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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CSB 1, Bumadu Seed 0

It was not a pretty game. We were the better team, but we played like
we expected to lose. Mentally, the team was NOT there. But as the
sun turned the last shreds of western cloud into a magenta pink tower,
the ref blew the final whistle, and we were through to finals.

Visitors, partners, blessing, hope

One of the delights of RVA is connecting to a community of incredibly interesting, committed, diverse, creative, godly people, and pulling some of them into Bundibugyo as we go back and forth to Kenya. Last term as Luke and Caleb returned from RVA they brought a handful of senior boys with them to visit. This term they came with a whole family, one of their teachers. Alex H took a sabbatical from his job as a professor of computational biology at Duke (yes, he's pretty brilliant) . . . and because he and his wife Melissa (a teacher) attend the same church in Durham that sent us the Barts more than a decade ago, they corresponded briefly in their pre-sabbatical time with us about working at CSB. In God's providence it wasn't the best time in head-teacher transition to host short term missionaries, but they ended up, of all places, at RVA. God had many plans and we are only a small sideline in their life, but from our perspective this was a huge out-of-the-blue unexpected gift. Alex coached Caleb's JV soccer team, and taught Luke to love AP Biology. Melissa invited them over for meals. They were a huge factor in making this a great year for our boys. So before they returned to the US to complete their sabbatical with family visits, they decided to bring their kids out here and see CSB for themselves and as representatives of Blacknall, the church that funded a solid proportion of the dorm construction there.
We had a delightful few days, the kind of kindred spirit connection that comes through common friends (the Barts) and common experience (living in Africa) and common vision for the Kingdom and education and family. A whirlwind tour of a few Bundibugyo beauty-biology spots (Ngite and the Hot Springs/Ituri rainforest), as well as our work and life. But the culmination was a celebration at CSB of the partnership the Barts forged between the church and school over all those years. The students threw together a program of song and dance and worship, speeches and welcomes. We splurged for a special meal of meat for all (!). There was much laughter and enthusiasm as a group of about a dozen students very capably danced the muledu, a traditional dance for circumcision ceremonies. We believe it is so important for CSB, as the place where kids are being exposed to the wider world, to affirm their cultural roots as valid and honorable. Alex thanked the school for their welcome and affirmed the joy of seeing in bricks and cement the fruits of their fundraising years ago. At nearly the end of the evening, a massive driving-rain cold-front storm moved in. The rain on the tin roof of our assembly area made speeches impossible to hear. After a few minutes, some students spontaneously began to beat drums and sing worship songs. And what followed was a solid hour of pouring rain and pouring praise, of dimming light and raising voices, as the world turned to wet darkness the students danced and sang and sang, with all of us joining in.
Dinner was about two hours late, but that's all part of the Africa experience, right? As we left the school about 9 pm, the full moon's rays seeped through the clouds towards more rain in the west, and we saw the only moonlit rainbow I've ever seen. The promise that God will build and not destroy, that hope remains, that life will go one, was poignant in the silver light of night.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Whom are you seeking?

Passion week begins, the retelling of the story, the stepping back through time to remember.  

This week we studied John 18 in our team Bible study, the arrest of Jesus in the garden.  He asks, twice, "Whom are you seeking?"  

At first it looks like a rhetorical question, one with an obvious answer, one meant to challenge the guards.  But later, in another garden, he asks Mary the same thing (ch 20).  Whom are you seeking?  And upon further reflection, we see this is the essence of all questions.  Whom are you seeking?  We are all seeking something, and most of what we seek stems from broken relationship, broken identity, broken purpose.  So on the night of all nights, one of Jesus' last questions is this one.  And on the morning of all mornings, it is again among the first words from his mouth.  

Not a sermon on whom we should seek.  Not a challenge to the wrongness of His arrest.  Not a forceful assertion of the truth.  Instead a last chance for change.  Jesus poses the question to give Judas, the guards, Mary, us, the space to consider our own hearts.  

Which, if you think of it, is pretty incredible.  God withdraws, covers, suppresses His irrefutable power, in order to give us a moment to ponder and consider.  Which, if you think again, is the essence of prayer.  God has ordered the universe in such a way that we have to actually think about whom we seek, what we want, and ask for it.  Seek it.  Instead of just giving and directing, He waits.  He listens.  

Jesus asks whom we seek . . but he has also just emerged from the human experience of wrestling with the same question himself in the hour before the guards arrive.  He has struggled in the garden with a hidden God, been given the dark space in which to search and pour out his own heart to His Father.  He has acknowledged God's limitless power and love, he has asked for the cup to pass, but he has also come to terms with his commitment to drink the bitter dregs to the end if it is God's will.  He could have sought power, recognition, justice, a quickly-ascendent time-bound kingdom.  But instead he sought God, even at the cost of everything.  If God the Father wanted Jesus to have that space to choose in prayer, how much more so us.  

And so every day, over and over, let us take the time to reflect on whom we seek.  And if it becomes clear that the answer is God, then let us pour that request to Him too, which is prayer.  And as we enter that garden of reflection and asking, over and over, I believe our hearts will gradually become more the type that chooses the cross and the glory of God.

CSB 2, Semliki 1

Today's first quarterfinal match was a replay of last year's finals, Christ School vs. Semliki. Last year we had a heart-breaking defeat, and then Semliki, who qualified to represent the district, never even ended up playing any games in the national tournament because too many of their player were disqualified (too old, no longer in school, repeating grades, that kind of thing) for them to field a team. Our last two games of the regular tournament group-stage play last week were ugly victories, the kind where we win but the play is erratic and uncontrolled. So it was a bit nerve-wracking to go into today. However the CSB team came out strong, trapping, passing, dominating, showing team work, keeping cool. Both of our goals were scored by our own "son" Mutegheki Joshua, and were textbook. I am so proud of him, and so happy for him. He gave me a big hug after the game, which is not culturally typical at all, and a measure that this is a BIG deal. He almost didn't get to come back to CSB, but God had other plans for him. This moment of success will carry him through a lot of the inevitable grief to come in his life, which has already known plenty (both parents dying, for starters). Jack managed to get both goals on film, one above and one below.
The victory was even more remarkable in light of the fact that we played more than half the game one man down. A Semliki player blatantly fouled one of ours late in the first half, and the ref called it, but as he was whipping out his yellow card to book Semliki our CSB victim struggled to his feet and slapped the Semliki player. Red card. Out of the game. Foolish temper. And remarkable for the fact that CSB actually SCORED all three goals . . . the only one against us was a flubbed pass by our own player back to the keeper.
Weds will be semi-finals, and finals next Saturday. Only the winners progress, there are no second chances, so we are pulling for the best! OK I try to think that every boy out there wants a chance, and every parent longs for their kids' success. But really deep in my heart I believe our team has worked ten times as hard as any of the others, and I'm unabashedly rooting for victory.

Friday, March 26, 2010


For heart-felt reality and worship coming from adversity:  Scott' Day in Kampala, which inexplicably got relegated to two days ago several posts below.
For sheer excitement and a few hard lessons:  Scott Will being chased by buffalo, from the side bar go to blog and go down a post or two.

last ride?

Sticky evening air, dust rising from the road, shouts of children
running through the cocoa groves, fathers relaxing in the sling-back
reed Bwamba chairs holding a toddler on their knees or playing cards
or drinking, groups of women peeling matoke or sorting through cassava
leaves, girls sloshing water in jerry cans, more school-boys with
their mocking hellos, break-neck barreling motorcycles, friends
calling "Jack-a, Jack-a" or "muka-Scott (Scott's wife)". I answer
some particularly nasal semi-English greetings in Lubwisi, and the
little boys chasing behind my bike call to onlookers (in Lubwisi) "she
doesn't speak English, she only knows how to speak Lubwisi!" Guess
they missed the point. Hazy rose horizon, sweat, pumping up hills,
gritty teeth. Evening bike ride.

Perhaps my LAST evening bike ride with my youngest.
1. Graded road = speed = momentum = danger.
2. Male chromosomes = risk-taking = ride down the hill with hands in
the air = fear in my heart as Jack sprawls across the road. He gets
up, unhurt, rides on, the only casualty the phone I entrusted to his
pocket. Oh well.
3. 12 = last victim of puberty in our family = muscle and speed = me
left gasping behind the child I used to wait for.

It's a new era in parenting, the mom-left-behind era. I'm not quite
ready for the rocking chair . . but realistically I'm now the smallest
and weakest in the family, the slow-down factor. Good thing they
still like my cooking.

on bugs and concentration

The pace for the day began at 3 am when I was awakened by Star making strange, half-whine half-snuffle noises that I recognize as distress. And as I rolled out of bed with my flashlight (Scott went to Kampala or I would have definitely woken HIM up to check on our safety) and walked outside, I diagnosed the problem as sharp stings attacked my bare feet. Biting ants had invaded Star's dog house space, and though she had stretched the leash she's on at night to the max, she could not escape them. I released her and she shot into the house, where I helped her get some of them off and sprayed, and she ensconced herself in Caleb's room for the rest of the night.
That pretty much set the tone for the day. We may build with cement and connect to electricity, but this is still an equatorial jungle. The insects rule.
By morning the invasion had formed an orderly line running less than a meter from our door. I stepped over it and noticed that there was a lot of debris on the side-porch bougainvillea-covered patio. Debris interspersed with tiny grey bird feathers. Then I looked up and saw that the line of mpali was marching up the trunk of the bougainvillea, into the branches, and swarming itself around a nest of presumably ring-necked doves that like to live there. A seething mass of ants had devoured the birds. Which happened the one time we tried to have pet parrots. . . Nature in Africa is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully my neighbor Saulo who does yard-work for us is quite competent with ant-killer and a panga, so I left him to deal with the mess and went down to the hospital.
Patient 1: a very very ill, anemic, 8-year-old boy, who desperately needed a blood transfusion, but we were out of his type. Phone calls, some small money to help him get to Bundibugyo. As his mother hurriedly picked up their mattress and things and left, I began on the next bed, Patient 2: a very confusing and unusual case of massive ascites in another young boy. While I began to see him, Heidi noticed a few roaches left behind from Patient 1's departure, and very reasonably reached into the store room to pull out a can of Bop, the insecticide spray. None of us could have imagined the horror movie result. The three modest roaches died. But the spray disturbed the dozens, maybe a hundred or more, other roaches that were hiding behind beds, in cabinets, in dark spaces all around. Suddenly there were 3, then 5 then 10, then 30. Huge ones. Flying ones. Scurrying ones. I keep trying to examine my patient which is not easy when an occasional nuclear-powered roach tries to crawl up my leg. Nathan arrives and tries stomping them out. Nurses and patients are laughing and stomping here and there, not nearly as perturbed I'm sure as Heidi and I were. I'm listening for subtle heart sounds but rather distracted by the 3-inch roach crawling across my patient's sheet. Hitchcock should have had film running.
And it kept going with that whole area of the ward. I was reminded of a video game. We aren't too high tech but Jack plays one on my phone where he's trying to knock things out of the sky while simultaneously being shot at. The idea is to focus. Good prep for this kind of medicine I guess.
And at the end of the day, Nathan got his turn to test his focus. I was helping him learn to do a lumbar puncture on a very ill neonate (15 year old mom delivered at home then after a week came in because the baby cries so much). As he's about to put the needle in, the baby shoots a warm orange stream of stool explosively out his bottom. Quick-reflexes, Nathan jumps back. We re-clean and re-glove, and he's through the skin on try 2 when another patient bursts into the treatment room with a convulsing child, and absolutely no qualms about getting right in our way. Heidi thankfully moves them over to the side and administers valium just as thick yellow purulent CSF fluid begins to eke out of the needle. Not what you want coating your brain, and we are not surprised the baby cries a lot . . .
Bugs, seizures, streams of diarrhea, and other hazards not withstanding, we finally finished the day relatively intact. Until I got back home to be informed that though the mpali are now gone (many dead, thousands and millions more diverted) one small problem remains: a cobra came out of the cocoa behind our house and got away before they could kill it.

poisonous blessing

Can a snake bite be a blessing?  Saw it happen this week.  A little 5-year-old boy woke up crying beserkly in the night, and his neck began to swell.  Parents noted what looked like fang marks at the base of his skull.  Snakes can enter mud/thatch homes fairly easily at night, seeking warmth from a kid sleeping on a mattress on the floor, then he turns and the snake panics and bites.  Most envenomations here cause local swelling but are survivable. In this case we noted that his sister, sitting by him in the hospital, looked rather stick-limbed.  We asked mom to bring her records.  She turned out to have sickle cell anemia and be moderately malnourished, qualifying for Plumpynut.  Then since she was positive we tested our little snake victim, who it turns out also has sickle cell disease.  So five days later the family is leaving with a healed and perky 5-year old, but more importantly two kids enrolled in ongoing care, getting daily medicine, and getting nutritional supplements.

I suspect there is a deep underlying truth here.  Joseph told his jealous, plotting brothers that what they meant for evil, God turned to good.  I'm afraid we often live in the moments of post-snake-bite distress, and fail to see the sure, slow good being accomplished.  Severe mercies, poisonous blessings.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

a day in Kampala

Scott here. While Jennifer is at home battling the roaches, snakes, and biting ants, I'm here in Kampala merely to run a few errands and pick up Luke and Caleb at Entebbe airport tomorrow as they return from RVA for their post-term break.

Ahh, to escape the relentless demands of Bundibugyo for Kampala, the big city with cappuccino, air conditioning, malls and a movie theater. Or not.

Kampala is a city of 3 million people and maybe 5 million cars, motorcycles, and buses? Seems that way, anyway. My battleground: the gnarly gridlocked streets. My objective: passport pages, dog vaccine, annual park passes, grocery shopping, and a truck tune-up. Not a glorious life-saving agenda, but mundane stuff nevertheless which needs to get done.

Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, graced our capital with his presence for the past two days. As usual, the elite live and move at the expense of everyman. Road closures all over the city facilitate easy movement of the big dogs while every intersection chokes to stagnation. Walkers outpace cars—easily. The only way to really make progress in this situation is to hop on a "boda-boda" motorcyle. These scooter taxis weave between the clogged cars, zoom wrong-way down on-coming traffic, and jump onto sidewalks in order to speed their passengers towards their destinations. Some say that their proliferation is a reflection of the failure of the public transport system. Jonah always warned me against riding them. "You're not likely to die while riding one… only get maimed for life." That statement came after his trauma rotation in Mulago Hospital where the orthopedic service runs something akin to the civil war era practice of hacksaw amputations. So, I advise my team against riding them. Do as I say, not as I do. Today, with 2 days of errands to do in one day and my truck in the garage, I rode several miles through the horn- honking, mud-splashing, dog-eat-dog, might-makes-right, pot-holed roads of the "City-of-Seven Hills" on several—and lived to tell the tale.

My first stop- the USA Embassy. Their progressive "on-line appointment system" nearly thwarted me, but I planned a week ahead and got the last appointment available during the two days I am in Kampala. I was thankful and snatched it up. Now with our frequent RVA-related trips to Kenya and the fact that all the East African states use full-page stickers for their visas, our passport pages are eaten up in a hurry. Jennifer's passport is down to only three free pages. With a trip to Kenya and then on to Greece in May for our Triennial WHM Retreat coming up --she needs more pages. I planned ahead enough to get the appointment, but did not anticipate that I would be sent away from the embassy because Jennifer was not present to sign the application herself to GET MORE BLANK PAGES. It's not like I was trying to change her name or something…all we wanted was more blank pages. So, now we must return a day early on our way out in May, spend an extra nights lodging expense so that she can get do what? Get more blank pages. Sigh.

Next—five miles across town to the university small animal clinic where I got vaccine for our dog. I could tell by the way that they looked at me that they were prepared to refuse to give me the vaccine until I pulled out my handy-dandy collapsible cooler with a pre-frozen ice pack inside. This time the preparation resulted in achieving the desired objective. Score.

Next…the park passes. We pay a flat annual fee for special passes which allow us unlimited access to every national park in Uganda. The tricky part—I only remembered this task at midday. The application requires passport photos from each applicant. Without any of the family along, I resorted to hacking family photos from my laptop. So, back across Kampala to the guest house to grab the computer, cut and paste some head shots into a one-page 8x10 for printing, go back across town to a photo finisher, wait for the photos to print and then across town to get to the Uganda Wildlife Authority before closing. Non-traditional passports accepted, application completed, US dollars in my wallet enough. Done. Made it back across town before the garage gate closed and got our truck, now ready for another 3000 bruising kilometers before the next tune-up.

This morning these mundane errands seemed to require a Herculean effort to overcome the life-sucking traffic jams and the finger- wagging bureaucrats in pursuit of my ordinary goals. Though my spirit felt like it was ready to boil over from anger at midday, this evening I have returned to the psalms and the sacred sorrows there. It is where we see adversity acknowledged and articulated…and eventually set aside as it is put in perspective. The "vav"—the signal of the switch in gears from lamentation to worship—signifies the heart acknowledgement that everything pales to nothingness compared to the living God. Just wish I could see that big picture a little easier when I'm in the thick of it all…

solitude and silence

In Bonhoeffer's book about Life Together, solitude and silence provide the context for the inward disciplines of meditation and prayer and intercession for others.  Certainly our team has prioritized the "day alone" in new ways in the last few years thanks to the encouragement of Donovan G, who is a minister-to-missionaries spiritual encourager.  We fast from busy-ness to create the space to focus on God, to listen to His written Word, to rest in His presence.  But I was very curious as to how this concept would translate cross-culturally in a place where few people have their own mattress, let alone room or house.  Where ancestors and descendants give life meaning and context, where clan and community reign supreme.  

Not surprisingly, few people here spend intentional time alone, ever.  Perhaps they might be left in bed on occasion during a sickness, but even then family and neighbors do their best to be omnipresent.  A few staff had experience of "quiet time" for prayer.  But mostly they expressed deep concern that to withdraw communicates pride, conflict, anger, superiority, separation.  In a culture where living spaces are communal and crowded, families huge, villages huddled, closed doors or shut shutters rare, where sharing is the highest moral value, and the group affords most of identity, where people prefer to do almost everything together, a person who goes off alone for hours is highly suspect.  Either he is eating/enjoying something he doesn't want to share, or he is passively aggressively punishing the group.

So what do African Christians do with Jesus' example of early morning mountain-top prayer time alone?  Of withdrawing to the desert to struggle with God?  

That's a question for them to answer.  I suspect that it is a bit like our team.  Until there is a critical mass of people who affirm the value of solitude and silence, few individuals will risk being known for it.  But eventually it will become a part of the rhythm of life in community, perhaps with different cultures having different patterns and proportions of time alone and time together, but all having some devotion to both.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bundibugyo's first chocolate bar

Back in the day, our predecessor Alan Lee (according to missionary lore, I wasn't there) forbade his team from bringing chocolate bars into Bundibugyo. This was a relatively pristine, un-westernized, un-reached area, and he did not want our mission to unduly impact that. Twenty years later, John Clark and CSB agriculture teacher Alex created a chocolate bar from local ingredients.
In the interim, major cultural shifts have occurred. An improved road, trade, electricity . . and a complete switch in the cash crop from coffee (blighted by a disease in the late 90's) to cocoa. Everyone and anyone grows cocoa now, shiny-leaved short trees with their improbably wrinkled crimson pods. The population organizes itself around the cocoa harvest. It is the single greatest industry. Everywhere, beans are spread in the sun, drying. The middle-man buyers from Kampala come on the 15th and 30th of the month, and then there is money, for school fees and other priorities. Buyers sell to major companies for export and processing abroad. But the local farmer gets a relatively low price compared to the worth of the final product, the bar of chocolate created in Europe. A few years ago Luke tried to process and make some chocolate which was part of a now famous research paper entitled "From Bean to Bar" . . it was a tasty prototype, but the consistency was far from smooth.
Now John and Alex have begun to explore the possibilities for some further processing of local cocoa, specifically from the CSB farms. They harvested cocoa from the farms, fermented it, dried it. Roasted it. Ground it. Ground it again. Mixed in some sugar and milk and cooked again and cooled. And produced something with the texture and appearance of a real chocolate bar. For sure the first one created in Bundibugyo, maybe in Uganda (??). If we were wine critics we'd have words for it: earthy, fruity, tangy. John wants to improve the fermentation process to decrease the acidity. But it's a start.
Perhaps one day Bundibugyo will be known for its fine organic dark chocolate. In the meantime, we took some of John's product to the CSB staff at last night's Bible study, and they were enthusiastic. These are the sort of things that build a people's sense of honor, place, loyalty. I'm sure Jesus, who turned water to wine, would appreciate the gift of tasting the fruits of the local trees.

Happy Birthday to Karen

Karen Masso shines like a star in the universe (see Phil 2:15): a person whose life ONLY makes sense if the cosmos is infinitely larger and more spectacular and more glorious than the glimpses we get in the dark. Stars are quiet. They do not beat down their light and force you to take the cover of shade, or even notice them. Karen is like that, someone whose beautiful deeds are not paraded, who stands out in the darkness if one takes time to look. In her many years here in Bundibugyo (and her year-and-a-half in Mundri) she has provided gracious loyal unswerving friendship, countless practical helps, an ever-sympathetic ear and heart, skillful organization, courage and vision for feeding the motherless and infected, faithful fundraising, nurturing parenting of her own kids and ours . . . . and hundreds of somewhat smelly goats.
Bethany asked Karen's friends to organize tributes for her milestone birthday. We tried, but I realized today that God had organized a very fitting one. It was discharge mania at the hospital. NINE malnourished children departed, cured. That must be a record, not soon to be repeated. We certainly always have the hungry with us. And if two improve at a time, we count ourselves blessed. When nine go home at once, shooting up on their growth curves to arc over the cut-off line of survival, we have to take notice. This is the main arena where Karen poured out her soul in Bundibugyo, so it is very appropriate that we celebrate these cures as we celebrate her. Some examples: little preemie Isingoma, who took 70 days to move from 860 grams to 2 kg, being held by his warm mother's skin as his only incubator, spoon fed and protected. Asaba, smiling, whose grandmother almost gave up, home today after six weeks of struggle, plumped up. Bikorwa who was almost dead from TB ten days ago, turned the corner from anxious oxygen-deprived gasping to playful alert smiles, is well on the way to health. Faisi, motherless, with his dedicated grandma. A baby from deep in Congo, whose low-IQ mom just needed TLC herself for a couple of weeks to learn to care for him. And two sets of twins, one of whom has TB AND sickle cell anemia, and also took six weeks to achieve health.
All of these children salute Karen today, and together we wish her many more years of shining.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Riding the billows of the deep

We're on a wild ride.  2009 was a long and painful year on many levels, with losses and struggle.  2010 has so far been one of building momentum and out-of-control Kingdom-come.  This week I got the mental image of being in a river as it approaches a waterfall. The current builds and churns, and there is no fighting it.  

Scott and I made a list of seventeen really priority-type things we believe God is calling us to focus on and strive towards in the next few months, in addition to four meetings we prepare for each week (three are Bible studies or teaching of some sort).  These are outside of the normal daily work of seeing patients, making rounds, cooking, parenting, maintaining life, drawing in new team mates.  There is a lot going on here. Which has tends to make me feel panic, as if I'm going under the water, fast.  

But some words in Paul Miller's A Praying Life jumped off the page:  Instead of fighting anxiety, we can use it as a springboard to bending our hearts to God . . when you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties and problems to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worry to watching.  You watch God weave his patterns in the story of your life.  Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are inside God's drama.

Riding the raging current is perfectly safe, if the river is God himself.   Jonah said "For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me, all your billows and your waves passed over me."  And in Psalm 42, "Deep calls until deep at the noise of your waterfalls; all your waves and billows have gone over me."  

The ride turns from exhaustingly terrifying, to exhilarating, when we get a glimpse of God in the waves.  He has answered numerous specific prayer requests in the last ten days, from tremendous unlooked for gifts of support to a divinely orchestrated timing of the vaccine advocacy during a meeting on the very subject.  This encourages us to go with His flow, and wait to see more.

So don't pray for us to be airlifted OUT of the chaos and flood, but rather to pray IN the chaos for a deep connection with God.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nyahuka News

The road grader has made its intermittent and unpredictable appearance, like some mythical beast, chugging and roaring down the dirt road, stirring up rocks and roots, mud and clay, making the way straight once again.  At least until the next rain.  Pot-holes and irregular mounds have been evened and crushed.  Market trucks have taken only moments to realize their good fortune and increase their speed from uncomfortably wild to dangerously reckless.  I can't imagine that we'll make it through the day without a trauma.

The district math contest, with no warning or preparation, is occurring right now.  I got a call at about 8 am from the math teacher, Desmond, saying they were all waiting for Jack and Julia.  Who knew nothing about it, slurped down a bowl of yoghurt and granola and zipped down to school to spend their Saturday morning taking an exam.  Luke went to the regional level a few years ago, so I guess Desmond had hopes for Jack, who is very similar, but a relative year younger.  Julia is the only girl in the advanced math class, very capable, but mostly discouraged by it.

Nathan and Assusi both received news within 24 hours of the death of their elderly grandmothers.  One of the true costs of discipleship here, being away from family at significant times.  We gathered around Assusi and helped her get on a bus to Moyo, on the northernmost border with Sudan, a two-day trip which hopefully put her there just at the end of the burial ceremony, while the clan was still gathered.  As the last relative in that generation, this funeral would be a unique time for many of the family to come together.  Nathan also struggled with whether to go or stay . . . he had said his goodbyes over Christmas knowing the end was near.  It takes more like three days to get from Bundibugyo to New Jersey, making it almost impossible to reach in time.  In the end, after much anguish and discussion with his family, he decided to stay here.  We toasted Lora Lee Elwood at dinner and read her obituary and listened to stories about her, which is a far cry from being at the service, but something.  As it turns out she was quite a lady, working for the foreign service and living in many countries around the world.  The family decided to direct memorial gifts to CSB, for which we are very grateful .  Both Assusi's and Nathan's decisions required significant sacrifice and loss, to go or to stay.  Heidi also lost her grandmother this past month, and in her case we all knew it was the right thing and important (and more possible since we were in Nairobi) for her to go back.  John's grandmother died last year, as did my grandmother-like aunt.  Neither of us went.  These decisions are difficult, and individual, and we are thankful for the freedom to make them differently.  

The water line is trickling . . because spiteful residents near the source routinely interfere with the system by opening the control boxes (padlocks gone, don't ask me why) and shutting down the flow.  We received notice that all three massive water reservoirs on our property which supply the entire metropolis of Nyahuka are slated to be destroyed by the road paving project over the next few years.  Not to mention all the pipeline.  A public health emergency looms.

Two cases this week of acute flaccid paralysis, which is potentially caused by polio.  This disease should be eradicated, but our proximity to the black hole of under-immunization in Congo means the risk always lurks.  Not to mention our gap in vaccine cold chain over the last few months, thankfully fixed.  Two six-month-old infants with limp legs wait to find out their diagnosis, samples having been sent to Entebbe.

The four protesting school football teams seem to have made their statement, and have returned to play today in the much-disturbed district tournament.  CSB gets a rest, as the innocent party.  A glimmer of justice.

Our primary school teacher neighbor came to request the mission megaphone . . for Nyahuka Olympics to be held on Monday, a track and field competition for primary schools.  Hooray for kids, for sports, for organized activity!

Mangos are appearing.

Our dear friend Karen Masso has a significant birthday milestone approaching.  We heard the president of South Sudan might be dropping by their town.  Karen is the kind of humble and gracious missionary for whom God just might arrange a birthday greeting from the president.  Also the Mundri team is NEARLY READY to move into into their new housing.  At last.  We wish them much joy and fellowship, respite and reflections of Heaven there.

That's the weekend news, from Nyahuka.

Parenting in Bundibugyo

At Friday hospital staff meetings, we alternate weeks between continuing medical education topics, and Bible studies.  One of the things I love about Africa . . it makes perfect sense to all concerned that the forum for scientific and technical information sharing, and for spiritual formation and growth, could be the same, because it is all about investing in staff as whole human beings.  I had just read the chapter in Proverbs about "train up a child" and so this week I summarized a pamphlet by an old-time teacher and writer, JC Ryle. called the Duties of Parents.  And it struck a chord.  We missionaries have noted the slide into semi-abusive rudeness amongst groups of kids on the road, or decried the increasing levels of thievery.  But I realized yesterday that the adults with whom we work are equally distressed.  Perhaps adults of EVERY generation look critically upon the young.  But the hospital staff at least believe that a seismic cultural shift has occurred.  They are mostly concerned about disrespect, which makes sense, since the veneration of elders (extending to appeasement of ancestors) is a central aspect of African tradition.  Many spoke of how they were raised, and contrasted the current state of affairs, the lack of proper greeting, kneeling, body position, tone of voice, obedience.  Ryle's book is very non-pc but eminently practical.  Habits formed in youth stick, so parents have the greatest opportunity to mold character.  He covers the basics:  love not anger, example not lecture, consistency not apathy-punctuated-by-outbursts of correction.  He builds on the foundation of regular Bible reading, prayer, and public means of grace.  It's good stuff.

Afterwards I've been thinking more about what I heard in the discussion, and what I've seen in 16-and-a-half years.  And here are some factors, from the staff and from me, that led to this behavioural shift.
1.  Population pressure.  More people.  More children surviving. Overwhelmed parents.  Less supervision energy per child.  Less space, less boundary for a family.  Bundibugyo continues to lead the country in fertility rates, and Uganda continues to lead most of the world.  There are just a lot of kids here, and more every day.  Peers become a relatively greater influence than elders, due to sheer numbers and time.
2.  War.  The massive displacement of the late 90's continues to influence culture now.  People were crowded (see #1).  They mixed up clans and tribes in camps, diluting distinctives.  Soldiers moved in, with money.  People were willing to do most anything for food, and less likely to freely share than before.  They did not have great hope for the future, making it less important to discipline children.  Who minded about niceties of politeness in a survival situation?
3.  UPE.  Universal Primary Education came in right after the war.  Suddenly every child was supposed to be in school.  Classrooms were impossibly crowded.  Infrastructure and staff expansion lagged far behind the explosion in school enrollment.  Throw a hundred kids who have emerged from an IDP camp into a classroom with one or no teacher . . and the bullies rule, the strong survive.  Education is great.  Taking children away from their parents and culture, and keeping them in chaotic unsupervised classes for most of their waking hours most months of the year may not be.
4.  Development.  We are becoming less isolated, more connected to the rest of the world.  Good.  But outside influences are very, very powerful.  A culture that has seen itself as backwards and inferior (an idea perpetrated by conquering tribes and colonial administration) quickly latches onto new styles and new ways, without always deliberating the cost.  Translation and literacy, support for dance troupes and traditional leaders by missionaries, all help, but have not kept pace with the rapid introduction of media.  Parents do not strive to teach and enforce a culture which they have been made to doubt.
5.  Cocoa.  Last but not least, the cultural changes have occurred at the same time as a major agricultural shift.  Cocoa requires less daily labor than food crops, and is much more profitable.  Parents are less dependent upon their children's physical labor. And more empowered to be away from home, spending their cocoa money.  Perhaps even some of the social security that was invested in having well-raised kids to care for you . . now rests on a good cocoa garden, which does not talk back.
6.  Freedom.  Good liberating truths can also have unintended harmful side effects.  As a culture becomes less fearful of spirits, ancestors, evil that lurks in the shadows, then there is less enforcement of social norms.  Good if those norms have been internalized, or if a different motivation (holiness, gratefulness, honor) pushes out the heart of fear.  But if fears diminish without a compensatory increase in faith and love . . then we are left with unafraid, self-centered, and potentially destructive individuals.

The youth are the single greatest resource of Bundibugyo.  They are abundant, and wonderful, and needy of guidance.  CSB provides the kind of structure and instruction they need, but that's only 340 out of over 100,000.  Older parents mourn, and need encouragement.  Midlife parents need to draw upon God's limitless grace, and be inspired by hope that their children are not lost. Those who were teens in the war years are now young parents, and if their generation does not reverse the slide into cultural dissolution, who will?  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Christ School 6, Kakuka 1

The football season began, finally, this afternoon. It seems the district, for now, is standing squarely behind CSB and against the trouble makers who protested last weekend (though rumors swirl that the dissidents are not backing down quietly, and others swirl that the ring-leader school will receive a 3 year ban from district play. Whew). How football explains the world . . . so true even on this level, all the intrigue of vying for position, for money, avoiding shame, seeing what you can get away with, politics, jealousy, it's all right here. Which is why it's worth standing firm, and fighting for what is fair.
Politics aside, this afternoon CSB was scheduled to play the only other team in our group of five which is still participating, Kakuka. Sure, they showed up late, and then the officials were even later, so the 2 pm game started after 4. Sure, two of the Kakuka players were disqualified because of being too old (you have to be within 6 years of finishing primary school to play) but since they had no subs, our team decided to let them play anyway. We all just wanted a real game, at last!
And it was great. Our boys played hard, and well. The very first goal of the season was scored by our own "son" Mutegheki, who in a very Rooney-ish move dribbled, passed ahead to the outside corner beautifully, ran straight to the middle, received the pass back, and drove it in. I think each score was completed by a different player, which shows the depth of the team. I recognize a lot of Nathan moves in their play. It was all a bit rougher and less controlled than when they scrimmaged each other, and they still have lots of room for improvement, but it was a great, morale-boosting game. Deus was cheering on the sidelines and delighted the students by laying down on the field after a successful penalty kick. The coaches were striding and shouting, the crowd was reasonably orderly but entertained, the girls sang praise songs and drummed and danced until they were hoarse, Julia danced on the sidelines with her friends while Jack hung out with his, we cheered with some teachers, and dozens of raggedly dressed little urchins swarmed the field whenever they could, seemingly trying to get close to their hero/role models, the CSB team.
It's only football, not graduating from University. Yes. But it is the most visible success of the school to the community. It is a display of discipline and team-work. It is a chance to shine, to be cheered, that these kids will possibly never have again. It is a demonstration of the possibility of standing bravely against foul play (hiring mercenary players was routine when Kevin first started). It is a time for students and staff and community to all be on the same side, wanting the same thing.
Christ School will never be easy, precisely because the powers that be do not want it to be here. It will always be a clashing ground of good and evil, of Kingdom values and harmful practices. However, days like to day give us a glimpse of hope. Healthy students playing their hardest, excited onlookers, a wholesome afternoon for hundreds of community spectators, the joy of the game, and general conduct that stands out as unique in this area. We heard this week that the church which gave the single largest donation to CSB last year decided not to repeat their gift this year, and that another major donor might also choose to drop out. But at the same time, we had unlooked-for gifts from two completely unexpected places thanks to two team mates, for which we are grateful. This is Christ's school. It challenges our faith to move it ahead when a third of the costs can not be met by the poverty-level tuition and have to be raised by us and our WHM colleagues. But today we remember that it is Christ who cares about these kids, and moves people to give, if we can only hang on we will see wonders even greater than the 6 to 1 score line. Amen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mercy Seen

Thanks for prayers for my mom, whose surgery went well.  She can't notice any improvement yet in her vision . . but she also did not LOSE vision in the procedure, and her doctor is hopeful that over the next few weeks of healing she will see more clearly.  This is a mercy for which we are all thankful.

I pried open one of my patients' eyelids today to look in the inner eyelid for signs of anemia (a handy place to check on a dark-skinned child) and was shocked to see his cornea completely scarred, occluded, cloudy, from an infection at the tender age of 4 months.  It was a reminder to me of fragility of the vision we often take for granted, and the common humanity we all share in the face of health problems. My mom has supported two friends of ours here, one a 4 year old girl born ON HER BIRTHDAY (!) to a nurse friend of ours who sustained an eye injury, and the other a teenage student friend of ours who developed glaucoma, because her own eye illnesses have made her empathetic to those of children with fewer resources and options.  In the end, though some care is more skilled (Hopkins) than others  (mine), we all depend upon God's healing mercy.  Grateful.


The issue of pneumococcal vaccine for Uganda has continued to occupy my thoughts and heart.  It is a matter of justice (equal protection from easily preventable deaths for all infants whether they are born in Boston or Bundibugyo), good scientific sense (putting the vaccine resources into places where the impact will be highest), mercy (responding to the shockingly high rates of death here).  Over the last few days a UNICEF contact gave me the phone number for the doctor in charge of Uganda's national vaccine program. We had a great conversation in which I learned that he had just submitted a formal request for the addition of the pneumococcal vaccine to GAVI.  GAVI is the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizaitons, an international organization dedicated to facilitating the increased availability of vaccines in poor countries.  Perfect.  I simultaneously got a negative reply from the manufacturer about donating the vaccine directly, so that door is closed.  So the one organization that can possibly manage to scale up pneumococcal vaccines for all children in Uganda actually HAS A PROPOSAL sitting on a desk somewhere requesting just that.

I've written to GAVI, pointing out the extreme nature of the pneumococcal disease burden in Bundibugyo related to the highest prevalence of sickle cell disease in the world.  But my email is unlikely to make much of a difference.

Prayer, on the other hand, could.  Do we really believe that?  Is prayer just for individual spiritual issues . . . or is it for lobbying?  The heart of a king is movable through prayer .. . so the heart of an international scientific committee should also be fair game.  I don't want to take resources away from anyone else, but I do believe I can make a case for the fact that if there is one place in the world to offer the pneumococcal vaccine, it should be Bundibugyo.  After all, matters of justice, good sense, and mercy are all over the Bible.  Matters of child survival form themes of Bible stories from Moses floating the NIle to Herod slaughtering the innocents. Death from pneumococcal bacteria is part of the impact of the Fall on our world.  Fighting against that is legitimate Christian endeavor.  

So please pray that GAVI would fund and implement a program to bring this not-so-new vaccine to Uganda.  For those readers in more comfortable parts of the world, I'll just add that I saw a 6 month old today with a droopy, weak, sluggishly reflexive right leg, a sudden onset of paresis that could be polio (tests pending).  Vaccines here are not a school requirement or an inconvenience, they are the line between walking and being paralyzed, between living and dying.  Let us lobby on our knees.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Heavenly Advocacy

Last week, we studied a psalm and the topic of prayer in out hospital staff meeting.  And challenged the staff to pray for change, to take their problems to God, first. Well, the problem on their mind was electricity.  We had approached an organization to fund connecting the health center to the power lines, but been denied that money, so we had in our hearts that we'd somehow manage to do it ourselves.  Scott (with LOTS of help from Nathan!) has been managing a contract to connect the school and most of the mission houses.  He did our personal house connection himself, which was relatively straightforward. Working with a contractor for the rest of it has NOT been straightforward.  It has been a tedious, slow, frustrating, messy, and expensive process.  So taking on yet another project, the hospital, looms like a shadow.  But we need the electric power for oxygen, and for our blood and vaccine storage fridges.  So we believe in it and know it is something we want to do, but have not been able to manage it yet.  Last week, however, the staff prayed.

And two things happened.  A church related to one of our team mates decided to link an upcoming fundraiser to us, APPROACHED US, and agreed to fund electricity.  Then a few days later, the chairman of the electric board in Bundibugyo town APPROACHED Scott and told him he wanted to handle the initial phase of the connection himself, because he'd been convicted in his heart that this was an important public health issue.  Suddenly the two main obstacles, money and skilled personnel, were gone.

I have a fairly long list of things that I think are important projects, services, issues.  Much longer than we can actually accomplish on our own energy.  Much more expensive than our current resources allow.  But this week's uncanny convergence of events reminds me of the obvious.  The best way we can advocate for the redemption of Bundibugyo is to stimulate prayer.  Even though we've seen this over and over (like the time the mothers of malnourished kids prayed for a change in the UNICEF decision about providing milk) . . I need reminders like this hopeful electricity story.

So, on the long list, next up:  PNEUMOCOCCAL VACCINE.  The "prevnar" immunization against pneumonia is standard in the USA.  It is NOT standard in Africa, where much greater proportions of children are dying from this particular bacterial infection.  And it is a distant dream in Bundibugyo.  However, this is probably the most important place in the world for this particular vaccine to be given. Because this district has the HIGHEST prevalence of the sickle cell gene in the world (45%!  THAT's A LOT).  And the number one infectious killer of young kids with sickle cell is the pneumococcal bacteria.  In our pediatric ward, 11% of admissions are for sickle cell disease.  We're a small health center yet we average 12 new diagnoses a month (I doubt many big-city specialty hematologists see that many).  The vaccine has the potential to save many thousands of lives.  

I don't know how to make the manufacturer (Pfizer) donate it.  Or make UNEPI (the vaccine program) decide to include it as essential.  Or make the Ugandan Ministry of Health, or the United Nations, or any other powers that be choose to initiate a new vaccine program in a place as remote and tenuous as Bundibugyo.

But God does.  So as we advocate here on the ground, let us also advocate on our knees.  And draw others into doing the same.


Please pray for my mom, who is having a delicate and complicated eye-surgery tomorrow at Hopkins. She has the best care in the world. But she also has three major different problems in the same eye, a history of multiple other surgeries there, making it a very complex and risky situation. Her vision has deteriorated significantly in recent years (impacting things like driving and reading, pretty significant for a person living alone), and we hope this surgery will prevent a further progression towards blindness. Pray her post-op vision would actually be IMPROVED.
Jesus did a lot of vision-healing . . because vision is so central to life and survival and enjoyment of this world, so much a part of who we are in God's image. I know He would delight in answering our prayers for yet another! And though we are so far away (and thankful that my sister will drop everything in her life to accompany my mom) we know that our collective prayers please our Father who likes to give us what we ask for.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Football Season Begins . . .

Off to a Bundibugyo start . .
The tournament consists of four groups, each group has 2 to 5 teams that play each other, the top teams advance to quarter and then semi finals. Our group is the largest, so we were to have three different days on which we would play each of the other four teams (one day we play twice). The whole thing is to be done between today and Easter, only 3 weeks. There should have been four games today, starting early this morning. By ten nothing was happening. By noon it became clear that only one other school was coming, and they were not a school we were slated to play against today. It seems that though the plan was agreed upon at a meeting of head teachers, one of the schools had second thoughts about the fairness of some of the policies, and convinced others to boycott. Passive-aggressive, the preferred conflict style. Meanwhile our team and Kakuka's milled about in their uniforms, the sun beat down with more and more heat, the community pressed up to the fence to see what was happening, the hired police had nothing to do, the referees and district games personnel sat at their tables waiting, and nothing happened. Finally mid-afternoon they decided that the no-show teams should forfeit, the two teams on site (Kakuka and CSB) got automatic wins. We proposed a "friendly" match (outcome would not count in the tournament) just to give our team and Kakuka's experience, but Kakuka preferred to go home rested and injury-free.
And so, what ensued was probably the best football match ever played on the CSB pitch. Christ School starters vs. the second-string team helped by Nathan and Alex, two coaches (Bwampu and Ajeku also coach, but sat this one out). The progress these boys make year to year is so noticeable. Kevin got them started down a path of discipline and skill, but it seems the improvement now is exponential. The game was a 1 to 1 draw, because there really is little difference between our starters and our subs. Nathan scored the goal for the second team on a cross from Alex . . which in my opinion was like Ashley's goal in the staff/student girls' game Monday, a reminder to the kids that these coaches know what they are doing. There was good passing, ball control, strong shots, team work. Really fun to see.
Hopefully the girls will have a few games eventually. And hopefully the boys will play someone besides each other, multiple times, in the next few weeks.
Today was a reminder of the power of sports to bring the Kingdom forward. Hard work, accountability to team mates, following rules, taking risks, a taste of success, the approval of adults, the importance of physical and mental and spiritual strength all combined. Then the grace to be blessed by good uniforms, helpful teachers, a level pitch, things that are rarely found here. Coaches have the opportunity to instruct, to challenge, to encourage, to lead. This is an area of missions to Africa that should grow. So few African kids have the opportunity to play sports this way, supervised and taught. And yet so much of who we become in God's image can happen on a football pitch!
Lastly, since we are pondering missionary football coaches . . . a tribute goes out to Josh Trott, one of our first. Who is now engaged to be married to a young woman named Lydia. No doubt they will be bringing just such opportunities to needy kids in inner-city Philadelphia. Congratulations.

Friday, March 12, 2010

the way it is supposed to work

Since things rarely happen the way they are supposed to, it is important to take note when they do. To shout. To laugh.
M.U. went home today, cured. He was one of those rare kids who came in simply HUNGRY. He had a mother, and a father, and no chronic incurable diseases. Back in December he got sick with something, a typical diarrhea virus or malaria. He stopped breast feeding, because he just didn't feel well. He was over 1 and a half, so his mom did not push it when he didn't want to nurse. But he never bounced back the way a healthy kid should. He dwindled, until he was picked up by one of our outpatient programs. His weight for length was so low that Nathan referred him for admission rather than treat him as an outpatient. Like many, he got worse before he got better, dropping down in that first week. But then he turned the corner, got his appetite, began to drink the UNICEF milk. And he came back to life. Woke up. Smiled. Began to stand, and then walk. And then play. He is the kind of happy child you hate to send home because he's such a joy to see every day!
He and Kabasa both packed up and went home today, amazing examples of moving from death to life. And three other kids who all had TB: two in joints which I may have missed if I had not gone to our recent CMDA conference and learned more about the subtleties of TB diagnosis, and been emboldened to start sticking more needles into places I had feared to go. All five of those kids would have been dead within a few more months, and all five should live normal lives now. Another discharged 8 year old boy had presented with severe anemia, bloody diarrhea and vomiting, perhaps dengue fever, but went home much improved. His dad said he had no way to come back for follow-up because they lived hours away . . he had spent all his money to get here because he knew his kid was really sick and he'd heard this was a hospital where kids got help.
Many times, things don't work. Many things blow up in our faces (as our colleague experienced with a generator yesterday, which led to no injuries but a BIG MESS). Many times we are misunderstood, or we blow it relationally.
But some days we get to see kids cured, and then we forget the messy frustration and feel that the struggle was worth it. Scott led us in John 16 yesterday in Bible study, where Jesus uses the analogy of childbirth to demonstrate that pain is forgotten when joy emerges. He asked us: is there real joy without passing first through pain? A good question for life, in Bundibugyo and elsewhere. Maybe not. For this evening we are just happy for our little patients' cure.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

celebrating richness

Invited three good friends over for dinner last night, to introduce them to the Johnsons. Two have kids in the age-range of Lilly, Patton, and Aidan. And as much as a bunch of little ones can connect in spite of a spread of age and language and experience, they did, rolling balls to each other across the floor and stacking blocks, giggling and chasing with Jack and Julia in the middle of it all. It was an evening of richness. We are rich to have three women of strength and beauty and character as our friends here, Melen, Olupa, and Assusi, all people who work very hard to serve others in spite of difficult circumstances in their lives. And rich to have new friends courageously coming into this place with an intention to stay, to love, to live.
It wasn't until they walked in that I realized it must be near Jonah's Birthday. His mom had to think about it a minute, and then we confirmed he had turned 2 on the 8th. Only two days late . . and thankfully Amy had baked a cake (!). Jonah was delighted by the attention, amused by the candles, and mostly interested only in the soccer balls. So another richness, the survival of this smiling child, with his father's name and face.
And a last amazing surprise gift of the day yesterday: A NEW TEAM MATE. Yes, a young woman who is a senior in college and had applied with WHM to work in Africa . . . at the last moment, as plans fell in place, the Sending Center people in charge realized her overlap with her potential team potentially left her alone much of the year, which did not seem wise. So over the weekend we got the message that she might be a possibility for Bundi, she came to interview in Philly on Monday and Tuesday, and yesterday we heard she's officially our newest team member: Chrissy Chipriano. We are praying that the richness she brings to us will be matched by the rich blessing of fast fund-raising which allows her to graduate in May and arrive in September. Welcome Chrissy.

quotes of the day

"Heal-or-Heaven".   Prayed this morning that God would either heal Ivan Tumwiine, or take him to Heaven.  Not something I normally pray, but this child has suffered for about four weeks, his little skeleton draped with sagging wounded flesh, his swollen feet the most substantial part left of him.  He's got sickle cell anemia and probably TB too, and he came in starving.  Whenever he gets some milk into his gut, he loses more ground from diarrhea.  When he refused to even sip from a spoon for a while he had an ng tube, but eventually the energy loss of fighting it seemed to outweigh its value.  His mom had another baby while he was admitted, so now she has to divide her time, and he's frequently left moaning on his bed.  Some kids can be pulled back from that, but metabolically Ivan's body has so altered in his months of slow death that I'm not sure he can turn around, and if he does the impact on his brain might be severe. I'd love to be proven wrong, and Kabasa who got two candies today (instead of the traditional one candy) for reaching his target weight is a living reminder of those children who take a long time but do eventually heal, and smile, and chase balls.  After praying the Heaven-or-Healing prayer early morning, I cautiously looked at Ivan's bed when I walked in the door, but there he was, alive, barely.  

"They left us without an answer".  Sat in briefly as John led a group of community leaders today in a discussion of improved agriculture techniques, after the dozen or so had toured our demonstration garden.  John's point and purpose was openness, cooperation, sharing of ideas and information.  The group was all for that.  Information, in this culture, is power.  Give away your food, but don't give out knowledge!  So our agriculture group's effort today was counter-cultural in the best way.  Interestingly, one of the men mentioned that last week in the build-up to the WFP anti-hunger campaign, someone came and met with their village (he thought it was a woman but seemed unsure).  She asked the parents why they think their kids are stunted.  People gave many ideas . . . but she never told them the answer.  I'm sure this woman left with a good sense of community discussion and mobilization and inclusion, and the reality is that stunting is a complicated endpoint reflective of many problems.  However her audience was left with the assumption that SHE knew why their kids were stunted, but she wasn't telling them!

"Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate".  Last night we initiated our CSB staff Bible Study for 2010.  We had surveyed the teachers to see if there was interest, and what time would be most convenient for them.  Even when people express verbally or on a survey that they want a Bible Study, one never knows who will show up at 8 pm after a long day of work.  However, almost ALL of them did!  I think there were 25 of us, which is an unwieldy size, but they wanted to meet together rather than in smaller groups.  We are attempting Bonhoffer's book called Life Together, which is a study of Christian community.  All of the basics of a Christian life are there, but in the context of living in community (which we do) and in the context of Bonhoffer's opposition to political evil and personal suffering (which is a pretty African context, too).  Chapter 1 emphasizes grace:  our community may not match our mental ideal, which frustrates us and tempts us to demand that others change . . better to realize that we live in a real place of God's placement and choosing and look for ways to be thankful.  I was convicted of my own complaining heart, and long for the real love Bonhoffer describes which brings freedom to others as we long for Christ's best in them rather than OUR ideas for them.  Praying this study bonds us, missionaries and school staff, in a common goal.

"You number my wanderings . . "  Psalm 56 was our theme for early prayer meeting this morning.  It perfectly mirrors our vacillation between that desperate sense of being swallowed up by too much work, un-solvable problems, evil and corrupt people . . and then the flip side that God is our refuge, that He is FOR us.  I particularly appreciate the fact that God knows all 17 beds the Johnsons have slept in in 2010 as they wandered this way, and knows where the rest of our paths will pass this year.  He does not promise to avoid tears, but He does save them up in His bottle.  Sorrow and sojourn come, but He notices, and only allows what has purpose.  Clinging to that.

"At least you can stay for life".  This is my favorite.  Yesterday afternoon Scott was working with our new calf (he and Jack and Julia put up a fence!).  An acquaintance came zipping in on his motorcycle, having just heard the rumor which circulates every few months that we're pulling out of Bundibugyo.  He was relieved to find that we were still home.  Then he said to Scott .  . "Doctor, I know this is a hard place to live, but at  LEAST you can stay for . . . . (we're expecting something like one more year . . .) .. .LIFE."  Hmmm.  I guess compared to "at most you can stay for eternity", life is a short "at least".