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Saturday, November 14, 2020

60 years + 60 hours--Grateful for Scott David Myhre


I opened a drawer today looking for something, and saw this, with 1990 written on the back. We lived in Chicago for residency, and Scott was wind-surfing on Lake Michigan. Fast forward another half of his life-so-far, and he's just turned 60 in Bundibugyo. 

Here he is with our team on his birthday (except for one family who was sick), plus a couple of kids who grew up with ours. . . having just spent the evening cooking us all pizza in an oven he built himself. Having made a special delicious slow-rise dough himself too, and a good bit of the toppings, including pesto from his garden. Not to mention built a lot of what you see in this picture, and mentored all these people, and fixed everything in a kilometer radius, including plumbing and electricity and motors and humans.

So the two photos, the first one showing his fun spirit of adventure and athletic capacity and love for the outdoors, the second showing his life of serving, pretty well sum it up. Everywhere we go in Bundibugyo, someone knows Scott and has a good story.

60 is kind of a big deal. Just living to 60 for someone who has been shot at in war, run for his life, been exposed to Ebola in more than one epidemic, climbed the three highest peaks in Africa in some dicey conditions with a touch of pulmonary oedema, survived an explosion or two, been in some car accidents on very dangerous roads, had to pull me out of an ocean current, camped with lions and elephants moving through, fought off hyenas, killed cobras, received threatening letters from rebels, received threatening letters from a couple of evil men, challenged tribalism and stood up to bullies, had malaria and a run-in with the flesh-eating strep, and just gotten all of us out of more danger than I can even remember . . . 60 is remarkable.

But what is even more remarkable is to have walked through all that with grace. Kacie on our team had the grand idea of gathering 60 letters from people for his 60th birthday. She ended up with way more than that. We have barely begun to read through the album, but God's timing could not be sweeter. After the intensity of bad maternal outcomes and loss, this letter album was a beautiful reminder of the richness of community that God has given us. I think Luke quoted from "It's a Wonderful Life", no man is a failure who has friends. It does boil down to loving God and your neighbour, and Scott embodies that. He's thoughtful and faithful, and the kind of person who has spent those years going out of his way to drive someone where they need to go, lend someone money, evaluate someone's injury, pay attention see what is needed and just quietly do it. Often at personal risk and cost. People have noticed, and it is gratifying and humbling for me to see this love poured back to him that he has poured out for others. He's not just tough, he's tender, and lots of people have been blessed.

But mostly, me. 40 years and 2 months ago, he pulled up in his car and offered me a ride to church. We've been friends 2/3 of his life now.  Hoping for more than 3/4.  I suppose if we made it this far, what's a little global pandemic? 

For a few years in the 2000's, Mark and Kristen Vibbert were managers of a high end safari tented camp in the Semiliki game reserve. They invited us to celebrate Scott's birthday and our half-anniversary as their guests. This year we decided to splurge and go back on our own (COVID discounts) and so last weekend we had two glorious nights away. This is a place where you can hear and see birds and read books and eat well and be at peace. 

Of course no Myhre adventure escapes the requisite "will we make it" moment; but in addition to all the above Scott can 4WD through some serious mud, and after a couple hours' delay we made it past a line of about 20 trucks stuck in both directions. 

Just so you know that not EVERY day is will-we-make-it, we had over 48 hours of luxurious rest.

Happy Birthday to the man who is sold out for justice, who fights for the poor, who shores us all up with his resolute can-do spirit and his unflappable belief, who engages with issues, who captures beauty in photographs and carpentry, who can drive through anything, climb anything, bike anyone into the ground, perform surgery and make dinner and preach. Wish we could have celebrated with friends and family from all the decades of his life, but thankful for the letters and for our team here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Living the 11th hour in a troubled world: 11/11/2020, Pandemic day 236 in Uganda, bracing for cheer

 The 11th hour is upon us. 

This story is about this woman, and death, and faith. Keep reading.

Today's remembrance holiday commemorates the end of WW1 102 years ago. Poppies blooming between crosses, larks singing where guns once pounded, capture the hope that time and beauty heal the wounds of war. By pausing today, we acknowledge that war has taken a toll, that death and evil invade and distress, but also that sacrifice and love prevent their triumph. That's why we honour our veterans. 

In the USA today, we have our government casting doubt upon the legitimacy of our democratic process, even though ten lawsuits so far have been concluded with no evidence of fraud. The secretary of state implied that the incumbent president who lost the popular vote by 4-5 million votes and the electoral college by 279 to 214, with 45 votes still to be finalised in Arizona, Georgia, and NC, will continue into a second term. There were 139,855 new coronavirus cases yesterday in America and 1448 deaths, both exponentially increasing. Here in Uganda we have a steep rise as well, and our first confirmed COVID death from our own Bundibugyo hospital. As dire as all that sounds, I suspect 1918 was worse as the flu pandemic raged amidst the brutalities of WW1. Still, good emerged, but only after a lot of sorrow.

Today, my Bible reading included one of my all time favourite verses, one that pretty much sums up the history of now. 

In this world you will have trouble; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

Two truths that do not blend easily together, a troubled world, and a cheerful confidence. Sorrow and hope. A world that keeps throwing punches, and a God who says it will all be OK.

It's been one of those weeks. Monday, as I was finishing staff Bible study looking at the covenant God made with Abraham (side note, but who would choose circumcision for a 99 year old man who was unable to make his wife pregnant? God stacks the odds against the outcome we pray for sometimes to make it so dramatic) . . . Dr. Isaiah came to find Scott. His sister-in-law was bleeding, after a difficult C-section, and there was no blood in the hospital. They began arranging to send her to Fort Portal for blood, but before they could load her into the ambulance, she died. Meanwhile Scott was pulled in to see another woman in labor because she came with an ultrasound diagnosing twins, which was quite believable since she was very large. He re-scanned, did not see twins, baby was OK, but labor was stalled, so planned to take her for a C-section too. Only there was: NO sterile instrument set (insert 3 hour delay), NO sterile gowns or drapes (do without). Once she was in theatre her Blood Pressure was 221/150--sky high-- not the ideal time to have gotten the first set of vitals. She was hyper-reflexic, heading into ecclampsia, so this was suddenly life and death. NO medications for the ecclampsia, or the hypertension. Anesthetist UNABLE to get the spinal so he just dosed her with ketamine until she was moaning less. I think you get the picture--an extremely non-ideal situation. If we wait for the ambulance to get her to Fort Portal, or to get back with blood, she's going to be dead. So Scott went ahead, a really really hard case due to all the missing things and her obesity. At the end, she just started bleeding even more (not surprising in ecclampsia, which messes with clotting), so he re-opened and tightened up and re-sutured. By now her BP was 70/40, pulse 120's.  The baby was great so after a quick resuscitation I had handed the little girl off the maternity nurses and stayed to keep praying, taking BP's, prompting more IV fluids, more oxygen, calling the returning ambulance whose driver pretended to be almost to Bundi but had actually not even started to return yet. Post-op we got her BP up a bit with the fluids, had her on oxygen, propped up her legs, waited and waited. Finally the blood arrived and it was nearly dark by the time we had it running in. She was opening eyes and moving, and we were relieved. As we went to bed, we got an encouraging report from the on-call doctor. And a half-hour later, she died. Two maternal deaths in one day. I'm not sure we had even had two this year prior to this, except for a woman with advanced AIDS. Babies and children die almost every day, but not mothers. We were all devastated. As I looked back over the weekend, I realised at least one child had died each day due to lack of blood supply. Extremely discouraging, particularly when our regional blood bank is projecting statistics to the country of functioning perfectly.  In the last couple of weeks, I've had to declare several children dead as they breathed their last in front of me, and pretty much every time I come to rounds I find someone missing. 

In this world you will have trouble.

Ten days ago, when we were in the capital to pick up Michaela, we witnessed a horrible accident. As we drove down a main city street, a matatu coming towards us hit a motorcycle taxi. Two women on the back of the boda fell off, one into the path of the matatu. We watched her body bounce on the pavement and then the matatu run over her, wheels crushing her abdomen and chest as it jolted on. The matatu driver sped away as we pulled off the road and ran to the body. We cleared her airway and held her neck in traction, she was still breathing but unconscious, with blood pouring out. A crowd quickly gathered and grabbed her from us and loaded her onto the back of a small truck, to rush to a hospital. I know she died. This is a country without 911, without accountability for wanton vehicular homicide, without emergency options.

In this world you will have trouble.

I think the accumulation of death this November is just too much. Too much blood, too much trauma, too much impotence to change. We're in a disaster-level rainy season, and there were more floods on Friday. We got a two-night weekend respite for Scott's birthday, but spent hours stuck in a line of mired trucks on the muddy road, and nearly didn't make it. We came back to a tormentuous crop of intensely itchy bug bites. Our team is grappling with the rising coronavirus, and we are wading through murk in trying to create liveable protocols with almost no testing or data. Today was supposed to be our final court appearance, when the judge would announce his decision about the attempt to grab back land we as a mission bought 20 years ago for Christ School gardens. The son of the couple who sold the land is a policeman with power, and decided to try and invalidate the sale 14 years after the fact. It has been in the courts for six years. This morning when we arrived in town, the judge said he needed more time to consider the case. Not a good sign. Our friend, neighbour, and former worker was walking home Saturday night after dark and got mixed up in a fight of some sort on the road, which a soldier decided to break up with bone-breaking force. Literally, he clubbed our very slight, fragile, hundred-pound, 50-something friend so hard he ended up with a broken arm. So that was another day, getting xrays and Scott putting on a cast. The main young doctor who has been working with us quit last week too. So every day is longer, and the days we devote to our other jobs as Area Directors and Team Leaders leave the hospital even less covered.

In this world we have serious trouble. Flood-level trouble from injustice, misinformation, greed, corruption, broken systems, crazy weather, just plain evil.

But, Jesus said on the night before he was killed, "be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." It didn't look like a bloody surgery on an important part of Abraham's body was going to give him an heir. It didn't look like a bloody execution on the cross was going to defeat evil once and for all. It doesn't look good right now that we lost two bleeding post-CS mothers this week, or multiple kids with malaria and anemia and seizures and infections. It doesn't look hopeful that an off-duty soldier can whale on a pedestrian with bone-breaking force, or that a judge can take more than six years to decide that after the proceeds of a land sale were used by a dad to put his son through college, that son can't claim to invalidate the sale. It doesn't look like we're on the evil-defeating side when our patients die, or when we are just kneeling on the asphalt holding a bloody anonymous woman. 

The 11th hour is decidedly where we live. There are poppies and larks at times, but those grow and sing amongst the graves. Jesus has conquered all evil, all broken systems, all bleeding and disaster, but we're still living in the last hours before we see that reality on earth as it is in Heaven. "Be of good cheer" is less a breezy greeting and more a bracing command that goes against the grain, that determines to look deeper than all we can see. 

Monday, November 02, 2020

The night before elections; what makes for our peace?

Luke 19: Now as he drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Today’s reading in my Bible-in-a-year plan, unrelated to US elections tomorrow, but appropriate. I can imagine Jesus in America, watching and weeping. The chapter prior he has been saying some pretty uncomfortable things, and I quote: “Shall not God avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.Who is crying out day and night in 2020? Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the Kingdom of God.What is the state of our children in 2020?Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.Is this what we hear preached to the self-justifying and satisfied top 10% of the world economically? It’s what Jesus said to a young man who had wealth, power, and a moral majority type of record. There is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.A bitter acknowledgment that being together with family is not the ultimate metric of God’s will. Then Jesus reminds the disciples that he is going to Jerusalem to be scourged, mocked, spit upon, and killed, but on the third day he will rise. 

Overall, the things that make for peace seem paradoxically uncomfortable. Justice for the marginalised. Gentle welcoming of children, access and acceptance and love. Radical voluntary distribution of profits to the poor rather than all-holds-barred accumulation. Willingness to forgo our own families, even. Walking with Jesus into suffering. Risking everything because we know the cross was the pivot point of evil’s defeat. All of these show an acknowledgment that there is something of such high value that the pursuit of that reality ultimately changes all our metrics. 

(In fact, the rich-young-ruler who has money, power, and social embrace contrasts a few paragraphs later with the tax collector, who has money, power, and social opprobrium. Both encounter Jesus out of curiosity, restlessness, seeking. Both receive his attention, and engagement. But the tax collector, a figure of some ridiculousness climbing a tree, ends up grasping the message. He not only delights in Jesus’ banter, welcoming him to his home, he goes the extra step of announcing reparation plans. The crowd is scandalised, God is pleased.)

Tomorrow, and for the weeks and months and probably years to come, we as Americans are a country deeply divided. I think Jesus weeps over our churches as he did over the rich young ruler, deceived that power and money and superficial ten-commandment checklists were the ultimate measure of success. I think Jesus would be reaching out to both the law-abiding ruler and the law-breaking tax collector, whoever the equivalents are today, and finding places to demonstrate compassion. 2020 is already a year with mortality such as we have not seen since world wars. How will we rise? The way up is down, as always in the teaching of Jesus. Love, the kind that casts out fear. Realising we ARE those little children who are welcomed, accepted, seen, enough. Then taking that love out sacrificially to others in justice and generosity. 

Because no matter whom you vote for, it is pretty much guaranteed that people you love are listening to a completely different set of narratives. We all think ours matches the truth best, and it’s our job to struggle with that, to check sources, to observe, to not ignore the uncomfortable dissonant sayings and events. But even when we land on what we think fits Jesus’ values best, a huge percentage of people even in our close circles will decide differently. And the only way forward into 2021 is to keep working to address that gap without using shame or fear or coercion or hate. Jesus does not shame, name-call, punch, shoot, exclude. Jesus joins the conversation, the meals, with penetrating questions and a readiness to heal.

Let’s start with the simplest exercise in that kind of kindness: the COVID pandemic disproportionately affects people who are old, who are overweight, who are hypertensive, who are poor, who are minorities. So if you don’t fit into those categories, every time you put on a mask and wash your hands and limit your own freedom of movement and association, you do so to care for others. Simple as that.

Tomorrow and beyond, let us pray with Jesus for the things that make for peace, even as we walk with Jesus on the path of the cross. Every time we rest on the fact that we are loved and cared for by our Father in Heaven, and can therefore confidently consider the common good of our neighbours . . . well, that's a step towards peace.


Attending to the good we have gained; and remembering the souls we have lost

 First, some good news. In the world of 2020 we must PAY ATTENTION in order to keep a heart that is still open and hopeful. Friday night, just before midnight, we picked a new teacher up at the airport in Entebbe. A former teacher reminded me we were doing the same thing 18 years ago . . .but honestly it feels remarkable this year. Michaela joined Serge in March in the last week of in-person anything. She graduated virtually with a degree in education. She went to a pre-field orientation that ended in quarantine when multiple participants got sick with coronavirus (not her). She raised support in the biggest economic stress-time of the last decade or more. She got tickets within a month of the airport opening after almost 7 months of completely closed borders. She got the required negative COVID test within 72 hours, the on-line 3-month tourist visa to enter, the forms for health and for the brief landing in Rwanda all filled out. And she made it to the airport in spite of her parents' car having a catastrophic collapse within 2 miles of the Atlanta airport, after a two-hour trip to get there. She made all her connections in spite of a delayed take-off. And when the online trackers showed her last leg as "canceled" last night . . . it wasn't. She cleared the process so fast that she was basically right behind the flight crew, wheeling her tower of suitcases into the full-moon night.  

We actually insisted on being here as this year has us on edge that surely something disastrous should occur . . . but no, instead the weekend found us at a peaceful guest house, with two teachers (Lindsey who has finished a year of her 1.5 year commitment came to Entebbe too), pinching ourselves. It worked. Our first post-COVID arrival has occurred. I believe she's the first brand-new Serge worker to join East and Central Africa since COVID. So, take a moment to pay attention with us and be grateful. 

Note the sign: children/wild animal zone. These two teachers are ready

The guest house, Lindsey, and Michaela


And second, some poignant remembrance. This is the weekend around the world when the church in medieval times chose to particularly remember the saints and members who had died. A bit like Memorial Day, but not just for the military, for all of us. I think this is a holiday that should resonate and gain some traction in Africa where ancestors are an important and respected part of life. As Christians, we believe our dead still exist in some form awaiting the final judgement and resurrection. So a day to remember that our community extends beyond the present moment to include those who went before us is healthy and good. For us, that is most achingly our fathers, then so many others, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends. And here in Uganda, our first close colleague and friend Dr. Jonah, who died of Ebola on December 4, 2007.

So when we passed Melen, his widow, on the road unexpectedly Wednesday on our way to Chapel at Christ School, we were sad to have just a brief conversation. We had not seen each other since before the lockdowns. She runs a nursery and primary school here in Nyahuka still, but spends most of her time back in her home area of Kasese. After chapel, we went to Alpha (her school) to greet her more properly. To our amazement, this time she came with her youngest, Jonah, born a few months after he father's death in 2008. We had not seen Jonah in a few years, as he is usually in boarding school or Kasese and not Bundibugyo, and we were usually in Kenya. So we were unprepared to see this nearly-teenage young man looking so much like his father. All the grief of those days, all the struggles we shared, the rare gift of a genuine cross-cultural connection, flooded in. I know I had tears in my eyes just looking at him.

Yes, the space between past and present, between the heavens and the earth, between the souls we love and have lost and the people we love and are with, is thin. And for the unseen cloud of witnesses, we are also grateful.

In the end, both welcoming a new missionary teacher and remembering a friend who died come around to the same thing: paying attention to what is true, so that our hearts bend towards hope.