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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Advice for New Missionaries

This morning's sermon from Acts 21 compared the advice given to Paul as he came to the Jerusalem church to that the Babwisi would like to give new missionaries.  In the Bible, there is tension between the ancient culture of Judaism from which the first believers are emerging, and the question of how much of that culture should be part of non-Jewish Christian practice, and which pagan rituals are acceptable or unacceptable for Christians.  It is fascinating to consider these cross-cultural issues which arose from the very beginning, and to see that most of the direct written-in-Scripture commands of the new Kingdom are heart-level principles about love and humility and service and obedience and holiness . . with the specific application to various cultures left to councils and consensus of leaders.  In Acts they decide (1) it is good for Paul to participate in a traditional Jewish vow ceremony so people can see he respects the old laws and ways, so the Gospel does not negate all pre-existing traditions, (2) the believers from other cultures should not be required to become Jews, so the Gospel does not create a monocultural standard, and (3) there are a few things that the leaders deem worth taking a stand against in the prevailing Greco-Roman culture like sacrifices to idols and sexual promiscuity, so the Gospel does impact certain aspects of every culture it enters.  So much of the New Testament deals with the practical outworking of these issues, with where to draw the lines, and who gets to draw them.  Respect for the old ways (even recognizing God's presence in them), embracing diversity, and taking a stand against evil:  finding the balance between these three values threw the early church into turmoil, and continues to haunt missionaries today.  

So the preacher's advice to new missionaries was this:  
1.  Know our culture.
2.  Bear with us because we are poor and not so much educated.
3.  Learn our language, either Lubwisi or Lukonjo.
4.  Know our beliefs, because sometimes we believe in these small gods.
5.  Know what type of food we eat.

And his example was, that if you come to a home and find the kanumba (small shrine to ancestral spirits) out back, do not kick it down.  Instead, sit and talk to the owner, and be patient, until he decides on his own to dismantle it.  Excellent advice.  It is always a danger to think we see the evil in another culture, and find too many things that fit the third category above.  Instead we should look for more ways to honor the culture, to enter, to redeem, to strengthen its uniqueness. until the believers themselves sort out which aspects of their past were oppressive and wrong and should be left behind.  God is merciful, both to us missionaries who have over-westernized too much of the world  by painting in clear black and white strokes,  and to indigenous Christians who cling to their views in tones of grey.  

And lastly, it was a fascinating morning, because almost any other sermon I've heard on these Acts/Galatians type passages have interpreted them in light of a defense of salvation by grace (you don't have to be circumsized, or it's 20th century American religious equivalent of morality, to be saved) rather than as a defense of preserving old cultural ways (it's OK to keep circumsizing, to shave heads and pay vows, that Christianity is compatible with most aspects of cultural tradition).

Friday, January 29, 2010


The little girl who was a rape victim picked her assailant out of a group, which must have been a horrible experience for her.  The police made her do so separately from her mom.  And the first group they paraded did not include the accused.  But she's a tough little six year old, and she told them he was not there, then pointed him out in the second group.  The mom also made an ID separately.  And I spent another afternoon filling out police reports in triplicate and driving them with Heidi all back up to the station to be sure the file was complete.  So, it seems we have the right man arrested. As ambivalent as I was, the mom's relief and triumph in the apprehension made me glad we kept persisting in the quest for justice.  Now we just have to keep advocating for his conviction, for his removal from the community where he has done such evil.  As well as the second case, the one from this weekend, involving a different man and a 12 year old girl.  I can not think of many stories where the line between good and evil appears so clearly drawn as between a violent sexual assault by a possibly HIV positive man and a primary-school age pre-pubertal little girl held down and harmed.  However, even now, I sense weariness more than victory, sadness more than relief.  And the sickening realization that these two cases are only the visible tip of a murky multitude.  And the punched-out feeling that both men are now aware of our involvement in their prosecution (shirtless, pushed up against the bars of the holding cell with a dozen other men, watching as we interact with the police), and I have a 13 year old daughter, and why should the angels protect her in a way that these other two little ones were not?  Tough, tough questions, the evidence that we are slamming right up against the powers of evil, and that even small successes come with scars.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

confessions of a medical mom

Luke is spending his fifth day of fever and confinement in the school infirmary . . . I've tried to be confidential, but someone wrote they heard about it on facebook, so I guess it's public knowledge.  His school has been hit with a massive epidemic of flu.  Yes, the dreaded disease.  Extremely contagious, and nasty to live through, but as the wave crashes through it seems to be a relatively mild strain, in that there are no serious complications or deaths.  When H1N1 began to spread, the anticipated mortality rate was 1 to 2 %.  Sounds low, until you have nearly a hundred kids sick in a boarding school.  If one or two die, at our school or others, it would send shock waves for sure, but so far in the schools that have been hit here in Africa, the kids have recovered well.  We think we're probably seeing a similar epidemic of fevers and respiratory viral symptoms here in Bundi, just treated one of Luke's friends whose symptoms are similar.  So I confess I've been challenged to have faith, felt sad that my own child is suffering far from home, second-guessed alternative diagnoses lest we miss something serious and treatable in those 103 degree fevers, and prayed.  And wondered over the irony of caring for other peoples' kids instead of my own, as I've seen patients all week.  And chalked up another God's-plan-not-mine-episode, living through a week of transition and challenge and crisis while my heart is occupied with a distant case of flu.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

evening encouragement

Yesterday was a long pummeling bounce from one crisis to the next. Everything seemed broken, from a team vehicle to the entire water system to the propane fridge at the health center used to store blood. And these are not mere annoyances. Passive-aggressive staff behavior and nation-wide bureaucracy and corruption will cost lives, the lives of innocent kids. The first case of potential cholera in many years was admitted to the isolation ward, which had no water. Hundreds of students are about to arrive on campus and need to eat, and the kitchen is not yet functional. At one point as I watched Scott figuring out which valves to turn at the town's water tanks .. . I felt more alone than we have been in many many years. We're not alone, I know. God has called us to this moment, and He's asking us to hold on.
In that context, the evening was very encouraging. We had invited the CSB staff to share pizza with our team (well, what's left of it, our pared-down family of four with Heidi, Anna, Scott Will for two more days, and Ashley just arrived). Last year we were never able to manage this kind of gathering. And with all the change of the last few months, without the PIerces, and with the uncertainty of starting a new year, it was with some trepidation that we invited them. But God was gracious. His primary symbol of presence-on-earth is a meal, communion and community go hand in hand. Last night, we experienced that incarnational reality. About 20 staff joined us, outside, as we created pizzas and encouraged them to try the unfamiliar (I also had massive pots of rice, meat, sombe and beans so that no one would leave hungry . . . and though people ate the familiar, they left most of it in favor of adventure). Soon there was loud laughter in the dimming evening, candles, joking. Jack and Julia and I kept walking around with fresh pizzas, and staff members would joke and insist they were full and then be cajoled into a bit more. Scott Will brought a wealth of toppings, and when we got to the dessert pizza (condensed milk, jam, and chocolate!), people were amazed and delighted. Two young guys actually had to lay down on the grass they were so stuffed. Later we sat in the front room and played a game, and then ended the evening with recounting some blessings of 2009, worship, singing together and praying for the year, that we would all reflect God's glory in a dark place. It was a moment of tasting goodness, in the food and in our team's super-helpful hospitality and in the staff's joy and fellowship. Many more problems will come, starting today no doubt, but we are encouraged as we plunge into the year.

Some scenes of the week

Miss Ashlely Welcoming Party: her football players, Julia and Charity! Getting initial hugs from Ashley by the MAF plane. She's just left the snowiest winter in Virginia to land in blazing equatorial mid-day heat. Finding a bit of shade on the airstrip while the MAF pilot does a routine check. Jack entertains with card games during a cooking lesson: Miss Anna took Jack and Julia to a neighbors' house where their friend Naomi taught them to pick, clean, pound, and cook sombe and ground nut sauce. The sombe, leaves from a cassava plant, ready to cook. Some processing required: cassava leaves contain cyanide, and have to be pounded in the wooden mortar/pestle apparatus before cooking. Flavor added with pili pili (peppers). The Send Me Band, Bundibugyo's first Christian Recording artists, perform last Sunday afternoon at the Community Center. Scott Will and friends groovin' to the tunes in the back row of the standing-room-only crowd.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

police work

Our police tend to sit in their office and wait for crime to come to them.  But a couple of good things have happened this week.  Note, this is not a kid-friendly post, even though it's about kids . . . so don't read it if you don't want to hear.

First, the rapist from the weekend was truly transferred yesterday to Bundibugyo, and will be appearing in court tomorrow.  So far, that case, very public, has not been dropped.  And that encouraged Heidi and I to follow up on our case from last summer, the little six year old girl Heidi called Miss Polkadots who was grabbed in her garden and held down and raped while her siblings ran home crying.  Though we had pushed and pushed for the police to find and arrest the perpetrator most of June and July, he ran away, or so we were told.  Now that six months had gone by we figured his guard might be down.  And we have a couple of new officers posted here, so it was worth a try.  Sure enough, they raided this morning, and brought the man in.  I went to the station myself, and have to say that the satisfaction was hollow, I was prepared to hate this man with righteous wrath, and instead I felt sorry for him.  The man is ill, younger than I thought, pitiful, sitting shirtless and handcuffed on the floor, looking terrified.  I talked to him a little, seems he just had an abscess drained on his back and his wife just delivered a baby girl.  He has the right name, right village, right history of being in the UPDF, and the police are convinced (in a sort of circular reasoning way) that he is the guilty party because they arrested him.  I just felt sobered by the responsibility of having his blood to account for if we're wrong.  Still out of loyalty to Miss Polkadots and little girls everywhere, I agreed to drive him with an armed guard to Bundibugyo town.  They located his file, but not the key for the handcuffs.  He'll be examined at the hospital, and then taken to court too.  The half-dozen other shirtless young men behind bars begged me for money.  I tried to talk to them about using this time in their lives to pray because God if forgiving.  I don't think they were convinced.  I thought of Jesus talking to his cross-mates.  Bundibugyo jail is a pretty barren place.

Meanwhile, some Baptist missionaries we met a couple of months ago are back doing a seminar in our Community Center for teachers and church leaders, sensitizing them to Ugandan law and childrens' rights.  Great topic, great timing.  And today's national paper carried two gruesome stories of ritual murder to obtain body parts for witchcraft.  We think that both rape cases were related to the devil-inspired-hope that an HIV-positive man can be cured by sex with a virgin.  Evil abounds, but there are people standing up, journalists and lawyers, policemen and doctors, saying "no further".  Let us pray.

Monday, January 25, 2010

pared down

Team composition ebbs and flows, like the tide.  Or in this agricultural context, there are rainy seasons of abundant growth and dry seasons of retraction, pruning, burning.  Right now we're kind of cut back to the stump.  This week we also say goodbye to Scott Will, who was here for four months in transition to his "real" appointment to the Sudan team.  He's an amazing missionary, combining genuine enthusiasm for people of all sorts with sincere service and savvy skills.  Another gaping hole will be left in our team, and in the lives of the dozens of young men and kids who hang out at his house, the friends he has made, the staff he assists at the hospital.  And most of all, in OUR lives, as another person moves on.  Barb Ryan did a Birthday skit/game for Scott that involved a stack of hats . . . he needs ones with various former-team labels to whip on and off, because the more people who move through, the more hats he gets left with.  Yesterday,  once again water was not flowing in Nyahuka, and Scott noticed a gushing pipe that had been cut behind the community center where dozens of people were rapidly filling jerry cans, which led to the discovery that some unscrupulous residents had TURNED OFF the valves to the huge tanks that serve the town in order to build the pressure in the line to feed their personal cut-pipe-water-source.  Then he whips off Michael's hat to put on various others, friends of old missionaries, coming in the week before school to ask us to contact their old friends for help with school fees.  Then the church planter hat because our presbytery is in a conflict and both sides want his ear.  And of course the CSB-board-chairman-only-missionary-left hat, dispensing the last piles of Pierce stuff they left in the house to give away, taking Deus to the bank to sort out the new account and signatures, dealing with the electricians, getting the field mowed, answering queries, turning in accounting to the US office.  His REAL hats, medical and team leading, had to take a rest yesterday, but will be pulled back out not doubt today.  

It was Scott who led the team bible study on John 15 this week.  Pruning never feels very pleasant to the plant, I'm sure, and never seems to make sense.  But that's the state we're in right now, as a team, as a family, as a mission--we've had entire branches removed, some to graft elsewhere.  Please pray for an abundance of life to flow in the little bit of us left, and bear fruit.  Please pray we'd stay attached to the vine, and not despair of our limits, rather be faithful conduits. Please pray that all this pruning would make room for new, healthy growth!  

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A red thread (or strange encouragement)

This morning the Pierce family pulled out, in the tapering drizzle of a stormy night's downpour. We had a lovely team goodbye last night, a civilized candlelight dinner with stories and toasts, followed by some tributes and gifts and prayer. Annelise showed her draft-version slide show entitled "World's Hardest Mission", which sort of goes along with "Crisis School". In other words, it's been a long and challenging three years for them, and yet they are competent and compassionate people. If they barely made it through intact, what about Deus as new head teacher, or Scott who is stretching himself even further as a more-involved chairman of the board? As they pulled out, the last direct missionary supervisors of our very-much-central mission project, it is hard not to wonder, how hard will it now be without them? We all agree this is the right plan, God's timing, the next step, for them and for us. But at what cost?
An hour later we were in church, which due to aforementioned rain was off to a trickling slow start, so I was catching up on some Bible reading in Genesis, and as usual found encouragement in an unexpected chapter, 38. Many interesting things about this story, not the least of which is injustice and double standards and a woman's initiative. But this time through I was struck by the tenuous nature of the whole ancestry of Jesus. God's plan hung by a thread. Judah and his sons did not exactly behave in the most upstanding manner. The two older sons died and the younger seemed to wander off track, without any progeny. That left a foreign-born daughter-in-law, who had been shoved off back to her father for a decade or more, to risk her life to get an heir gestating. As she was about to be stoned, she produced the red cord, the staff and seal that proved the unborn baby's paternity. Then she could have easily died again delivering twins, a hand presentation in the pre-surgical era (or in Bundibugyo) is generally a death sentence. Again the red thread, this time marking the anticipated first-born, who subsequently gets pushed to the side by his brother Perez the true heir. Two red threads, representing a tenuous blood line, a fragile continuity.
God seems to purposely hang His plans on thin strands. We feel it right now, with the opening of the school year a week away, and so many unknowns about how this new arrangement of mission/school partnership will work. But I was encouraged by this story that God will finish the story the way He wants to, in a way that shows the power comes from Him and not from us. Both Scott and I know that the next six months will not be easy, and will not be what we had anticipated or hoped for our lives in 2010. That's good. There were other readings in the service, from Acts 21 and Mark 8. We humans tend to assume that if God is at work we should see victory; if danger and difficulty loom then it's time to retreat, something must be wrong. But Jesus told Peter that was Satan's logic, that His path led to the cross. And Paul said the same as he headed to Jerusalem. So, deep breath, here we go into 2010, with a slippery hold on a scarlet cord, the blood of Jesus. And hope that we'll look back and see themes of His presence and work in spite of everything.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Historic handover

A historic handover occurred this afternoon as the executive leadership of Christ School – Bundibugyo passed for the first time from the hands of a missionary, David Pierce, into the hands of a Ugandan, Tumwesigye Deus. Keys ceremoniously changed hands today, but the entire week has been spent carefully passing off financial processes, academic schedules, and administrative lists as well as discussing broader principles of discipline and leadership. As we wrapped our final loose ends in the office of the Head Teacher, Deus asked to share a few words. He quoted from Joshua 1:9 – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” He spoke these words as a send-off to David and as an encouragement to his two new Deputy Headmasters, Masereka Godfrey and Ajeku Robert. David and I (Scott) then laid hands on these men and prayed for them as they kneeled before us. While there are sure to be times when our school will live up to its nickname given by Rick Gray – Crisis School – my heart is peaceful that God has brought us the right man at the right time.

miniscule victories . .

My praise today is over a very small detail, in fact a moth-ish type dead bug.  Or rather it's removal.  We began rounds this morning confronted with a child in significant respiratory distress, the grandchild of a staff member, with a dozen or more concerned relatives all watching in anguish as this baby struggled, wide-eyed and tired, with a lung infection.  It took some serious effort to rouse the man-with-the-key to the generator, get it on so we had some temporary power, and retrieve the oxygen concentrator from maternity.  This is a machine that takes room air and puts out a low flow of enriched oxygen, and one of the MAIN reasons I'm excited about potentially connecting to power next week . . .anyway, the maternity staff told me sadly that it's not working anymore.  Meanwhile the baby's mom was sobbing the death wail, sure her child was dying.  So me-of-minimal-mechanical know-how (where is Luke when you need him) plugged it in and started fiddling with buttons and switches.  Just when we're on the brink of electricity it would be so like Bundibugyo for the oxygen concentrator to die.  I found that the flow meter shot up when I began to unscrew one of the fittings where the tubing to the patient is supposed to attach, and by a process of trial and error determined the connector was plugged.  Every-ready nurse Heidi handed me a needle, and I poked around in the hole and sure enough, the aforementioned dead moth was extracted.  After which oxygen did, indeed, flow.  And the patient closed his panicked eyes and fell asleep in his mom's arms.

And a victory that I hesitate to celebrate quite yet, but may be more than miniscule.  For months I've been struggling with the district, the lab, the blood bank, the clinical research center in Fort Portal, various staff, anyone who would listen, to get a workable system in place for ensuring a steady flow of blood for transfusion, and prompt delivery of some samples and results from Fort Portal.  I've had the royal run-around. So today I invited our DHO (head of everything for health in Bundibugyo), the in-charges of the two main labs, a CRS representative who was supposedly funding the non-existent transport, and all our staff to a meeting.  It started two hours or more late.  It required tedious listing of all the history and details.  It veered off several times into unsolvable dilemmas.  But praise God, thanks to having everyone in one spot and thanks to the clear thinking and selfless suggestion of Moses from the lab, we made a multi-party agreement of a new system that we all think will actually WORK.  There is nothing more tiring than making phone call after phone call and getting vague excuses and knowing money is being embezzled while anemic children are dying.  So I am very thankful for everyone's effort today and hopeful for the future.

Thirdly, there was quite a hubub in Nyahuka last night, including two gun shots and a lot of shouting.  It turned out to be police scattering a mob who had caught a rapist in the act of harming a 12 year old girl, a well-known business man who is suspected to have AIDS.  Praising God for tough justice, for our new in-charge officer who seems to be taking this seriously.  About two hundred people were on the road around the station this morning to make sure the man was carted off to jail and not allowed to bribe his way out.  Encouraging to see people on the side of the victim, at least for now.

And last but not least, the national paper ranked ALL secondary schools today.  There were 2,231.  They were published in order of best to worst, based on exam results.  Christ School Bundibugyo ranked 403--that puts us in the top 20% (or you could look at it as the 82nd percentile) in the country.  The next best Bundi schools were below 1700 on the list (bottom quarter).  Maybe another decade to the top 10%, but given what we have to work with, pretty amazing to be where we are.

This post is a bit of a pep talk . . long week of emerging from illness and struggling with discouragement.  Good lessons from the rich book of Job:  keep engaged with God, stop trying to control the world because God is doing a much better job (God never explains much to Job, other than to show him His greatness), and pray for your friends no matter what, even if they criticize you.  At long last, trying to take those lessons to heart, and as I do, seeing God's power and mercy from dead bugs to apprehended criminals to improbable political victories.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


First, I should say that the sobering, unimaginably horrible daily news from Haiti puts all our troubles in perspective.  It feels somehow dishonest to be blogging about transitions and exams in a world in which 50 thousand bodies are piled up on an island, unknown and unsung, for mass burial.

And then I should say that this line of thinking was, indirectly, brought to my heart by a TCK (third culture kid) I know.  His PE class was studying stress, and they took a quiz in which they answered questions about stressful events in their lives recently (separations, hospitalizations, deaths, losses).  The exercise then gave them a prediction of their chances of being stricken with a serious illness in the next year due to stress.  My informant scored 80% chance, highest in his group.  However, that did not phase him.  What he took away from the experience was this:  if I scored 80%, what would my friends at home score?  What about my neighbor, a kid my age, an orphan, who this weekend buried his step-brother who died of AIDS, who lives shuttled between relatives, whose other brother has basically stolen his dad's land?  

Good point.  There are many, many hardships of growing up between cultures, not the least of which is the fact that you never quite fit in anywhere.  And as we've prayed for Naomi and Quinn this week the reality of being a kid whose world changes so drastically as parents move on has been very acute.  However, there is the strength of knowing first-hand how others live, of looking through statistics to see faces, and of putting your own life into a world-wide perspective is priceless.  I remember my kids talking about an estimation question on an Iowa test: the topic was percentages, and they had categories like "talk on the phone" and "flown on an airplane".  And in their minds, the answers were tiny, because they see the large denominator of the world.

So today let me pause from complaining, remember the families who are sleeping under tarps and searching for drinkable water and threatened by anarchic gang violence in the country that was Haiti, and pray for their rescue and restoration.

bearer of bad news

Uganda, catapulting into the 21rst century, introduced a new service:  receive national exam results by sms.  So the over half-a-million 12 to 15 year olds who finished primary school at the end of 2009 and sat for their all-important Primary Leaving Exam (PLE) could send an sms this morning with their exam number, and receive instant results.  Great news for many kids who performed well (including the late Dr. Jonah's two daughters supported by the Kule Family Care Fund in their Kampala school, with excellent results).  There are four half-day exams in four subject areas:  English, Science, Math, and Social Studies.  1 is the best score, 9 is a failure (low # = good, high # = bad).  So the best possible outcome is an aggregate of 4.  The worst would be an aggregate of 36.  When WHM started Christ School, Bundibugyo ranked at the very bottom of all districts, and our first classes of CSB comprised students with scores in the mid-20's (and above).  Last year we had made our way down to the low and mid teens, a decade of improvement, and we are no longer listed in the papers among the five worst districts.  Still we have far to go here, there are many top secondary schools in Kampala who only take students with perfect scores of aggregate 4, or maybe 5, while we would be HAPPY to get someone with a 12, and usually settle for 14-18.  In the paper I learned today that thanks to the Universal Primary and Secondary Education schemes, there are 916 government-aided secondary schools in Uganda which are supposed to absorb 390,000 new pupils (that's over 400 per school, which sounds frightening, since they will probably be in at most 2 or 3 classrooms).  The 3,000-some private schools will take the other 120,000 (40 per class, a bit more realistic).

That is a long background to say that the instant sms system is a lot less fun when the student cries.  One of Jack's good friends, to whom we leant study aids, had at our house a lot over the last year, and really pulled for, scored a 27.  It isn't a failure, but it is a LONG way from his dreams.  He's a complete orphan, no mom, no dad (both died of AIDS), in a public crowded chaotic school (one where our kids attended briefly years ago) across the street, 15 years old, pleasant and conversant in English and an all-around nice guy.  But the PLE is the final word on whether, or where, one continues in school.  It is the sole number which dictates the future.  And this number tells him that his future is not at Christ School, where he longed to join his biological brother as well as my kids and his other friends.  My mom-heart felt heavy giving handing my phone over to this boy today.  Like many, many kids in Bundibugyo, he will probably struggle on in mediocrity, in a sub-standard secondary school with poor discipline and unmotivated staff.  My words that God was still good and in control of his life felt hollow as he held back his tears.  

Prenatal care, stable families, good early nutrition, protein, iron . . . stimulating nursery and early elementary schools, reading material, interested adults, an organized life, protection from disease . . . there are so many steps before the PLE that stand stacked against this kid and many others, that I know we have to take a generational long-view . . but that's small consolation to today's sad student.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Prayers appreciated this week for the Pierces, Scott, and our new Head Teacher Deus, as well as accountant Loy and deputies Godfrey and Ejeku.  Since CSB was founded over ten years ago the intention was to establish a fully Ugandan staff, with the mission providing ongoing vision and support and continuity.  The Barts ran the warm-up and then the first eight laps of that marathon, then there was a transfer ninth lap, and the Pierces have run two more strenuous rounds on their own.  By Friday, the baton should, at last, be in the hands of Deus.  So much work and prayer has led to this point . . .and yet the work and prayer to follow seem even greater.  Many closures are merely steps through a door into a whole new set of corridors.  David and Annelise are investing tremendous effort to tie up loose ends on policies, funds, staff, and schedules, use of property, down to the adequacy of the furniture and design of the renovated library space.  For them this is a bittersweet time of completing the calling they heard God give them, and moving on to find their next direction in life.  Scott needs to establish solid rapport with the new leadership team.  For them it is a challenging but potential-filled time of beginning in new working relationships.  And all needs to be ready for the return of the full staff next week, and the students the week after.  Not so that we can have a perfect school, we are far from that, but so that CSB can continue to be a Kingdom outpost, a plot of holy territory where rules and love both matter, where girls are safe, where lessons are actually taught, where God's creation is respected, where the Gospel is clearly heard and seen, where prayer changes hearts, where lives are set in directions that will ultimately transform Bundibugyo.  If that depended upon us, we would despair, but we settle in for the next term, expecting God to show up in new and clear and rescuing ways, bringing PEACE to our tumultuous hearts.  

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In case of any illusions . . .

 . . . this is, still, and desperately so, enemy territory.  After about a month of a string of irritating minor infections, the bone-rattling teeth-clattering muscle-aching chills of a major fever hit last night, and I barely even opened my eyes until it was 2 pm and the rest of the family was home from church, having abandoned all responsibility to Scott (who is praying that he will somehow, miraculously, for the sake of the rest of us, be spared).  I did open my eyes once though, in the early morning, when piercing shrieks and rising wails erupted next door, the highly effective all-come-running distress call of the bereaved.  Scott rolled out of bed and went over to find out that a son of our late neighbor John Mukiddi had died overnight in Bundibugyo Hospital, and they had just brought the body, a young man whom we did not personally know, not sure of what causes. The inevitable tinny-amplified music of the all-night prep for burial gathering is just starting up now, at dusk, to blare outside our screened bedroom window  And last night, our houseworker called in a somewhat disinhibited state, to report the success of his attempt to retrieve his wife.  She had been understandably miffed when his brother attacked her with a machete a few days ago, saved by her teenage sun, in a brawl in which our friend suffered a big bruising shiner of an eye.  Sickness, death of the young, alcoholism, violence, marriage strain . . sometimes the very holding together of this place seems so tenuous.  Lord, have mercy.

Week-in-Review . . .

Saturday, the friendly American-suburb buzz of the Clark's lawn mower, glad to have our neighbors back from their trip to the USA, the thud of a football as Jack and a friend kick around outside, the hum of insects, bright sun, a slight breeze.  End of the week of coming home, and finally all unpacked.  Earlier today we helped haul a truck-load of Pierce give-away items to various mission homes (not ours, we have PLENTY, though I did snag a box of precious ziplock bags).  Annelise has now opened, organized, and closed two homes here, which is no small feat in three-plus years.  We are thankful for their willingness to sift and sort through a decade or more of accumulated junk they inherited (or more accurately bought sight unseen), a process I dread.  They look tired, and I feel both their good-bye weariness and the anticipation of our own.  Between the lawnmower and the yard-sale aspect of the clear-out, and Scott working on financial aid documents for college due soon, it feels peculiarly un-Africa today.

A few memories of the last few days . . 

The eclipse Friday was rather a let-down for us in Bundi.  We were in the path of the spectacular annular eclipse, where the moon blocks the center of the sun and leaves a ring of fire, a once-in-a-millenium event, and I'm sure it did happen right on our early morning mountain-fringed horizon.  But the sky was so occluded by oppressive grey clouds that I sat out in the yard with the kids peering at the theoretical dawn and sipping coffee, waiting, as it passed by nearly unnoticed.  Friends later said they knew the moon was fighting with the sun (the local phraseology for such an event) but I highly suspected them of hearing it on the radio.  The dim morning perhaps deepened slightly dimmer, and a flock of six horn-bills did land rather apocalyptically in our tree, but that was about it.  Luke and Caleb had better views in Kenya.

More exciting, the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament in Angola.  Friday evening I let the word out that we'd be watching Ghana-Ivory Coast, and sure enough most of our sponsored student - friends, about 7 boys, showed up for a pleasant dinner, conversation, and viewing.  Mostly I liked the atmosphere, watching Africans play in Africa with African boys who are avid fans and players themselves, particularly the inspiring advertisements on our South African Supersport cable channel, creative and proud, touting the glories of African football.  It is not often that we see positive images of Africa in the media.  I was pulling for Ghana, recognizing some of the brave young men who took the under-20 World Cup trophy earlier this year, but alas they lost to the heavily professional Ivory Coast team.  All in all, though, very fun.

The ward, as always, a mix of tragedy and triumph.  Greeted by little Bhitigale, whom I never expected to see live, now round-faced and smiley with his cantankerous grandmother.  Picked up a chart on a new patient and saw my handwriting going back to 2005, when we diagnosed sickle cell, and now this baby was a thriving ready-for-nursery-school age girl.  But the same morning another infant died within a few hours of arrival, too little too late as the parents had been trying various treatments at home.  The pile-up of kids whom I've not seen for the last two weeks plus Christmas, the inevitable struggles, phone calls, advocacy.  News of a nation-wide blood shortage as malarial levels increase in the unseasonable dampness and the usual donor source (schools) is closed for holidays.

Thankful for our younger two, who sang praise songs all the way home, waving, content, happy to be back.  Thankful for our cows, our dog . . . and today the gift of a rooster, a rather impressive fellow, who will become dinner sometime this week.  

Battling roaches, Julia and I vigorously clean out two shelves of tupperware and find one of their hiding places in dark, nested lids.  Yuck.  Welcome home.

Jack and Julia are having a blast at Rwenzori Adventure Training School, i.e. RATS, the January-term for RMS.  I worried about over-taxing Miss Anna, but she has been delightfully creative and energetic.  They learned about cocoa processing locally, went to the river, caught fruit flies on a ripe papaya, and are keeping nature journals.  Sort of science and entertainment wrapped into one.  

Long walk with Heidi, reconnecting, friendship, team.  And particularly an evening with Scott Will and one of our med students Baluku Morris.  I declared the dinner conversation topic to be memories of family, so that Scott could talk about a dear aunt who died last week in the US, a heavy loss for him, here with no one to share it.  Baluku talked about his hard-working grandfather who managed to send his kids to good schools by raising CABBAGES, which must have been a lot of cabbage, because they are cheap.  And I got to share stories about my Dad, in a good and thankful way.  It was a holy evening to share food and acknowledge the many ancestors who have brought us to this point, made us who we are.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Tension of Home

As we are progressing through the Gospel of John as a team, this week we came to chapter 14 . . . and as we are about to say goodbye to the Pierces, the latest in a 16-year-string of goodbyes, and dialoguing with the packing Johnsons who will leave America and join us this month after their own trial of goodbyes, it was a good chapter to come to.  Because in this chapter Jesus is saying goodbye to His closest friends, too, and He deals with some very key missionary themes of home and help and connection to God.  First we get a concrete glimpse of our true home, the many mansions, diverse and spacious and prepared just for us.  Since we find our Bundibugyo homes crawling with roaches or smelling of mold after even two weeks away . . the idea of someone going ahead and getting things ready is very appealing.  Whenever we study the topic of home, however, a tension arises for me.  There is such a strong theme through the Bible of pilgrimage, that we are strangers, sojourners, travelers, moving through this world where we don't quite belong.  When we are reminded of this, there is a two-fold encouragement, to give us patience with all the things that are less than ideal, and giving us a vision of a final destination.  On a journey we don't expect everything to be just like home, and we look forward to getting back.  We can put up with a lot.

But though we are pilgrims and strangers, we also make homes wherever we go, and in their best moments those homes are a foretaste of Heaven.  When we sense belonging, when we connect in community, when we surround ourselves with beauty and peace, when we sit down to good food, laughter, and music, these are all glimpses of the true home to which we journey.  And so it is legitimate, even honorable, a high-calling this homemaking, to rest our souls and bodies in the early realities of eternity.

And that always leaves us with a tension:  accepting our foreignness, not just to Uganda but to Earth, while simultaneously entering into the community and creativity of carving out a home.  Another paradox, being settled travelers, home-body sojourners.  Ready to leave, content to stay.  Always weighing how much energy to put into homemaking, and how much to reserve for the inevitable moving, be that across continents or into eternity.

We live in transition, all of us, caught between the paradise of Eden and the paradise-to-come of a New Heavens and New Earth.  That truth helps my heart obey the command in John 14:  let not your hearts be troubled.  Transition is not surprising.  It is the atmosphere in which we dwell, and we will never completely get past it in this life.  Jesus knew that, and He gave us a short picture of the goal, and then lots of promises.  God is not just waiting for us to reach Heaven, He has come into time and space, so that there is a constant back and forth as we pray, and the Spirit comes, we believe, and He acts, a shuttling growing connection that sustains us and draws us homeward.  And the glories of the chapter are bookended by two sober realities:  we are sinners, limited people, who will blow it a lot of the time, even when it is really crucial that we have faith (see end of chapter 13, Jesus is saying all these great things to people who are about to desert him) . . . and the Ruler of this World fights us tooth and nail (end of chapter 14).  I like that the promises of home and love and Spirit-led-power fall right smack in the middle of the reality of sin and Satan.

I wish I could put my arms around my team mates, my kids, my mother, my friends, protect all of us from the pain of transition. . .instead I can only share it, and go to John 14 together, to our choice of not-troubled and to God's gift of peace.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Echos of Job

Job amazes me anew every time I read the book, a character whose brutal honesty, poetic lyricism, stubborn faith, and determination to pursue relationship with a God whom he does not understand, inspire.  While his friends insist on a zero-sum universe, an explanation of all that happens in an anthropocentric matrix of good-deserves-good bad-deserves-bad reward and punishment, Job relentlessly speaks the truth:  life does not always appear to work that neatly.  In chapters 9 and 13, after numerous rounds of debate, sometimes speaking to his friends but more often to God, he sums up his prayer in two points:  withdraw Your hand far from me (Let Him take his rod away from me) . . . Let not the dread of You make me afraid (do not let dread of Him terrify me).  Reflecting on this two-fold prayer, it seems to mirror the Gethsemane prayer of Jesus: take the cup away, but your will be done.  In other words, pray first for relief, deliverance, rescue, because that's the child-like cry of the heart in a difficult place, the place of loss, grief, scabbing skin or impending execution.  Even though we know intellectually that God works through difficulty, it is OK to be like Job and Jesus and say, please, stop, I've had enough.  But that prayer is balanced by the second half, the prayer that relationship trumps getting my way.  The prayer that we would not be separated, afraid.  The prayer that we would not choose relief at the expense of choosing God's presence.  After asking for what we want (help!), the request is couched in the deeper desire that God's will prevail, that His ways are preferable to easy ways when a choice has to be made.

Wednesday we awoke to our own home in Bundibugyo for the first time in just over two weeks, after a full journey of everything from baptisms to bungee, reunions and goodbyes, three countries and 9 different places to stay from  tents, to homes, to African bandas, to a hotel.  As good as it is to be home, it is hard, too, to re-enter the reality of this place. Bundibugyo is sort of a Job nursery-school,  the small abc's of suffering, not the crux of the entire God-Satan conflict, but an outpost where minor players can find plenty of testing.  We're not dying of anything wildly tropical on the disease front, but fighting off draggy infections and minor injuries that discourage with their persistence.  We have four live-and-well kids, but two of them are far, far away and the year holds more separation than time together.  We're not outcast from our community, but every step forward requires effort and push.  We have not been devastated by economic disaster, but life is not all smooth and comfortable.  So it was good for the timing of return to fall on a weekly early morning prayer meeting, and we prayed like Job, pouring out our sorrows over things we wish God would change (deaths on the Paeds ward, illness on the team, crises at school, demanding dependent acquaintances who knock early and late for help, people we miss, looming transitions, countdowns to goodbyes, uncertainty).  But then we turned to the second part of the prayer, asking God to be present no matter what the answer to all our petitions, to draw us close, to give us faith to walk without terror in His paths.

Friday, January 08, 2010

To Sudan and Back

We visited WHM's Mundri, South Sudan team this week, catching a ride on a MAF shuttle on Thursday that took us first through Arua and then Yei, and a ride back on an AIM-AIR charter whose pilot turned out to be a father of classmates of both Caleb and Luke. Though the time was short the visit was rich, so it will be hard to encapsulate in a blog post.
Sudan = vast, bright, dry winds, crackling teak leaves, ebony skin, tall thin Africans, heat, space. You can practically see the Uganda/Sudan border from the air, because once you fly over it the population density plummets. For most of the way from Yei to Mundri there is no sign of human touch at all. No roads, no huts or villages, no paths or tracks, no electric lines, not even a goat or cow, just endless plains and a winding, slow marshy river twisting northward. Then near Mundri the world comes to life again with swept dust compounds dotted with four or five neat square thatch tukuls, a radius of farm, and then more space, a spindly line of tan path creating a web between the scattered homesteads.
Mundri = stifled bustle, a growing town, much changed in the two plus years since my first visit or even the one plus years since Scott's. Shimmering afternoon heat, a growing line of shops, more boreholes, pumps, jerry cans, vehicles, trucks, women selling cabbages and corn and lentils, flies buzzing around mounds of cassava, cooking oil doled out in one-cup increments in recycled plastic water bottles. A completed bridge spanning the river we had first crossed by boat. Enclaves of plastic chairs along the main road as hotels/restaurants proliferate, even though most are little more than a simple wooden counter, a tea kettle on coals, a tray of cups. Soldiers in camouflage, striding, sitting, manning check points. As dusk falls generators rumble to life all over the town, glowing lights under the huge expanse of stars.
WHM Community = creative carving out of a loving life in a hard place. They are renting a small but serviceable "modern" cement house right in the thick of the warrens of town compounds, a family of five in the cramped oven of the house with four single women living in two satellite structures, a large safari tent and a typical Sudanese mud/thatch tukul. The perimeter of the yard is fenced (as many others are too), so the effect is one of privacy and space in spite of having other huts abutting all sides. We were thankful to be assigned a small camping tent where the four of us could all stretch out our mattresses by putting one side-ways. It is dry season, and the evening breeze brings cool relief until the night turns pleasantly chilly. We slept well outdoors while the Massos baked in their house. MUCH QUIETER than our town Nyahuka!
WHM Community to Come, soon = building site, biking in a pod of onjodek ya kanisa (or something like that meaning foreign non-manual laborers who are connected to the church . . called out by happy waving kids all along the way) the 2 1/2 km west of town to view the new WHM compound where Michael is building housing for the team in cooperation with the Episcopal Church of Sudan. This mutual project already has an impressive office-block completed, and the bishop's house and the Masso's are up to the ring beams, neighbors, while the community eating/dining area and one of the single women's small homes are under roof. Creative designs, culturally appropriate, a central larger round house for the group to cook and dine in, surrounded by separate sleeping quarters. All requiring tremendous inputs of labor and perseverance and funds, cement and supplies trucked days away from Uganda, the future slowly emerging from the construction-site rubble, a home and ministry center created out of partnership.
Schools = emerging. Several of the team teach in the slowly resurrecting Bishop Ngalamu Bible college, a post-war post-apocalyptic compound which was once a fine college-level center of learning and is now a nearly deserted shell where a dozen or more lay pastors are embarking upon English and Bible and Community Development. A hopeful expectation is in the air, that an Australian branch of the Anglican communion will rehabilitate the entire campus. Other team-mates teach, and teach teachers, at the church's primary school. While our team prayed for money to rehab this crumbling hardly-a-school-at-all . . . Oxfam arrived and built three spiff classroom blocks. Still with over 700 kids and 16 teachers, even 9 rooms is grossly inadequate. Overflow pours into the old ruins, and under the trees. And lastly the local government secondary school, where one team member braves her way through high school physics instruction. Only three classrooms are inhabitable. The theme: opportunity, rebuilding, eagerness for education, but need in every direction far greater than can be quickly met.
Boreholes = water, life, lines of waiting jerry cans at every tap, never at rest, always pumping and flowing, drawing the life-sustaining moisture from the ground for a growing population as people return to their newly peaceful homeland. We tour, this one fixed by Michael and Christine, this one with a new solar pump. This is why God sent the Massos, and why the Moru were so grateful that they came.
Church = indigenous, wisdom, competence, we spend the evening with the Bishop and his family, highly educated and dedicated people who have left the cities of Nairobi and Kampala to serve their people. Bright-blue clad women in a huge circle, the Mothers Union. New huts being constructed voluntarily for a huge revival conference at the end of the month. An experienced counselor meeting with Bethany to map out their hopes to bring Biblical truth and comfort into war-traumatized lives. Ideas, hope. Resilience, the work of a past century enabling this people-group to re-group and thrive after massive displacement and loss.
Life = relationships, words, tastes. We bike through the villages, greeting, smiling. Bethany and Karen and I sit with a young lady who teaches them Moru, thankful for sticky sweet lemonade in the afternoon's oppressive sunshine. The day ends at Omar's cafe, a semi-circle of plastic chairs, fading orange light, evening chatter, a pile of fluffly pita bread dipped in flavorful pools of lentil, fulful (beans), fried egg or meat, sprinkled with strong onions and salt, as the team practices their recently acquired Arabic. South Sudan, an amalgam of languages. The Bishops's daughter cheerfully explains that she prefers Lugbara, the Ugandan language near her secondary school in Arua, though her family speaks Arabic at home, Moru in town, English in class and with us, and previously Swahili in their Kenya-refugee days.
Peace = fragile. Today marked five years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South, a tenuous truce, with rumors of new conflict hovering just below the surface of calm progress and new development. We met an activist for non-violence, who had traveled to India to study Ghandi's principles and wants to bring Christians and Muslims, North and South, Arabic and African cultures, together. Elections loom uneasily on the horizon, slated for March or April, but no one seems convinced they can be pulled off. Uncertainty. Most of the country's wealth lies in oil, deposited inconveniently right along the North-South border, disputed.
Meanwhile a brave little team faithfully lives day to day, learning to talk to people and trying to hear their bruised hearts, stumbling into speech and responsibility. Sweating over bricks and mortar and pipes and power, carving out a survivable space for raising children and hosting friends, aware that the whole country may implode again in a year. Laughing together, singing around a fire under the cool relief of the night sky, dreaming, asking God which of the thousand needs and opportunities are their calling. The flickering light that we pray will grow and push back forces of greed and vengeance and fear. This is where God's people should be, rebuilding the broken civilization and bringing witness to the world. Grateful for our glimpse of it all.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Kampala News

Back to the bustle of the city after two days' drive through flooding Kenya, where drought has been drenched in too-much rain.  The newspapers, the talk, is of corruption, scandals, arresting negligent parents and thieves, mob justice, new districts, political rallies or the lack thereof, Kingdoms, border disputes, property rights, road construction, police conduct, donor-dependence, and football.  Nary a word about the anti-gay bill that is all the REST of the world is focused on about Uganda.  That topic flared and fizzled locally.  The degree of interest abroad is completely disproportionate to the degree of concern here.

Since we read both sides of the story, we've been trying to understand the deeper cultural currents that drive such different responses.  One comes to mind quickly: individual rights versus community integrity.  In the West we are appalled at any attempt to limit individual rights and freedom, for Americans in particular the right to sexual self-expression has few limits, the pursuit of happiness few detractors.  And that goal is realized in an immediate, personal way.  Here, and possibly in many parts of Africa, however, the cohesion of the community trumps any individual's needs or desires.  Lasting good comes in the creation of descendants, who will honor the ancestors, keep the values, strengthen the tribe, hold their place in the world.  Historically, anything perceived as a threat to this was quickly pruned by ostracism, or worse punishment.  Africans treat gay-rights-activists the way Americans treat far-right tele-evangelists, with suspicion and scorn and assurance that their views are marginal and harmful to the society as a whole.  Another issue:  the shifting locus of control.  In the last century cultural power was eroded by the creation of nations and states, and so now it seems the government tries to legislate what used to happen on a clan or tribal level.  So, for instance, the prohibition on exploitation of young girls becomes a law and violators are handed to the court rather than the elders; or parents are liable to be arrested for neglect if their child is malnourished.  Since the western assumptions about what is private and what is public do not always translate, the state becomes the arbitrator of the non-compartmentalized African life.  And a third observation:  after decades and decades of having western values imposed by rulers and then insinuated by the power and money that seeps in and undermines, Africans are wary of yet another attempt to tell them what is right and wrong, what they should think and do.  When the British football premier league coaches complained yesterday that the Africa Cup of Nations should not interrupt their season by calling back African players in January, the papers here today railed against their neo-colonialist imperialistic hubris. And when European countries threaten to cut aid because of a harsh and misguided new law, a substantial portion of the population reacts by saying take-your-money-then-and-leave-us-to-our-values.  I do admire their boldness to be so politically "incorrect".

So a casual view from the ground would be that there are major rifts in cultural understanding here, as international opinion condemns Uganda, and Uganda seems mostly to have moved on to more pressing concerns like whether there will be enough food to eat, and whether districts will embezzle money for health, and whether elections will be free and fair.  And that leaves a vacuum for religious leaders to fill, to  come to grips with an African Christian view which refuses to condone extramarital sexual arrangements, while loving, welcoming, and forgiving the humans who are involved in them.  Perhaps only God can fully do that.


A little in this world will content a Christian for his passage, but all the world, and ten thousand times more, will not content a Christian for his portion.

This is one "pearl" of wisdom from a little book published in 1648 by Jeremiah Burroughs, and passed on in 2009 by Barb Ryan.  It is so packed with wise and rich truth I'm only taking a few pages at a time.  The quote above is contained in Burrough's paradox that we should be simultaneously satisfied with little and yet not satisfied with much, that we need next to nothing as pilgrims passing through this world, but we hunger for more than the entire world can offer as the home towards which we press, for we will be content with nothing less than God Himself.

And in this morning's Bible reading, God's word to Abram, before he had the land or the heir which he had been promised:  Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, you exceedingly great reward.  Abram had noted the lack of offspring in his life, and in spite of his wandering by faith, he wondered. A settled home, a full family, these were things he must have longed for, even expected.  But God wanted him to grasp the reality of the greater reward, so in Genesis 15 He comes in darkness and horror, fire and smoke, words and presence.  To Abram, He declares, "I am" what you really need, not real estate or babies.

Day two post-family-split-again . . . not as hard as the first, or second, or third (Luke), or fourth (both Luke and Caleb) time.  But each hug goodbye and yearning memory of wholeness feels like a small death.  And the weeks, days left for us as a family of six tick down, too fast, the unsettled sense that home and vision and hope will slip soon as the pilgrimage takes an unseen bend.  So we pray for Presence, and we turn to the lessons of Burroghs, to be content with this season on the journey and its losses, and yet to not let ourselves ever be content with less than the Goal.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

I'd rather be scared to death . . .

. . than bored to death, reads Caleb and Luke's new T-shirt. As their mom, I'd rather that death not be part of the sentence at all . . . but I understand the drive for boys at that age in particular to feel the thrill of pushing the limits. Grandparents send generous Christmas-money, and we encourage spending it on an activity or trip rather then an object. A couple of weeks before Christmas we had a little family meeting: what in Uganda have you never done that you'd really like to do? I was thinking in terms of hikes or camping .. . But Caleb had no hesitation: bungee jump the Nile. And of course if Caleb was going to do it, Luke would too. We checked the age limits: over 13. That meant both could qualify. So after leaving Julius Monday and family behind, we stopped off for the night in Kampala and then headed east again the next morning, to Jinja, where the Nile river begins its cross-continental northward journey, a riot of rapids in a gorge with steep banks. An Australian rafting company called Adrift has set up a bungee-jump from a platform 44 meters (about 125 feet) over the surface of the river.
A very confidence-inspiring burly young Australian man named Jack then took them to the top of this massive steel tower, and with assistance of a Ugandan whose name I did not catch, took a turn wrapping towels and a seat-belt-strapping-sort of tie around their ankles. No harness. Nervous mom was told how secure this binding system is . . but as I watched Caleb I felt like he was the sacrificial lamb being bound for the slaughter. Each boy then hopped with their tied feet to the edge of the platform, and dove off.
Soaring, endlessly, down, into the gorge. It was terrifying to watch. Luke was heavy enough to dunk in the river at the bottom (his choice) but Caleb only touched the water with his finger tips, which meant that when the elastic cord pulled him back up he flew, arms out, to almost half the height again. Both said it was an adrenaline rush but totally awesome, a free fall and a flight, completely worth it.
Sitting high above the Nile, with my feet dangling over the platform, watching them jump and disappear, their choice, trusting the skill of someone else, the stretching cord that would allow them to fall but not die . . . a parable of parenthood. Letting go, trusting the cord formed over a decade and a half of love and nurture to hold them safely, respecting their courage to jump into the abyss. Sorrow and pride and loss and hope all in one intense moment of goodbye. Better scared than bored.