Pre-dawn star-fade, the quiet slap of our tennis shoes on the asphalt, the early morning jog that has kept us relatively healthy and sane in another year of struggle. One or two early buses careen by with their bright headlights and blaring horns, and a smatter of motorcylce taxis ferrying passengers punctuates the morning, but the road is otherwise mostly deserted. I hold Nyota's leash and Scott holds Bwindi's, a few yards ahead. Once or twice a morning the dogs lurch off to try and chase a cat or some other unseen creature in the darkness, but mostly concern themselves with the density of scents and with jostling each other. Sometimes a neighbour will call a greeting from their dark compound, or someone will call out our names from a group heading home from a burial. The milky way dims as the sun begins to grey the sky beyond the dark shape of the mountains. It is mercifully cool, and the most peaceful time of day.
So it was a shock a few days ago to come down the hill and hear loud passionate prayers start pouring out from a few teen girls who were kneeling in the grass just meters off the road, silhouettes in the dark, hands raised. Their voices were desperate, intense, edged with fear, and I kept hearing them calling out for help against Satan. The pitch escalated as we passed. I thought of stopping to comfort or question, but I wasn't quite sure if the fearful prayers were directed against us. Bwindi is a fearsome sight, if you don't know that she has a benign heart, so between our white skin and the two dogs and the unfamiliar spot for such a group, it seemed quite likely we were the Evil from which they sought deliverance.
Still, their intensity has stayed with me.
Bundibugyo is a liminal place. I mostly love that about it. We do not surround ourselves with the illusion that only the material counts, that reality stops at the seen. Every patch of the world is charged, with grandeur (GM Hopkins), with danger, with possibility, with the "repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" immediacy of parallel physics in the barely glimpsed universe. Every moment might be torpedoed by malicious spiritual forces intent upon destruction and consumption. And those girls knew that what appeared as a black dog or a pale spirit out of the night might have meant something worth being terrified, so they dropped to their knees in prayer.
That kind of acknowledgement of the reality of capital-E Evil makes us uncomfortable. As it should.
In many places, evil is something we manage with distraction and numbing, with walls that not only protect but encourage us to ignore. With laws, liability, insurance, bank accounts, credit cards, 911 numbers. With entertainment and comfort. But in the majority-world, that's not possible. When night has barely begun to melt into day and the road is lonely and there is fear afoot, the only recourse is to pray as if one's life depended upon it.
Tomorrow begins the week of Easter, where Evil gets an apparent upper hand on Friday, only to be proven defeated on Sunday. The word used in the prayer 'deliver us from evil ' or from 'the Evil One' relates to futile toil in pain and suffering, which harkens right back to Genesis and the curse that seeped into labor of all sorts, for children and for crops. Loss, effort that does not match the result, personal cost, death. In the forehead pocked by thorn scars and the hands severed by spikes. In the flesh rending process of birth and the back-aching swing of the hoe.
Cost of birth being paid in blood and pain
And he says, it wasn't exactly a picnic for me either . . . but in this case again, evil did not triumph.
Deliver us, we pray, and when it pours out of our hearts in the darkness with no human help in sight, I think that desperation burns out the filler-fluff of pious words and leaves purity.
This week we are praying, deliver us from Evil. On Wednesday, the same day those girls were passionately seeking aid from God against Satan, a few hours later we were sitting in court yet again. We lost the land case in December (short version: a man sold the mission a piece of his land for tree planting and farming in 2000. We used the farm for Christ School agriculture classes and support, and he used the money to put his kids through school. But when cocoa started to become profitable and companies were buying up land in about 2014, his son engineered a case to sue us for trespassing by claiming that the land was never sold only leased and that the documents his father had signed were invalid due to his poor eyesight . . 6 years and countless witnesses later, the judge decided that by virtue of being a foreign NGO we could not own this land, and awarded it back to the family). Our lawyers advised appeal, we reluctantly agreed, not because of the land but because the settlement included a catch: we would have to pay the court costs of the plaintiffs who won. Though the appeal has not yet been heard in the higher court, the lawyers for the family went ahead and presented a bill for 132 million shillings, 36 thousand dollars, more than double (closer to triple) the value of the land, and an absurd price for their dozen or so days of work, in a country where that would be the annual income for several dozen people. We went to court thinking it was a simple matter of our lawyer producing proof of the appeal and delaying this bill. However our lawyer's designated representative failed to show up, leaving Scott alone in the docket with zero preparation, only a vague understanding of the processes, facing the inflated greed of the other side's lawyer alone. Scott gave a short speech about the injustice of it all and the nature of our a not-for-profit work and who this would hurt. But the judge was annoyed with our side and said he may or may not allow the appeal, and the whole day was a pretty disastrous scenario. If you've never been helpless, abandoned, and unfairly treated in court, let me just bear witness that it is miserable. We are praying for deliverance.
Evil looks us in the eye hourly. Sometimes it is finding out medicine has been stolen, or the electricity- fried the oxygen concentrator so a baby has no help breathing. Sometimes it is caring for a child who has been badly burned, or who is in inexplicable pain. Sometimes it is finding an empty bed where the family of a malnourished baby whisked her away at night. Sometimes it is the loneliness we see in a teammate, or the way one of our Ugandan friends is being manipulated by a family member. Sometimes it is a storm that damages homes, or a miscarriage, or misunderstanding. And sometimes, most times, too many times, it is in our own hearts, impatient criticism of the way things are, intolerant judgement, unkind words, unwilling hardness of heart, unreasonable anxiety that God may not be on our side.
This baby came starving, and after a week of small increments towards survival the family disappeared.
However, these triplets are still doing relatively well, though at 9 months old now they are receiving nutritional help from our program.
A year in, we are still battling COVID.
Deliver us from evil. Deliver us from ourselves. Deliver us from injustice, from suffering, from futility, from loss. Deliver us from those cups we'd like to pass on drinking, the ones that contain the wrathful wine of judgement. Deliver us from the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, the consuming caverns that want to devour light, the defeated enemies that still lash out to wreak harm. And after a year poised for COVID disaster, just when we're one vaccine closer to surviving it and getting to go see our moms and kids, deliver us from the pandemic. Kenya just shut down again as a third wave broke there. Sobering.
Team Bundi March 2021
The good news is, of course, that we are delivered. The cross went right through the heart of Evil, a fatal wound. Nothing can separate us from the good intent of God to heal and save. But each bruising encounter with the fatally wounded darkness still stings. And so we pray, like those girls, as if our life depended upon it, because it does.
Join us in praying for justice in the courts, for healing from COVID in Africa, for vaccines and equity. For protection. And for our soldier who is in the most intense two weeks of the last 5 years, right now. A bit of deliverance there would be glorious.
Wednesday evening after the prayer encounter in the dark and the crushing misery of the court case and several of the medical photos above . . . God reminded us of His promises. And so we hold on.