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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Leap Year February: when Lent and Black History Month and Life collide

Can't say I'm too sad to say goodbye to this February. It is not often that we can't find a single space in 2 weeks to communicate. Dr. Travis's death hit us hard, and the pummelling hasn't let up.

For instance, and in no particular order the days have ricocheting from a limply sick team kid . . three students with serious medical issues taking up hours of parent meetings and diagnosis and planning down at CSB . . a neighbour comes to say her young husband has taken in a second wife after their baby died, what grief . . thieves break in violently to another team's housing and we are heartsick for the aftermath of that trauma . . the US Embassy sends out terrorism warnings for a neighbouring country . . a zillion calls and emails and texts some of which we miss following up . . begging for help and finding it hard to come by . . the looming threat of coronavirus as it seeps across the globe with confusing and obscure implications for all of us, but particularly those living in places where intensive care will NOT be possible . . preparing for the arrival of new team mates which is good news but also a lot of responsibility . . pulling together the right people and documents for various meetings . . advocating for justice . . worrying and walking with anxious parents who are friends when their kids are sick . . buying life-saving meds when the hospital has run out . . meeting with counselors who will serve our mission in May/June to prepare them (slightly) for the realities of the complex sorrows of life on the edge . . pondering difficult cases on the ward . . trying to push through 76 patients while getting called to deal with other emergencies . . missing our own kids on their birthdays . . scrambling to have more beds, desks, chairs fabricated when 357 students flood into CSB on a wave of community positivity . . keeping up with Ebola news and making contingency plans . . struggling to advocate for people we have invested in to get jobs . . listening to some deep heartaches . . praying over distant friends with cancer, with unknown masses, with a child with serious head injury, with worrisome pregnancy issues, with previously undiagnosed fatal illness in a child, with a preemie, often trying to read or give advice when asked . . planning for half a dozen upcoming visitors . . anyway you get the picture. Doing a lot of good things but not doing them particularly well, because it's always too many issues for a day.

And then there is the bigger picture, always there just out of sight. The small tremors of our difficulties are only symptoms of a bigger truth. In this world you will have trouble, Jesus said. The global reality of brokenness. 

Certainly the transatlantic slave trade that led to Black History Month must be right at the top of those world-trouble truths. And certainly the death of Jesus himself on the cross must be right at the center of how we grasp for meaning.

Which is why reading this book, this month, has been both challenging and encouraging:
"The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world's value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last. . . the cross places God in the midst of crucified people, in the midst of people who are hung, shot, burned, and tortured. . The final word about black life is not death on a lynching tree but redemption in the cross--a miraculously transformed life found in the God of the gallows." (all quotes from chapter one, but the whole book is deeply worth reading).

The promise to the suffering is two-fold. One, God is with us. This path of the cross is the very path God walks. That is a great comfort, and hard to keep preaching to oneself let alone others, that success and fame and glory and comfort are not the normal measure of God-nearness in a world still groaning. Suffering is God's tabernacle. Until, promise two breaks in. Suffering has meaning, and that meaning is redemption. Our light and momentary afflictions are part of a bigger arc of God's story, a hidden, slow, yeasty transformation. God is in the process of making all things new, and the cross is that process.

And so this lent, we are called to a discipline of noticing redemption as we carry the cross.  Bearing witness to the God-with-us in the darkness, to the reality of light growing.  For my complaining and easily self-pitying heart, that means a mid-day re-set of looking for a praise. This is not a Pollyanna denial of the hard, but a searching eye for that little sprout of hope in the middle of it.

This week that has looked like two babies who were nearly dead at birth, given the breaths of life to pull them back into this world. That has been the heartening reminder that our little limited ecosystem sometimes gets supernatural infusions of grace, such as a counsellor getting on a plane to fly across the world to help. That has been dinner at 9 pm cheered by video chatting with our kids, and a rescue of generosity by our brother-in-law adopting a mother's too-wild but much-loved cat. That has been the young man with devastating mental illness who was nearly killed by the mob, and was disrobing and violent and threatening . . . returning from the national referral mental hospital in calm mind and spirit, such a wonderful transformation. That has been unexpected sweetness from team kids, and unexpected beauty in finding a quiet place to pray.  Look for hope, because it lands like grace.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A short life and a different sort of death . . . M. J. Dec 2019 to Feb 2020

Yesterday we wrote about Dr. Travis, a team leader, colleague, and friend who died on Thursday of colon cancer.

At about the same time he was dying, one of the two-month-old severely malnourished patients on the paediatric ward also passed away.

MJ was the first baby his mother had. She delivered in a small government health center, and was sent home. Only her bleeding continued post-partum, and by the time she and her family returned a day later, she was in serious condition. According to her mother-in-law (MJ's paternal Grandmother), the health center had no blood to transfuse and so she died, leaving him motherless. So this grandmother and her grieving son did what they could. They bought straight cow's milk, which is not common in Bundibugyo, and fed it to MJ.  They took him for his immunisations at 6 weeks, but no one noted the baby's weight or any problems.  A week or two later, they brought him to our District Hospital. Where we noticed he was starving, anemic himself, and extremely ill. Over the next couple of days we were able to transfuse, start antibiotics, start gentle feeds alternating with oral rehydration, start a program for his grandmother (who had a 3 year old, so had only stopped breast feeding in the last year or so) to re-lactate. We moved him from the back corner of the ward to the acute area in the front, and put him on oxygen. We confirmed he did not have serious underlying malformations or infections; he was "just" starving and reacting poorly to the cow's milk protein, causing him to loose a lot of blood in his intestines.
MJ on rounds, so thin and wasted, an allergic rash, and oxygen saturations of 73% (should be 95-100%).

He was back in that corner with the 37 on the wall . . . 

We did all we could, and he died anyway.

After two marginal months at home, he only lasted a few days in our care.

This is a story of a broken system. MJ's mother should not have been sent home bleeding. She should have received one of several medications very effective for post-partum hemorrhage. She should have been transfused, immediately and repeatedly.  NO ONE should die of bleeding, and certainly not a 20 year old in good health who just delivered a baby. MJ's grandmother should have been given advice and resources to care for him. The 6-week check should have screened his weight and pulled him into care. When he finally came to the hospital, it should not have taken an overnight wait for me to be the one to check his vital signs and find out just how sick he was.

I suspect that MJ was buried by mid-day Friday, wrapped in a cloth, with a handful of family in attendance. I suspect that once his mother died, no one really expected him to live anyway. I suspect that thousands of people are mourning Travis's death right now, around the world, and many many of us hoped he would live into old age. Besides the day of their death, there is very little in common between the two stories of MJ and Travis. But as I felt heavy hearted last night, this is what shocked me:

God knew each of them. God knew the days they would have. God knew the hairs on their heads. God loved them equally well.

I can feel sad, and even angry at the brokeness of the world, at cancer and hunger and poor supplies of blood and inadequate research. But the truth that God knows MJ and Travis and loves them both, that God is at work for good in the very moments of these deaths, that God continues in the process of redeeming all that is wrong and making it right and new? That is news so good and so big it is impossible to fully grasp. The truth that Travis and MJ could be sitting down to a banquet together right now? Also beyond comprehension, but why not? Maybe they recognized each other's Lubwisi greeting, or smile.

That's an image that gives me hope. And for Travis and for MJ, we bear witness that their lives mattered to God and to those who knew them. We go back into the battle of each day's push, bringing a little more light into dark corners and prayerfully making small bits of progress. That's about all we can do.

Friday, February 14, 2020

A good life, a hard death, a modern Saint Valentine. Dr. Travis Johnson, Feb 14 1976-Feb 13 2020

Team Bundi on my prayer card circa 2012, Travis in glasses, Amy front center holding Adian, Lilli and Patton standing on wall in back

Church this evening, pc Alanna, as Scott shared from Rev 21

Dr Travis Johnson died yesterday. Travis and Amy joined Serge to serve on the Bundibugyo team, and were immediately and rightfully seen to be gold. Fun, faith-filled, competent, eager, courageous people who would inspire courage in others as well. Our leaders had wanted to move Scott into an Area Director position, and we were questioning anyway the sustainability of distant boarding school for the duration of our kids' high school, so win-win seemed clear. Travis and Amy with their children Lillian and Patton would come to Bundi and overlap us (the plan was a year, but by God's grace baby Aidan was a much better plan so that ended up being only half a year) then they would remain as Team Leaders while we took a few months of Home Assignment to put Luke in college before moving to Kenya to work at Kijabe Hospital. We (Scott initially, both of us later) would be supervising the Johnsons in Uganda and the Nairobi team, as the Area Directors for Africa. Travis was a a family medicine doctor like Scott, an all-around medical practitioner as well as a leader and teacher. Amy was a teacher with three young children, and a passion for literacy. She had an interest in the community library we were trying to establish and so started the "Books for Bundi" program, while leading the team with Travis.

A few months is never enough to be prepared for surviving let alone leading in a remote and difficult place, with its deeply entrenched spiritual fears, physically challenging conditions, and constant turnover of personnel. Diving directly into leadership while still getting one's balance as parents is no easy task either. The way those nearly 3 years weighed them down, spread them out, brought them to Jesus is their story to tell. But they created a home and established a Sickle Cell Disease clinic, saw patients, hosted and recruited new team mates, invited interns, planned retreats, went on safari, developed friendships, facilitated reconciliations between people, oversaw Christ School, prayed against spiritual warfare, nursed pets back to health and mended the tender hearts of their kids, and a thousand other things. Some of the key partners we have now: Ann Kieser, Josh and Anna Dickenson, Michael and Lesley Stevens and others who work in the Home Office, were shepherded in by the Johnsons too. They invested in young CSB grads. Travis preached and prayed and blessed many. While on their own home assignment, the chronic intestinal irregularities that have plagued quite a few foreign workers here just didn't get better for Travis. It took time to treat parasites and decide to pursue further work-up and at the end of the process we were shocked to find out he had a late-stage small but highly dangerous cancer in his colon that had already spread. He was 37. They were just at the turning point of blossoming in Bundibugyo. And they had to cut that plan short, stay in the USA for surgery and chemotherapy.

And in spite of a less than 1 in 5 chance of living to 5 years, Travis lived 7 more years after diagnosis. The Johnsons kept their heart for Bundibugyo but were never able to move back here due to round after round of chemotherapy (62 courses), surgery (6 major and many minor), radiation (20 treatments) and immunotherapy (18). Consultations.  New combinations of drugs. Two steps forward and one back. Fasting and prayer, anointing with oil. Vegan smoothies and marathon bike rides. They went to battle with this cancer, all the while creating a stable life for their family, working at jobs, attending sports games and school events and serving on the Serge board. For most of those 7 years Travis appeared to be trim, tan, grinning, youthful, bubbling over with ideas and absolute assurance that God's goodness and love were to be trusted. Until the final couple of months, with metastases to the brain, he was indomitable. He carried us along in his hopefulness, praying for cure and extending the months.

I saw the news from Amy in the early morning, and I'm sure others did too. We decided there would be a need for some community gathering to mourn. In this place we are hard-wired to go to the grieving. There is nothing higher in priority than sitting with the bereaved. So we mentioned to a few people that we would open the community center at 5 pm for prayer and songs and testimony. Remember that Travis spent about 6% of his life in Uganda, and has been gone for 7 years. But somehow the very intensity of life makes those years loom in importance, for the Johnsons and for all of us. So when we quickly put together a plan with Pastor Kisembo (prayer, scripture, sing, speak) the chairs began to fill until there were 50 people or more. And our service went on for two hours, and probably could have continued another except for darkness. The ENTIRE Christ School staff walked up the road, even though only a handful had been teachers when Travis was chairman of the board. There were young men who had been fatherless, old women who had found an advocate. Dozens of people told their stories. Travis gave me a job, Travis gave me advice, Travis shared this verse with me, Travis invited me into his home, Travis sponsored my education, Travis told me not to worry he would help me, Travis went and looked for my sick husband and brought him home, Travis came to my house. People who felt seen and loved. Who felt connected and safe.
Scott recording testimony

clinging to Jesus, our only comfort in life and in death

The very last two testimonies, though, were my favorites. Byomuntula told a story of Amy playing a prank on Travis that involved a bowl of water balanced over a door, and a surprise dousing. He was mystified by this act of disrespect from a wife . . then mystified even more when Travis laughed. He learned that humor is part of marriage, that joy trumps order. Many people described Travis as joyful. Then Isaiah Kule spoke of the other side of Travis, his determination to help and to change, his sacrificial spirit. When Isaiah was an orphan on scholarship at Christ School, he had an opportunity to work alongside Travis by translating for him. Soon he decided to change his career direction and apply to medicine like Travis. And Travis agreed to sponsor his education through the Kule fund. He spoke of how this continued even when the Johnsons left, staying in touch, sending gifts. Then he said, "one of the last verses Travis shared with me was that God wants me to call him Abba, Father. He told me that I should stop calling myself an orphan, because I have a Father who is caring for me and watching over me, who is meeting all my needs. " Isaiah was barely controlling tears and paused to get in control. Then he looked directly at the phone where Scott was recording testimony to send to Amy and the kids. "Lilli, Patton, and Aidan, you are not orphans either. God is your good father. God is the one who will meet all your needs."
Isaiah carried this photo from about 2012, when Travis reached his home. His mom is on the right.

Wow. Travis preached to this fatherless boy many years ago, and now he is preaching back to Travis's fatherless children.
Dr. Isaiah today, with his mom again, and Gladys another very sad older lady

It hits me that this moment is what it's all about. We are here to seek out the marginal, to invest in the poor, to share what we have been given.. . . . but the truth is that we are needy and lost ourselves. And if we press into this long enough, we find those very people pouring back the love and truth to us.

Pray for the Johnson family. Pray that when they look back over life, they will have a tender spot for this place and its importance. Pray they would walk by faith even right in the thick of their sorrow and their questions.
A less outdated but still not current prayer card, the one taped to my wall

And though this story is not about us, we would also love prayer. This team has had 8 team leader families over its 30 years of existence. Three have left because of cancer at surprisingly young ages (all died). Two had children with significant needs that could not be met with the limited medical and educational resources here. Two stepped down due to extreme feelings of burn out. It has not been pretty, from a certain perspective; it feels like this job is impossible. It's a sobering line-up that is repeated in many places. We can run and hide, or we can say that until God pulls us out with something equally dramatic, here we are.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Gospel according to Desmond. And Nehemiah.

First Sunday of the 2020 school year, and Desmond is our preacher. He's a math teacher who has been part of CSB for over 15 years. Our founder said Desmond's blood is in our mortar, and what he means is that this man has held onto the values of the school through hard times and helped keep us on track. To launch the year, he brought the theme Patrick McClure chose for the teacher workshop "Rise and Build" and expanded on it for students. His usual style is to have a student or two up front with him, and as they read the passage a verse at a time, he repeats and expounds.  So today he brought up three young men, and we walked through chapters 1, 2, and the beginning of chapter 3 in the book of Nehemiah.

Desmond, Salube, and Peter, the leaders of the team!

With a large donation from December, Scott has been repairing the perimeter fencing, turning it into a brick wall to keep thieves out and maintain a safe environment for boarding school students in a very crowded urban environment. Our women member of parliament even donated 100 bags of cement, because this is a matter of protecting girls in a school that prioritises their education. So the story of Nehemiah rings true in a literal sense right in front of our eyes--20 years have taken a toll, things fall apart, and we are making a fresh start to rebuild. We're recovering from people who wanted to do harm. The last year by God's grace we've invested in lots of visible improvements in addition to the new brick sections of fencing: repaired roofs and fresh plaster, new coats of paint, replacement of all the bunk beds, new doors, new books for the library, new pots for the kitchen, and on and on. And in spite of many predictions that our 2019 problems would torpedo our students' exam performance, we celebrate the fact that out of 11 Division One (best) grades in the district, 10 were from CSB. We finished as the best secondary school in the district again, and 11th percentile nationally (better than 89% of schools in Uganda).  There is momentum and hope in these efforts.
Brick piles last week ready for the next section of fencing (it is now underway!)

Desmond took it a step further, though. As Nehemiah decides to join the campaign to restore Jerusalem, he begins with a soul-searching prayer of repentance. And Desmond challenged us to all do the same. Where do we need to tear down some damaged walls in our own lives, order to build afresh? What is God calling us to change? His example: if a student cheats on tests through the year, the teacher has no way to find out the issues that need to be addressed. So that student will reach the final national security-conscious proctored exam and fail. Don't hide, repent and let God work!  Let's not just have a nice-looking campus, winning sports teams and good grades. Yes, those are good. But what God is doing here is bigger than all that. God is remodelling lives.

By the end he had them cheering with expectation that 2020 will be a year for shining.

The Gospel is good news. When the paint is being scraped or the damaged fence pulled up, it may not feel that way. When I look realistically at the pitiful progress in my own heart, I sigh. But I believe that Nehemiah's example is true. Side by side, pulling down rubble and rebuilding, we are creating a community where glory dwells, where good prevails, where justice grows.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Choosing our Story: on meat pots and wilderness and highways and faith

This week the epic of Exodus took me through chapter 16. Literally the camping crowd of Abraham's descendants are days past what surely must have been one of the most dramatic rescues of all time, army closing in behind, deep water ahead, a massive migration of humans on the move from oppressive servitude towards a hope of a peaceful existence with their own gardens and government and worship. God had sent an obscuring cloud behind to hide them and a wind ahead to clear the path. These people had passed unscathed through the sea, waters parted to safety, then seen their pursuers drown and turn back. They had danced and sang, and three days later when they were thirsty in the wilderness God provided water, then led them to an oasis of palm trees and wells. Another week or two passes as they move further into the rugged landscape. And this is their summary of the story as they complain to Moses: "Oh, that we had died in Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."

Image result for sinai wilderness
(google image photo of Sinai)

What??? Pots of meat and easy bread?? What about the cry they had sent up to God for deliverance as they were beaten, despised, stripped of any rights, forced into hard labor making bricks and building pyramids? What of all they had seen as God threw onslaughts of frogs and hail and deep darkness and death on their oppressors, while preserving their lives, to the point that they were not only allowed to depart but given bounties of gold to just get out? What about the prior weeks of partying by the Red Sea when they walked away from certain doom?  How quickly heat and hunger change our memories.

They are in the wilderness. The space between the promise and its fulfilment. Between the release and the arrival. Between a taste of freedom and a holistic life. In other words, they are where we all live.

In that context of a harsh environment, a weary body, a questioning soul, they look back on the facts and frame a story that makes sense to them. They are now the sacrifice, brought to die. Still caught up in the religion of retribution.

In actual fact, however, three chapters prior we read the real story. God did not lead them up the coastal Mediterranean highway, though that would have been shorter. Why? Because God anticipated that an immediate confrontation with hostile national forces would have frightened them into returning to Egypt. They were not ready for war. They needed time and space to form a national identity, to learn to worship and to trust. To meet God face to face, on Mount Sinai. This was the theme of our East and Central Africa retreat two years ago with Greg Thompson, the invitation to intimacy.

Two story frames for the same situation: one based on fear, we're here to die. The other based on love, God protecting them from disaster, God inviting them into relationship.

Well, I can complain with the best of the Israelites. Last week was sopping with heavy clouds and constant rain . . but today is too hot with unrelenting sun. It's a miracle to have a son who turned 27 yesterday, and in the last year married a woman whom we love and survived his internship in orthopedic surgery . . but I felt the familiar aching complaint of distance, missing yet another birthday as we have for over a decade. There is always too much to think about, to do, always the feeling of being inadequate and a bit of a disappointment, of letting down people I should love better. There is always one more need, one more knock, one more tale of desperation from which I would avert my eyes. Woe are we.
Yes I bought a stack. It's that good.

In our Team Meetings we are now reading Eric McLaughlin's excellent book Promises in the Dark, Walking with those in need without losing heart. (side note . . to sign into a free webinar with Eric tomorrow follow this link). This week we talked about all the ways we feel weak, frustrated, angry, complaining, overwhelmed, despairing, insufficient to the task. And the ways that we react to that feeling often being to blame others or God, to complain, to control the little bit we imagine we can, to escape into small pleasures, or deny the realities that wear us down. Perhaps we are just like the Israelites--trying to construct a story where God is at fault. But that story misses the bigger story God is telling. My grace is sufficient, my power is made perfect IN YOUR WEAKNESS. Not the wilderness and the misery as making the best of a bad plot twist, but the thorny current problem as the very path that God has given us out of love. 

God rarely pulls back that curtain of explanation. We don't normally find out that the coastal road would have led to war. We just find ourselves in the literal or metaphorical wilderness, in lonely hearted longing, in long hard days, in losses and suffering. We find ourselves unable to fix a comfortable path, and that is the moment of faith. Can the wind of the Spirit blow here? Can the streams of grace spring up in this desert? What story am I living in, a tale of fear where I am vulnerable, God is distant, and evil is relentless? Or a story of mystery where God has brought me to this exact moment for a redemption I can barely understand?

Students arriving for the 2020 school year, a big reason we are in this chapter of our own story

And another glimpse into our story, patients for whom justice calls for care. A little girl with burns above, a hungry baby with a cleft lip and palate below.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

02022020 and a New Year for soul happiness

Our kids delighted in palindromes. They wore inexpensive digital watches (still do) and would watch for times and dates that were the same backwards as forwards. So today I particularly miss the excitement that would have abounded on the second of February in the year 2020 here. Nevertheless, the new year is off to a rocking start in other ways.

 Staff in front of the Admin block as we departed for the retreat

And last night back on campus as we did a prayer walk with CSB staff and team to prepare for the arrival of students today

 First, we completed a 2 1/2 day Teacher Retreat and Workshop for the CSB staff. It has been a tradition to go off-site for a couple of nights prior to the onslaught of the new school year's responsibilities, to build community, solidify vision, equip educational methods, share ideas, shore up plans. . . and have fun! This year's retreat was held in Fort Portal, and I believe all those goals were realized. We could not be more delighted to be bringing Patrick McClure into the CSB work as Director of Development. The McClure family landed a few months ago, and after some language-learning and house-settling and education-for-kids-sorting he is now coming alongside Scott in the day to day partnership with have with Christ School. Unlike us, Patrick is an actual educator and administrator with a solid background of experience in the USA. He had everyone standing, sharing, throwing footballs and brainstorming lists, lots of very participatory sessions that not only communicated content but modeled HOW to communicate content.

Patrick's theme: Let us Rise and Build, from Nehemiah, note the trowels on which we wrote the characteristics of "giant" schools (successful schools) we were committed to work on building at CSB!

We hired a handful of new staff whom we were trying to also orient to the CSB vision and mission. We are grateful for the long-term staff, in particular teachers Desmond, Salube, Peter and Kiiza who have served for a decade or more. Equally important, we now have many staff who were former students!  One of our new hires came to CSB as a sponsored OVC in Senior 1, and stayed to graduation from Senior 6. Now he's back as a University-educated teacher. Another struggled through a very small and poor peripheral school in the district for 4 years but was admitted on a scholarship to CSB for S5 and 6. He did so well he earned a government scholarship to University. And now he's back to pass that blessing on to others. This is the dream of what would happen here, that our graduates would be servant-hearted leaders who would return to transform Bundibugyo. It is slow, these stories have decade-long arcs, but we are seeing it happen.

My topic was "conflict", because whenever you put 25 teachers living and working in a boarding school day after day, there will be conflict! Many of us do not grow up learning healthy ways of "iron sharpening iron", of bringing good out of difference, but we hope that the role plays, diagrams, Bible verses, discussions . . will stick and change patterns of behaviour.
The Magistrate's court above, and walking the disputed land below

We returned from the retreat directly to court for yet another instalment of our land case, in which the elderly man who sold part of his property twenty years ago to the mission in order for us to plant trees (a generally good thing) and provide food and income for the school (another bonus) . . . because he needed the money at the time for his own kids' school fees . . . is now claiming both that he didn't mean to sell it, only lease it for three years, and that when he signed a document fifteen years later confirming our ownership during a time when we were trying to document our properties, it was invalid because of his poor eyesight. It is very frustrating to sit in court all day listening to people not tell the truth, but I suppose that's happening everywhere. We still have another session or two before the judge decides, so that could take us through a good portion of 2020.
My students clustering around for bedside teaching

From there it was back to the usual for the rest of the week. The clinical officer training college in Fort Portal decided to assign us a couple of dozen students for a month, so Dr. Marc and I each found ourselves with a little crowd of very green medical students to teach. Malaria still abounds, and this dry season has still been punctuated by heavy rain storms. The wards are full of children with anemia from sickle cell disease too, and premature babies, and infectious coughs and abscesses, and puzzling jaundice or rare bone disease. As January came to a close we have been trying to have our monthly phone conferences with the dozen or so leaders we mentor, catch up on hundreds of emails, produce reports, raise funds, weigh in on some leadership dilemmas, and care for our team here. Scott is supervising the next section of perimeter wall for the safety of Christ School students, thanks to a donation at the end of 2019, and looking at what the priority infrastructure improvements for 2020 should be. One day he took a few hours to totally re-design our hot water solar system (involving lots of work up a ladder with pipes and tools), and now we have blazing hot water for washing dishes and bathing. Yeah.

Our nutrition program is helping this 4-month-old with cleft palate

Hospital-wide CME on Friday mornings, Dr. Ammon teaching

In Uganda, January is a transitional month, the end of the longer school holiday (Dec/Jan) and the beginning of a new year of work. As we enter fully into this year, I have to admit we feel stretched and pounded by the needs around us and our own desire to push into the Kingdom work. This morning our sermon came from Matthew 22, the wedding feast, which is usually told as a cautionary tale of not refusing the invitation for salvation. But in this cultural context, the preacher said that God the father was calling together a committee to prepare for the wedding of his son to US, because the Father's heart is set on the happiness of our souls. In fact, the father sees the poverty of our souls and has provided the entire budget for the feast already. I confess that my M.O. this week has been hurry, protecting time, a sense of inadequacy, too much to do . . . not an invitation to soul happiness. Yet we have some pretty dramatic evidence that what the preacher said is true. A few large donors have boosted us into 2020 with hope of abundant provision, and hundreds of normal donors remind us that we have a prayerful community standing with us in the fray. Both are equally important signs of God's love.
Next to me in church this am, one happy soul

Enjoy the palindrome today, and be alert for the banquet of 2020.