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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Fragments creating a Mosaic

 Sitting in a circle with ten women who work cross-culturally and sharing prayer requests, some common late-November themes are how we miss our extended families, how we try to keep up with other workers in our countries or areas, how we are asked for help a dozen times a day, how we juggle kids' needs for structure and for freedom, for attention and for independence, how we value our friends from earlier phases of life and our new friends in our communities now, how we want holidays to be both familiar and fresh, meaningful and fun, how we bear the concern for health of distant parents and grandparents and nearby neighbours and friends, how our work takes us into contact with one language group or another cultural niche. As we prayed for each other, the word that came to me was fragmentation. Truthfully telling God that we feel fragmented. Our hearts stretch, our capacities stretch, and it feels like too much. I prayed for a centering reality, for that solid rock of rest that allows the fragments to fall into place.

And a few minutes later, my colleague Anna prayed that as those fragments arranged, they would become a mosaic.

Not just a manageable pile, a work of art. 

What a hopeful and true picture of life. Not that we won't break but that our pieces will be curated by the Spirit to tell a story, to depict a truth, to draw our hearts to beauty. As November draws to a close, that seems to be a faith-aspiring way to see our days. A mosaic of broken pieces whose fit into the big picture we only rarely understand. 

So here are some pieces from the week, in a few sentences and a string of photos.  Our DRC team visited, for a festive Thanksgiving meal, a pizza party, prayer times and meetings, walks and talks, sharing lives. We spent hours in extra team "finance committee" meetings sorting through our 2023 reports, finding problems, looking for solutions. We visited a dear friend who is chronically ill, another about to deliver a baby, another who we just haven't seen for a while. We wrapped up final chapels and cell groups and leadership meetings with the school, working on contracts and budgets. We listened to testimonies from graduating seniors who spoke about finding a home at CSB, about getting second chances, about choosing faithfulness. We (royal we, mostly Scott) fixed broken things, cleaned gutters, mowed grass. We had to suspend a drunk guard and rearrange plans a dozen times. Do some consults and brainstorm how to stretch dollars. All in a week's work, all fragments with their own colour and texture, and all parts of the new story God is writing here and in us.

Two teams on Thanksgiving

Our final cell group meeting for 2023

The district feels the festivity of grasshopper season and school holidays

Monday night our friend Asita cooks for the whole team

Youngest baby for Thanksgiving this year, Pat's granddaughter Zuriel

Morning walk with the DRC team and our adventurer Kacie

Dr Jonah's daughter Biira is now a lawyer!

The Stafford family a little like the Myhres 25 years ago, doc-doc couple and oldest boy Luke ... 

Thanksgiving spread 

Tropical turkey at home above, and in last moments below

Our friend Kisembo has been a faithful pastor for decades. This is his son's wedding a few days ago!

Monday, November 27, 2023

It's a matter of justice

 The education of girls and young women -- with its dividends of poverty alleviation, gender equality, HIV/AIDS reduction -- is the single most effective means by which so many of the problems blocking Africa's development can be overcome. 

United Nations statement on Girls Education

It's indisputable...Educating girls:
Reduces poverty
Reduces Childhood Mortality
Reduces Maternal Mortality
Reduces Domestic Abuse
Reduces HIV infection Rates

Please, take TWO MINUTES to view this video about Girl Education in Bundibugyo!!

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Walking with the unnamed characters

 As the Uganda school year draws to a close, the teachers at Christ School assigned the final full Sunday's worship to Scott, to bring the final sermon in the Luke series. They've been preaching through chapter by chapter. And chapter 24 is LONG. He worked hard on an interactive, comprehensive talk, focusing on the way Jesus in his post-resurrection appearances connected current reality to the Hebrew scriptures. In the process, the distraught women, the minor-character pair walking to Emmaus, the confused 11 huddling in an upper room, experienced understanding that went from their minds to their hearts. Their eyes were opened to recognise his presence, meaning, truth. Scott left them with inductive Bible study methods we learned in college from Inter-Varsity, so that in the long 8-week break approaching they can continue to encounter Jesus on their own. But Scott's phrase that jumped out for me from the sermon: Jesus comes to humble people in their sadness. 

A resurrection chapter sounds like a good time to jump ahead to glorious thrones and light, to the end of all suffering, to victorious angels, and sumptuous feasts. Instead Luke 24 is set in a deserted cemetery at dawn, in gathering darkness on a road at dusk, in a late night hidden cowering of devastated followers. Jesus didn't KAZAAM!! appear to the kings, burst in irrefutable power to the leaders and crowds. He came to humble people, in their sadness, walking alongside, sharing meals, asking questions, grounding them in hope.

That's where we're still called. Our teams in this area partner with humble humans in their real-life situations which are too often quite sad. Yesterday, one team invited dozens of refugees from across the borders to a Thanksgiving meal. Another offers surgical correction of war wounds and congenital anomalies, and tells the stories for world awareness. Another provides training and sewing equipment to village women to make marketable quilts and clothes. Another gathers aural-learner rural pastors and teachers to memorise the Bible as a series of connected stories that can be shared under trees and stars. Another hosted a weekend lakeside training retreat to equip counsellors as part of the painful healing process for sexually abused girls. Just a glimpse of a few of the actual happenings of the last few days . . . in the context of Luke 24. No TV cameras at these events, no fame, no celebrity. Intentional dispersal to the margins, intentional seeking out of the sad. And in every case, the message communicated: Jesus is here. Jesus comes to you in his sent people, and in your sorrows, walks alongside. To connect your life to the big story of God's redemption. To love you practically, and give you the view forward towards the all-things-new. 

this captures it all: in the constant rain working to nourish others, and God sends a little light to paint a bow of hope

We are some unnamed characters who long for all-things-new as well. An 8-hour PTA annual meeting Friday, numerous budget meetings, working out nutrition responses to increased refugee flows, reacting with security measures to an ADF attack just 20 km away over our border, coaching calls with most of our six countries to listen and pray, preparing a Bible study.  Having the preaching and the PTA and a dozen other things in the same few day stretch was a lot for Scott . . . particularly meeting with parents from the community to listen and learn what they seek. But that day we also delighted in seeing our staff reflect the values and impact of their time at CSB. As Scott was trying to answer a father's complaint that our football (soccer) performance disappointed him this year, the teacher translating launched into a heartfelt story of when he was a student almost 20 years ago and after CSB won the district tournament, public pressure mounted to not send our inexperienced students to nationals but to allow the district to supply their best semi-professional mercenaries so Bundibugyo would shine. Kevin B who was head teacher and coach at the time said no, these boys worked to win the district tournament and they deserve to go, it was about promoting good for students not looking good for the country. Two decades later, he still embraces that attitude now as a teacher: we won't cheat, we won't cut corners, we won't sell out for glory. We'll stick with Jesus, and the poor.

visiting some old friends whose smiles in spite of losses inspire us

Scott spends a lot of time fixing problems and helping the school stick to this vision and mission

One problem fixed this week: the copy machine, in time for end of year exams

 photo above and below, showing the parents a Serge East Africa Media (SEAM) video (see it yourself here!) 

Thanks to all who helped us rebuild the burnt dorm, in the Head Teacher's annual report

Reminding the parents and teachers of our shared vision

Above and below, Scott preaching today on our last Sunday with all the students before break

Cocoa connects to school fees and thriving and development . . 'tis the season to harvest and dry the beans.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

New Christ School Video for 2023

 Practically speaking, high dependence on tuition is a good sign that an institution will not likely survive for long. “Tuition alone has never, that I know of, kept any college sustainable,” says Virginia Shapiro of Boston University

---from Inside Higher Education 

The  365 Club is working.
We currently have 180 students who are covered by donations of $365/year
(roughly half the ACTUAL costs to educate one student for a year )

but we need another 120 people willing to give $1 PER DAY 

to push us towards sustainability for Christ School.

 If you have not yet joined the 365 Club
There is no better time than 

Watch the video 
Investing in tomorrow's African Leaders today will yield fruit 
for this broken world 
for generations to come

Click here to watch our new VIDEO on Vimeo 
-- or click on the image of the student above)

And Click here to connect to our

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Of ancestry and fire, deep roots and difficult dangers

 How does a team, a group, a community, become a family

team praying together for a needy colleague
Dean Desmond preaching today at CSB on Luke 21

As the CSB year draws to a close, the reference to the school's collection of teachers, staff, students, workers as a family has surfaced several times. The seniors said goodbye this Sunday, having completed the gruelling  month of nationalised standard exams, one or two half-day papers per subject for 8-10 subjects. The education system in Uganda is evolving to incorporate more innovative hand-on projects and ongoing grades but until this point, these exams are the sole determinant of performance, the sole measure to sort out who gets to proceed on a university or job path. Tomorrow they will check out of school, but today they led worship in chapel with a song that repeated a chorus of thanks for each teacher by name. They were genuinely celebratory of all they had received. Their class teacher, Dean Desmond, who after 20 years here carries the vision and mission more deeply than any other staff, gave the sermon from Luke 21. Like Jesus, he did not promise them a glorious path of ease, in fact he told them the truth, that they would look back on their years here as amongst the best as they go out from here to face hardship, hunger, conflict, thieves, witchcraft, jealousy. But the assurance of Luke 21 and Lamentations 3 is that when the Lord is all you have, you have enough. They go out in faith knowing they will not escape troubles, but they will never be alone.  The foundational connection of shared faith, shared roots, shared geography, shared experience, unites.

Auntie Jennifer visiting baby Hammond

A week ago, that same teacher had traveled across the country back to his home village to bury his mother, and while he was gone his wife went into labor with their third son. Hard to imagine a more stressful week in a place where labor and delivery too often end in tragedy, where the greeting for a new mother translates "thank you for surviving", for working your way through this danger. While we were still in Burundi, the school staff came together and in spite of extreme distance and the ongoing exams and rainy season and limited funds, decided to send the deputy head teacher to take several cross-country bus connections to the burial to be with Desmond and his extended family. And the school nurse and others accompanied his wife here in Bundibugyo to the hospital, stayed with her through labour, and brought her and baby Hammond back to their home in the staff apartments.  Once Desmond finally made it back to Bundibugyo, he sent the whole staff a long and heartfelt acknowledgement that this community stepped in like a family, to fill the gaps when there was need. It struck me that this CSB staff has come to function just like we try to encourage a Serge team to be: they live and eat and worship and work together, but more than that they are the reliable first line of provision when emergencies arrive. That sounds like a family.

Common roots in ancestry and the interdependence forged by challenges in life make a clan a family, and make a school staff or a Serge team a family too. We call God our father, and we hold each other up in the storms.

CSB Chapel in the rain this morning, CSB board at the end of our meeting Friday below

Senior Four boys singing out their thanks, a glimpse of why it's all worth it

a shot of one of the many reports listing the good done by CSB this year . . another glimpse 

Scott listening and explaining and advocating and compromising . . it's a tall job to be chairperson Board of Governors

Preaching to ourselves, because it's been a stormy week. The seasonal rain drenches us, but we hit the ground after the Burundi trip with a drenching of sorrows. That is the nature of living in a place with fewer barriers to insulate one from poverty, so that daily encounters with broken things, hungry people,  sick children, thwarted plans, just keep pounding down. Our CSB board held it's second meeting of the year, and while that is encouraging in many ways as we pour over the annual reports with parent and political representatives, teaching and administrative staff, and missionaries representing the founding body (our enrolment this year of 255 students is 49.4% female, our kids went on a richly immersive "geography" trip, our girls' football went to nationals, 7 of 8 students who qualified for university scholarships from our district were our grads, we have upgraded our computer lab and improved security, and so on), a significant part of the 8-hours of board deliberation includes the general sentiment that fees are too high for parents to afford while at the same time complaining that the school should buy a bus or build more buildings. All good things, but not humanly possible to accomplish. We struggle with funding, accounting, deficits, rising food costs, and a thousand details, with cultural understanding and trust. And that's just this local team, the 11 teams in 6 countries that we're supposed to supervise and support all have similar struggles.

As we begin a new week, we know we wouldn't be bobbing along in this stormy mess without family. Our Ugandan colleagues and Serge team and area, our Serge leadership network of life long friends, our financial and prayer supporters, own kids and siblings and mothers who cheer us on. Scott's mom Ruth turns 91 today, and our daughter Julia is there baking her Nana and friends a lemon meringue pie and taking her to church. If a family comes from a common root and a trial-by-fire life, we take today to be thankful for both.

The birthday girl a few years ago feeding her firstborn . . . 

And a few yers after that with her husband Dave at her parents' farm

And a few months ago with us in Half Moon Bay