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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Deliver us from Evil

This is an actual picture, not photoshopped, of a dead (?not sure what mechanism) rat on the road near our house.  It was a monster. And it got me thinking.  Bear with me while I digress.

When we pray "deliver us from Evil" (or the Evil One), I think of Evil with a capital E.  War.  Abuse.  Poverty.  Violence.  Hate.  Incurable diseases, ripped ligaments, rape, drought, malaria, car bombs.  Death.  These Evils have been a palpable enemy even in the last week.  Life in Kenya bumps one up against the capital-E Evils of this world.  They are powerful, frightening, and worth fighting against.  I love the fact that I have a job that involves getting out of bed at all hours of the day and night to stand directly against this kind of Evil.  Deliver this baby from death.  Deliver this child from hunger.

But those Evils which are so clearly Evil, are perhaps not the most dangerous.  Perhaps the real evil from which we need deliverance is more subtle.  More small-e.  More insidious, less obvious.  The daily wear and tear of an irritable complaining spirit.  Ambition.  Disappointment.  Bitterness.  Or even more dangerously, the evil which parades as good.  The times my good intentions cause harm, the temptation to take a short-cut to a seemingly good end.  Eugene Peterson's exposition of the Lord's Prayer in Tell it Slant (a fantastic book I am still savoring slowly) reminds us that we are vulnerable, that we too often get it completely wrong.  That we need the Spirit to deliver us.

So back to that rat.  If that monster was hanging out in our kitchen, the Evil would be obvious.  We would immediately react.  

Instead, our house has been infested with some tiny mice.  After a very long LENT of drinking water only . . we turned out wonderful espresso machine back on.  Oh the joy of that buzzing motor, that mounting steam.  The bliss of that first cup.  But our machine kept steaming, and losing water.  So Scott opened it up to investigate, and lo and behold, all those dormant weeks meant a mouse had taken up residence and chewed on the wires.  So that the thermometer was not regulating properly.

If a monster rat was sitting on our espresso machine for six weeks, it would have been killed.  No question of animal rights when it comes to our coffee.  Instead a tiny more subtle animal was left unchecked, gnawing away, small increments of damage that may prove even worse.

Deliver us from Evil, and evil.  From the horrific injustices of this world, and from the insidious creep of selfishness, cynicism, weary discouragement, discontent.  Give us eyes to see the gnawing teeth, and courage to chase both monstrous and micro-rats out of our lives.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Serge, Grace at the Fray

World Harvest Mission has a new name!  While the "World Harvest" label works pretty well in Africa, particularly since we do a good bit of agriculture and nutrition, the label was confusing for most of the rest of the world.  It is a label shared with several other organizations, and sounds a bit harsh and paternalistic if people are the object of the harvesting.  Over the last year our organization has been preparing to make a switch to a name that is more descriptive, poetic, subtle, unique.  A consulting group interviewed many of us and poured over our stories and ministry, and then created a new identity:  Serge, Grace at the Fray.  The serge stitch is used to bind an unraveling edge of fabric, and that is a beautiful picture of the Kingdom work of the people of Jesus in a world that is broken and crumbling.  By grace, we are re-raveling, binding up the broken-hearted, healing and equipping.  Walking into messy places and carefully pulling the pieces back together.  With prayer and courage, participating in Jesus' work to restore and renew.

Check out the logo and a short explanatory video here:
The new website is here:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Behold, I make all things new

This has been a rich Easter season, so thankful to be here with the raw and tangible combination of cross and resurrection.  Sacrifice and New Life.  Blood and Glory.  The way of the cross, apparent defeat, willing laying down of life, working, moving through hard places, grief, loss, effort.  Then the waiting, the uncertainty, the hiddeness of God's work.  Finally the dawn, the surprise, the glimpse of power, the righting of wrong, the healing and hope.

Our celebration started on Thursday night with what has become possibly our family's favorite holiday, Passover.  We use a "Messianic Passover Haggadah" full of Scripture readings and responses as we gather to imitate Jesus' last supper with his closest friends, remembering the deliverance from Egypt, the unleavened bread and bitter herbs, the cups of wine.  As we meditate on these things we listen to music by Michael Card.  Our Kijabe team now includes the Massos as well as Bethany Ferguson and the Maras.  Just like Jesus, we had 13 at the "table" this year.  This is an evening full of concrete, edible, touchable lessons, geared towards the children, warm and deep, with delicious food and fellowship.

Friday shifts gears to a day of worship and fasting.  After early morning hospital rounds we went to the local AIC church service, then back to the hospital.  It is a holiday but both of us were on call, so spent a significant part of the day and night caring for patients.  Plenty of evidence for the world as a broken place in need of miracles.  At one point I was making space in our HDU for a toddler who had been injured in a car accident; his mother had been killed along with six other people, and his father was in surgery.  Then I was called to see a little girl with advanced AIDS whose mother had brought her to be checked but was reluctant for admission.  As a single mother living in one of Kenya's most notorious slums in Nairobi (Kibera) she did not have the funds.  At first I was trying to accommodate her desire to be treated as an outpatient back in Kibera, but then I thought about what would reflect Jesus' work on this day.  This little girl was crying from hunger.  I could not send her home.  I handed her mom some money to buy food and arranged for our Needy Children's Fund to pay for the admission.  Later in the evening our family watched Mel Gibson's "The Passion" which is artistically and Biblically rich, overwhelming, and helps to make the history of Jesus' crucifixion real.

I got back from resuscitating a baby who had a difficult delivery about a quarter to 1 am, then Julia and I joined a small group of missionaries up at RVA from 2am til almost 9am for the Secret Church.  A pastor in Birmingham Alabama with experience ministering in places where Christians are persecuted and come together for intense hours of Bible teaching offers this marathon of teaching and prayer for Americans on Good Friday.  In our time zone the simulcast falls in the middle of the night.  Lots of Scripture and solid instruction; the focus of giving up sleep for something more sustaining, the camaraderie of spending the night with friends.

Saturday, an interim day, between the intensity of Friday and the celebration of Sunday.  Rest, preparation, cooking, anticipating.

Then Sunday, the day when history shifts, the inevitable decay to chaos turns back towards renewal, beauty, life.

We arose with the first hint of daylight, to read the story of the resurrection and have breakfast outside as the clouds turned pink.  After a long Lent of drinking only water, our first cup of coffee was a bit of a taste of resurrection, and I made pain au chocolate for the first time, quite a treat. Then up to RVA for their 7 am Easter Sunrise service, a good sermon and fellowship as the sun peaked over
the ridge.  Then over to the Kenyan church for their Easter service, familiar hymns, beautiful music.  And then home to cook up a feast to share with friends, gathering in another dozen or so guests to join our family, visiting residents, a new Rwandan/Burundian family, team, friends.

And so we live the Good Friday and Easter Sunday, both this weekend and throughout our weeks.  And we get foretastes of resurrection over and over.  This week I returned (after our sojourn in Uganda/Rwanda/Burundi) to find some of my sickest patients, kids I had struggled to keep alive, improving and going home:

Baby H has spina bifida and other problems.  The general consensus was that he would not survive an ICU admission.  But when I talked to his mom, and prayed, we decided he deserved a chance to overcome his pneumonia.  So glad we did!

Sweet little M came to us almost two months ago with a rapidly progressive paralysis due to Guillan-Barre syndrome.  She spent a month on a ventilator, unable to move or breathe, the tube entering a tracheostomy.  Now she can sit, move a little, and SMILE.  While she has a long way to go until she's running again, we are very encouraged by her recovery, and her mom is now able to care for her at home.

And R, a teenager who came to us severely wasted, with intractable fevers and lung disease.  We reviewed his records and treated him for every infection known to man, investigated for cancer.  His heart nearly gave out, he developed blood clots, we thought he would die.  Thanks to consults-by-email, prayer, trial-and-error, we finally decided to try stopping all his anti-infective medications and treat him as a patient with auto-immune disease.  And finally, he improved, and went home for Easter.
This weekend another little girl who was having a stroke from sickle-cell-anemia got a complicated all-night partial exchange transfusion, and the next morning I found her smiling and able to talk and eat.  A baby with severe lung damage from inhaling meconium who was not improving with maximal ICU care (I prayed with his weeping mother at 2 am, asking for a miracle without much faith or hope) . . . suddenly improved, oxygen levels climbing from the 30's to 100%, and looks like a survivor.  

These are the stories that keep us plugging on, the places where the all-things-new power of Jesus reaches down into real life.  Long nights, lots of cooking, house full of friends, work, and worship, the fabric of daily life, suddenly shimmers with glory.  He is risen indeed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Broken for you

This is the week we remember the way of the cross.  Redemption carries with it a physicality that we are told not to forget, not to over-spiritualize or gloss over.  The body flogged and pierced, the blood poured, with a purpose of sustenance and salvation for others.  For us.

On Sunday night we returned from a 17-day odyssey.  And Monday morning we plunged right back into the world of sick patients, inadequate resources, tragedies and small victories and hard work.  And it strikes me that those days of travel (and these days of early mornings and late nights) are a physical journey that jolts and drains and breaks, because the way of the cross is not something that only occurs on the level of thoughts or beliefs.  So we trust that even in the simple concrete act of spending our energy on the road, God brings His redemption to others.

So here are a smattering of physical facts, numbers that give a glimpse of an epic trip we are very grateful to have made.  Because redemption comes, through the lives poured out in this place, and it is our privilege to support that process as Area Directors for our mission.

  • 3631 kilometers of East African roadway.  83 hours in the Landrover.  

  • 21 relatively intense conversations leading to prayer, as we met with individuals and couples along the way to listen (mostly) and counsel (occasionally) and pray (always).   Beautiful glimpses into lives, opened to us by nature of being older now, or just because we were temporarily there, or our job now gives us the inroad to ask questions.

  • 6 border crossings, well 7 if you count walking over the new bridge over the Lamia river from Bundibugyo into Congo.  Each one bristling with the tension of officialdom, the uncertainty of procedures, filling out forms, stamping passports, questions, hawkers, backlogs of trucks.  Rwanda/Burundi at two different crossings were by far the most organized, clean, straightforward.  And the last crossing from Uganda back to Kenya the worst, a long line from a bus of people, Maasai in blankets from Tanzania uncertain with the forms, dingy and dark, then the officials motioning me back into their office and fishing for a bribe claiming our kids' immigration stamps were expired.  They weren't, I waited patiently explaining over and over, and finally they decided to clear us through.  Not fun.

  • 6 days of teaching, 3 in Uganda and 3 in Burundi, based on a wonderful little article by Henri Nouwen called "From Solitude to Community to Minsitry".  We used the image of a tree, which must be rooted in personal quiet and meeting with God, supported by the strong trunk of community built through forgiveness and celebration, in order to produce the fruit of ministry, with an emphasis on suffering that bears goodness for others.  In Uganda we pulled the Bundibugyo and Fort Portal team(s) out for a retreat and added material on understanding culture; in Burundi we blended into the new team's life on site. (This tree at sunset in Fort Portal looking west to the Rwenzoris).
  • 12 follow-ups of kids we sponsor in school, most of whom we have been surrogate foster-parents to since they were small, daily at our house, supervising their play and leading them in Bible study and providing for their needs.  Now they are young men (and one young woman), moving out in the world.  We stopped at schools, met for meals, visited homes.  They are a huge part of what keeps our hearts grounded here.

  • 20 years of remembrance, we crossed into Rwanda on the anniversary of the genocide.  Memories of listening to the radio as we heard the horror unfold only a couple hundred kilometers south of us back in 1994.  The immense privilege of staying with a Rwandan family (friend of Jack's through RVA) and hearing the mother spend a couple of hours unfolding her story of fear, escape, grief, loss, return, and the slow deliberate process of forgiveness and redemption.  In the end she went back to the village of people who killed her father and started a program to help the children develop.  Though her testimony convicted the ringleader responsible for her dad's death to jail, she now pays the school fees for his killer's children.  The Rwandan people are truly remarkable in walking through the worst and struggling to heal.

  • 5 hospital visits.  Yes, we love seeing hospital work in other countries.  Bundibugyo hosptial, with Dr. Jonah's grave.  Nyahuka health center, greeting old friends and mourning the struggle against corruption and apathy.  Kibuye hospital where our team has begun the heroic effort to upgrade, to teach, to equip. Hope Africa University and hospital where our Bujumbura team has begun to teach in the medical school.  And Kibogora hospital in Rwanda visiting our friends the Bergs, a surprisingly pleasant and well-equipped small place being stretched to grow and serve.

  • 2 days in Bundibugyo, too short for reunions with old friends.  Scott spoke to the CSB students (alive with worship, and as orderly and respectful as we have ever seen them) and to the staff, we visited and greeted and walked and prayed and rejoiced to be home. We are thankful for the hospitality of Isingoma and Christine who hosted us there.

  • 3 nights just-for-fun-and-memories along the way, stopovers at places we have often stayed, waypoints on the journey.  The green cabin at Sunrise Acres, an missionary-retreat farm in western Kenya, where we often broke the 23-hour journey from Bundibugyo to RVA when Luke and Caleb were boarding students.  Camping at campsite 2 in Queen Elizabeth National park (no lions this time, rain and peace and elephants along the way).  And our final night at the Kingfisher in Jinja.  

  • 5 Great Lakes:  Albert, Edward, Kivu, Tangyanika, and Victoria.  This region of Africa is known as the Great Lakes Region and we saw/stayed by/ate fish from all five.

  • TNTC, that's medicalese for too numerous to count:  moments of grace.  Our safety on the road, the beauty of connecting with people whom we love, the pouring out of teaching and prayer, the spectacular beauty of East Africa.  And then the unexpected wave of grief in leaving all over again, the deep ache of loss that is part of the way of the cross for us that led from our 17 years in Uganda to now over 3 here in Kenya.  A few last scenes along the way to say goodbye.