rotating header

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Visibility and Language

These days, we live in Bundibugyo, where the primary language is Lubwisi. In the 30+ years of Serge input into this place, a primary focus has been to translate the Bible into Lubwisi, thereby preserving, encoding, dignifying, recognizing this group of people and their culture. In 2016 we celebrated the completion and publication of the New Testament. Which means that there is now WRITTEN LUBWISI that we can read (after years of hiring language helpers, listening, making cards, asking questions, trying to imitate, all aural learning). Faithful local translators operate out of one of our community center offices, and I see them daily, chipping away at the Psalms and the Pentatuch.

So, every morning when I'm reading the day's lectionary of passages, I try to also read a portion of a Gospel in Lubwisi. I certainly don't understand all of it, and it is painfully slow and tedious, though knowing what it's SUPPOSED to say sure helps. But an unexpected delight is to see stories in new ways through new eyes and words. And one from over a week ago sticks with me, inviting pondering.

In the middle of Matthew chapter 9, an important man comes to Jesus with urgency--my daughter has just died, he says, but come and lay your hand on her and she can live. His faith is remarkable, and usually the thing remarked upon. But in a different language, what jumped out was muhala wanje, my daughter. Perhaps because I'd been trying to tell people about my kids and my new daughter-in-law and I was noting the difference between muhala (daughter) and mugholi (a word I never really needed until now, daughter-in-law, that people keep saying back to me). Perhaps because this exact scenario plays out for me several times a week--someone comes to find me because their relative has a particular medical issue they are convinced I should help, and I sense the urgency and advocacy in their effort. So the muhala wanje spoke to me of tenderness and courage and persistence, the love of a father for his little girl, the desperate desire to restore her life, the quivering grief threatening to engulf him as he refuses to accept reality and holds out for a miracle. The father-daughter relationship is unique in its pure delight and blessing.

Then a few verses later, the procession to his house is interrupted. This time it's a middle-aged woman with perimenopausal excessive bleeding. This woman does not have a father advocating for her healing, in fact she's probably excluded from the center of community life, considered unclean, perhaps alone and not very valued at all.  She's perhaps invisible in the crowd, and has perhaps absorbed the general low estimation of her value. Perhaps her bleeding has lasted about as long as the little girl in the ruler's family was alive (12 years). Perhaps she impulsively reaches out to touch Jesus (like the ruler who wanted him to physically touch the dead girl, they sense a power in his bodily presence). A huge risk, a woman taking initiative when few would approve. And what does he say? "Muhala wanje".  My daughter! The exact same phrase that the distraught father used to plead for his daughter's life, Jesus uses to address this marginal woman.

What a wonderful and understated literary device, enfolding the middle-aged unimportant woman's story with her unmentionably embarrassing problem, into the narrative of a relative princess whose well-connected father is moving heaven and earth to help her. And introducing both with the same phrase, to subtly but powerfully show us: Jesus feels about this woman the same way the ruler feels about his daughter.  Longing for her wholeness, desperately on her side, delighted in her as a person, bereaved by her suffering, eager to see her well. An invested, passionate, tender love. Suddenly the woman becomes visible, or at least she and the crowd now grasp that she is seen and loved by God, that she is just as appealing in God's eyes as the celebrity girl to whom they rush.

And even in 2019, that's counter-cultural. Being in the 50-something range for women is rarely lauded as ideal, compared to a girl or teen or 20-something, or compared to a similarly aged man.  Not in the USA (just look through advertising, movies, TV, social media). And certainly not in Uganda, where my peers are juggling gardens and grandchildren, often widowed and landless, dependent on the good will of brothers or grown children, displaced by younger wives. But the Gospel is literally good news, and I'm grateful for this vivid picture (in a long line of such stories from Hagar to Hannah to Esther to Mary) of El-Roi (Gen 16:13), the God who sees.

some women God sees
and some girls who are loved

My dad, with my sister and me visiting his mom

A dad and daughter near my heart, just over a month ago (feels like a year)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

July in Bundibugyo: Floods, Intrigue, and Plodding on

Three weeks ago we drove back into Bundibugyo after two very full months of graduations, THE wedding, reunions, meeting people, driving, family time. While we were in the USA a few good things happened: our Kenyan-licensed Land Rover sold to a sweet missionary family, taking that burden off our hands. And our Ugandan work permits (visas which allow us to stay here two years) were approved. So as soon as we landed, we went to immigration and became official.
Departing Dulles, escorted by my niece Emma and my mom

Immigration, waiting . . . .

While we were gone, some not-so-good things happened too.  The night before Luke and Abby's wedding weekend, a group of students at Christ School rioted, attacking four teacher's houses and destroying property. The latter half of June saw us spending hours on the phone, piecing stories together from a distance, writing letters, begging for calm, with the knowledge that this event had roots in deeper dysfunctions which we would have to face upon our return. While we grieved being so far away, and briefly considered an emergency (post-wedding) accelerated return, the time actually allowed investigation by a board-appointed committee and allowed us to observe how our decisions were being received and carried out (or not).  LONG STORY short, within a few days of return Scott as Chairman of the Board called a board meeting, and we spent 11 hours in deliberation of the evidence. The board unanimously voted to end the contract of the Head Teacher. It was an exhausting process.  It's hard to describe just how murky facts can be in a place that values loyalty and unity and cleverness and manipulation over truth. It's hard to describe the way Evil subtly infuses all of our best intentions and at times rises up naked and dangerous to destroy Good. At times like this, we have been thankful for:

  • Incredible prayer support for the blessing of Bundibugyo, over many many years. You, and we, have to be tenacious.
  • Our own scars, the painful ways we have been shaped to understand some of the undercurrents. Hopefully some of our years have leant wisdom, though we're still in the dark all too often.
  • Scott is calm in crisis, and his presence alone just brings a measure of order. People know he rode an armored tank back into this district to assess for aid in a time of war, and stayed to care for Ebola patients in a time of plague. The various meetings have not lacked for drama, but by grace and prayer and perseverance we've seen the tide shift until people are on board.
  • Guidance and support from the Board, the school's leadership team and staff, and our own right-hand-man John, the Old Boys and Old Girls (alumnae), even a very dignified group representing the District Elder's Association (traditional leaders' peacemaking NGO) who came to meet us in a polite and neutral way to remind us that Christ School belongs to the people of Bundibugyo, they love it and want it, and do not want to see disorder cause implosion.
  • the elders who came to advise us
The Board meeting was followed by staff meeting, student meeting, and a few days later a parent meeting. Scott wrote letters, we put out a radio announcement, and we held our breath to see if the community would accept the decision well and continue to entrust us with their students. In spite of rumors and various plots for trouble, it seems we are beginning to emerge. Which means that Scott is up to his ears in normal school issues: repairs on the perimeter fence, scrutiny of the food budget, registering students for exams, going to Chapel, troubleshooting computer issues, contracting to fix a leaking roof, meeting the leaders to hire a new literature teacher. We have put off hiring a new Head Teacher for now, as our Deputy has become the Acting HT and is doing well with leadership team support.
CSB entrance (behind the blue gate) in Nyahuka town

Selfie on the way into Board meeting . . . what a day

Meeting staff and students

Students on the field as HT departed and Scott met with them

Pre Parents' Meeting, admiring the new scoreboard Ike made

Fielding questions from the parents

New metal beds in dorm

High grade posho, a CSB perk (cornmeal for porridge)

Classes back to normal

University student teachers join us in the summer months

The background to the drama is no less important. Bundibugyo is having unseasonably heavy rainfall. This district is a rainforest valley on the north-northwest side of the third highest peaks on the continent, defined by tapering ridges and gullies that can flash flood. Before the paved road, this weather might well have made the place inaccessible, but now as long as you stay to the single tarmac artery it's a breeze. Still, people's homes have been filled with mud and crops destroyed, and even some bridges have washed out. Mosquitoes love the damp, and malaria runs rampant. I am trying to round on the Paediatric ward three times a week; there are always 60-100 patients and half to two-thirds are malaria diagnoses. It is not unusual to see a child admitted with a hemoglobin of 3 or below (that's a quarter of normal).  This week, the main antimalarial medicine went out of stock.

This used to be a bridge . . . near Kisubba. 

Saturday bike ride

But even here, there are signs of hope. The hospital's medical superintendent is a man of integrity and determination. He's holding staff meetings and holding people to account; there is continuing education and I've had students rounding with me. We've made some life-saving diagnoses like TB or typhoid, puzzled over some syndromes, seen some malnourished kids gain weight. Earlier this month a facilitator from another district, arranged by Dr. Marc, taught Helping Babies Breath (neonatal resuscitation). Our persistent new team mate Ike got the long-awaited (more than a year!) transformer installed and we now have electricity much of the day. Jessie is not only carrying much of the nutrition program but also decided to re-open Books for Bundi (our library for kids) twice a week. Our interim team leaders the Justices are leading the preparation for new and returning team, including supervising house repairs and buying new appliances. So the Gospel is alive, in meals, in stories, in prayer and Bible study, in food and healing. We've enjoyed the small-team summer remnant and bonding with these young couples.  We've had about a dozen meetings-by-phone/facetime/etc. with team leaders around our region.

Staff CME on Friday

HBB training

precious people

Team Birthday meal for Ike

Internet access, time pressure, and just not being sure how to even process the complexity of life made it hard to return to the blog, but we hope to resume our normal verbosity now. Please keep Bundibugyo and all of Serge East/Central Africa in your prayers.
Hospital hand-washing station with bleach . . Ebola is running rampant about 100 Km west of us

The road up from Nyahuka towards the mission, on a rare day of sun

Why it is all worth it: this young lady became a believer at CSB in my cell group, now she's a university grad and a mom.

And this young man received a scholarship to CSB, which enabled him to pass at the top of the District in sciences and qualify for a government University Scholarship. He is student-teaching until classes start!

Not pictured: dense bugs. But it was a lovely picnic site. We do have fun too! Hot Springs trip with Ike and Jessie, and below.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

57, in Almost Heaven

My parents and Scott's parents married in 1957.

And this year, I turned 57.

Which, I believe, is a pretty great year to reach. One kid married, one new daughter, last kid finishing college, hopefully a bit of wisdom from all the mistakes we've lived through, and hopefully enough health and energy to keep putting all that experience to good use a bit longer.

This birthday I was in my favorite place in the USA, Sago, WV at our farm, in between two reunions (see post below), and appropriately with my mom who made the birth-day possible. We were also in a bit of chaos with phone calls and meetings, sorting and packing and cleaning and cooking and preparing. But I decided I wanted to do my own iron-woman ezer-thon. Iron, as in iron-sharpens-iron as a metaphor for true friendship and a good marriage. We should be becoming sharper, becoming more holy and focused as we bump up against each other. And ezer, as in Helper, one of the names of God and one of the descriptions of a woman. Strong and hard enough to be a reliable and integral part of the Kingdom.

One can be iron-willed and ezer-capable in a thousand, a million, actually a few billion unique ways. As a non-athletic person in a family of athletes, though, for my birthday I decided to design my own little 57-kilometer (miles are a bit too long) challenge that would push me but not kill me.  I was going to knock a few out with kayaking but the river was dangerously high that day.  So I put together a few of my favorite running routes to challenge myself by going on a 20k run (jog) (pretty much a half marathon) at my own steady pace, then in the afternoon Scott went with me on a 37k bike ride. We threw in a hike in the woods and a dip in the muddy fast river (not straying too far from the shore) for a bonus. Plus quiet time to read and reflect and pray, and some good food, and since it was discount Tuesday at the local theater we ended up with Toy Story 4.

Since 7 rhymes with WV's slogan "Almost Heaven" . . . I guess I'd say I'm hoping for a few more earthly years to enjoy with my family and work and community. But for empty-nest moms and middle-aged people, the rare chance to take off and plan a birthday challenge was pretty fun and highly recommended.


Union is the state for which humanity was created.

And yet most of us live in a series of goodbyes and griefs. I am sitting in an airport as I write this, which is wonderful because it enables us to come back and connect, and yet also sad because it represents the transience of those connections.

The life of an international worker involves a constant state of being on the way from and the way to, of anticipating resuming face-to-face relationships and remembering the ones that have been suspended due to the disjointing of time and the dislocation of place.  But so does the life of most people in 2019. Hence, the REUNION. The re-raveling of the family network. My parents both grew up in West Virginia, the kind of state from which people with a bit of education and ambition have tended to move in the last century. The Appalachian tradition of the family reunion is strong. My mom gave me a West Virginia cookbook for my birthday, and a surprising number of recipes included the word reunion in the title or the appropriateness of the dish for taking to a reunion in the description. When my dad's brothers returned alive from WWII in 1946 (he was 11 going-on-12) his parents instituted the annual June tradition.  This past Saturday marked 73 years of doing so.

My mom, me, Julia, and Scott at The Reunion

The top of the Split Rock, our family's central physical location.  My grandfather and great grandfather lived in a cabin next to this massive rock which is split down the middle. Julia is making sure young cousins don't drop into the 30-foot crevasse.

My grandfather and grandmother's names carved in the rock

Pre-reunion pizza night at our farm for the cousins who arrive the night before

Hiking up the railroad tracks

Me (in red of course) and my cousin Doug in 1962 above, 2019 below 

Gathering to pray before the pot-luck massive spread of food on Saturday

With my cousin Bruce at Split Rock

Three generations

Since we were in the USA for May/June for Jack's graduation (and Acacia's and Krister's) and Luke's wedding, we extended the extra week to be able to re-une with the Aylestock family, and I'm so glad we did. Badminton and cornhole, cakes and homemade ice cream, old pictures and new spouses, swimming in the river and walking in the woods . . . it was a solidly memorable weekend.

The week before, we had a different sort of American reunion tradition--Scott's 40th year from graduating from Wyoming High School in the suburbs of Cincinnati, OH.  Considering that many had not seen each other since then, or perhaps only once or twice, it was a strong turn out of nearly 100 former classmates and a couple dozen of their spouses.

While I can't fully defend all aspects of social media, I have to say that this reunion gave me a different view of facebook. Many of these human beings were teenage friends, and have used fb to interact in a way that makes them truly care about each others lives. Care enough to drive and fly long distances to see each other once again. Care enough to know about important things. I found myself hearing about family deaths and losses, moves, dreams, jobs, memories in ways that seemed real and deep.

While in Cincinnati we were given time to speak briefly at one of our supporting churches. Again, the sense of long connections over many many years, of sacrificial giving and the stability of continued partnership, boosted our souls.

The intersection of Scott's High School and Church friends . . 

And time for dear friends from Medical School that work short terms still in Africa, teach global health, and send us the best packages over many many years!

Reunions are a picture of redemption.  Here's to many more!