concealed
deep in the heart and  in systems of gain,
ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain.

Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
justice, purifying law.

Nature reordered to match God's intent,
nations obeying the call to repent,
all of creation completely restored,
filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.

Glenn Rudolph

(as performed by the Washington Chorus and the National Capital Brass and Percussion, for a Candlelight Christmas at the Kennedy Center, our Christmas treat from my mom.  A minor key with the rumbling hope of redemption.  Merry Christmas Eve to all . . . )

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Prayer Letter

Our Christmas Prayer Letter is now available for downloading.... Color pictures.... and another original Advent poem from Jennifer.... CLICK HERE to download it now (a 590K pdf file). Merry Christmas!!!!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010


A few months ago some friends put a rather large amount of cash in our hands and said: spend this on something fun that you would not otherwise do. We do not deserve moments like this. And we've had quite a few this HMA, gestures that go beyond anything we've asked for, that affirm a smiling God. I immediately thought of skiing. Our kids had been skiing four times in their lives, four days, and each day stands out as a unique and valuable memory: Massanutten VA with my parents (when 2-year-old Jack snuck his rented yellow ski boots on at night in bed he loved them so much, and my Dad BOUGHT them for him, a milestone moment of crazy love), Sierra Nevada Spain (when we took a bus from Granada after a meeting, had a glorious day, decided we could ski all the way down to the base rather than take the lift, and felt like we might have died by the time our approximately 5 to 10 year olds navigated the steep slopes under pressure of the-last-bus-back deadline rapidly approaching), Lake Tahoe CA with Scott's family (Aunt Sonja took the whole day with protege Julia who was a natural, Jack jumped on the slope with his experienced cousins before we could even remind him about how to slow down), and the Alps in Austria with the Massos and others at WHM (unbelievable snow and views and company). Though that is an average of one day every 3 to 4 years, they have all become milestone family moments.

So we've had this cash and this hope percolating, but the days we've had with all six of us together and no other obligation since arriving in the US have been, well, very very few. I thought this weekend could be a window, since Luke finished exams mid-day Friday and we didn't need to be in VA until Sunday evening. Not enough time or money to go somewhere with for-sure snow, we would have to take our chances with PA, which lies between New Haven and Virginia. I started surfing the internet. Then my mom "happened" to mention she had points left for 2010 on her time-share that she would need to give away or waste. I jumped to volunteer, and it turned out the choices included a cluster of condos on the NY/PA border, near some Pocono mountain slopes. We booked it. Still now snow in the NE, unlike most of the USA it seems, but we figured we could at least enjoy a day in the woods. . .

We picked Luke up Friday, after untold hours of traffic and detours (nothing like trying to pass through several of the major cities on the East Coast on a Friday before Christmas). Hugs and joy, exams done, first semester survived! We arrived in PA late Friday evening. Saturday broke in, brilliantly sunny and cold. Skeptical, we just though we would check out the local ski slope. If we hadn't had that gift we wouldn't have tried it, given the man-made snow and the weekend-costs. But I'm so glad we did. The lifts and equipment for six was within a few dollars of exactly matching the gift. We had our fifth day of family-ski life, and it was another fantastic one. No lines. Clear skies, empty woods. Powdery snow that scraped away to iciness by sunset. Almost-full moon rising as we flew up the lifts. We skied almost continuously all day, and most of that time we were pretty much together. I was always the last one to reach the bottom, being a fan of sharper speed-decreasing turns than the rest of my family. We would regroup on the lift, take turns choosing the route down, swish and glide through the wintry beauty, encourage the fallen, and then do it all again. The ominous crushing blade of the snow-boarders overtaking me was sometimes unnerving, but we all made it through the day intact. Our rental had a rec center with a pool and hot tub, bubbling hot salt water that was perfect that evening, kindness to rarely-used muscles. By the time we ate dinner I wasn't sure if everyone could stay awake, but we managed to cap the evening off with a fire and a chapter from "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" (which we usually read CAMPING in the SAVANNAH pre-Christmas, still by a fire, but otherwise a world away).

So thanks friends, for the gift of sun and exercise and snow and craziness and overcoming fears and doing it together. Thanks mom for the gift of a place to stay along the way. Thanks other friends for the loan of the massive van to move us from here to there. For me, Christmas has come, I'm content.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Incarnation: Inconvenient Glory

"Tis the season to think about Incarnation. Two sermons by one of the primary mentors of our faith start us thinking. The Incarnation is so radical, that we all drift towards heresy to avoid it. Surely the nature of God, of Jesus, of truth, is primarily spiritual. Surely the intangibles of Christmas are what really matter, peace and love and all that. Any indulgence in things that can be wrapped with crinkly colorful paper, or ingested and digested, seems un-Christian, a pagan distraction from the pristine and unsullied spiritual realm. But is it? Skip points us to 1 Cor 1: a marred saviour, human, paradoxically weak, fleshily real.

God embraced the body. Can I? Mine has been frustratingly inconvenient lately. Last week we anticipated the highlight of our short furlough, the gift of two nights away at a luxurious hotel, just the two of us. It was a gift that was urged upon us by people wiser than we are, that we almost missed receiving through our inertia of rush. As the day approached I started downing multiple meds and recruiting a few praying friends for three different infections and a strained knee. To spare you all the details, you can just smile imagining the most noticeable one: a swollen red nose due to deep skin infection, attractive only to someone with a Rudolph fetish, and leaving me feeling wiped out. The day we drove out to the Inn was probably one of the physically weakest days of my year. We planned to start our retreat with a hike up to the mountaintop which was the scene of our first date, and the site of our engagement. But forty-mile-an-hour winds had downed trees closing the road. So random as to be so noticeable. Surely God had a point.

Yes, the physical concrete nature of our existence can be mightily inconvenient. But as the meds kicked in by evening, and we entered into the peaceful order of this Inn, the inconvenience gave way to glory. A glowing fire and towering lighted Christmas tree, gourmet food served by candlelight. A balcony in the mornings which absorbed the 20-degree sunshine for blanket-wrapped Bible reading. Exploring the machines in the fitness center, running over crunch-frosted grass on the golf course. Reading uninterrupted in the silent afternoon. Dashing over the patio to an outdoor hot tub in the moonlight, simmering in the 103-degree water while our damp hair froze into ice-sicles under the stars. A door opened into a taste of Heaven, outside of time.

But that experience was very physical, taste and touch and sight and smell and sound. As, if you think about it, even the "intangibles" are, peace and love must be enjoyed through our living bodies.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. Christmas is all about the inconvenience of that, but also the glory of it. The squalling hunger of the infant Jesus but also the milky pleasure of being satisfied by his mother. The excruciating nails splitting his palms, but also the gloriously healed scars in His resurrected hands.

So let us not apologize for the body (the first reaction of our fallen parents, shame and fig leaves) because it is in the flesh that we shall see God.

And let us not doubt the Kingdom-wholeness of goats' milk and kitengi-quilts and mission as medicine. Let us not measure the value of ministry-diversity on a heretical scale where only the translation into spiritual truly "counts". Let us not give succulent Christmas feasts and a gift you can hold or wear pharisaically suspicious glances. Because Jesus redeems us body and soul, until the paradox of incarnation dissolves into fully convenient glory.

Waypoint Cheer

Today, up at 5:30, snow reflects in the starlight and houselight. Out the door by 6, piling into our borrowed massive maroon 12-passenger behemoth. First stop Dulles Airport, re-depositing a stranded former-RVA student trying to get home to Africa who ran into bureaucratic visa red tape and, thanks to the facebook class of 2010 network, spent two nights with our family (we all know that any random tourist buys a visa in the arrivals line in Cameroon or Uganda . . .but try convincing the airline of that if you're 18, African, with a whopping one semester of American experience under your belt). I've known this girl for 36 hours now but feel a lump in my heart when we hug her goodbye, small and competent with her massive wheeled suitcase, anticipating our own departure from this very spot in less then 2 weeks, anticipating the many times someone else will have to be doing this for our kids. Snow-packed neighborhood streets give way to the dismal slush of the highway, hesitant drivers, lurching traffic. The hour to Baltimore stretches into two as we abandon the accident-plugged beltway and use our gps to weave through northern DC suburbs, until we open onto 95. Cloud-cover glows with sunrise and then turns into dull smudgy grey. And then our waypoint: the Glenn Burnie Panera Bread, our beloved Miss Kim and her fiance. We've arranged a sip of friendship over coffee and pastries. Kim, woman of faith, from Bundibugyo to Sudan to marriage, always a solid waypoint in our life, connecting us to community and clarity and prayer and love. A real friend. And now our second time to meet James, once again just struck by his presence, this is a good man. The kind that's hard to find.

Now back on the road, dodging trucks and slinging salt up 95, a long trip ahead to New Haven, but thankful for the waypoint of cheer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Man of the Year

World Magazine has named Dr. Dick Bransford as their 2010 "Man of the Year". We wholeheartedly applaud the choice. Link here to the well-written feature story:

I am proud to be a fellow alumna of the same medical school, and soon to be a colleague at Kijabe Hospital. The Bransfords have encouraged us as we follow a mile behind, trying to stay in their Jesus-like footprints.

You know you've lived in Africa when . .

You have to TELL your kids NOT TO GO OUTSIDE IN BARE FEET IN THE SNOW. Yes, this happened to me, today. Note the sensible sister in the background, ever-helpful, clearing a path for her grandmother. We got about two inches here in Virginia, the kind of super-cold dry light feathery dusting of snow that sifts down slowly all morning. We fly out two weeks from today, so I'm thankful they all got to experience snow. They actually tried cleats (since we don't really have boots) and played soccer in it for an hour. Meanwhile, the indoor activity: Getting ready to party. Exams are over tomorrow. It's not been a pretty week. Hearts are dragging. Christmas is coming.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Remembering Jesus, with the goats

Another opportunity for meaningful Christmas giving: the $140 BundiNutrition Give-A Goat. For more information, check, or click on the WHM tab above and go to projects, then Give-A Goat. Below I have excerpted some of the text from the site. . . .

In the last year, BundiNutrition Project provided care for 220 kids hospitalized with severe acute malnutrition and provided outpatient care for 359 children suffering from moderate to acute malnutrition. We also provided care for children in two high-risk groups: 61 infants whose mothers had died in childbirth and 68 infants born to HIV-positive mothers. The children in these two groups benefited through our Matiti Goat project, which distributed 120 goats to their families. Other families were shown the love of Christ through our chicken project which gave out 10,000 eggs.

Would you be willing to make a donation of $140 this Christmas to support the Bundi Nutrition program? Funds will be used to:

  • Buy food and milk for children who are severely or moderately malnourished, or at extreme risk due to the death of their mother or to HIV infection, and
  • Support community-level changes in nutrition practices through the introduction of dairy goats and through education and outreach.

Quick Facts:

  • $1/day buys milk or baby formula to ensure the survival of a baby whose mother dies in the first few months of his life.
  • $15 buys enough milk to resuscitate a severely malnourished child.
  • $140 buys a dairy goat which can be bred with local goats to improve milk production and provide protein supplementation to children.

For the fourth consecutive year, we are offering African handmade Christmas tree ornaments to the first 100 Give-a-Goat Ornament donors. Merry Christmas from all of us here in Bundibugyo!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Will answers the call

Scott Will, our ebola buddy, the only one who remained in Bundibugyo with us during the ebola epidemic of late 2007, is featured in the local newspaper of Portland Indiana this week. It's a cool article (by Ray Cooney) highlighting Scott's selfless, sacrificial journey to Sudan.. Click HERE to download the article (10mb pdf file)!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christ School Stories

Missionary Chrissy has interviewed some of our CSB students and written their stories. Read and be encouraged. As the year comes to a close, consider sponsoring a student for 2011. Perhaps a group Christmas gift? You can link above to the World Harvest web site and look under projects to find out how. $600 a year ($50 a month) changes a life, and a community.

Meet Kansiime Christine. Hailing from Ntandi village, she looks forward to breaks from school when she can go home to visit with her mother and seven sisters—sitting around the fire and sharing stories. Christine is a confident young woman at the age of twenty. She is passionate about literature and reading novels; Emma’s War is her current favorite. As we talk, she is eager to share her story and all that God has done in her life. Christine’s father died when she was young. Her mother managed to scrape by and support her children but there was no money for Christine to go to a high-quality, private school. Instead, she attended the local primary school but she worked hard and earned the highest grades in the district. As she finished primary school, Christine’s mother broke the news that she would not have the money to pay for her to attend secondary school. Christine was devastated but soon after she received a letter telling of the sponsorship program at Christ School. She was fearful as she had never been to Bundibugyo but she gathered her courage and interviewed. Two hundred students were competing for ten sponsorship slots and the hopes of a quality education. Christine was accepted and has been amazed at God’s provision for her entire secondary school education. She is looking forward to graduating from Christ School and hopes to become a teacher or public administrator involved in social services. Join us in praying for Christine, that she would rely on God to help her achieve great things for Uganda.

Meet Kule Isaiah. At nineteen, he is confident and a born-leader. He eagerly explains to me that “Kule” is the name given to a third born male child. When asked about his journey to Christ School, he responds, “God did me a favor in coming here”. At the age of eight, Isaiah’s father was killed in rebel warfare. Isaiah felt hopeless and feared his future had been lost. His mother remained faithful to God and when Isaiah approached secondary school age, she told him to pray, as there was no money for school. He came to Christ School to interview for a sponsorship but the registrations had already been completed. He still interviewed, hoping for a miracle, and was found to be among the top 10 new students. When God answered Isaiah and his mother’s prayers, his life was changed. As he attended Christ School, he began to learn more about God and His character. Today he boldly proclaims that “God is the father of the fatherless.” Isaiah hopes to graduate from Christ School in one year and dreams of completing a Bible course afterwards. He also hopes to continue on and receive a degree in medicine so that he can give back and care for orphans. Join us in praying for Isaiah and the many other students with promise at Christ School, that they would become strong, Christian leaders of Uganda.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Magazine Christmas

Here at my Mom's there are a handful of magazines devoting their December issues to Christmas (Southern Living, Better Homes and Gardens, etc.). I like looking at them, at the images of Christmas. Thumbing through them one finds photo after photo of lovely homes, tastefully decorated, with glowing trees, artful crafts, smiling families, perfectly arranged pillows, clever cabinet coverings or tables of delicious food. Even just looking one senses the peace and symmetry. A very literal peace on earth, goodwill towards man, in these images of tidy self-contained homes.

How did our celebration of this day become so sanitized, the ideal so disparate from the real? I dare say there is not one picture in the entire stack that shows blood or sweat. Not one home that looks like a place where a displaced teenage unmarried mother in labor would be easily sheltered. Not one article that even acknowledges the existence of anything too disturbing, anything close to suffering.

Besides the magazines, we also have incredibly fast and ubiquitous internet access here. Yesterday I was trying to download a cute little Christmas-tree app, with flashing lights and an automatic countdown to the day. Clicking on one of the very innocent-appearing links however opened a horrifyingly graphic page of disturbing images, quickly closed. That glimpse was shocking, sobering, a gut-punch. I never experienced that before.

So I'm processing the two extremes. I think the magazine images of Christmas, while appealing, feel empty because they lull us into forgetting that evil is out there. That evil is real, and a click away from even the most attractive and safe of homes. Christmas is a desperate tale that only makes sense in a context of a big-picture struggle, where evil is overcome by good. And where that overcoming occurs by way of incarnation, of giving up and pouring out, of death and resurrection.

The beautiful homes are not invalid, they are legitimate early images of the final feast. The home to which we all aspire, the Heavenly mansion with its many rooms (which is a much more communal image than the multi-million dollar single-family fortresses in the photos, by the way). The music and cakes and twinkling lights and generous gifts would not hold such power over imagination if they were not shadows of that which is truly to come. But the real home is reached by way of the valley of the shadow of death, not by way of superior decorating talents.

Another paradox I suppose: longing for the beauty, enjoying the once-a-year magic of nearly reaching it, but at the same time remembering that the real Christmas Home lies behind the veil, that there is still much of the fight to be won before we will relax around Jesus' Christmas tree.

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

Well, at least a day or two in the last week, laboring under the assumption that college students will feel loved by home-baked goods in packages, and the equally powerful compulsion that it is a crime NOT to bake cookies almost daily in a land where butter is just a few minutes away at the grocery, where the oven is connected to reliable electricity, where nuts don't have to be requested six months ahead of time and mailed on a slow boat, where the sugar is as white as salt, and sifting the flour yields nothing objectionable. Here is Wednesday's output, or what was left after tasting, mailing, and sharing with the lawn maintenance crew and the drum teacher.
And what is most remarkable to me: in all my hours in the kitchen so far, I have seen NOT EVEN ONE ant, NOT EVEN ONE roach. Truly the evidence of a curse reversed, of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The College Visit

Though we have a child in college already, this is our first experience with what has become a very standard part of late high-school life, the college admission tour.  Luke made his decisions based on on-line data:  pictures, descriptions, testimonies, impressions, as well as on prayer and advice.  The first time he set foot on the Yale campus was when we dropped him off.  God knows our limitations and He has given Luke a great place, a great choice, in spite of minimal input.  But since we're in America for a few months, we thought we should try to see a few schools with Caleb.  There were a couple of times we've been able to stop at a school en route to a family or supporter event, though most of our travel has been without him (including visits to Wheaton, Covenant, and the Air Force Academy on our way).   But now that he's here again and we have a couple of weeks, we asked him if he'd like to see anyplace else. . .  . which led us a couple of days ago to decide on a quick two-day one-night trip southward, to UVA and Duke.  

So here's my plug for such a trip.  Two parents devoting two days to one kid, not very normal in our lives (except maybe when we flew emergently with Caleb on a MAF plane to have his appendix out).  Junior year, relaxed, no pressure.  The visits aren't interviews, they are sales shows for the school, where students are being courted not evaluated.  A little glimpse ahead for the student, which probably puts some of the hard work required now, in perspective.  Maybe it's worth putting in the effort for a class that is actually a stepping stone to a pretty amazing environment of learning and social life.  A view down the road a few years.  Being treated as a person who has potential, and ideas, and value.  A step away from the sequence of high school life, to imagine the possibilities.  Insightful for the parents, to see up close that college is not the same as we remember.  Yet remembering that it was a great time in our lives, and communicating that enthusiasm.  The haunting awareness for us of how blessed students in America are, or how idyllic these enclaves of 300 activities and 60 majors and massive libraries and a thousand professors really are.

I'm sure most of our peers do a dozen of these visits.  Or more?  We're thankful to have managed two official days, sitting through the admissions spiel, going on the requisite tours (in spite of these two days being the coldest in the year!).

But the college visit also carries the shadow of the clock, ticking.  It is the beginning of the end.  On Sunday, I was talking to another parent about his very successful college-age son, a parent who has been through many challenges, and he said "this is the hardest time of parenting yet".  I appreciated that validation, I thought maybe it was just me.  No, we don't wake up at all hours to someone calling "mom-I have to go to the bathroom", we don't have temper tantrums in public places, we can eat a meal all siting down sanely.  But this launching age is perhaps the most bittersweet.  It pulls at our hearts.  The stakes are high.  The emotions are raw.  I am aware of my failures, of not communicating unconditional love, of not focusing enough energy or preparation, of not protecting or providing.  Between 2010 and 2015, d.v., we'll be launching four kids, all bright and beautiful people.  But as the admissions officer today said:  80% of our applicants could succeed here, but we can only admit 15%.  Which means that statistically speaking, it's possible for any one kid who could thrive in any one school to be rejected.  Even five or six or seven times.  And even after being admitted, the daily challenges continue of managing time, grasping material, meeting deadlines, maintaining integrity, making choices, forming friendships, planning the future . . well, it's all enough to keep a mother's (or father's) heart on the knife-edge of faith, waiting for the last-minute ram in the thicket, God's 11th hour provision.

Meanwhile, I'm glad that for now, with Caleb, we are just VISITING colleges.  That at the end of the day, we get to leave WITH him.  Which is the best part of all.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Those who walked in darkness

The darkness lengthens insidiously in Virginia in December, sun low on the horizon and quick to melt into shadows. Today, December 4, was a very dark one three years ago. We had sent our kids and team away as a precaution in the first few days of the ebola epidemic, but the risk became brutally real and the cost excruciatingly high that night when we got the phone call telling us that our friend and colleague Dr. Jonah Kule had died in his isolation tent at Mulago Hospital. We were stunned, spent, sorrowful. Shivering with shock in the tropical darkness, feeling alone and vulnerable in the face of evil. Our neighbor came over to pray with us, our team having dwindled to three: Scott Will, Scott, and me. We stood outside in the dark, late into the night that seemed to last for ever.
Three years later, we're here in America far from ebola and lost friends. We call Melen, Dr. Jonah's widow, who carries on a legacy of wise parenting alone, and creative service to the district. Her Alpha Nursery and Primary School just had their end-of-year graduation party. She protects her fatherless children from the money-seeking relatives who would jeopardize their education and survival. In the darkness of widowhood she has shone, strong and faithful. And this alert pops into our email today, a new article about the epidemic which I've not yet been able to download, the scientific nature of it lending reality to the suffering but sanitizing it too:

Emerg Infect Dis. 2010 Dec;16(12):1969-72.

Proportion of deaths and clinical features in bundibugyo ebola virus infection, Uganda.

Macneil A, Farnon EC, Wamala J, Okware S, Cannon DL, Reed Z, Towner JS, Tappero JW, Lutwama J, Downing R, Nichol ST, Ksiazek TG, Rollin PE

Meanwhile the decorating in Virginia continues, little electric candles now in every window beneath the wreaths. The last time all the decorations came out was another dark December, six years ago. My dad had just been diagnosed with a fatal disease, given a life expectancy of about a year. We flew back to be with my parents while he was still relatively asymptomatic. Since then the decorations have lain dormant in crates in the basement, needing the passage of time and the presence of grandchildren to make it worth reviving them. My mom gives directions, remembering the way my dad connected a particular strand of lights or hung a particular garland, and we try to replicate. She finds a box of letters under the bed that she collected during his last days, and we remember the shadow of that sorrow too. But she is another widow who has weathered the darkness and found that it does not penetrate the light, tears still come, but laughter too.
Two men who have left legacies of sacrificial love and courage, who met death without fear.
Today the darkness of ebola and ALS and death press in our memories, making the promise of that light to come more than just sentimental holiday cheer. It is a flickering lifeline, a glimmering necessity.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hold on

Here's one more little window into the Bundibugyo Team of 2010... Click HERE to watch this 4 minute slideshow...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

thanks-given . .

. . first, and foremost, for six Myhres under one roof. Caleb back from a long and trying term of school, 3 months alone in Africa, 4 legs of 8+hour international flights navigating solo. Luke deciding to accompany us on the 4+ hour-each-way trip to the airport, which was brotherly love even beyond getting up at 6 am on his first day of break to get to his sister's super-early soccer tournament game. Caleb's hug, his "I'm OK" signature dismissal of our concerns, slightly more believable in the flesh. There is no logical reason to be less anxious about my kids in the next room than on the next continent, but I am. I see Jack and Julia relax a bit into the wholeness we've all been missing but had a hard time exactly naming.
. . for abundance. Pumpkin in a can so brightly orange and homogenous. Turkey not only dead and plucked but with a built-in pop-out thermometer. Flour without bugs, home made apple butter, unlimited pecans. Two moms and a sister to cook much of the dinner. A full house of 15. Walks and games. The peculiar way that a family Thanksgiving reminds me of a team celebration, rather than the other way around after all these years, and the peculiar guilt of even thinking that, which feels disloyal. But true.
.. for snow flakes, drizzle softening suddenly into a magical white dusting, seeing individual crystals on my black coat. Not enough to coat the ground, though Jack manages one snow ball. The bleak grey of November softened up here in the West Virginia mountains by two brief snow showers.
. . for history, tales from our parents and even my Uncle Herold of long past days (the painfully familiar way he moves and thinks and sounds like my Dad did, which picks at a wound that is usually hidden). But good to reunite here on the holiday with both sides of our family and remember our roots.
.. . for Michael Jackson Dance Moves performed by my nephew Micah, whose main wish for the holidays was to see MegaMind. The Saturday matinee, a good price in Buckhannon, the family trooping over, and then unexpectedly the last scene ends with "Bad". Micah's loose-jointed little Down Syndrome body jumps out of his seat in the theatre to moonwalk in the aisle, it's his absolute favorite music, and he's in Heaven. Worth the whole weekend just for that moment of his happiness.

Monday, November 22, 2010

a paradox production

Presenting...a brief cinematic review of the work of the Bundibugyo Team in 2010. We've just uploaded the video we made in August and have been showing coast to coast this fall (with narration by Jack, Julia, Caleb, and Luke!). Click HERE to see it on the Vimeo website. (We'd suggest clicking on that little "full screen button" on the lower right hand portion of the screen - and getting a pair of headphones - for the best experience).

a glimpse from the middle

Woke early, lying in the dark of a sleeping house.  Last night we welcomed Scott's parents, and late the night before we picked Luke up at the main bus station in DC after his 9-hour trip from Boston.  Still waiting on Caleb, but the house is filling for the holiday.  Sleeping in every available room from basement on up I realized we have 3 in the over-70 crowd and 3 in the under-20 crowd, and Scott and I smack in the middle.  A season of life in which we are supposed to be caring for those on both ends, only it's a little more peculiar when we don't even have a home or car or most of the accompaniments of success or independence, when we're in limbo ourselves, when we still receive from the financial generosity of our parents, and depend upon scholarships and aid for our kids.  So we offer what we can, listening ears, dinner planned and cooked and served and cleaned up, encouragement, medical insight, stories and entertainment and concern, a reason and focus to draw everyone together for a while.  

The middle has been a place of ache recently.  Long trip this past week, which was good, but left us wiped out.  Then immediately back to all-star soccer tournaments.  Both Jack and Julia loved playing with these teams, but both had disappointing outcomes.  Of course I realize that at least 75% or more of the teams leave without winning anything (brackets of 8 to 15 in the tourneys, 1rst and 2nd place trophies).  But it can be excruciating from the sidelines to watch a random ball make the difference between being in and being out, to watch the season end on a defeat.  In the end I think it was sadder that the season was over than that the teams lost.  J and J have made some friends, and it is the one place in America that they feel most at home.  More goodbyes, hard days.  And as well as Luke is doing, his road is also a steep one.  Wish we could make it better for him.  And our parents all have their challenges in health and changing relationships and growing limits, and I know we don't help them the way we should.

So in the early morning hours, awake and wondering how to make this week one of Thanksgiving when my heart is in a fog, how to honor our parents and care for our kids at the same time, how to bind up the hearts that are sad, how to be sensitive to change and age and expectation.  Looming over us, the reality that this week with Luke is one of our last for a long time.  The sorrow of that threatens to engulf, not just sorrow for myself but even moreso sorrow for our kids and our parents, all of whom suffer losses from our lifestyle.  

At that moment in the dark, there was a glimpse of reality, one of those rare moments when the veil is pierced: Jesus feels the same way I do right now, when He looks at this world, sorrow for our sorrows.  Jesus wept.  He had hope, He knew He was the resurrection and the life, and yet He entered into our time-fettered world so completely, that in the moment of loss, He wept.  

The New Sudan

The documentary film which we were able to see in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago with the Massos is now available for purchase by DVD. Check out this web site:
The group seeks to tell the story of what is happening now in Sudan, raise awareness, and channel money from the West back into church development, water, health, and education.  Which is exactly what our team does.  Well worth watching to educate your prayers ahead of the referendum approaching on January 9, 2011, when the South will vote on whether to secede from the North and become an independent state.  Two quotes stuck out to me:  a girl born right now in South Sudan is more likely to eventually die in childbirth than to complete primary school.  And the tremendous progress towards peace and reconciliation and change that has occurred in the last five years has grown out of the prayers of the people of South Sudan.  The least we can do is join them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

being a parent is EXHAUSTING

One kid in Boston, victorious soccer match against Harvard, but lost his wallet, which is only important because of little details like credit card, money, keys . . .and being in a city far from home.  Many quick prayers for finding, and by mid-morning the good news, the wallet found in a car in which he had ridden, and he made it to the bus.  Age 17, negotiating his own way from Boston to Washington DC, via NYC, in the dark, on a bus.  Another kid calls from seven thousand plus miles away, almost to the end of a trying term of school work, a few run-ins with rules, about to fly alone over three continents, and by the way needs his SSN for registering for SAT's.  Two more kids in all-day soccer all-star tournaments, the anxiety of cheering as teams go down to defeat, watching near-miss shots, comforting, hoping.  An emotionally significant necklace lost on the field then found.  A sprained ankle in the last minute of the last game.  Pulling for them, believing in them, so hard to see disappointment.  Both manage to stay in the tournament, but no spectacular sense of victory.  

Does parenting ever get easier?  Probably not.  We want them to be safe, to be happy, to taste a bit of success, to have friends.  But we can not make that happen, we can only pray (for the lost wallet and the lost necklace I am very very thankful, for the sprained ankle and the tenuous travel and the dashed hopes I am still laboring) that God who knows more and loves more deeply will orchestrate what is good for the soul, will bring them through every challenge for their own good, and His glory.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bible Class and Mana

One of the unexpected delights of visiting my sister in Charlotte was being invited to speak in three 11th grade Bible classes at her kids' Christian school. We told the kids we were there because I'm Emma's aunt, and because God called me to missions when I was a kid, so it's not to early for them to be considering the world's needs and their passions. I have new admiration for teachers who go all-out high-energy for a 50 minute class, and then do it again, and then again. It's a great school, and the kids asked good questions. It was mostly a delight to get into our niece and nephews' lives that way, to meet their friends and see their environment, to cheer at a basketball game and walk down their roads.
Another unexpected delight was to reconnect with our friends Mark and Marnie M. They were missionaries in Uganda back in the day, and we ended up at Kijabe having babies at the same time. In fact Scott delivered their second son. We visited them in Uganda, and we've occasionally kept in touch even since they moved back to America. Mark finished a graduate degree and worked in politics, but recently decided the way he could serve Africa was to begin a company to produce RUTF, ready-to-use therapeutic food. Right now the primary product used in aid situations around the world is produced by a French company. Being peanut-based, Mark saw the potential to make this in Georgia. So he invested all he had, and all he could convince others to give, in a plant that is just starting up. If he can get UNICEF approval and contracts, this could be a product that saves many lives. And though it is a business, it is also a mission, one that exists to address real causes of malnutrition, to pour back into communities, to enable local production of nourishing food (the American plant will only be for emergency situations). Who would have guessed that his company's small headquarter office would be set up in Matthews, the same quaint suburb town where my sister lives? So we dropped in. The feel is of a political campaign or an entrepreneurial adventure, walls plastered with papers and markers, ideas, photos. Used furniture, young enthusiasts, the edge of potential failure or potential greatness. The zeal of a man who has invested everything because he believes in it. Check their web site at :
A third delight came that evening, when my sister hosted several relatives to see our video and chat with us over desert. I have cousins and second cousins and cousins of in-laws, a complicated and extensive family. And some have had hard years, surviving breast cancer and destructive addictions and mental illness. So it is a privilege to just have an evening to be together, and to know that in spite of infrequent meetings and many other life issues, they still care about us.
But the last delight of the evening, Mark and Marnie showed up too. And I was reminded of that bond. There is something a bit haunted, or out-of-place, a bit changed, about those who have lived in Africa for long seasons, something that never goes away, and is recognizable to fellow-pilgrims. And something that does my heart good when we encounter one another again.

Homesick, but seeing

Basime's small window of intact vision has been preserved, for now. The surgery was successful, and he continues to heal, slowly. Because his eye has absolutely NO reserve, Dr. B is monitoring him very closely. Which means that Basime has been in America for almost a month now, and still has at least a week or two to go. Where he finds himself living in unimaginable luxury. This is a kid whom we helped rent his own tiny mud-floored room as a teen, because as an orphan the corner he'd been given at his aunt's house was in a room she used for her alcohol-selling business, and he was finding it impossible to sleep or study in the noisy confusion of the impromptu bar. Now he's being looked after by saints from Tennessee, complete with a tastefully decorated bedroom, private bath, internet access, new shoes, and unlimited food. So it surprised him this week that he felt a certain heaviness in his chest, and a longing for home. That he missed kahunga and sombe and the familiar sun-soaked village, here in the land of dreams.
Which made this the perfect time to go and visit him. We drove from my sister's in North Carolina westward to Chattanooga. When we traced the home where he was staying, his face glowed as we all greeted each other in Lubwisi. I forgot how tiny Ugandans look here in the land of the large. We took him out for the afternoon, and he talked and talked. Perhaps because so much had been stored up inside, or he was with people who got his accent (or maybe he's talking all the time to everyone, I don't know). I love seeing America through his eyes, a view similar to our own kids' views.
What do you do for an afternoon in Chattanooga? We chose to make a pilgrimage to Covenant College. This small institution has been well represented in Bundibugyo. All of the Herrons, for starters. Wendy Gray first came as a student. Teachers Matt Allison and Ashley Wood, interns including the two who fled from the rebels with us, and more. We went to pay homage to the place that formed these remarkable friends, to show our kids the school (who knows? the brochure says 99% get some kind of financial aid), and to give Basime the chance to see the place his friends Peter and Lydia and Luke Herron studied. Since Basime is enrolled in a Library Science degree at Uganda Christian University, we thought he should see an American library. And whom should we find behind the desk, but Laurel Brauer, another WHM MK! Small world.
Our day passed too quickly, and ended with a lovely meal with Dr. B, his wife, newborn son, and inlaws. This family has sacrificed thousands of dollars and countless hours to save Basime's vision. It still makes me shake my head in awe that God provided for our paths to cross at the exactly right time, and moved them to go to such extraordinary lengths for a kid they barely knew.
When we said goodbye, Basime told us that he no longer felt homesick, that being with us was like being home. But I found that being with him only made me miss Uganda and all our "kids" there more. So one case of glaucoma and homesickness cured, but another case only deepens.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Big 5-0

Today we celebrate Scott. (See his facebook page for lots of great appreciations, some funny and many poignantly sweet). And when I reflect on who he is and what God has done in and through him, a half-century seems a short time. We met just over 30 years ago (!) and so I've had a close-up view of a long process of polishing, refining, shattering, remolding; the creation of a full human being. There is no one else I'd rather be with in any situation from having a baby to hiking a mountain to surviving a war to making a dinner to watching a sunset to swimming a wave to just being quiet and doing nothing. Looking forward to the next 50 years up close, too, with the greatest gift in my life.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Human Development Index

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them . . . 
You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor . . 
(Genesis 1 and Psalm 8)

How far, and how unevenly, we have fallen.  The UNDP released the 2010 report this week on the development index, which ranks 169 countries all over the world based on life expectancy at birth, years of education, and income.  Not surprisingly, the most highly developed countries are Norway, Australia, New Zealand, United States, and Ireland. . . then other countries in Europe and Asia.  And also not surprisingly, the bottom of the list clusters in Africa. 

Here are the neediest 25:
# Uganda
# Senegal
# Haiti
# Angola
# Djibouti
# Tanzania (United Republic of)
# Côte d'Ivoire
# Zambia
# Gambia
# Rwanda
# Malawi
# Sudan
# Afghanistan
# Guinea
# Ethiopia
# Sierra Leone
# Central African Republic
# Mali
# Burkina Faso
# Liberia
# Chad
# Guinea-Bissau
# Mozambique
# Burundi
# Niger
# Congo (Democratic Republic of the)
# Zimbabwe

 As people who are called to fight for the restoration of the glory of God's creation, I think this is one pretty good indicator of where we need to be.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Take a TCK shopping

Though we're seven thousand miles from Uganda and transitioning to Kenya, we still have a huge investment of our hearts there.  Perhaps the largest part of that is in the kids we have sponsored, which means that we continue to fill a parental sort of role in their lives.  There are seven still in school for whom we are fully responsible, three partially, and two young adults who have embarked upon life (besides our medical students and biological children . . ).  Paying and Praying are our main connection to these kids now, but I have the opportunity to send a few small Christmas gifts, which is the other main role of a parent.  So Jack and Julia bravely accompanied me to two stores having good sales yesterday.  None of us are super-shoppers, or great decision-makers about STUFF.  But I found them very helpful in knowing how a certain thing would be perceived, what Ugandans might like.  My last item was for the only girl, whom we've known since she was born, friends of the family and on Julia's soccer team, and who we partially sponsor helping her dad.  I was looking at a display of necklaces and nearby were lotions and perfumes.  So I asked Julia what to choose.  

And she had no hesitation, which for those who know Julia may be a surprise.  Mom, she explained, if you give her a piece of jewelry, then when she wears it, everyone will see she has something different and be jealous, and she wont' want to be excluded by the other girls that way.  But if you give her this perfumed lotion, she can share it with the other girls, and everyone will be happy.

Which is why TCKs make good cross-cultural workers.  They get it.  

Note From the Bench

I like being on the field, which I remembered Wednesday evening as Julia's team scrimmaged parents vs. players.  It was about 8 dads, 2 brothers, and me, versus the team.  Thanks to weekly family soccer with Luke and Caleb and Nathan and Ashley, I at least held my own, which I felt was important as the only mom on the field.  (Though I did accidentally trip a girl in the box which resulted in a penalty shot, not very motherly, but it thankfully went directly into the hands of our keeper).  It was a pretty even game, 1 to 1, until Jack showed up in the last ten minutes and came in for the parent side and scored the winning goal.  I suppose Julia was ambivalent, it is good to be from a soccer-family, but a bummer to be beat by your brother.

But I digress.  I like being on the mission field too, in the game so to speak, running hard and working hard, right in the middle of the action around the ball.  But I've been subbed out, and I'm sitting on the bench.  

So what does a good bench-warmer do?  First, I think, trust the Coach, who sees which players are tired, or about to be injured, or are dragging down the team's play, and need a rest.  Second, cheer.  When my kids are subbed out, they are still fully in the game, pulling for the team.  Luke in particular impresses me in his all-out loyalty, as happy for a team mate's score as his own.  

Next week I'll join the last of Scott's nearly three weeks of WHM meetings, the Team Leader training and retreat.  I'm not a leader any more, but I want to be a good bench player.  One who cheers on the other players, who cares about the game, who is ready with the water bottle or pats on the back to strengthen the starters as they take a brief rest, who trusts this out-of-the-action assignment and waits patiently, who does some warm-up exercises and stays ready to go back in.  Because the only point of being on the bench is that one is waiting on the Coach, in faith.  Not very glorious, but a lot of the Bible is about waiting.  From the bench.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Virginia Politics

Here is my mom tonight, conferring with Congressman Wolf at his post-election party, where she was invited based on her past political activism. We were able to thank him in person for his help with Basime's visa. And to experience a small dose of American culture, the balloons and flag-themed sweaters and happy people and sense of purpose. Not sure where the representatives of Jesus' priorities are (care for the poor, justice, repentance, righteousness, sacrifice) in this election, and certainly people on all extremes think they're speaking for God, so it's hard to go beyond the concrete and relational: glad my mom is glad, glad Basime made it through.

Eternal Friendships

Today, four women drove from places within a few-hour radius of Sterling, to have lunch with us. All were members of our Uganda team between the late 90's to early 2000's. All were single women then, courageous, serving, loyal, wonderful. And all are married now, some rather later in life than average due to their commitment to missions. What a blessing to hear about their lives in recent years, to play with their babies, to look at their pictures, to remember how things were, to talk about mutual friends. To see them now in the life-stage I was in when they came to our rescue, to see them parenting children the ages mine were when they were with us. To see how the time they spent in Uganda still haunts their hearts, how it impacted who they are today. To feel at home with them, even though I haven't seen them for years.
Michelle brought 1-year-old Masie (Zach had to stay back with grandparents due to illness), Heather brought 2 1/2 year old Ellie, Kimiko brought Yael (2) and Portia (9 months), and Mary Ann brought her pictures and love. What strikes me is that though these women are now mostly moms, and married, they still seem exactly the same to me, same characteristic tones and laughs and viewpoints and ways of moving. I love that touch of consistency in a changing world.
Thankful once again for the rich parade of women, mostly teachers, who have blessed our teams. And wishing we could see all of you together at once (Natalee, if you're out there, we should at least talk on the phone!).

Claiming citizenship

I have a voter registration card, and I used it today, the first time I've been in Virginia on the first Tuesday of November in 14 years.  Last time I stood in line at this polling station we were on the way to the airport with baby Julia, 1 month old to the day, returning to Uganda, and I remember there being lines and worrying about getting to the airport in time. It was 1996, a presidential year. Today however, there was no line at all.  Two dedicated 60-ish looking people stood outside the elementary school where my mom and I went to vote, one handing out a "sample ballot" with the democratic name marked, and the other handing out a sample ballot with the republican name marked.  Inside we presented ID, and confirmed our name and address with two women sitting at laptop computers.  Then we stepped up one at a time to a touch-screen computerized polling station mounted on an easel-like frame.  There were only two candidates for congress, and four questions.  I figured that in spite of my ill-informed political awareness, I could legitimately vote for the congressman who graciously listened and responded and helped Basime get into our country.  And vote in favor of policies that helped senior citizens and disabled veterans.  I left one question blank, since I really didn't know about it at all.  It took all of about 30 seconds.  

Contrast that with recent elections in Bundibugyo.  Students were being pulled out of Christ school to vote in spite of the fact that we knew from their registrations that they were under-age.  The cronies of the powerful always win, because the entire system teeters on chaos.  Here are a few of the things that made voting in Virginia smooth, but would be lacking in Bundibugyo:  drivers' license ID, a computerized registration system, a functional mail system for sending out cards, a school with electricity and space and security, laptop computers, literate volunteers, literate voters who can read the ballot, no fear of reprisal, no one knowing how I voted (well, I just told you, but otherwise .. . ), cars to drive to the polling station and back so the whole thing takes only a few minutes.  Not to mention a firm date set years in advance, something you can plan around.  Our democracy rests on our abundance.  It should be possible anywhere, but practically, it just isn't.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The sports gap

The Yale club football (soccer) has been a key component of Luke's adjustment to America, to college, to life as an emerging adult.  Exercise, outdoor time, friends, competition, purpose, brunches, trips, challenge.  A healthy atmosphere for growing up, functioning in a group, taking responsibility.  And Sterling Youth Soccer has been the highlight of Jack and Julia's experience in America, for many of the same reasons.  Pushed to work harder and run further, team-work, laughter, being known by some peers, cheering, having your name called in praise from the coach on the sideline, being invited to hang out with kids for an evening.  (Oh, and they both scored goals in their games in Saturday; Jack always expects more of himself and Julia comes away glowing).   And RVA's JV team has been great for Caleb too, I think, though we're thousands of miles from observing that.

When I drive Jack and Julia back and forth to various practices, I notice that this country has such an abundance of programs for youth.  In our suburban county alone you could be involved in basketball, volleyball, soccer, football, fencing, swimming, baseball, softball, lacrosse, ballet, tennis, karate, and a hundred other things I don't even know about, all with opportunities for coaching, for competition, for developing identity and networks of friends.  There are summer programs, camps, weekend events, casual leagues and intense "travel" teams.  There are lines of cars dropping kids off and picking them up from various events at the rec center.  

Then there are church groups, Sunday schools, midweek youth meetings, trips, service projects, Bible studies.  Music.  Instruction.  Role models.  Constructive and creative and supervised fun.

Sometimes I think of the scads of kids around our house in Bundibugyo, for whom there is no real meaningful adult input through most of their lives. Once they are weaned their moms' focus inevitably returns to the garden, to eking out enough food, to carrying water.  In school the classrooms are so packed a teacher might only offer a swat of a switch.  Kids are too much on their own, to find sustenance and entertainment and education and life.  Out of probably 100,000 kids between the ages of 5 and 18, I would guess that no more than a few hundred a year ever even get to play an organized sport of any sort, watched and cheered by adults.  

There is good scientific evidence that involvement in sports delays sexual debut, a strong protective factor against AIDS.  We're not talking about chalking up resume points for achievement, about winning trophies or outdoing the neighbors.  We're talking about a minimal boost to bring a child alive and intact to adulthood.  To teach a generation some self-discipline, some connection between effort and outcome (a tenuous connection with the school system).  To teach the value of team effort, one that cuts across clan and tribal lines.  To reflect back to kids some of the glory with which they were created.  To say," you matter".

What a powerful vehicle for the Gospel, one that does not subvert indigenous churches or take away from a growing post-colonial independence.  How could we invest in the youth of Africa in a way that develops body and soul as well as mind?  Even as I'm grateful for the opportunities my kids are now having, I'm even more aware of yet another gap between them and all their peers from Bundibugyo.  Which is one reason I guess it is good to be in America for a while, to catch a little vision for what could be.  Even if the fact that it isn't there yet leaves me sad.

Trains, departures, Sudan, birthdays, pizza, and dispersal

November 1, rumbling southward through the sprawl of Philadelphia towards Washington, a tourist in my own country, relieved at successfully purchasing an on-line ticket, finding the right station, transferring in from the commuter line, scanning the bar code in the email, self-printing three tickets, and navigating myself with Jack and Julia and bags into the right line and onto the right part of the right train.  At least everything is in English, though the constantly running disaster preparedness video in the waiting hall was a bit unnerving.  I've rarely taken trains in America, but I love this mode of travel, the independence of walking place to place, light luggage, actually seeing the trees as we slide southward.  

Woke up this morning tired of saying goodbye, the final twist of cost to every reunion.  

Saturday we grabbed Julia straight from all-star practice to speed up to Philadelphia, racing the depressing creep of the gps eta past 7 pm.  The Massos were gathering for the finale of Acacia's Birthday (13!!!) at Catherine's, the house on Girard Avenue where some of our favorite people have lived post-Uganda.  This was Miss Becky's room . . this was Miss Bethany's room . . now Catherine is the lone Bundibugyo teacher still living there.  We made it just after the candles were blown out, but in time to be introduced to the famous Philadelphia Cheese Steaks, the culinary dream of our WHM friends.  

The party was concluding in time to move a few blocks down the street to Liberti Church's screening of a documentary film entitled "The New Sudan", At an hour-and-a-half it might feel long to those who aren't immersing themselves in what looks like home, that's the same teapot we have, the same jerry-can, the familiar look of a hospital or a mud-walled school. But it is worth the time investment.  The producers managed to get great face-time one-on-one interviews with political and religious leaders in South Sudan, and balance that with day-in-the-life-of kind of stories of four ordinary citizens.  Bottom line:  invest in water, health, education, and supporting the indigenous church.  Which is precisely what our team in Mundri is doing.  One comes away from the movie with hope, hope that such dedicated and resilient people will, as one person puts it, be able to "join the third-world".  They aren't asking for luxury, just survival.

Sunday afternoon we made it up to New Haven so Jack, Julia, Karen, and Acacia could see Luke.  The FCYU (Football Club of Yale University) beat Fairfield 5 to 1, and we  cheered for the particularly strong defense from #3, chilled by the sinking-sun wind, chatting with the other handful of parent-fans, sitting in the Massos borrowed camping chairs.  Then a tour of Luke's dorm room where Scott installed the pull-up bar high enough in the hall to accommodate Luke and his 6'5" crew-team suite-mate.  It's pretty much the only thing he's asked for since moving to college.  Then to pizza at Sally's, a seedy-looking but extremely popular and historic pizza place which unbeknownst to us is also famous for its slow service.  By the time we waited 2 hours in our little booth for pizza we were all pretty hungry, thankful for talk-time with Luke, but aware of the dent we had put in his study time for the weekend.  Goodbyes in the dark street by the dorms, and another 3 hours back to Philadelphia.  Treasured time really, 3 up and 3 back makes 6 straight hours of conversation with Karen, which was a real gift.

Which brings us to this morning, more goodbyes, kudos to Uncle Eric who swept over-sleeping Gaby to the train station to hug us goodbye at the last minute, he gets the TCK honor award for today.  The Massos are ensconced in Karen's family and the close-by community of WHM there, and we're grateful that they could make space and time for us to join in, even though it meant wall-to-wall mattresses in the kids' rooms.  We aren't likely to intersect with the whole family again for a long time.

The world just seems sort of large and complicated this morning, and parts of my heart are stuck with Luke striding out into academic intensity that he's not convinced is necessary, looking for a way to get back to the Africa he misses so much.  With Caleb who is navigating growing up too much on his own.  With Scott heading up to WHM leadership meetings that I'm not a part of any more.  With Acacia and Liana and Gaby who are being forced to accept the necessity of shoes and coats as the frost settles.  With Heidi and Ashley looking for clues about what's next.  With Sarah who called Luke while we were all in the car ("I have to interview an adolescent for a class, and you're the only one whose phone number I have") and Nathan immersed in a world of study and city-survival.  With Bethany thrust into leadership of a team holding their balance as the country teeters on the verge.  With Patton and Lilli  and Aidan and their parents and Anna in Kampala getting ready to step into the time machine that brings them to the 21rst century for a few weeks, disoriented.  With Pat gathering the energy after all these years to mold the old Chedester house into a ministry center for women and arts.  For the Clarks and Chrissy and rest of the teams, for friends in Uganda, for Basiime recovering in the foreign world of Tennessee, for my family and Scott's who have to put up with our fragmented hearts and good-bye weary souls.  

Some days like this, ready for the last good-bye.