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Friday, July 30, 2010

Take me home, country roads

Since home is a rather ambiguous concept at this stage . . . I think we feel the comfort of being in almost Heaven, West Virginia, more deeply than ever.
I sit on a screened porch only a few hundred meters from the patch of woods and log cabin where my grandfather was born, deep in a hollow along the Buckhannon River known as Sago. Population in the dozens, except for a horrific week a few years ago when coal miners were trapped and killed. When I was a child my parents bought an old farmhouse on three acres of land adjacent to the family property (when you're 15th of 15 kids, you have to take some initiative). Slowly but surely they fixed it up, installed plumbing where there had been only an outhouse and a bucket lowered by rope into a well. Added bedrooms and porches, a modern kitchen, laundry, landscaping. So that the place now comfortably sleeps almost 20. This is where I spent most summer weeks and Fall and Spring weekends growing up, and is a piece of the earth I love. Even our kids feel more at ease, away from the hectic suburbia that Northern Virginia has become, in a place where a neighbor dropped by in her pick-up last night to bring us a bag of tomatoes she'd just picked from the garden, and no one hesitates to engage in conversation. Where people across the river called out to us as we floated by on kayaks, and identified themselves by their "clan" name.
No internet, and no cellphone coverage. Lots of games, hiking, swimming. Yesterday we walked up the railroad tracks a mile or two and found a great cluster of high rocks to jump from into the river, then swam and waded all the way back downstream to "Camp". Last night Luke and Caleb, armed with a guitar, a 22, a tarp, a masai blanket, and a box of matches, slept under the stars in a hilltop meadow, where deer graze. Today lots of napping, reading, kayaking. Shooting tin cans off the railroad track, or clay pigeons from a skeet thrower.
Very thankful for this almost-heaven home.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Progress, learning

In 3 working days plus a weekend we have survived:  4 dentist appointments, 6 eye exams. 2 trips to the DMV (but still no learner's permit for Luke), a dermatology check-up, setting up a bank account for Luke, looking into numerous vehicle options with a promising offer again from someone in the church, checking 13 books out of the library, purchasing two pairs of clearance-rack tennis shoes and about two dozen pairs of socks, cooking dinner for a family group (aunt, uncle, cousins) and a neighbor/friend group, being hosted out to dinner with two dear families from our church, adjusting our time clocks to America, umpteen loads of laundry and dishes and a working understanding of all the machines involved, rehabbing 4 bicycles (Scott's and mine from our residency days 30-plus years ago, and old ones of my mom and dad), effortlessly driving on the right-hand side of the road, clearing out three big bags of ancient clothes to make room in drawers to "move in" to my old room, getting one functional cell phone up and running, sending our first text messages back to our team in Uganda, and baking two pies.  But since we haven't seen a single patient, or been responsible for a meeting, or done any of our "normal" work, so it feels like we've done very little since arrival.

After the first three eye exams were all 100% good news, I thought, maybe we'll be like the Israelites whose clothes did not wear out in 40 years of the desert trek, and our bodies will show no signs of worse-for-wear in spite of years without proper exams.  But alas, after jaw-aching barnacle-scraping teeth cleaning and a few cavities (me still paying for my fluoride-free childhood, and Julia who brushes more than anyone in the family) , and a suspicious mole that ended up needing immediate biopsy (you notice things in bathrooms with mirrors and lights that just don't get attention in Uganda). . . I've settled in to realize that we aren't immune to aging and illness.  

I suppose we're making progress.  Learning that the germ-fighting wipes at the grocery store are for sterilizing the cart handles, with seems laughably obsessive coming from Africa to the land of cleanliness.  Learning the hard way (Jack) that you can't step behind the counter of the music store to look more closely at a guitar, there are spacial rules that should be internalized by the time you're that big (hostile clerk yelled and he retreated outside the store until we were ready to leave).  Learning that the $15-off coupon card really is a chance to get $15 off later, when you come back between Sep 12 and Oct 1, and spend more than X amount, and keep the initial receipt, THEN you'll save money . . because this place has a lot of flashy gimmicks and loopholes.  Learning that the 80% required score on the written driving test means AFTER you get 100% on the road-sign portion, if you miss 1 out of those 10 it's game over for 15 more days (has anyone EVER seen a solid yellow diamond sign with no symbols or writing??). 

But also learning that people can be incredibly gracious, smiling and welcoming, helpful and forgiving, even when we're late, and distracted, and forgetful.

Wishing to be less worried about US, and more aware of others, and hoping that will be part of the progress of learning to live.

Visiting Home

Another paradox, they seem to multiply when we're here at the fringes of two worlds.  Here we are at home, the house where I lived through the crucial years of age 11 to 18, where I stayed through every break in college and medical school, where my wedding dress is boxed in a closet and the wallpaper in my room is the pattern I chose in the 70's and still like.  This place is familiar and my mom has made every detail welcoming, from clean sheets on new mattresses to favorite breakfast cereals.  This is home.

And yet the sense of being a visitor is also very close to the surface. The 17 years in our home in Bundibugyo far outweigh in duration and intensity the years here.  And though we are absolutely welcome in my childhood home (and Scott's, next week), it is still a space that had its own order and purpose without us and will continue on when we leave, we are temporary residents, in a bizarre time-warp back to adolescence, dependent and hormonal and limited, thrown in with our own actual 4 adolescents in an equality of restlessness.  My poor mom, all six of us trying to figure out who we are, at once.

Home is where we should feel the relieved sigh of being off-guard, at ease, understood and understanding . . but that is not quite true in Bundi, and certainly not true in America.  

I think when we can remember that we are visitors, with visitor-politeness and visitor-awareness that we are not quite at home, that we have to make an effort, to study the pace and expectation of life, to decode, then we are probably a bit easier to live with.  Unfortunately we've barreled through the first five days with that paradoxical assumption t that we SHOULD get it, but the discomforting reality that we don't, so something must be wrong with us.

I remember the same thing happening on our other HMA, in 2000.  I did not want to feel judgmental or critical as we crossed back over the ocean . . and that prayer was answered a bit too well, as we instead felt overwhelmed by the complexity of a life we did not know how to enter.  Didn't think we'd repeat that a decade later, but here we are, confused and amazed that everyone else around us seems to handle this life so well.  We're in a church of real saints, people that offer us meals and rides, people that homeschool a half-dozen kids while living simply and bonding as families and maintaining order and discipline, people who know Scripture through and through, and are friendly and wholesome.  And who know more about us than we know about ourselves. It's a bit intimidating.

So we can only say, to everyone who has to put up with us in the awkwardness of in-between, sorry.  May God give grace to all who must bear with us as we exclaim over the inhumanity of the DMV, or bump up against rules we didn't know about.  The sermon this Sunday was from Genesis 40-ish, on Joseph, and the way he was faithful in the in-between time of prison.  Here we are in luxury, not prison, but it was still an encouragement to me to look at this 5-month interim as an important step in a long journey, to be present where God has put us right now, visiting home.  

Friday, July 23, 2010

culture shock

I'm afraid we have a case of it. 

The good news is that only 2 bags were misplaced between Amsterdam and Washington, and should come today.  And that my mom was helpfully accompanied to meet us at the airport by Nathan and Sarah, and since Nathan has been around to help us through a LOT in the last couple of years that felt very normal.  And that they stayed for dinner adding to the sense of a smooth world-crossover.  And that my mom got two more beds for growing kids, making it comfortable for all of us to fit in after 4 more years and MANY more inches.  And that there was still an old guitar Caleb can play under a bed.  And that this house is air-conditioned and bursting with food and very comfortable and familiar. 

Today, however, we've moved out of the safety of 118 Lake Drive and run smack up against America:  apparent abundance that is tricky to access.  In Africa you can buy a phone sim card for a couple of dollars even in remote villages.  Cell-phone communication is easy.  We have not previously ever had an American cell phone . . but we want to be able to communicate, so today we hit a bunch of stores to buy sim cards to put in our phones.  No deal.  Everything here is contracts, big business, lots of money, rules, and restrictions.  We were about to be resigned to that and just buy new phones and contract-plans when we double-checked the list of "over 100 countries" we can text on the ATT plan, and noticed only about 5 are in Africa, and do not include Uganda or Kenya.  Not helpful.  My computer won't send out email on my mom's network, so the ten or so emails I had written are stuck in the outbox.  We went to the Division of Motor Vehicles to register Luke for a learner's permit and between the long line of people and the layers of more rules (two proofs of identity, birthdate, Virginia residency, etc.) and the realization that he can't get a real license until he's over 19 (which is a year and a half from now) unless he takes a 36-hour education course . . all felt pretty discouraging.  Life is complicated here.  And we are novices.  It's going to take time, and patience.  Roads that used to be 2-lane country drives are now 6- or 8-lane divided super-highways.  One of the suspected Somali bomber masterminds was arrested trying to leave the USA and hailed from Fairfax County Virginia, very nearby.  We don't know how to live here anymore, and it has changed in ways that are almost unrecognizable. 

Classic culture shock:  "why do they do it this way" kind of thinking, and the discouragement that comes from no longer being competent adults ( with phones, car, internet, house, jobs, status) and instead entering a position of complete dependence (none of the above).  I know it's good for us.  But it's not fun.  And we haven't even BEEN grocery shopping yet, thanks to my mom's generosity . .  . if you haven't seen that scene in Hurt Locker, it's worth the price of the movie.

So you have to feel all that to appreciate the two highlights of the day:  driving to the Loudoun County Public Health Department Luke and I were at a stoplight, and the guy in the car next to us was gesticulating for us to roll down the window.  Oh no, I'm probably doing something completely wrong . . . we rolled down the window and he asked a question about directions.  A question I could answer!  He thought we lived here!  And we fooled him!  And second highlight, sitting in the public health department, I realized I HAVE NO AMERICAN MONEY AND NO CREDIT CARD.   I went through my purse and came up with Euros and Uganda shillings and Kenya shillings . . but nothing American.  Whoops.  Not smart.  But the chicken pox vaccine was FREE because it was required by school, and the two nurses running the clinic could not have been nicer about it.  Thankful.  Maybe if we meet enough people like this, we'll improve.  But right now the case of shock is quite serious. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Today we headed out to the Louvre, which as Luke said has to be one of the largest assemblies of human ingenuity under one roof in the world. From primitive carvings to Egyptian mummies and Greek chiseled gods, to jeweled trunks and medieval armor, to wall-sized paintings and tapestries, the span of civilization is collected within the sprawling cavernous halls of a former palace. What was once the booty of kings and the purview of princes is now displayed to the world. And I mean the world. Thankfully Julia and I discovered how to buy tickets electronically while searching for a bathroom near the metro stop when we arrived, thereby avoiding massive lines again. We did have to elbow through some throngs around the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Millo, but generally we kept moving. Caleb mastered the maps and laid out the plan of attack, and we saw a LOT. Not everything, by far. But plenty to satisfy four teenagers. You have to love the fact that we hit Paris while Luke was still 17, as many things (including museums) are free for kids under age 18.
The Louvre was lovely. But lunch was fantastique. While we were sitting on a malfunctioning metro this morning, a lady struck up conversation after noting our American accents. A missionary, from Maryland. And when Scott told her what we were really here for the food, she told us to take the Metro line 7 after the Louvre and get off at Place Monge and choose any cafe for fondue. And so we did. An angel? Pretty peculiar encounter, but we found ourselves nestled in a cozy bistro with interesting artwork and real French clientele, sizzling chunks of meat in oil and dipping bread in cheese over a leisurely meal. Abundance and freshness and atmosphere and tasty sauces. Memorable.
Last stop today, the Arc de Tiomphe, the monument built by Napoleon that commemorates French victory and soberly remembers the price paid. And has spectacular views.
Well, many missionaries might not blog about stopping in Paris. But we have been blessed to grasp this opportunity for culture and cuisine. I see this as the decompression chamber, the space between Africa and America where we leave one behind but do not quite encounter the other, where we equilibrate. And the truth is that while missionary life involves a lot of roaches and pus and humidity and rebels . . . it also occasionally offers an opportunity way beyond our technically-poverty-level incomes. Grateful for the paradox, or, in this case, Paris-dox.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Long Way Back

Advice we received many years ago from a lecture on the needs of Third Culture Kids: always try to take a few days en route to spend as a family, in that suspended time between "field" and "home" when you are not immersed in ministry or pulled by donors and relatives and friends . . . For families with high mobility or massive transition, building those memories together goes a long way in providing solidarity. Our missionary travel agent put a three-day gap in our ticket connection in Amsterdam, and so here we are in Europe, between Africa and America. We landed Sunday evening in Amsterdam and were met by fellow-WHM-pilgrims Bob and Miriam whom God has given an unaccountable love for us, a graciousness in welcoming us into their home and encouraging us with Dutch pancakes and conversation and showers and sleep.
Next morning we followed Bob like ducklings on the metro to the main train station, and then took a 3 1/2 hour high-speed train to Paris, where we we had arranged over the internet to stay in a 7th (top) story apartment on a busy street. We look out of our windows and see the grey steep roof tops topped by rows of clay chimneys, iron grill-work balconies and geraniums, trees and buses. Everyone has a bed (if you count the couch) and we are loving the sense of "living" in the city, slipping into the quarters of a family who takes July and August vacations elsewhere. Monday evening we bravely set out with our 3-day metro passes and made it to the Eiffel Tower. There we bought tickets to take the stairs to the 1rst and 2nd platforms, calf-burning, panting climbs up the massive steel-girder structure that looks more impressive up close. Great views of the city, and a great way to orient ourselves. And to feel glad we didn't have to stand in the mile-long line for the elevators . . .
We came back via the Seine, boarding a water taxi to cruise through the heart of Paris, the evening breeze cooling us as we drifted by the Louvre, palaces, cathedrals, musicians, artists, hundreds and hundreds of people simply enjoying the setting sun. We were pretty tired and hungry . . and no wonder, though it was barely dusk, it was well after 9 pm. That's what happens when you fly due north 8 hours from the equator, the days suddenly become ridiculously long.
This morning Luke, Scott, and I were up before the rest, and like true Parisians took the net shopping bags from our apartment kitchen and explored the open-air market nearby. We returned laden with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, even a few blackberries, crunchy baguettes, butter and jam, pastries, and coffee to make our own cappuccino. Ahhhhh. . . . a family breakfast to remember. A glimpse of heaven, which even in the Bible usually involves food . . .
Our goal for Tuesday was to see Notre Dame, which in July is nearly an all-day endeavor. We waited in the mid-day sun for almost two hours to gain entrance to climb the 400 stairs of the towers, for up-close views of chimeras and gargoyles, the massive bell, the spreading city. Then we wandered through the cathedral, built almost a thousand years ago, and at the time the largest and tallest place of Christian worship in the western world. The gothic grey stone, kingly statues, glowing glass, forest-like arches, majesty and solidity, echo a stately beauty that even thousands of tourists can not fully mar. Our wilt was restored by a 3-course lunch in an auberge off a small alley in the Rive Gauche district, and then I dragged the kids through one more hour of cultural literacy as we breezed through the Impressionism at the Musee d'Orsay, vivid Van Goghs and delicate Monets and sweeping Renoirs.
Paris: ancient, artsy, bustling, delicious, arrogant, tasteful, intellectual, romantic. Every siren evokes a Jason Bourne movie, and we could easily imagine Julia Childs in the morning market, so it is a bit surreal, like walking into the set of a movie or a great book. One more day, and then we resume our America-ward journey.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Graduation, an excruciating beauty

Rift Valley Academy is over a hundred years old. And on the day of graduation, one feels a sense of that century of faithfulness and struggle. Like any high school graduation, there are caps and gowns, smiles and tears. The students process through a crowd of relieved and proud parents. Some wave like royalty (Luke), some look shy, some look stricken by the finality of the day. There are speeches and songs and prayers. There are whoops and yells, and traditions like jumping to touch the wall above the door as you exit (Luke and his partner in line waited for a clear aisle and took a running leap) or giving the chairman of the board a bottle of coke in exchange for the diploma. In Luke's class there were two third-generation-graduates (and here we were thinking that seventeen years was sort of significant . . ). The speaker was the father of one of them, a man who was born to parents who had themselves been born in Africa, and had returned with his wife to serve there for almost two decades. He spoke from, where else, the passages we've been echoing in Joshua: be strong and courageous, don't be squeezed into being just like everyone else in the world, live boldly for the Kingdom, because it is God who goes before you. In short it was a beautiful ceremony, full of respectful backward glances at our heritage and inspiring forward godly vision. RVA is a place where dedicated staff labor year after year to parent kids who are living far from their own parents, to teach them, to prepare them for life. And perhaps the most beautiful thing of all was to see the friendships that had formed in the class of 2010. These are kids from dozens of countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, America . . who look very different from each other, and yet they have a common bond of growing up in love with this continent, in the community of saints, different from their neighbors and their parents. Though Luke only came in 11th grade (technically, he was also there for much of Kindergarten back in late '97 and early '98, but then he had a ten-year gap) he was enfolded into friendships that I hope, and believe, will last for life.
But all this beauty comes at a cost, an excruciating one, as is wont to happen down here on earth. The closer we come to truth, the more deeply the loss of such beauty cuts. One of those paradoxes that plague us in this life. So there are probably few high school graduations that are followed by as sincere and devastating a period of mourning. The very bonds which made the school experience great also make the departure very, very hard. There were many difficult goodbyes, in the parking lot, by the buses, back in Nairobi at the mission guest houses, as people left in taxis for the airport. Letters exchanged. Memories recited, one more time. Many kids leaving high school would probably be heading to college with a quorum of their acquaintances. Many would have a stable community to return to, the chance of running into old friends on a weekend or holiday. Instead these graduates come from remote regions, have parents in many countries, and are going to schools all over the world for university (Japan, Korea, Holland, Australia, Germany...). The goodbyes here seem more final.
And on graduation day, I saw that the pain of moving on is not just related to a good school, or good friends. Because the RVA high school graduates are not just leaving their school and teachers and friends, they are leaving their families and homes. They are leaving Africa. The choir sang "God bless the rains down in Africa" which led at least one of them, and many of us listening, to tears. It is sort of a cheesy 80's song, until you hear it sung by 30 or 40 kids who LOVE AFRICA and are within 12 hours of stepping onto airplanes to leave the very soil on which they have grown their whole lives, some departing for years, some forever. There is something about this place with all its crazy life and raw landscape and glaring need and injustice and hospitality and vastness that draws out the heart.
So graduation day was beautiful and painful all at the same time. We are extremely grateful to God, to the people who encouraged and advised us to send Luke, to dorm parents and coaches, classroom teachers and administrators. We are grateful that our son could learn, and learn to love to learn. Could take AP classes in the middle of Africa, could play varsity soccer and sing and make pottery, could be challenged spiritually and intellectually. Could be launched from a solid foundation to the halls of Yale. But in that thankfulness we also feel his sorrow as he goes.
Life, excruciatingly beautiful.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ma-yi-bu-ye, a witness

"Come back . . " were the words of a song that the RVA choir sang at graduation.  We are still over Africa, but almost ready to watch our little symbolic plane on the computerized map nose its way beyond the Sahara and into the blue patch of Mediterranean.  And as we leave Africa behind, for now, we strain our ears to hear that chorus, mayibuye, come back.

This week has taken a deeper-by-they-day emotional toll, from the massive celebratory goodbye fest, the final airstrip tears, the chaos of post-bomb Kampala-under-threat, the lasts, the travel, the graduation, standing by our kids as they walked away from their best friends, leaving Pat behind who has been with us through more of life than about anyone, and at last pulling the whole family onto the international flight in the dawn this morning.  Our most precious carry-on item is a bag containing two books only:  the ParadoxUganda photo album Joanna had printed from the slideshow dozens of people contributed to, and the memory-book Karen and others on our team put together, letters and photos, from friends in Bundi and beyond.  We carried these with us for 7 days, and finally got the courage to open and read them all on the plane.  An amazing way to part, distance increasing but immersed in the words and images of people who love us.  And yet that level of loss leads to a certain numbness, so we are now six bodies in airplane seats slumped and dozing. There are, no doubt, important messages from God and from Africa that we have yet to hear, that will take some time.

But here is one.

On Tuesday morning, our first post-Bundibugyo day, still in Kampala, I opened to my next chapter in the Bible to read for the day.  Joshua 22.  And these were words to us, I hope:  "You have kept all that Moses commanded you . . you have not left your brethren these many days, up to this day, but have kept charge . . the LORD your God has given rest to your brethren . now therefore return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession on the other side of the Jordan. . .but take care to love God, to walk in all His ways, to hold fast."  At first when I read this, I did not want to hear it.  Go to the other side?  What rest has God given Bundibugyo?  The team we are leaving behind has many, many battles!  But so did the rest of the Israelites when God sent the Eastern Tribes home.  The war was won, though there were battles yet to come.  They had done their part.  It was time to go.

What follows is interesting.  The East-of-the-Jordan tribes set up an altar, which nearly sparks a civil war.  Parting, a longing to be remembered and a desire for a physical assurance of inclusion, which is then misunderstood.  Eventually it is all sorted out, the core Israelites realize that their departing brothers are not leaving God's ways but simply hoping for a symbol of ongoing relationship.  The altar stands, and is named Witness.  A witness between us that the LORD is God.  That we are one, in Him.  

We carry our witness in a World Cup 2010 African market bag, a collection of letters and pictures.  That tell us we are allowed to rest, to cross over for a while.  And, hopefully, that will remind us that our hearts are still united with the World Harvest Bundibugyo team, with Nyahuka Health Center, with Christ School, with the Semliki Presbytery of the PCU, with hundreds of neighbors and kids and colleagues, with the great cloud of witnesses who have served with us for weeks or years, who pray and care.  We testify that though we are crossing, we are still one, and we listen for the song which calls us back.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Full Circles

On Wednesday Scott and I did some tying-up-loose-ends errands in Kampala, like selling our truck and closing out bank and phone accounts.  Not so fun.  But we also had the opportunity to meet a doctor who has been a tremendous help to us in the last couple of years.  Dr. B from Tennessee was on his sixth mission trip to Uganda.  Two years ago he contacted us through our blog just when we realized that our "son" Basiime G. had severe vision loss from a rare case of glaucoma in his early 20's.  Dr. B was able to operate on his worst eye during that trip, and begin him on treatment.  More than just surgical skill he offered pursuit.  He took BG into his care, providing transportation, place to stay in the bewildering world of Kampala.  And this time as he returned, he kept at BG and us until we got them reconnected, which was crucial, since BG's better eye is now also losing significant vision due to the high pressures.  Without intervention BG will be blind.  As an orphan who is fending for himself with our help, 2/3 of the way through university, I shudder to think of how he would manage.  It encourages me that God has orchestrated two lives that would have a miniscule chance of intersection, a successful ophthalmologist and a poverty-bound orphan seven thousand miles apart, for the blessing of both. Pray that the new medication works to arrest the loss of vision, and that BG would see Jesus clearly even as his physical vision dims.  And pray that Dr. B would continue to have the resources, wisdom, and heart to offer care to the people of Uganda.

Since we were meeting at Mengo Hospital, Scott and I walked around Namirembe Guest house where we spent our first night in Uganda 17 years ago.  We glanced in the room where the Herron family had been unable to greet us because they had been sprawled sick on beds.  We stood in the parking spaces where our new LandCruiser and the Leary's were parked after emerging from customs exactly as we arrived, a miracle we appreciate more now than we did then.  Later we said goobyes to the ARA staff, a guesthouse where we've stayed many times over the years, celebrating baby first steps and birthday parties.  The ARA staff took us in when we had nothing after the ADF chased us out of Bundibugyo in 1997, I remember lying in the very same bed shaking with typhoid fever and then trying on used clothes from a bag they collected to donate to us, as well as stuffed animals for the kids.  That's how Julia got bear.  And tonight we're in Nairobi on the way to RVA, staying at Mayfield.  This is where Scott spent his first night in Africa as a college student in 1983.  I'm sure he had no idea that he was embarking upon a lifetime here.  

We are here with Pat, representing all our team and family by coming to Luke's graduation with us.  And tonight, as we sat down to do email, Bill and Stephanie, members of our original "Africa Team" from college, walked in.  They are professors at NEGEST.  Sweet to spend time at the end with those who were with us at the beginning.

So several full circles, geographically and relationally, as we move out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Red Rover, Red Rover....bye, bye...

The Landrover Defender 130 has been our constant companion for almost 10 years. Kenyan law prohibits import of vehicles over 8 years old . . so we are sadly leaving Clifford the Big Red Truck behind. Many family adventures and rescues have occurred in this truck, not to mention some births. Our mechanic in Kampala has always asked us to sell it to him, so a couple of months ago Scott checked if he was serious, and he was. He transferred the money, and today we transfer the car.
Ironically we just found out that the car we thought we were borrowing for 5 months in the State and all our travel . . is actually only available for the first three weeks, and not for any of our longer trips. So we're in a limbo of wheel-less-ness, researching missionary leasing options on line.
Kampala is emerging today, after Monday and Tuesday being eerily empty and quiet here at the ARA, families are trickling back out. The death toll climbed to 77 as three more people succumbed to their injuries. The Ugandans have responded with courage and grace, as one might expect. Archbishop Orombi pointed people to Jesus death on the cross, blood spilled for humanity's rescue, and asked Ugandans to forgo revenge. President Museveni toured the bomb sites and the hospitals. The senseless cruelty seems to have steeled resolve to bring peace in Somalia rather than triggered calls for Uganda to withdraw.
So today we move about town in our truck for the last time, another end of an era, and beginning of a new one.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Angels at War

As we flew out of Bundi, I saw the neat concentric circles of the UPDF barracks that guard Nyahuka, perched on the ridge between us and the border.  We don't think about them much.  A few soldiers are dispatched to the mission at night to guard us, coming and leaving in the darkness, silent unless one greets them.  But the vast majority are down a path that we rarely frequent, on the perimeter, holding it.  

After we left yesterday, our team had a red-letter day from, as Rick Gray used to put it, H-E-double hockey sticks.  Thieves smashed our house lock but did not get in, workers made off with sheets, children tried to steal school supplies from RMS, a friend's friend was assaulted, a vehicle wouldn't start, the attempt to move the internet dish led into technical insurmountable problems, the knowledge that bombs had been detonated in Kampala leant an air of insecurity and isolation, and on and on.  It was not a subtle attack, it was an hour by hour one-thing-after-another attack.

But the team persevered through the day, and ended together, in prayer.  And a bit of laughter.  A holy combination in the face of evil.  And as we pray for them too, now one step removed, still in Uganda but not in the community, I am comforted by the image of those barracks.  Because we are surrounded by the heavenly host of warring angels.  The fact that the thieves got so little, that the victim of the assault escaped, that the stubborn car finally started, that the bomb in the neighborhood where we are staying was defused, all point to a limit to the evil.  This far but no farther.  

The angels are pretty busy in Uganda this week.  Please keep the many devastated families who have been hit by the terrorism in prayer, as well as our team.  Thanks.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Out of Bundibugyo

Faithful to the end, our team in good African tradition "pushed" us to the airstrip. Along with many, many friends. And, according to Bamparana, ALL the boda drivers from Nyahuka, who swarmed there and stood by the plane to say goodbye. There were snaps and hugs, and big circle of prayer, then many tears. Again. For co-workers who are true friends. For kids whom we hate to leave behind. For brave team mates who will face the post-Myhre era, and make it the best yet. For a long era of life that has drawn to this point, a line drawn, sobbing as the little plane doors shut. For we will always be the Myhres from Bundibugyo, paradoxuganda, but the day-to-day existence in all its pain and glory is over. For now. Thanks for journeying with us.

D-Day, part 2 . . What God Showed Me

For weeks we've wondered what God wanted us to say as we left.  The Deuteronomy passage which we shared, Scott at CSB and I at NHC, really seemed to fit.  But we knew that on Sunday we'd be talking again. As it turned out our "speeches", which came at the end of the day, were probably not so important.  As I commented, it took all day to tell what God has done, because He's done so much!  But still, the opportunity to have parting words for a large audience, even a tired one, seemed opportune.  Pat spoke from 2 Corinthians 4 to encourage people to put faith, not in what is seen (us) but in what is not seen (Jesus).  Scott spoke from Revelations 21 to remind everyone that God is making all things new, and that all we had heard about that day was only a small glimpse of a big story.  

I woke up Sunday morning and the first thing that popped into my mind was the Great Commission, from Matthew 28.  I'd like to say that Bible verses always come to mind first thing in the morning but that's not true.  So I took that seriously.  I read the passage and made some notes on a card, and off and on all day I thought about it.  Our other talks had been Moses' last words, these were Jesus'.  He tells His followers that basically, there is still a lot of work to do to bring the Kingdom to the nations, that they must now go and carry on.  That fit with the day, remembering what God hath wrought . . but also exhorting the people of Bundibugyo to take up the joy of teaching, preaching, healing for the world's good and God's glory.  And the commission is framed by two truths:  Jesus is powerful, and Jesus is present (All power has been given . . I am with you always).  By passing through the cross, through death, Jesus was able to assure His listeners that the Victory is sure.  I think traditional African religion reflects much truth, but people need to know that no power of hell or scheme of man can come between them and God, and that God is not a distant or disinterested or neutral force.  Powerful and present.

And I wanted to end with the idea that the testimonies of the day were proof that GOD LOVES BUNDIBUGYO.  Some have written that the crisis of Africa is a crisis of confidence.  So perhaps the greatest gift to give our friends would be point them to God's love for them.  That all this testimony of schools started and students sponsored and diseases survived and churches planted and marriages saved, shows that they are not forgotten.

I did say all that, because it is true.  But as I sat through the day, my perspective changed.  From:  God sent us to Bundibugyo, because God loves Bundibugyo.  To:  God sent us to Bundibugyo, because God loves ME.

What a gift, to have lived a full life in this place of in-your-face reality, of life-and-death drama, of deeper-than-culture friendships.  I love these Rwenzori Mountains and our simple cement-floored home and our semi-farmish life.  I love being right in the medical trenches day by day, hands-on in the struggle.  I love these kids who call us "mom" and "dad" and whose lives have become intertwined with ours.  I love the pass-through-fire-and-water strength of our team community.  

So my last words to Bundibugyo came deeply and immediately from the heart.  Not to be encouraged by what they've seen God do through WHM for them, but to be encouraged by what God did through them for me.

D-Day, described

Though we've been counting down to DEPARTURE, a few hours before we left Bundibugyo there were three tragic bomb blasts in Kampala, killing (as of the count on Monday 4 pm locally) 74 people. So we left Bundibugyo only to land right in the middle of Kampala, a city sobered, with talk of who is responsible and why. One of the two sites was a restaurant frequented by our team, which we had to pass as we did some errands today. Riot police lined the road, but we could see little of any damage inside. But that's the nature of terrorism, killing only a few people terrorizes the rest because it is cowardly, unpredictable, random, final. Our hearts are saddened for Uganda, yet another strike against peace and normality. Our hearts are saddened for African World Cup fans, who were the victims, in a place where TV is not a private in-home affair, gathering to watch the finals and see Africa lifted up in front of the world as hosts. Our hearts are saddened for the family of a young American who was killed, and others injured, here on a short mission trip. Why? No easy answers to that, and none will be given this side of eternity.
In light of this, our Departure-day seems much less important. But it was important to us, and to hundreds of other people, and the reality of the beauty of it should not be overlooked because of nearby evil, which would give evil too much of a victory.
So, the party . . the whole day Sunday was amazing. Church attendance was somewhere between double and quadruple normal. Like Christmas, people decked out in their best, standing room only. I was so happy to see an entire row filled by my Nyahuka Health Center friends who do not normally worship there with us. And to see at least three men from other faiths who would not normally come inside a church. And a politician whose conversation with Pat gave us hope that he's Kingdom-aware. And a couple of people who have fallen away. And a woman who became a Christian early on with us but had not been there in a long time. Musunguzi gave a rousing Gospel plea. A delegation of faithful leaders from Fort Portal drove all the way to Bundi just for the day. We knelt in front of the congregation for prayer. So my first thanks is that the gates of the church were opened more widely, and many were welcomed, and the day was centered on worship.
After church we went down to the tents set up on the CSB pitch. Our committee and team did a wonderful organizing job. Pat could make this her next career. Imagine hundreds of people, sitting in shaded tents, flowers and music. Unlike any Ugandan function ever, we STARTED with food. So everyone lined up to wash hands from cups poured out of jerry cans and then fill plates with mounds of steaming hot food: beef pilau, rice, beans, matoke, cabbage, and beef stew. We sat eating lunch with our fingers, then walked around greeting our guests. Many smiling faces. I was overwhelmed by all three of our med students coming, at great personal effort and cost. And another nurse friend who had gone back to school but came home for the day. We felt very loved.
By 3 the program began. The day was divided into about 6 sections for testimonies of God's goodness and power in the way we've witnessed changes in education, health, Bible translation, church growth, marriage and family life, and individual hearts over the last two decades. And in between each set of testimonies, a choir. Three of our "boys" spoke, including an original goodbye poem.
The good: I think many of us were encouraged to recount, again as God tells HIs people to do, the things God has done. This is a faith-building and community-building exercise of celebration. Many past missionaries were remembered with gratefulness as stories were told of Alan Lee, Dan and Betty Herron, the Learys, the Barts, the Fillyaws, the Grays, the Tabbs, and on and on. The New Testament is 89% complete, and the idea of identity as a people coming from this written language was powerful. Young men who were students, and not always obedient, were called out now as teachers and leaders. The Bible teaching was seen to have spread revival in many denominations. One of the best speeches was given by a nurse whom we later told should run for office, she was so inspiring! Our Member of Parliament, the Hon. Jane, came and joined us. But there were also many widows and orphans, people who don't normally get served.
The great: Alpha Nursery and Primary came in force, and the sight of these 3 to 8 year olds dancing the most traditional of Babwisi dances, the muleddu, set the crowd wild. I loved it because this school is an example of a WHM-indirect effect. By sponsoring the founder (Melen) for a certificate in early childhood education and recruiting a small start-up investment, the school is off and running and self-sustaining in a way few projects are. Plus of course it is our dear friend's work. And many of the students are the children of our friends. Who will one day be our CSB entering class, and much better prepared than the kids we get now. The CSB choir also did an incredibly creative dance/drama, wordless, drums beating, two kids clearly playing Scott and I, with a public health message about clean water and disease. It was fascinating and so unlike the usual, something new.
The not-so-great: It was a LONG day. Though we asked for short testimonies, people came with prepared speeches. And there was too much praise-Scott-Jennifer-Pat, though Scott made clear statements at the beginning and end that it was about GOD not us. I know that the intent was good. Poor Travis did not need one more person to exhort him to take up the challenge of replacing us. Though I have to say that the one speech by Ndyezika showed that he "got" it on Friday . . that Travis and Amy CAN do all that was spoken about and more, because it is not them, but God who works through them. We allowed too many choirs. By the end darkness was creeping in, and more than half the crowd had drifted out the gate. From church at 10:30 a.m. to departure at almost 8 p.m. . . it was quite a marathon.
All in all, though, it was a once-in-a-decade kind of day, of huge effort and huger grace. Amy pointed out a muted rainbow on the mountains towards sunset. For us, maybe, but moreso for them. Hope after sorrow, beauty after loss. At the very end, in the dark, kids dancing on the field, and many, many hugs, and tears.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

D-Day minus 1

Last early morning walks and bike rides: me with Heidi yesterday, Scott with Travis right now, drinking in the cool air, showered by damp grasses shedding dew on the sides of the paths, slipping in treacherous mud, climbing, the dawn loud with weaver birds and complaining roosters, the mountains emerging in outline as the day brightens, taking time to say a few of the things that should be said, but mostly just one last time out in this beauty. Please pray for today. Our official list of guests: 590. Food for: 700. Pray that God would be glorified by a small picture of the Kingdom as choirs from several denominations and schools participate, people from many tribes and religions, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, all come together to acknowledge what He has done. Pray for rain to hold off for one day (unless that would somehow bring God glory!). Pray for us to communicate our thankfulness, commitment, and love in a way that helps people grasp God's care for them. And pray for Pat, the committee, our family, our team to work together well for the next challenging 12 hours. Amen.

Friday, July 09, 2010

D-Day minus 2

Last NHC Staff meeting: We liked Deuteronomy 29-31 so much I did it again. It was very encouraging to me, and to all I think, to articulate what God has done at the hospital, which is why so much of the Bible keeps repeating those stories of God's victory: a pediatric and maternity ward, clinic buildings, operating theatre, lab, staff housing, protected piped water, electricity, cessation of cholera cases, staff growth from 3 to almost 40, one of the first PMTCT programs in the country, a national quality-assurance exercise in which this was rated as a top health center 4 in the country, innovation in nutrition programs, partnerships with UNICEF, NuLife, WFP, a mama-kit program that became a model for Uganda, escalating health-unit-based deliveries, innumerable life-saving blood transfusions, longitudinal preventive care for sickle cell disease, countless mosquito nets delivered, more than a decade in range of rebels but staying safe from attack, staff increasing their qualifications as many have been able to go back to school, and even answered prayers when people ran into walls of corruption. The list went on an on as long-term staff had their say. My favorite, though, was the sense that our staff Bible studies gave people staying power, that the encouragement of sitting together to be fed spiritually and heard communally had value. In the middle section on today's challenge: choose life, we went over the spiritual challenges they face with witchcraft, fear, greed, pressure to do evil, and looked at the way Moses tells the people that they are not powerless, that their choices have consequences, but that the road to life is always open through the return of repentance. And then again, chapter 31, looking ahead. I asked what people fear about the future: the demoralizing effect of trying to treat patients but not having the medicines and supplies that we've provided over the years to fill the gap; the loss of the referral service of connecting patients to help and programs elsewhere in the country, the ever-growing responsibilities with ever-smaller staff (due to study leaves, maternity leaves, no-shows to work, etc.), and lastly just missing each other's counsel, exhortation, CME, Bible study, friendship. Moses points to Joshua, and I did point to Heidi and Travis, to the hope of Jessica coming, to the stepping up that Assusi and Biguye and Costa and Olupah and Rose have done, to the young men in medical school. But the real answer is not to fix our fears by handing them on to the next leaders, but to say that GOD GOES BEFORE YOU. I mostly wanted to leave them with a vision for prayer, for their direct access to the power of God, so that they turn to Him to solve the sorrows and problems of life at a small rural underfunded health center. I think they got it, because as I said my goodbyes, they were encouraging ME that GOD GOES BEFORE ME too.
Last visits from hopeful people: everyone still has one or two problems they'd like Scott to solve. Hard. Keep praying, especially for him. Last yard sale: well, almost the first, though Debbie F did one once. Quite successful actually. Though it has been mentally exhausting to decide what is so worthless or potentially harmful it should be burned, what is nice enough to be presented as a gift to a specific person, what is potentially useful to our team to leave here, what we might want to use in Kenya, what we might save (yes, the doll-house made by Scott's dad and the rocking chair made by my great-uncle are in storage for my grandchildren now), what we need to travel with to America . . . and what we want to purge out but might be useful to someone else. Over the last few weeks we've filled a large side room of the community center with the latter. Team added and subtracted a bit. Then Friday morning we opened, and cleared within 30 minutes (!), ALL the junk. And raised just over 100K shillings ($50) for book shelves in a new library. Not a bad start.
Last day of RMS: Miss Anna put together a brief and sweet commencement, with certificates and a speech and funny awards in honor of Jack and Julia's nine (?!!) years at RMS. And more importantly, made chocolate cake! We are so grateful for, as I put it, the great cloud of witnesses, the many other RMS teachers represented by Anna. We could not have lived here without them. I am grateful.
Last dinner with Melen: darkness falling, then rain falling thunderously, drenching, lightening and thunder, as we dug into hot kahugna and matoke and chicken and sombe, sitting in the building she has constructed in Nyahuka. Melen presented us with a whole bag of gifts, outfits for all, and we hugged and cried and prayed. We will miss each other, greatly. It has been an honor to walk this hard road with her.
And last hairstying session: I am being plaited. That is the term used for hair-braiding. It is a celebratory way of entering this culture and showing I value their sense of beauty . . and also a great slow-down way to spend a day with friends. So for about six hours today I sat on a woven reed mat on the cool floor of Assusi's house while Olupah's house-helper patiently teased out tiny stands of my thick long hair to tame by braiding it into long neat strands. Olupah sat with me with her kids, and we prayed for staff and patients. Assusi joined in the braiding, and we talked and reminisced. At other times I was alone with the hairdresser, and read my Bible and thought. A patient and his grandmother visited, and a young woman whom I paid one years' school fees for many years ago who is now a primary school teacher, just coming to sit with me. Three of the staff little-girls whom I enjoy sat close, watching, for long periods. Except for my scalp being tugged and the floor getting a little hard it was a lovely, African-women-way to spend one of my last days. Only problem is, at 5 pm, Olupah checked in and shook her head, and said "oh, doctor, I don't want to discourage you, but . . " and then I knew that there was no miracle coming, that the six hours invested had brought me 2/3 or 3/4 of the way, but not quite far enough. So tomorrow they're all coming up to my house to finish.
Three roosters, six outfits of clothes, and a pineapple. . . Packing gets trickier by the hour.