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Saturday, January 25, 2020

How to Change the World

Everyone likes to hate on facebook, but occasionally there are gems. Such as the fact that a couple weeks ago as the movie Just Mercy was released, some friends re-posted this forum in which Tim Keller and Bryan Stevenson talked about justice.  Scott and I listened to it and it so resonated with us, that we played part of it again for a team meeting.  Honestly it's the end of a pretty demanding week and I am going to share the main points Stevenson makes in order to preach to myself.

1. GET PROXIMATE--you cannot stay in safe spaces to bring justice to the world; there is power in proximity. I suppose that's the whole point of being a cross-cultural, cross-the-world, worker. If you have the education, the solid foundation, that gives you more than most, and a heart that is disturbed by the sorrows of disparity and death . . . well then being right smack in the face of it makes you take it way more seriously, and paradoxically also gives you perspective and ideas. This was a proximal week. This morning, amidst a parade of people with needs, was a 13 year old girl and her dad. She has excellent grades from primary school, and a dream of Christ School, and yet after a week of trying to find options, little hope of getting there. And while there are good reasons we feel we cannot take on more responsibility for school fees . . . the truth is that being her neighbour means we know her family, we know their limits, we remember when our daughter was 13 and needed a safe decent school here. Yesterday, I spent a good deal of the day trying to save the life of a 3-month-old infant. If I had not been on the ward, I would not have had the opportunity to think and act. Five or six hours into a ward full of sick kids, I don't always want to be there. It is easy from a distance to think I know how things should work; it is different to be in the epicenter of malaria and sickle cell and overflowing beds and be pushing fluids into a needle in a baby's bone.
This patient wishes I was less proximate

I snapped this in the first minute for a teaching slide, while we were still hooking up the oxygen, but already pushing dextrose and fluid into the intra-osseous.

2. CHANGE THE NARRATIVE--underneath the problems we see there are narratives, stories we tell to explain evident evil and often to distance ourselves, to protect our hearts. For instance, I could tell the story of the 13 year by old focusing on her male relatives' propensity to drink, poor planning, wasted opportunities, their need to take responsibility. Or I could tell it focused on the genetic burden of alcoholism, the amazing spiritual turn-around her dad had at his lowest point when Jesus appeared to him in a dream, the math of just how hard they are working to survive, or the bigger picture of the vast amount of resource (human, mineral, etc) that has been extracted from this continent impacting everything here. I could tell the story of the 3 month old as ignorance, a family that ignored warning signs of serious disease until it was too late implying they were negligent or uninterested, versus the story of how the mother wailed her distress, how her friends tried to console her to have hope as we worked. One way turns people into projects, into less-than, different-from, problems to be solved or helped. The other recognises our common humanity, the glory of each person, the complexity of how we end up with one of us having an MD and the other barely enough to eat.

3. STAY HOPEFUL--Stevenson said, it is easier to be faithful than to be hopeful. This one gets all of us in our line of living-on-the-edge work. We can force ourselves to plod through another knock for help, another day of rounds, another file and patient. But over time, it gets harder and harder to invest, to even get out of bed and face the day, unless we have hope. So many things threaten hopefulness.  For me it is often the sheer volume, the fact that my eyes can see not just this 13 year old girl's life paths but the fact that she represents hundreds, thousands of girls. Not just this 3-month-old baby's impending demise and the lack of a monitor let alone an ICU, but the fact that there are a thousand dysfunctions in the health system and ten thousand ways we could spend the rest of our lives addressing them. It gets tiring when work feels futile. Staying hopeful is a work in progress. It requires community, so that we can absorb others' cheer when ours is lost. It requires vigilance to notice the one miracle sparkle of healing when clouds of failures blur our vision. It requires commitment to look for decade steps of progress, not giving up on the day-to-day disappointments.

I had a moment of hope at this point . . notice two hours in we have some improvement. Things plummeted again soon after this though. Fragile beings make for wild swings of hope.

4. DO UNCOMFORTABLE THINGS--you can't stay comfortable and change the world. We are hard-wired to seek comfort. Even as we make ourselves proximate to difficulty, we still try to mitigate the hardship, to order our worlds to our liking. Needs are disruptive. Grief is painful. Helplessness makes us squirm. Stevenson gives a powerful testimony about how hard it is to work with broken people in broken systems, and we say, amen. SO MUCH does not work, or exhausts us, or requires unexpected extra trips to get tools or calls to find blood or time to listen more carefully. I have other things I'd rather do on Saturday morning than attend to the 5th visitor in a row asking for money. I admit that once the 3-month old yesterday was slightly more stable, I was frustrated that no nurse could be found to put in an ng tube, and just as I thought I was finishing rounds I was back searching for supplies and having to do it all myself. But as Stevenson goes on to say, we find out when we are stressed and pushed and tired and exasperated and poured out that we are not heroes, we are not saints, we too are the broken. And this, paradoxically, is good news because God promises that transformative power comes through our weakness, that in that moment God's love can change the world. As we risk being uncomfortable, we find out what the cross means.

And to summarise hope and world-changing, this week ended with a visit from Dr. Katuramu Tadeo and his wife Carol, daughter Adriel, and a couple of Carol's relatives. Sixteen years ago in January 2004, he and Luke entered CSB together in the S1 class. Katuramu was an orphan from Fort Portal, a bright young boy who found his way to education and God through a Serge-planted church and school there. Luke was the first non-Ugandan at CSB (followed by our other kids) pioneering some pretty cross-cultural education at age 10 going on 11. They bonded over Mater Desmond's math problems, graduated top of the district, diverted in A-level/University/Med School via Ugandan and American systems, but have remained friends and are both 2nd year residents now in Family Medicine (Katuramu) and Orthopedic Surgery (Luke). In the midst of that we had an Ebola epidemic, much sorrow and loss, but new hope through the Kule Leadership fund. These three young doctors all received sponsorship to medical school because of that time:
Doctors Isaiah, Katuramu, and Ammon

Because of proximity, we experienced many years of life with these three, and saw their potential. Because of people who read blogs and care, the narrative of Ebola and tragedy was changed for them, and will change broadly as they work for thousands of others. They are part of the way we stay hopeful, as they form part of our community, and as we take note of the longer arc of God's story in their lives and around us. And they remind us that our discomforts are minimal, that we are broken, that in our weakness God is at work.

Here are a few more fun photos of their 24 hours with us . . . 
I think the joy of our kids keeps us hopeful too. Adriel is a sparkly girl!

It all started in these classrooms . . Michael (in bright shirt) is now a teacher at CSB.

Teacher Desmond with wife Harriet, pupil Dr. Katuramu with wife Carol. My favorite story Desmond told: Luke and Katuramu did not only strive to learn advanced math . . they determined that all the girls in their class would pass math. And they did.

Playing tour guide to the celebrities 

Saying bye today in the taxi park

Another teacher from the early era, Madame Salube.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

2020 coast to coast, continent to continent, two weeks in!

The last hours of 2019 found us in Half Moon Bay, California, where Scott's 87-year old mom lives, a block from the cliffs that drop to the Pacific. His sister Sonja, with husband Kevin and 2 of 3 kids were in town, enabling us to tie up a year with many family events. Looking back on a very unexpected year, one of the bright spots was the opportunity to see our moms and sisters and nieces and nephews more this past year than probably the five prior combined. Having a two-part wedding and two graduations helps, not to mention a life-threatening event. We have typically arrived a few days before annual Serge meetings in Philadelphia to visit California (not exactly on the way unless you consider the relative ease of getting to the West Coast when flying to the USA compared to when sitting in East Africa) . . . but rarely to watch the final sunset of the year with such a great quorum. 

And the first hours of 2020 found us walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, a tradition of Sonja's friends, with stunning views followed by interesting conversations and a LOT of food. 

From California we stopped in Salt Lake City as we made our way East to those Philadelphia meetings, enough time for one ski day with Luke and Abby and Caleb, walks with Botu, and conversations and dinners. It's our first time to visit MARRIED children, which actually didn't feel at all revelatory because Abby seems like part of the family from forever.

(And now a small blog commercial break for better photography once again, this time from Luke

 And one iphone selfie from the slopes . . .

Twice a year our Serge Leadership meets; about 2/3 of the day we talk about big picture strategies and goals, review policies, catch up on trends, and the other 1/3 we pray. For each leader and each area. So it is a particularly Serge-y time where we can be discussing what we need to do to reach out to a more diverse segment of America, or where the Spirit is moving overseas . . . and then sharing our own stories of weariness or failure and finding prayerful support. And there are dozens of sidebars, a quick meeting with someone about a financial reporting issue or someone else about a recruitment idea.

Dinner AT the Massos . . . 

And the cake and dinner for Michael at the meetings

This time the highlight was a dinner to honor Michael Masso who wrapped up his 25 years with Serge as he returned to the USA to spend more time with family and work in renewable energy. Karen will continue to work in our home office, but it is the end of a family era. Acacia and Liana were able to attend this dinner with Serge leaders, and hear dozens of quintessentially Michael stories . . . adventures, puns, courage, simplicity, spiritual insight, pranks.  We often say that no one ever has or probably ever will save more lives in Bundibugyo than Michael, who put in a gravity-flow piped water system just in time for war to displace tens of thousands of people into camps.  We remembered the early days in South Sudan, the many family trips, the shared suffering and learning and joys. I sobbed but most of it was pretty funny and celebratory.

The re-connections with Serge friends like this dinner with Batstones, Hyltons, and Alyssa . . huge treats

Serge publications table--note that both of the featured books came from authors in our Area, Eric McLaughlin and Bethany Ferguson. Both highly recommended.

Last but not least, our USA trip stretched from a planned ten days to a full two weeks when a broken tooth required two emergency dental visits. Not a happy reason to stay a few extra days, but nevertheless a boon to have a few walks in the woods, a time to re-pack, and the opportunity to worship with our church in Sago and drop in on my dad's two remaining living siblings, Aunt Ann (with Uncle Dave below) and Uncle Harold.

Today we are back in Uganda--got to our hotel in Kampala about midnight last night, slept some needed hours, and spent all day doing errands and getting groceries and visiting some friends. Tomorrow on to Bundi. 

2020 has already been full of connection and beauty. But the vast shifts in place and person do take a toll. I got on the plane to return feeling disoriented, regretting not seeing MY mom or sister, having misplaced/lost a couple of important things along the way, feeling poured out already. Grace at the fray, I know this will be better soon, but prayers appreciated.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Omaha Beach, 75.5 years later

Christmas part 2 . . . (see previous post for Cambridge). On the day after Christmas, we made our way down to the coast of England. 75 years ago, at the height of WW2, ten thousand young men assembled there for the invasion of Normandy. And amongst them were four of my uncles.

Our parents were all four the youngest in large families, children during WW2. But all of them had siblings who served. My dad, as the youngest of 15, was one of 9 boys. Three were too young to join the military, but the one closest to 18 lied his way into the Navy by the end of the war though he never made it overseas. Five of the remaining six fought in Europe in the war, four of them landing in Normandy, including three on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Pretty much like Saving Private Ryan, except they all lived and no one made a movie. My mother, however, got these men to talk 25 years ago on tape, on the 50th anniversary of DDay. They had never uttered a word of their war experience until one sunny picnic afternoon she got them talking with each other. I listened to that recording for the 75th anniversary and decided to honor my uncles with a trip in their footsteps.

So we boarded an overnight ferry from Portsmouth, home of the British Navy, to the French coast of Normandy, and spent three days walking 40 miles along the routes they would have taken from Omaha to St. Lo, carrying packs and following small roads and fence rows, stopping to read signs and admire churches, sleeping on a couple of working farms.

As we walked the strip of sand where thousands died, we listened to the recording of Uncle Carl and Uncle Edwin remembering the landing. Like a loyal West Virginia big brother would, Uncle Carl borrowed a jeep on the landing day, drove under fire up to the area of Uncle Edwin's battalion, jumped in his fox hole for half an hour to be sure he had survived, and drove back. We saw a monument to the 5th Engineers, Uncle Woody's unit, while hearing his voice describe half his transport blown up, men thrown into the water, helping others struggle out of their packs lest they all drown, swimming to shore and huddling under the cliffs, then burying body after body.

It was an act of courage in the face of the probability of death, a time of miraculous escapes (like the bullets that pierced one uncle's small tank just in front of his chest and behind his back), of moments of humanity like the French church that gave them a feather bed to sleep in, something these country boys had never seen. Uncle Glen was in a barn near St. Lo that suffered direct hits from our own bombs, one of the worst friendly-fire incidents of the war. But they marched on, all the way to Berlin, then came home to marry and live simple hard-working lives and never admit they were heroes.

For us, the days of walking, the kindness of the French people (Jack's language skills were a plus, but the Normandy people still appreciate American partnership), the poignant plaques and memorials, were a sobering yet richly meaningful walk through history. My uncles were my kids' age at the time, 21-26. At one farm, the owner insisted we borrow her car and told us where to go for dinner (it was well past dark and we were exhausted from a day's walking). At another they owners told us their own war stories from their parents, a mother killed, a father missing but found, an aunt who fell in love with an American but lost touch then met him 40 years later in a museum, at which time he sold all his property in California and returned to spend the rest of his life with her.  You can't make this up.

Thankful for this family history, and for the ability to honor it with our kids.

(photos by Jack again!)

Christmas in Cambridge, and dreams coming true

Most of the last 26 Christmases we have spent closer to REAL Christmas than to IDEALIZED. Meaning, in the actual atmosphere of goats and displaced humans and out-of-hospital births and starry skies and poverty. However, this year we opted to depart Uganda ten days ahead of the end of 2019 and break up our trip to January Serge meetings by stopping off in England. Home of my idea of Christmas in many ways, dark nights and twinkling candles and stunning musical choruses, pine trees and hot drinks and baked deliciousness. And more importantly, home to Jack Myhre for this school year as he pursues a Master's in Engineering for Sustainable development.
Magdalene College Library above and chapel below, home of Jack Myhre and CS Lewis

So we landed near Cambridge just as the winter solstice tipped us into the longest night of the year, rented a car and spent the evening with Serge colleagues in Harrow en route to Stonehenge. Jack had found out that for the winter solstice, access to the ancient site for sunrise is free . . . in prehistoric times, people hewed these massive stones and lined them up to catch the sun's rays at the solstice. So we joined hundreds of other adventurers in the predawn darkness and waited for the light, a fitting closure to a 2019 that has been full of sorrow, plague, war, lawsuits, threats, need, landslides, transition, and welcoming a new year where God's light will grow.

when your brother puts a camera in your face once too often . . 

From there we picked up Julia and Caleb and went on to our AirBnb in Cambridge proper for three days of immersion in Christmas and college. We climbed towers and walked lanes, perused books and admired chapels, gazed on art and toured libraries. But our real purpose was to camp out on the sidewalk all night on the 23rd so we could attend the Christmas Eve Festival of Lessons and Carols at Kings College. This service has been celebrated for a hundred years, since young men limped home from WW1 (movie plug--go see 1917, it is excellent) needing to be re-grounded in history and hope. We have been listening to this service on BBC in Uganda and Kenya for decades. And it was a bucket-list joke to say, some day, let's go to the service for real. The line forms around dusk, and by dawn there are hundreds of people waiting. We staked out our little piece of sidewalk with cardboard to sit on and blankets and umbrellas to survive the hours of cold and rain, about 50 back from the front of the line. Amazing story: one of the couples Scott went through residency with, who has supported us all our time in Africa, was doing the same thing with their kids. Fun. I personally huddled under a tarp and shivered and slept curled up for a few hours, because I can sleep most anywhere and because when they hand out the tickets at 7:30 am, I knew most people would sleep a few hours back at home but IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE BAKING AND COOKING TIME!!!

The doors open to the ticketed diehards at 2:30 pm as we all returned, showered and dressed nicely and eager to worship. The Festival consists of 9 lessons, from Genesis on through the story of Jesus' birth and the wise men and the slaughter of the innocents, interspersed with carols sung by the Kings College Choir. The most iconic is the beginning, as a young boy soprano begins "Once in Royal David's City" alone as the choir enters. The organ swells, the congregation joins, stands, sits, meditates.  It was glorious.

And since we spent our family life in British colonies, we go to church on Christmas morning too. Which was almost better!  A smaller intimate group in another spectacular historical chapel, original music written by the organist, a meaningful sermon looking at the foreshadowing of suffering in the Christmas story, the sacrifice of redemption. Communion.  And as we filed out into the entry of the Trinity Chapel, cold flutes of champagne and warm mince pies and Merry Christmases all around.

Back at our AirBnb, the kind proprietors had put up a tree and lights. And the ever-faithful Schuberts sent us a puzzle, this one of photos from Luke and Abby's wedding. So we had our traditional meals and goodies and gathered around the tree and worked on the puzzle and thoroughly enjoyed the days.

Christmas in Cambridge, highly recommended.  Christmas with 3 out of 5 kids, priceless.

(all photos from Jack)