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Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Another school on fire, this time OURS


At 2 pm Tuesday afternoon in Bundibugyo, smoke began billowing out of one of our boys' dorms and the two attached staff apartments. The students were in class, but some kitchen workers ran in and saved the lives of two small children napping in the apartments as a major fire gained strength. No one knows how this fire started. An electrical short is suspected, an accident with a cooking device or candle considered likely, but a malicious arsonist can't be ruled out. The context of a boys' dorm in a school SO SIMILAR to and so close to ours being firebombed by ADF rebels to kill students a few days ago (see previous post) had everyone on high alert and feeling anxious already.  It's not surprising that the rumour that rebels had attacked quickly gained momentum. Parents and community members streamed into the school compound looking for their children even as the staff scrambled to respond, to take a roll call, to use any means they could to control the fire. The nearest actual fire brigade is hours away so all they could do was stop anyone from trying to reenter the disaster scene as the roof imploded. It was a terrible day.

Now night has fallen in Uganda. In case you see the story, we wanted you to know what happened. We are very thankful that:

  • No child was injured, all 39 dorm boys and both staff families are fully well and accounted for.
  • The Serge team and the CSB staff mobilised to control the situation effectively and compassionately. We are so thankful for their tireless work today.
  • All the students have gone home for the rest of the week, given the context of the ADF targeting border boarding schools and the trauma of watching a dorm burn, we thought they needed rest and safety.
  • The police will investigate the cause. A week or so ago an anonymous letter of threat to burn the school down was received after a kitchen staff worker was fired for theft, so the possibility of intended evil exists even though we think that at 2 pm on a Monday a faulty wire or human error are more likely.
  • We will be raising funds to replace the destroyed properties (all those kids lost everything, their clothes, books, money, shoes, sheets, mattresses, towels, papers .. . the metal bunkbed frames may be salvageable but not much else) and to rebuild the dorm.
PLEASE PRAY for the students, staff, and families who lived through the chaos and fear today to find the peace that passes understanding filling their hearts tonight. Pray for wisdom and clarity in the investigation. Pray the we can resume school quickly and safely. And keep praying for the Mpondwe parents who lost so much more.

Evil will not have the final word but it is shouting a lot of painful horrors this week. It's why we need to hold onto our witness and live by Romans 12: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Paradox summer: grief for the place we love and live, gratitude for the people who send and surround us

The image above is from the New Vision Newspaper in Uganda, taken in Mpondwe NOT in Bundibugyo, of mourning families and coffins, unspeakable grief. Late Friday night, ADF rebels attacked a school about a hundred miles south of us on the Congo border. They burned, looted, abducted and killed. 37 students and at least 4 others lost their lives, locked into a burning dorm or shot or hacked by machetes. The assailants took off back over the border with food and girls. But more than that they grabbed attention and headlines, highlighted Uganda's vulnerability and presumably impressed common enemies with their chaotic destructive prowess. The point of terrorism is terror. And terror ensued. 

The school that was attacked had so many similarities to Christ School we are sobered as well as outraged and grieved. Started by a north American NGO that was trying to help families who could not afford education, pouring in computers and buildings and books, working with a local board, located on the very western edge of Uganda at the foot of the Rwenzori mountains. This one was on the south side and ours is on the north. In the two days since, the UPDF (Ugandan Army) has visited our school, and though we had already been using night guards and locked gates and barred doors for years we are very much on edge. And thankful for the donors who supported completion of the perimeter safety wall this past year. 

The ADF have been wreaking havoc in Uganda and Congo for 26+ years . . . It was June 1997 when we personally first fled from them. As soon as CSB opened in 1999 we had to move our students out to Fort Portal for a while to escape their menace. And countless times since we have had smaller attacks, threats, dangers, including some significant incursion just six months ago. But the scale of this attack and the choice of the school as a target represents a real escalation.  Our hearts are heavy with the reality of evil, and with sorrow for those who suffer.

This weekend we arrived in California at the half-way point of "HA" or "home assignment" which is a somewhat oddly paired name for what workers like us do periodically to stay connected with our origins and stay accountable to our supporters. The first 5-6 weeks were about half in WV and half in Utah and the second will be about half in California/Oregon and half on the road. Half-way is a good point to summarise the purposes of an "HA" and share a summary of our life . . . but then the ADF struck again and our souls feel scrambled and drained. How can we even mention joys when so much is deeply wrong in the world? As it turns out, one of our team leaders with Serge in our Africa area, Dr. Eric McLaughlin, wrote an article last week about this very dilemma. Please read it here. He eloquently paints the richly hued picture of our redeemed life with it's celebratory days of joy occur in the context of painful days of sorrow. Neither negates the other, both are true and real. For us, and for Jesus too, weeping for Jerusalem the same day the city was erupting in hosannas. 

So if you started with the weeping of Mpondwe, please follow into the paradox of a few hosannas.

Family Milestones and Family Service

Living seven to ten thousand miles from our family means we miss most of their lives, the daily contacts that give depth and meaning . . . and distance and COVID meant we missed our soldier's ceremony for finishing his most intense training, and Jack's masters' graduation from Cambridge. So with Julia and Luke both completing their studies in Utah this summer, we planned this HA to encompass both. Julia received her MBA in early May, and Luke's orthopedic surgery residency celebrated their six seniors with a day of research presentations, speeches, awards and dinner in early June. In between we based ourselves in WV where my mom and niece have been staying and my sister and family visited too, plus our son his army buddy who cared for me in the ICU in 2021. And now we are with Scott's 90 year old mom for two weeks. We have been delighted to see our kids in their work and study contexts and the impact their passion for justice in the world has in their communities. And we've been trying to support our brave moms who are independent and brave but too often alone. 

Supporter Thanks and Reports

Grace Church has been our bedrock for nearly 30 years overseas, not to mention most of my life . . . so we were grateful to spend an evening with some leaders and a Sunday speaking and greeting and thanking them. As we've crossed the country we've stopped to see a couple of supportive families, giving personal greetings to individuals and a few groups who have prayed us through the ADF and more. From Sago Baptist to the Methodists here in Half Moon Bay too, we need all the prayer we can get!

Projects, Maintenance, Serge work and Life

We try to keep a hundred-year-old farm house we inherited from my family inhabitable even though we're rarely there, and to be reasonably parental in assisting with two cross-country moves for our offspring. Which means power washing and meadow mowing and weeding and packing and just the normal parts of life. And as Area Directors, most of our job transfers remotely and follows us along the road. This morning we had a 6:30 am conference call with Uganda, followed by a supporter coffee here in California. Most days in the last 5 weeks have included hours of communication, study, mentoring, administrative paperwork, planning, only this time squeezed not by the neediness of a remote rural African village community but by the desire to be present and participant in our family's lives. The 2023 reality of internet allows a great degree of multi-time-zone effectiveness, but also makes it challenging to keep so many balls in the air and people in the heart. We did get to meet our Serge boss IN PERSON as we each drove half-way between WV and Philly, which was a rare treat in the virtual world. 

6 weeks down and 5 to go, hope this gives a glimpse of Home Assignment reality. Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, as Romans 12:15 commands, pretty much sums up this itinerant period. We are giddily thankful for the graduations, dinners, hikes, fellowship with so many whom we love. And we are bearing still the burdens of our home-assignment country's divisiveness and our adopted country's loss of life today.

This is an appropriate end to a long post, it's our license plate. The fact that it's on a truck that we're driving probably 6000 miles or more these couple months makes it representative of the dedication to presence and service, and the fact that it says paradox makes it representative of the days filled with both beauty and brokeness. . . and what better holiday than Juneteenth to post on, a day that constitutes celebration but was necessary because of injustice. We thank you for traveling with us in places characterized by both, where we need to be and where we love to be.