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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Participating in Resurrection: Bring the Fish

Easter is more than a day, it is a season of the church calendar, an epoch of history. Yesterday's reading came from John 21, where the perhaps bewildered disciples have returned to their previous occupation as fisherman. They've had glimpses of Jesus, but life has radically changed. Rather than the thrill and intensity of daily movement through the crowds, they have scattered without a clear plan for ongoing mission, without a clear assurance of when they would next encounter him. Sort of like all of us, now. Naturally they return to fishing, but they're having a fruitless night on the water, empty nets. Very much like us. As the sky fades into the grey of dawn, they see a man cooking on the shore, who calls and tells them to throw the net out one more time over the starboard side. This time they haul in a shockingly abundant and specific 153 large fish, and as they haul and laugh it occurs to them, this is Jesus. Who then tells them, "Bring some of those fish you have just caught."

Did he need more fish? He already had fish and bread roasting over the charcoal. But just as he told the crowd to move the stone and unwrap the embalming cloths upon raising Lazarus, Jesus asks for participation in the meal.  Bring your fish. Bring your livelihood. Contribute your skills. What you do matters. 

Surely, God could shake up the corrupt governments, could strike down the suicide bomb planners, could heal all the malarious fevers, could open the water pipes and purify food supplies. God could personally appear, in dreams and visions, to every household. And yet, Jesus says, bring the fish. Go out and use your skills, your training, your passions, for the nourishing good of yourselves and this world. Join with me in reaching all people, renewing all believers, restoring all things.

So here we are, spending some days in futility, some nights feeling our powerlessness, empty nets and unclear futures. Yet Jesus appears in the morning fog, and invites us to participate in the resurrection he is accomplishing. That means showing up at the hospital where on Thursday there were 96 patients on the ward designed for 25 beds. Slogging through, bending, stooping, laying on hands and probing, questioning, checking meds and pulses, making plans, identifying the handful who are critical. That meant Dr. Marc yesterday seeking out a child with a femur fracture we had seen earlier in the week: this 4 year old was hit by a soldier on a speeding boda, then when we sent her to the operating theatre to reduce and cast the broken leg under anesthesia, the staff had refused care due to the inability of the family to come up with a $50 bribe (probably a month's income for them). The family had taken this child in pain home to languish, until Marc found her and brought her back and did it all himself. That means paying for a professional auditing team to come and scrutinize our books, for World Harvest Uganda and for Christ School Bundibugyo, to be sure we are practicing good accountability and using our resources as intended, with transparency. That means preparing for new team and honoring departing apprentices. That means praying for justice. That means meetings, hours, intention, care for our team leaders around the Area, for our partners here, discussing vision and strategy and spiritual health and resources for coping. That means inviting teachers into our home for fellowship, or our grown-foster-kids over to our house for an Easter feast, building community and trust. That means planning with some of them for ongoing further education, or rejoicing with others as they complete. That means inspecting the farms the mission owns, working to make them bless others.  That means advocating for the education of our mission kids.  All of those activities have occurred this week. All of those are ways we bring our fish. Enjoy some photos below that demonstrate glimpses of participation in God's reaching, renewing, restoring work.

Easter Sunday afternoon grill-out and feast. L to R, newly minted business man, CPA, electrician, teacher, lab technician, agricultural manager, and librarian, who were once primary school kids playing in our yard. Relaxing with family and food made us feel more at home than anything else could.  Grateful.

Bundi team selfie as we said goodbye to Mary Kendall, who has served for 18 months as a nutrition apprentice.

Paeds ward, where in spite of chaotic numbers and limited resources most kids do actually get better. So much malaria with rainy season, but artesunate and blood transfusions have been life saving.

Christ School quad in the quiet of end-of-term exams, students within are consolidating the first term's knowledge before going home for their month break in the coming week.

The vision and mission: changing hearts and building competence so we send out servant-leaders into this district.

Farm tour inspection

Boda (motorcycle trauma)--can you spot the broken leg? And would you let that child go home untreated??

More boda trauma--this little girl was knocked in the head because the driver had a wide box of bread he was selling on the back, and misjudged his clearance. Possible skull fracture.

The accountants giving a preliminary report, mostly about how much we've improved!  Yeah! These are the unsung heroes of development. Watching the money flows brings justice to the poor.

This dorm was packing up, but we wanted you to see the new metal beds, safer (fire) and stronger than the old wooden ones. We and the boys who live in this dorm are truly grateful for the generosity that allowed 136 double bunks to be constructed, transported, and placed at Christ School.

Another day on the ward, running out of even floor space.

And more kids, sickle cell, malnutrition, pneumonia, burns, abscesses, trauma, malaria and more malaria.

Final pizza party with Mary and Anna, two apprentices who complete in May.

This week's group of CSB teacher families, really enjoyed their testimonies, hopes and dreams, prayer requests, commitment to educating students.  These people are the KEY to transformation.

Me enjoying my grandmother status; these kids are being raised with love by parents whose hearts have been grabbed by Jesus.

Reward for scrolling to the bottom--Wedding invite from Luke and Abby (they did small personal ones for each family member), as we prepare to return to the USA in May and June for Jack's graduation, Acacia's graduation, Krister's graduation, Luke's wedding, two reunions, thanking a handful of supporters, and spending time with our moms.

That's what this week looked like. Thanks for praying, and keep bringing your own fish.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Lost Week and Holy Week

Somewhere in the last week or so, before we got sick, all my devotions seemed to bring up the verses about rivers of life. Ezekiel 47 prefigures Revelation 22. The spring of the water of life,  trees with leaves for healing of the nations, come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, without money and without price. A picture of abundance, of flow, of replenishment, of sustenance and cleansing and provision. Fearful people live in a zero-sum nightmare, clinging to our own needs and convinced that anyone else's gains come as my loss. Frankly that's easy to believe when you're stretched and weary.  So the verses where the stream grows and becomes a river, spilling out, sound like good news indeed.

Then we started literally bodily flowing out, and it all seemed a lot less poetic. 

However, on the other side of that now, there is a truth to the mystery. We didn't shrivel up to nothing, we were restored, we did drink from the river of mercy and find healing, and that replenished life is now flowing outward in healthier ways once again.

While we were down, life went on.

  • First, the CSB Land Case reached an important court date, only the magistrate (judge) had a last minute conflict, the lawyer turned around and never came from Fort Portal, and our team mate Marc along with John who were filling in for us ended up having to drive all OUR witnesses to Fort Portal to sign statements. 
  • Second, Mary Kendall, Madame Illuminate and Pamela and Suzan, with help from Jessie Shickel and lots of others, led the CSB girls to the district title in football. Trophy and all. They head to regionals tomorrow.  
  • Third, our CSB debate team returned victorious from a Rwenzori regional meet.  We didn't even know there WAS a debate team, but evidently it was subsidized by another NGO a few years ago and some of the kids and teachers caught the vision and kept going.  We won first runner-up and one of our kids won top speaker! In DEBATE. This pretty much pumps up the whole district.  We aren't used to winning.  
  • Fourth, Marc plugged along in the hospital with over 80 patients and 1 or 2 staff on the "25 bed" ward. It's malaria season. 
  • Fifthly, Scott drug himself out of bed to keep a promise to the CSB staff to report on the results of a teacher survey he worked on using a SWOT analysis. He thought it would take 30-45 minutes. The teachers talked for 3-4 hours. That's good news that they are engaged. They have concerns and ideas, and they feel welcome and heard. Keep praying for that! The staff are the most important key to the success of the school, and therefore the transformation of Bundibugyo.
  • Lastly, on Friday evening in the first hour I finally felt alive, we had a meeting to plan our mission school for Fall 2019 with no sure teacher plan (STILL RECRUITING!!!! Are you a teacher who would like to bless 7 kids who need you, and thereby enable health care and education ministry in one of the neediest spots on eartth??) and then led team meeting in prayer for our Area. We are truly living on the edge here.
Then Saturday we packed a small bag, got in the car (I literally sat on the seat and cried because the effort of picking up my little bag and walking to the car was almost beyond me) and drove 7-8 hours to Kampala, so we'd have a rest day Sunday before facing three days planned for bureaucracy.  Thankfully we got rooms in a lovely place that is conveniently located, we felt better by the hour, eating and resting. Because switching countries is no joke.
Kampala view from balcony

This week we started working on a 2-year entry-permit for Uganda. Step one means a morning at a Uganda police station designated as the Interpol intake spot, to apply for a background-check certificate of good conduct.  In an obscure 9-step process which takes about 2 hours and involves lines that look like scrums, payments with receipts for things like "office chai", copying everything in duplicate, writing our name and details in lined books, and finally having our fingers rolled in ink and pushed onto a finger-print document, one sends out one's identity to confirm we aren't wanted criminals.  
The police station, trekking between buildings for various steps, thankful for team tips on what to do!

Uganda Revenue Authority, our second trip so at least we knew the right office this time.

Then because our car is licensed in Kenya, we had to extend its permit in Uganda. And because the person who stamped our passport with our East Africa pass when we last came over the border from Rwanda into Uganda only gave us a month, and we are not leaving again until 6 weeks are up, we needed two more weeks on our interstate pass. This meant going to Immigration, where we found hundreds of Ugandans in interminable queues for passports, hot sun, unmarked windows, unlabeled offices, and finally landed sitting like disciplined school children in front of the Boss's desk.  She was methodically stamping a stack of Chinese passports but managed to upbraid and castigate us harshly for about fifteen minutes, heaping shame.  Why did we need more than a month to visit friends? Why weren't we back at work in Kenya? Why did we think we could get extra time? We should just leave. We should get in our car and go back to Kenya now. On and on she went. We kept politely explaining that we would do just that, but we left all our things in Bundibugyo 8 hours in the wrong direction. Could we celebrate Easter with our friends? What did she want us to do? Either she got tired of us just sitting there and not leaving as she suggested, or the Spirit moved her heart, but finally with much hostility and distaste she stamped our passports.  Hooray until May. Which allowed us to then go to the phone centers and extend our cell phone service another two weeks, since Uganda tightly regulates cell phones

traffic in Kampala, not for the feint of heart
We never did understand the new parking system but hopefully the dollar this attendant asked for kept us in the clear, as she keyed unknown things into her device. And we resisted the watermelon man given our recent issues . . . 

It's complicated to live as an immigrant. 

As I read about immigration and America, I have to say, my perspective is different.  We felt humiliated and desperate in that office. We had no power. We tried to do everything right, but sometimes a stamp is misplaced or a date miswritten. It's hard to invest your life in a place you have no actual right to be, dependent upon shifting sands of politics to allow you to stay. It's hard to have to keep up with so many rules, in several countries at once. 

Which brings us back to the rivers of water, the healing, the abundance. This is Holy Week, the week we re-enact the final days of Jesus' life on earth. Jesus was the ultimate alien and stranger, no place to lay his head, not of this world fully. And Jesus looked at those who were ridiculing his soul and piercing his body, and said, Father forgive them, they don't know what they do.  As one would say if one's children were blowing it, even if they were causing a big problem, we wouldn't want them to get punished harshly. As one would say if keeping one's eyes on the limitless river of life flowing up and not blinded by need to elbow others away from one's trickle of survival.

Praying for all of us to grasp truth this week, to jump in the river and drink deeply.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Suffering Lab Work

Scott was asked to do an afternoon seminar for the Serge Apprentices on the topic of suffering. Probably not anyone's favorite, but one that the church neglects to our peril. The world is broken, horrible things happen, and if we don't have a framework to bring faith into reality, people are left bitter or disillusioned.  I just read The Girl Who Smiled Beads, a true story of a Rwandan genocide survivor, and while the book was gripping, articulate, honest, worth reading . . . it also made me very sad. The author really had no one in her life to help her deal with the trauma she experienced at a young age, and no one to make sense of good and evil, and she is still grappling to find her identity and peace. Silence, she writes, does not help. The church can lead in practicing what Michael Card calls "the lost language of lament" in his book Sacred Sorrow.  Scott shared the story of our friend Jonah's death, talked about the path of the cross, the nearness of God in our sorrows, read some passages that have been meaningful to us, asked challenging questions, and ended with having the group each write their own laments.

Then we had dinner together, including a cabbage salad that turned out to be laden with dysentery-causing bacteria.  Within 8 hours some of us were violently ill, and by 12 hours almost everyone who had touched the salad (6 team mates out of 7) was pouring out both ends shall we say, shaking with chills, spiking fevers.  That was 3 days ago, and we are only just beginning to be able to sit up and spend three consecutive hours out of the bathroom.

We promise, this was not the plan for a post-lecture practical lab on suffering.

One of Scott's questions in his seminar was, do you think that all suffering is potentially sanctifying? I think we all said yes, but I confess that most of the last three days I've been discouraged, wiped out, seeing only the pain and not the glory.  Being drained physically makes everything look more bleak--the lack of electricity say, or the parts of the culture that we find hard. So I thought about the question lying in my bed. Is this just random evil, or is God still at work?

We're all going to recover.  Some work will never get done that was supposed to happen . . . . but even dysentery x 6 is minor in the scheme of suffering that surrounds us.  But if your theology doesn't apply when you're up every 30 minutes in the middle of the night, then it's not going to apply when you're with the next dying child. The world is disordered and pathogens spread and harm our bodies. This is wrong. But God has taken the very effects of the Fall, ultimately death, and turned death into the means of redemption. We have to hold onto both truths: dysentery stinks, but God can mysteriously bring some good in our bodies and souls.  If you only say "dysentery stinks", then the world becomes a broken desert of horrors that we try to avoid, and complain about.  If you only say "God is good and unfathomable" then the sufferer feels unseen and unimportant.  We have to proclaim both.

That's why lament is spiritual, and healthy.  I am sad that we all had 3 days of our lives pretty much erased. That we spent hours in pain. That we caused more work to fall on others (so thankful for the few left standing who were gracious!). That so many people in this place suffer from lack of hygiene. And at the same time, we turn those cares to God and acknowledge God is even more broken by suffering than we are, so much so that he came to earth to suffer with and for us and break the hold of evil forever.

Easter is inching closer.  

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Bundibugyo-origin wonders, or, where does chocolate come from?

fermenting cocoa beans
When we moved to Uganda in 1993, this district's main cash crop was coffee, and one of our team's goals was to enable fair trade for the small scale coffee farmers by a co-op transport to more central markets, freeing them from the vagaries of beholdeness to middle men. That plan ended tragically in a fatal accident involving the transport truck, soon followed by war disrupting all trade in the area, soon followed by a coffee blight disease that wiped out most of the crop. The silver lining in all that sorrow: Bundibugyo switched wholesale from coffee to cocoa.  Over the last 20 years, much of the agricultural land in this valley has been planted in cocoa trees. It turns out that we are in the sweet spot for chocolate: within 10 degrees of the equator, in a tropical rainforest, humid, low elevation.

Cocoa grows on trees, trees that were indigenous to central and south America but now dominate in West Africa and the South Pacific.  East Africa with its high dry savannas has relatively little cocoa production. But it turns out that the very climate that kills Bundibugyo with malaria and sickle cell disease makes us perfect for chocolate.  You can see the green oblong cocoa pods angling out from the tree trunk above. This is the fruit of the tree, which is picked and split open to remove the beans or seeds, surrounded by a white pulp.
the pods left after removing all the pulpy beans
And here is where Semuliki Forest Chocolate, produced by Latitude Trade Company, comes in. This is a new fair-trade cocoa export company that has moved into Bundibugyo. For nearly two decades, farmers have been harvesting their beans, drying them on tarps on the ground, and selling them to large-scale exporters. Jeff, Justine, and Max met working on fair-trade cotton in Kitgum. Two of them are American entrepreneurs and one is a Ugandan agriculturalist. They want to provide consistent fair prices, right at the peripheral small-scale farm, to produce a higher quality single-origin chocolate.

the normal trade, not Latitude

Justine offered to show us around the Latitude site, and so Stephanie Carrigan planned an RMS field trip and invited interested team to tag along Friday morning.  We drove up to Bundibugyo town where the fermenting and drying plant has been established.
Latitude buys from farmers around the district four times a month, though in most places harvesting cocoa is only permitted on set days twice a month. This is to make it more difficult to steal the cocoa off the trees . . yes, in a desperately poor area, a cash crop can be pulled right off the trees at night or when no one is watching, so the government and community decided to limit harvest to the 14th and 29th of the month (Latitude has negotiated 7th and 21rst in some areas as well). This also lessens the days kids miss school to help. Unlike the larger companies based in Kampala, Latitude buys the wet beans fresh on the day of picking, pulp and all.  On those days, they send trucks to various collection points and pay farmers cash on the spot.

The beans are heaped into two-compartment wooden boxes, packed down tight and tucked in with banana leaves and burlap. Natural yeasts in the air begin the fermentation process, which continues with naturally occurring bacteria.  About every day or two for a week, the beans are moved from one side of the box to the other to aerate them. The mass becomes hot as fermentation progresses, creating an acidic environment that chemically matures the beans. 

When Max determines the fermentation is complete, the beans are moved to long screen-based tables under transparent tarps. Bundibugyo sun provides plenty of heat for the drying process, which continues for another week.

The beans are raked and turned, moved from one rack to another, sorted to remove debris. Besides the many farmers who grow and sell the cocoa, a dozen or so people are employed to do this hefting and spreading of the cocoa beans.
At last, about two weeks post-harvest, the beans are poured into burlap bags where they sit another week or two in a warehouse breathing or settling or something that evens the flavors. The final step involves sealing them in green plastic bags and then putting the sealed pack into another burlap bag with the Semuliki Forest label. Here they will wait to be transported to Kampala, loaded into a container that goes to Mombasa, to a ship, to Amsterdam, to the world.

Legend on our team is that the first missionary from our organization to move here (who lived in tents with his family until housing was built) did not allow the team to bring chocolate bars here, lest they inadvertently corrupt the culture with outside ways. Now this district is a producer of chocolate. Ironies abound . . though most people who farm cocoa have still never tasted the final product. Getting a chocolate bar out of dried beans is no small task.  Latitude produces some on a relatively small scale in Kampala, sort of a side business to promote their major income generation from exporting the beans. Actual bean-to-bar processes involve a need for continuous electricity, roasting, milling, mixing, pressure, ingredients, refrigeration . . things that would be difficult here.
Still, many years ago a certain missionary kid did a "Bean to Bar" science project and basically did this entire growing/picking/fermenting/drying/roasting/hulling/milling/mixing process from his own tree to a taste of chocolate right here in our home. We have long dreamed of a fairer trade, justice for Bundibugyo.  Is Latitude the answer? Maybe it's a start. 

Single-origin chocolate can sound like a stuffy millennial gimmick, a way to make more profit. Fair-trade, on the other hand, can sound like a generous and sacrificial redress of wrongs, an attempt to primarily benefit poor people across the world.  The truth lies somewhere in between. Being a consumer that is willing to pay $8 or $10 instead of $1.50 for a really nice bar of chocolate from a specific region where real people farm sustainably . . well, that's a good thing.  It transfers some value to the point of origin, it reminds us all that quality costs, and it encourages small tastes and enjoyment rather than mass consumption. It also discourages the kind of massive forest-destroying single-crop conglomerate-agribusiness whose economy of scale sacrifices sustainability and quality for cheap prices and huge sales.  However, it does not automatically turn Bundibugyo into paradise. The prices paid to the farmers are still low; they still see only a tiny fraction of that profit. Fair-trade businesses have a bottom line of making money, not social welfare, though of course they believe they are doing both. Cocoa production has displaced food production in the district, turning us into a net importer of food. Cash for school fees benefits children; lack of kitchen gardens however exacerbates a chronic problem with malnutrition. The cocoa profits can bring life, or can fuel evil. In short it's a complex equation with potential for good, but the good comes in a mixed bag. 

Cocoa is here to stay. Latitude Trade Company chocolate is really really delicious, it has an earthy nutty flavor of the land from which it grows. You can look for "Semuliki Forest Chocolate" in other brands, since 90% of the beans ship to Europe, America, or Asia to artisanal chocolatiers. And there is a South African company doing a similar single-origin bar. And if you really LOVE chocolate, agriculture, justice, and Bundibugyo, maybe you should move here with Serge! We would love to be advocates for the farmers, balancing the profit-motivated companies with the hunger-motivated kids.

Between the lines: the ins and outs of normal days

In between the postable photos of football drama; most of life happens.

Medicine: though Scott has graciously stepped away from direct medical care for a few months to focus on Christ School, I (Jennifer) still try to keep a part-time finger in our primary profession. Since  arriving in Bundibugyo in January  I've been trying to spend two days a week rounding on the Paediatric Ward at Bundibugyo Hospital. Picture 40-75 patients with parents/siblings/attendants in metal beds and strewn on mats and mattresses across the floor, a pile of worn books or charts in no particular order, best case scenario so far two nurses one of whom might round with me while the other sits in a side room and waits for patients to come and ask for their medication, no vital signs, no assessment by anyone other than the admitting clinical officer or me/Marc on rounds, no charting beyond a check mark which may or may not be done when a medicine is given. And yet also picture the resilience of the staff and the parents, the will to plow through, to put in lines, to give some of the medicine . . . in fact most do get better and go home. We are a malarial jungle, an epicenter of sickle cell disease, an incubator of goop, an outbreak multiplier of measles, a no-rules safety nightmare of motorcycle taxi accidents and children stumbling into boiling pots and open fires, a low-protein culture where malnutrition stalks. On a good day I can feel some sense of purpose when I find the boy with an acute abdomen and send him for surgery, or the infant with hypoxic saturations and connect to oxygen, or the child with dissolving blood cells who never got their malaria meds and can be saved with that and a transfusion. This week I actually got a gastric aspirate and got the lab to run it and we diagnosed our sickest mystery patient with disseminated TB. To find that handful requires hours of sifting through the entire messy press of humanity. Dr. Marc and Dr. Ammon are gems; they work hard and have good ideas. Alisha, Jessie, Bahati and Clovis provide invaluable support with nutrition. But this system is infuriatingly dysfunctional and we all need fresh infusions of prayer, grace, stamina, direction to nudge it towards a path of healing.
This boy had an acute abdomen, and after begging the theatre staff to take him without an extra side-payment (!!) . . his life was saved when they found a perforated cecum. 

Our very own Ndyezika, back in the lab on a break from his upgrade-qualifications course

Malnourished twins and their smiley sister; after several weeks they put on about 25% increase in body weight and went home!

Administration: If you're following the tragedy in Mozambique, a group of citizens appealed to the international community and said, send us an accountant with every group of disaster-relief aid workers. The point was that for money to do its work for the poor, instead of lining the pockets of the powerful, a strong system of transparent accounts is essential.  We are super-thankful for John in our World-Harvest-Uganda office, and Michael the bursar of Christ School. But administration is a huge burden on us. Scott spent hours and days on the budget and now we are both trying to understand flows of money in and out. We're going to court next week for the next step in a land dispute case. We have a long list of administrative tasks undone related to permits, car, immigration, licensing.  The NGO established here has become more and more tedious to run.
this is what our lawyer's desk looks like, he's behind that wall of files as we discuss the case. Pray for us on Tuesday the 10th as the plaintiff makes their case against us.

Leadership: modeling and mentoring, working with staff, developing relationships, having meetings. Our goal is to NOT BE the leaders but to empower the leaders, which we can use prayer for! That applies to this Bundibugyo team, as well as Christ School, the hospital, everything we do . .

Relationships: Related to the above, but recognizing that we have a lot of life and history here, and not nearly enough time and energy to give the attention to each that we would like. Still, we try to have meals or reach out, to invite, to listen, to affirm.
Moments like this make it all worth-while . . lunch and fellowship with two of our young men who are walking paths of integrity and service.

Area Directing: This involves leadership and administration and relationships for sure, but not just here in Bundibugyo but for 10 teams in 4 countries and another country/team in gestation. In February and March this meant some long trips and great connections, some teaching, some meetings. In April this will mean annual reviews with all the team leaders we supervise. In between, there are daily issues handled by emails and calls, and we have a dozen or more 1-2 hour distance meetings a month.  This also involves some dedicated prayer time for each of the 47 family/couple/single missionary "units" in our care. On Thursday, we also met with all the other Area Directors and the executive leadership of Serge for a 2-hour distance-tech conference call. There are always ideas and projects moving forward globally.

The Gospel: the good news makes inroads through all of the above, sometimes when we get to pray for the sick, or share a scripture, or preach, or teach. Most often when we get to represent the truth that God sees and hears the people at the edges, that God sends love through people from near and far.
This was our view at the end of an encouraging call with some new missionaries raising support

And what is not happening? Quite a bit of what we do still care about, like writing, like research, like time with our families. Throw in some market shopping and cooking, cleaning, exercise (well, not recently, but in theory) and a daily rhythm of devotional time. Throw in no power for three days, lugging a generator back and forth to give tiny boosts to the office and home, putting up a little struggle against rats and insects, destructive storms and a prolonged viral crud. And there you have life.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Tear Gas and Soul Searching

Wednesday saw the culmination of the boys' football season for secondary schools in Bundibugyo district.  A quick week of group play, play-offs, and quarter finals had whittled the field down to 4 teams from the 23 secondary schools serving this area of 250,000 people. The plan was to play both semi-finals in the morning at Christ School, then the finals in the afternoon a half-mile up the road at St. Mary's Simbiya.  One team for the first semi-final showed up 4 hours late, so the second semi proceeded first. CSB won that one 4-1, back on stride, playing like a team. The second semi was won by St. Mary's Simbiya, meaning we would all troop up the road to their home field for the final. This is a school that has, for two decades, used intimidation and violence to express their desire to win. Still, we all had hopes that the veneer of organization and the growing skills, equality, collaboration would win the day.

The final match started after 5 pm. CSB students gathered in a group near one of the goals with their incessantly loud vuvuzelas and a handful of hovering staff to keep order. We were near the center field, dutifully behind roped lines with 4 apprentices (one with strong ear drums elected to hang with the student group), cheering and craning to see the plays as more and more people seeped under and around ropes right up onto the lines of the field. Our head teacher had brought UPDF (army) and police for security. There were officials from the district, from the sports committee, from the Coca-Cola sponsors of the national tournament overseeing fairness at the district level. The first half ended 0-0, which was a reasonable outcome as the teams are pretty evenly matched and the officiating quirks were pretty evenly spread. Simbiya students ran the perimeter of the pitch wrapped traditionally in vines and leaves, chanting. Our students huddled in their area blowing their horns. Another thousand people smashed around the field and into the road. A couple of disinhibited men under the influence said rude things.  In other words, kind of normal.

However, after the half-time break, the Simbiya coach and another Simbiya teacher/administrator came out blazing.  As the teams lined up to begin, these two men were shouting loudly in the faces of the onlookers and the officials, claiming that "the bajungu have paid off the referees".  We were five feet away as this hateful angry speech about us was being used to rile the crowds. The uproar delayed the game another 15 minutes or so, with the police saying "just let the kids play, this is their match, stop ruining it" and who knows what the officials were saying. Finally these two men stopped shouting and we began, but the atmosphere was now very tense.

About 15 minutes into the second half, the refs called a foul on Simbiya at about mid-field and gave us a free kick. Our boys played that masterfully and converted it into a goal, the first score of the game. Our students erupted in joy, running onto the pitch and then back over the end line as has happened with every goal in the entire week of the tournament on every side. As they returned, the Simbiya keeper grabbed ?one or two of the CSB girls, and a CSB female teacher Madame Pamela intervened.  She got between the irate goal-keeper and the students.  So the goal-keeper punched Madame Pamela in the face. Bleeding copiously, she was then rushed off the field in the midst of pandemonium.

I ran with Pamela and a student to get out of the crowd and seek help, followed by a the Coca-Cola rep who very helpfully was a head taller than everyone around, very strong, and had a car.  A quick exam of Pamela did not show any lacerations, just a profusely bleeding nose, but she was so shaken and the Coca-Cola organizer really wanted to get out of Dodge so we got in his car to take her to a clinic, blood on our hands trying not to ruin his seats. He had to jump back out numerous times to push rioting students off the vehicle to get out of the gate. We finally made it to the road and sped to Nyahuka where the clinic was manned by one of our old friends and colleagues, who kindly and professionally administered first aid and let us wash off our bloody hands.  I walked Pamela back to the safety of Christ School then proceeded back up the road on foot alone.  I suspect the Coca-Cola guy had fled the district, I never saw him again.

Meanwhile at Simbiya, things went from bad to worse. While we were fighting the melee to get out of the gate in the car, Simbiya scored an equalizer, upon which the field was overtaken by the crowd and the referees feared for their lives.  They abandoned the game, pulling off their uniforms to blend in. Scott gathered the apprentices, Ken the headteacher had all the CSB team and students sit in one spot surrounded by army. The army fired off five tear gas cannisters and fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd. People trampled the fence down into the road to get away from the tear gas. CSB students were coughing and crying. The CSB group stood to march out with the army escort, as Simbiya students threw stones at them. All the way down the road CSB students were falling down overcome by the tear gas, looking for water to wash burning faces, protecting themselves with arms and clothes. Army were chasing ambushes by rock-throwers.  Staff were trying to keep the students together. Scott felt like someone was going to get killed.

But no one did.  There was rock-throwing into the CSB compound into the night, there was increased awareness and security, but a heavy rain dampened tempers and the night passed without further trouble. And in the light of day, we're all wondering, WHAT WAS THAT???  Just rowdy enthusiasm for a game, a craving for victory, an assumption that any score against your team is illegal? Was it the natural consequence of rampant indiscipline amongst restless young men with too much alcohol and time on their hands? Was it simmering rivalry seeking an outburst? Or something deeper?

Are we doing anything that exacerbates the tension? Yes, just be being here and being different, we are DISRUPTIVE. Christ School gives scholarships based on need and potential, not family/political connection. That sends a ripple through the system. Christ School does not tolerate teachers trading grades for sex, or beating students, or holding multiple jobs and never showing up for class, or bowing to the chaos of disgruntled teens, or cheating by smuggling test answers to students.  That disrupts the way things usually run. Christ School asks for accountability, not popular.  But are we doing other things that disrupt unnecessarily, in our attitudes, our manner of relating to the district? Are we communicating superiority or pride? I know I have that attitude and we all need prayer to not despise and judge our neighbors.

On Sunday, Desmond preached to us to love our enemies and to seek to be a blessing to this place.  Now that we've been punched, gassed, and stoned, the challenge is upon us. We hope for the district sports committee to bring consequences, because it is not merciful to allow bullies to ruin the day for children playing football. But most likely, it will all be swept under the rug and the violence will resurface. So how do we move forward in this place, trying to protect our students and do the right thing . . . but not perpetuating division, growing scorn in our own hearts and giving room to hatred in others?