‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’
‘I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’
Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man
We are home, in the house where we have spent more years than any other place on earth, the place we don't have to deserve but which embraces us. As human beings who have chosen a disrupted, dual-continent life, almost-dying and at-last-returning has brought us reflection on the meaning of belonging.
Coming back to Bundibugyo, the reality of home is this: a mutual sense of connection, of history, of loyalty, of grace.
Over and over in the last 24 hours we have been told how hard the news of my injury was for our friends and neighbours and co-workers here, how much they prayed and hung onto messages through my critical ICU stay, how amazed they are to see us again, how it is a testimony to them of God's power and love. I thought I was returning for my own sake, but they are telling me it is more than that. Because the nature of a home is that others embrace my loss as their own loss. Today the Christ School students sang and danced about "our Jennifer and our Scott", the chaplain Edward said "now we can breathe", a poignant phrase these days. Yesterday a dozen old friends came to the mission and did a traditional dance with drumming and celebration, and Clovis our Bundinutrition colleague gave a brief but meaningful sermon. He compared the hard days last September to the illness of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38, when he was at the point of death and turned his face to the wall and prayed "please LORD, remember me." The twist was, Clovis said, this was the prayer of our friends: LORD, remember us, bring them back. Wow.
This is the nature of a long time in a somewhat insular place. Many of our greetings come in the context of people with whom we have rejoiced over pregnancies and wept over deaths; sat around homes at burials and around courtyards for meals; agonised over landslides and rebels and epidemics, cheered over tournament wins and graduations and healings. It doesn't make headlines or gather awards and followers, but it means something to people around us and to us. As long-term outsiders, we have the position of being able to connect gifts of the global community to the places in this community where they can work for the common good. Because we are eternally other, we can invest in a school that serves the marginalised rather than a project that enriches the people in power. Because we are decades-long residents, we can be a bridge.
In a reflective, post-near-death mood, these reactions remind me of another quote, this one from Kate Bowler's newest book Good Enough. She reflects on her anxiety, when her cancer was expected to be terminal, about whether her young son would remember her, and her counsellor tells her--You are the foundation and the foundation is the part you can't see. YES. I hope that is our life, some good solid cement and rock aggregate anchored into Jesus the cornerstone. We are not the stained glass window or the steeple. But perhaps we have enabled others to do some decent building. Staying and returning are not always the path God lays out for everyone, but ours seems to keep coming back to Bundi. And while someone else translated the Bible and started the school and planted the church and developed a local malnutrition supplement and taught literacy and helping babies breathe . . . those people can come and go for a couple of years or five or even a few for ten, because someone like us is a little firm cement to stand on.
So we are sharing our coming home thoughts to encourage others in their plodding faithfulness. Years add up. Reality takes time. And it costs, not only in our weary disjointed souls and ageing bodies, but for our kids, moms, siblings, relatives, friends who have to put up with distance and lack of availability. We feel that more deeply after six months in the States. So thanks for letting us come back, for praying and supporting us, because it is not just good for us. It makes others feel remembered. It moves us all a little more towards the hope of a life without goodbyes.
Wold Harvest Fort Portal!
Atwoki was our first Ugandan friend: the Herrons sent him to pick us up at the airport in 1993.
Baguma and Byarufu worked for us when we were raising our kids.
John was our kids' closest neighbour and daily play-mate, and now is our key accountant and administrator.
Dr. Amon and his wife Esther have been bright stars of friends and coworkers for fifteen years at least . . . and only a short time after this photo she delivered her fifth baby premature but vigorous, PRAY FOR HIM!
The welcome crew at our house, friends and team!
McClure kids made us an artistic sign!
Masika and Melen, from the late Dr. Jonah's family, have entertwined their lives with us from Scott's first visit to Uganda.
Scott reminding the CSB students this morning of the paradox of gratitude and grief. Seriously the staff prayed for me partly because they knew losing me might risk losing Scott, he's brings ideas and stability and confidence!
With acting Head Teacher Peter Bwambale and Dean Desmond, dear friends.