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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wrath and Redemption

Tonight the Passover begins, the traditional retelling of the deliverance of the descendants of Abraham from their slavery in Egypt which involved unleavened bread (a bread of affliction, cooked in haste), bitter herbs, recitations and readings, and four cups of wine.  This is a tradition we incorporated into our lives early in our marriage and have loved bringing its richness into the culture of our team communities, particularly last year when we had the entire East Africa field gathered on the coast at sunset to begin our retreat time together.

The cups have always fascinated me, the double-entendre of wine as blood and celebration, as sacrifice and joy, as wrath and redemption.  

In reflecting on the holiday this year, I am deeply thankful that this is not a time to gloss over evil.  This week, dozens of innocent travelers lost their lives standing in line at the airport or rushing to get a subway train in Brussels.  In Bujumbura, grenades and an assassination.  In Kampala, we have followed soberly as our friends from Mundri searched for their missing son, now paying for exhumation of remains in two different mass graves where the unclaimed indigent dead are piled, a fruitless exercise of horror and confusion.  We still don't know what happened to Joseph, but his parents are increasingly convinced he was killed.  From near Bundibugyo, one of the doctors we were able to get sponsorship for training is now back working and writes asking for prayer as tribal-based-fear continues to spark violent murders, he speaks of 17 in the last week (only half the toll of Brussels, but one-thousandth or less of the coverage).  In America, people who should know better foment fear and hate and use phrases like carpet-bomb and water-board to stir up the same emotions that churn South Sudan into a disintegrating war of my-kind-takes-all and your-kind-loses. And all this is just the public and visible evil; the bulky weight of deceit and darkness and abuse and despair remains murkily obscure.

Evil, in short, abounds.  

Which is why we need a holiday, and a God, that weeps. A cup of wrath, because it is NOT ok to distract ourselves from a 22-year-old being murdered, by imagining vapid bunnies.  No, our God takes evil seriously, so seriously that judgement was a bitter cup poured out in flies and boils and darkness and death.  But we also need a God whose wrath is so founded in love that He drinks the cup himself. A cup of wrath becomes a cup of redemption tonight, this weekend, on the cross, in the grave, at the resurrection.  

Jesus began his ministry pouring wine out of pots that held water; he ends pouring blood out of his own wounded side.  The abundance of the first miracle can hardly shadow the abundance of the last, enough to fill all this broken world with redemption.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Terror and Awe

The Pacific ocean thunders with power.  I watch with awe.  Once, a few years ago, I was swimming with our family and even though we were on a beach that was supposed to be safe, I got caught in a frightening undertow.  I struggled and struggled and could not get any closer to shore.  Finally Scott saw me and swam out, and with his strength together we were able to move down the shore and find a place we could come in.  Since then I treat the ocean with respect for it's sheer immensity, energy, force.  Danger.  
This morning we awoke to news of another terrorist attack.  Evil, raw and destructive, lashing out to cause terror.  Bombs and blood and severed limbs and disrupted lives, in Brussels.  
An hour later I was running by the ocean, thinking, praying.  And as I watched the waves, the song which echoed was "waves of mercy, waves of grace, everywhere I look, I see His face . . ".  The tumult of the waves in Biblical poetry is sometimes a metaphor for the chaos of evil but is also used for the mystery of God (Psalm 42:7 and 88:7), God's presence a disruptive power breaking over our life.  
Like Lewis's famous Aslan line, good but not safe, the ocean provides a metaphor of mercy.  Deep, surging, uncontrolled, hiding beauty and sustenance and energy and magnificence, glorious, covering the earth.  It is only when that mercy breaks upon the hard rocky shore of our lives that the waves foam and seem to destroy.  Can we believe, on a day like today, that the crashing wave the splinters upon our rocks is actually a sign of love?  Can we stand in the spray and sense awe, without falling to abject terror?
Today we listen to the news videos looping over and over, smoke and a wailing child.  Evil afoot.  Over two millennia ago, this week also marked the attempt of evil men to slay the innocent.  Jesus faced the same mentality, the fear-inducing men who sought power by crushing the One that threatened their dominance.  He did not give in to terror, but walked with agonizing faith the way of the cross, committing His spirit into the hands of a Love that worked redemption in the very moments of death.
Can we throw ourselves upon the wavs of Mercy, the mystery of God's redeeming work in this world, even when it feels like we are being drowned with sorrow?  Can we look with faith, with awe, and reject terror?
The sting of death has been removed.  We don't control the surging power of God, but we know that the end of the story is goodness, is love, is redemption that no terrorist can overcome.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Half the Moon and All the Love

We're on a two-week Westward trip to spend time with Scott's parents in Half Moon Bay, visiting a few supporters as well.  First stop was Denver, and here we are with friends from college.  Once upon a time we led Inter-Varsity together at UVA.

Next stop Colorado Springs, where our favorite Air Force cadet was able to get 24 hours off.  When Myhres gather, wood-fired pizza follows.

A privilege we treasure (a rare one), taking some of our kids' friends out for lunch.  Officer's Christian Fellowship group after church. 

Sunday afternoon hike around the Garden of the Gods.  

We were thankful to be welcomed by Caleb's literal God-send host family, and by another family who have become soul-friends and supporters over the years and let us crash in on a home concert Sunday evening. And then on to CA, where we arrived just as our brother-in-law Kevin was leaving to speak at a conference and visit his family in Norway.

The highlights of our days here, walks along the coast with Scott's parents, who at 83 and 84 still love to get some exercise and fresh air.  

We usually walk down again for sunset, which Scott can post some much better pictures of . . . 

Though we are just over the hills from San Francisco and Palo Alto, this is a fantastic environment with coastal bluffs, wildflowers, wind and sea.  One morning I saw two coyotes.  Last night we saw dolphins jumping out of the surf just beyond the breakers.

Most days fill with small projects, phone calls/meetings with Serge, watching NCAA basketball with Scott's dad, preparing meals and spending time trying to be an encouraging presence.  But Friday Scott and I took off for a 27 mile bicycle ride climbing 3000 feet up the coastal range, through redwood forests.  Note I stopped taking photos when I was nearly keeling over from the climb, so the happiness is not fully representative.  The route made me thankful for all those people who have preserved California's environment.

Tomorrow, Sunday the 20th, we will speak briefly at the 8:30 and 10:00 am services at HMB's Community United Methodist Church.  If you're in the area we'd love to say thank you.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Staying in touch

Today two swans honked hoarsely as they floated down the river.  A balmy damp Spring front has settled into our valley, and the quiet woods now flutter with cardinals and robins.  Two swallows have started a mudded nest in the eaves of the barn.  My bulbs are poking up here and there where they survived the raids of the groundhog, but unbeknownst to me an entire hillside of daffodils sprung up from owners long past.  Only four of hundreds are blooming, and I don't want to miss their full glory.

But, alas, our little season of settledness draws to a close.  Today we will hit the road again, for almost 3 weeks.  Much of that time will be in California with Scott's parents.  If you are in the Half Moon Bay area we'll hope to see you at the Community United Methodist Church's service on the 20th, or one of their mid-week dinners.  We'll be in Charlotte for Easter with my family, celebrating my mom's 80th birthday a little early.

We are extremely grateful for the last 6 weeks of being mostly stationary.  For lent, for reading, for snow, for Spring, for runs and walks, for meetings and prayer and emails from home.  But the truth of sabbatical is that it is also our visiting time, and our hearts are spread amongst parents and kids and supporters and friends in far places.  So here we go, again.

We continue to send out prayer letters once or twice a month with more specifics, using a service called "mailchimp".  If you thought you were on our list but never seem to see them, check your "promotions folder" or your "spam folder".  If it's still not there, shoot me an email.  We very much value your prayers, and want to stay in touch.

As we go, a few Area updates:
UGANDA:  our team reports that the district is returning to normal after several days of post-election violence that left nearly a dozen people horrifically murdered.  Pray for peace.  And the court case we asked you to pray about (fighting back against an attempt to confiscate our legally purchased garden land for the school) was postponed until April 12.  More time to pray!
KENYA:  pray for transitions, and all the wear and tear that takes on hearts.  Two families have kids graduating from high school followed by home ministry assignments,  one family has just arrived and is studying language.
S SUDAN:  pray for our exiled team in Arua to have vision and God's direction for their uncertain future, to establish friendships with their fellow Moru exiles, to be protected in health.  And keep praying for Joseph to be found alive and intact (Bishop Bismarck's son).
BURUNDI:  pray against the spiritual backlash of attack against our teams there (a flash flood that endangered a few lives, a back problem that is laying leadership low), pray for wisdom to work productively with our church partners in a situation that is politically tenuous.  Pray for encouragement.


On Winning

Winning, in a word, has been the campaign that seems to be appealing to America most.  And rather than bashing the person who keeps repeating it over and over, it seems to be a wake-up call to examine our national ethos, our values.  This is a democracy, after all.  If we elect someone who is a misogynist isolationist bully, then we have to come to terms with that tendency in our own hearts.

I like to win.  Yesterday our two favorite teams both lost.  Duke had a huge lead in the quarterfinals of the ACC basketball tournament that painfully slipped out of their grasp, and in spite of a valiant effort that took them into overtime they were eliminated.  And last Saturday, they lost to UNC at Cameron.  Bleh.  Man U lost to Liverpool.  The Myhres were not happy.

But where is the line between healthy competition, running the race, striving to do our best, feeling the pleasure of God in the gifts we've been given . . . and needing to impose ourselves by force, to have our views dominate and our people at the top? How do we preserve a spirited romp on the playing field, a passionate and fun culture of blue paint and hoarse cheering, while rejecting a dangerous drift into winning-is-all?

First, remembering that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."  Muslims are not our enemies.  Our enemies are fear, hate, greed, oppression, all the things that drive ISIS and are being stirred up to drive our country as well.  So when a candidate is asked about targeting the families of terrorists, against the Geneva conventions, and answers that our laws need to be "expanded", we should ask ourselves, is this what we want?

Second, if we keep in mind that we are in a struggle against things bigger and darker than our suspect neighbors, we will choose the right weapons, beginning with truth, moving with good news that God is big enough to love all of us.  That no human is irredeemable.  That prayer is our first and last resort.

Don't get me wrong, I have a son in the military and I believe that the restraint of evil requires physical strength too.  Police and military are part of life on a broken planet, just like doctors are.  But we who engage in that restraint of evil must do so with a loyalty first and foremost to goodness and love. We must not sell our souls to ensure our victory.  We must not stoop to becoming the bully.

Last week Scott and I were interviewed for the Global Entry system the US has set up for frequent travelers.  We had filled out extensive applications, submitted records and passports, gone to great lengths (and long drives) to fulfill our appointment, paid a large fee.  The uniformed officer behind the desk, however, treated us like suspect criminals.  He asked us repeatedly if we had ever been accused of a crime.  He was belligerent and made no effort to be polite.  When he got to the question of our address, and I tried to explain our situation (permanent address in VA where our official residency is, but most of the last 22 years in East Africa where we work), he blustered that we didn't understand the concept of address and we should have included a Kenyan one (there was no option for two) and now our applications would likely be delayed if they were approved at all.  He was on a power trip, with no interest in us.  It was a tiny taste of authority gone bad. We were, after all, fully within our rights and actually PAYING him to do his job.  He however, perceived that his role gave him the right to bully us.

One small window into a culture of power.  Is this who we want to become?  Swaggering, posturing, self-promoting self-protective people who must force our way over everyone else?  Pray for our country to use this election as a time of looking into the mirror, and realizing that there are values more important than winning.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Golden Birthdays, and prayers for boys

International Women's Day (March 8) is a doubly special day for us, because it is the birthday of Jonah Muhindo, the son born posthumously to Dr. Jonah Kule after he died of Ebola.  Little Jonah has 5 big sisters, the eldest of whom will be entering final exams for graduating from University, and the second of whom is applying to study law, and the third of whom is finishing a nursing degree.  This is a family of strong women, and we salute the courage of Dr. Jonah's wife, our friend Mellen, as she perseveres in raising her children and running a much-needed primary school.  Yes, they have suffered, but 8 years ago tomorrow I remember rushing to the hospital with Mellen and witnessing a small taste of redemption.  Turning 8 on the 8th is a "Golden Birthday" in a year of milestone birthdays in our family (Jack 18, Caleb 21, Grammy 80).  Pray for this young man to grow into the character of his earthy and heavenly fathers, to be curious and genuine and hard-working and diplomatic.  (This darling photo is from his baptism, in the same outfit some of our boys were baptized in, way back when ..  sorry I couldn't come up with an 8-year-old photo!).

One of our other partners, Bishop Bismarck and his wife Rina from Mundri, South Sudan, would also appreciate prayers for their boy.  In the latest round of interminable violence and displacement and hunger, Bishop moved his family from S Sudan to Kampala, Uganda, to wait for safety much as we moved our team to Arua.  While Bishop Bismarck was back in Mundri this past week advocating and holding to account and encouraging, his son Joseph (age 22) went to a cafe Tuesday evening in Kampala and never came home.  Bismarck has flown to Uganda to search for his son, just like Jesus looking for that last lost sheep.  If you've seen movies like Nairobi Half-Life you know that there are a myriad of evil things that can happen to a young person on the streets of a big African city.  Please pray that Joseph would be found.  This family lays down their lives for the flock of God's children in a hard place, and it pains us that they would bear another sorrow.  Here is the picture they posted:

Two families who have thrown their all upon God's Kingdom.  And like most of their Biblical predecessors, their road has been marked by austerity, wilderness, grief as well as family, community, success, and joy.  Would you take a minute tonight to pray for their sons?  That Jonah would grow and thrive and carry on the legacy of his dad.  That Joseph would be found, that whatever others meant for evil God would use to bring about good.

As an international woman myself, I feel that praying for these sons (and my own sons) is well within the spirit of the holiday.  

Wednesday, March 02, 2016


That's some very advanced math I know, but the translation is that tomorrow on March 3rd our baby turns 18.  Jack Thomas Myhre, named as a combination of our mission's founder Jack Miller and my dad John Thomas Aylestock.  He has Jack M's oratory and spiritual depth and willingness to think outside the lines, and Grampy's passion for sports and solid goodness and tinkering with cars and sense of humor and commitment to family.  He began his fetal life in Bundibugyo in the days when war erupted and ended up as a refugee in Kenya at birth, then grew up between those two countries.  And now, tonight, we suddenly find ourselves at the end of a remarkable childhood to have survived, and looking ahead to only God knows what.

Scott and I are oldest kids, so we didn't really know how the youngest gets to be a nearly-adult member of the household with his parents when everyone else leaves, and how great that is.  In the last year of high school, all those football and rugby and basketball games, all those class events, all those Sunday School breakfasts and pizza cookouts filled our hearts.  Then at least being in the same country for his beginning of college has been another gift.

18 has two sides, a celebration of the way that this boy who was all tornado and intensity and creative individuality and tough striving has become the kind of young adult you WANT to spend the day with, the young man whose insights spark and whose strength vectors in the right direction.  But the others side is this:  as of tomorrow, we no longer are parenting children.  That's the way life should be, and the gain far outweighs the nostalgia that pricks at the heart.  But it's a loss too, each year and each kid, leaving behind an era that was beautiful even in it's heartaches.

Yes, that's life, pressing on we acknowledge the ache of what is left behind, but we believe by faith the best is yet to come.