rotating header

Sunday, April 07, 2024

The week after: scars and futility in the bigger arc

Easter + 7 days, Easter + 2000 years. Here we are, in the reality that "death swallowed up in victory" as a poetic phrase and a bedrock truth still remains a state only visible by faith.

Rainy Resurrection 

In that first week, there was no ascending the temple spire, no fireworks incinerating the occupying forces, no sudden tip of power form the self-serving Sanhedrin to the lame and the blind.  Jesus showed up in dim early morning light of garden around the tomb, on a road out of town, at a meal, behind closed doors where confused followers cowered, cooking over a beach campfire. He didn't ride into Jerusalem on a donkey to choral triumph. He focused on his core followers as witnesses of a new phase of history, a new sort of scarred life, forming the idea of waiting, of being sent into the world as he had been with the same power of the Spririt, to  . . . . 

To what? Not to enforce the law, not to quash wrongdoers, not to control destinies, not to set up a state. In Acts, his people asked, is this the time that you restore the Kingdom to Israel? No, he said. But go live and speak and teach and gather in a way that ushers in a whole new metric. Challenge the status quo of history as people who give attention and priority to the suffering, who share what they have, who do not ultimately fear the venom of snakes or of power.

For centuries, the word passed, person to person, miracle to miracle, mostly amongst the most disenfranchised. (Then there were centuries where well-meaning people thought it made more sense to get the power of the state behind the church, and that struggle and debate continues today). But lest we delude ourselves that Jesus' resurrection means that everything should now go exactly as WE think it should, that prayer guarantees the outcomes we long for . . . we had a more authentic post-Easter week here in Bundi.

The son of a local politician died of alcohol intoxication, a young man close to us was actually trying to help him and ended up blamed, arrested, in jail, and extorted for bribes. Another close young man fell asleep at the wheel and wrecked his car. Two of our "foster grandchildren" have been quite sick, one hospitalised the whole week. Another close friend of the team's nephew died after being born with congenital anomalies. An Area kid had a serious injury that will require surgery. Others plod on with  chronic mental health challenges. Unusual rain patterns and a bizarre lack of materials has held up the gravity-flow water project progress. Three of the in-country partners of three different teams have all made changes in the last week or so that call those partnerships into question. And here at CSB our school teams went to regionals and struggled, and kids sent home for school fees not yet paid trickled back so slowly that many missed days of school. And that is just the last seven days, on and on, day after day where resurrection power is far from obvious.

What grounds our hope on a week like this one, or like the first post-Easter week?

First, knowing that the scars have closed enough to allow us to walk out of the grave, but they are not gone. Everything is not OK, yet. The direction of entropy was reversed to order, but the timing, as our CSB teacher reminded us today from the story of the man lame for 38 years by the pool of Bethesda, is not immediate. We are the walking wounded, still.

Second, the day of small things is not to be despised. If Jesus cooked fish and had patient conversations, perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that the routines of living life in community and wholeness are our primary task. We spent the week counselling the anxious, answering questions, sitting at a funeral, driving people here and there, feeding people, asking, listening, praying, reading. The disciples spent a whole night in futile fishing. This is the "so send I you" trajectory. Mostly, just trying to be faithful and present, honest and hopeful.

And lastly, locating our fragments of the story into the bigger arc of redemption. Sometimes we get to see clear evidence, like the jailed young man then being thanked by those he thought were blaming him that he didn't let the errant drinker die in a ditch, his risky insistence cost him but served love. Mostly, we have to take it on faith that the hard questions asked, the small assistance given, are seeds that might not bear fruit for days or decades. But one day, they will. For the world to eat and live.

Praying Jireh is discharged tomorrow.

Some of the small things that can bring large good: cocoa harvested from our yard, allowing a young blind man and his wife to finish a house project.

More evidence of good: CSB students now in University showing up with solidarity at a funeral.

Communal grief

The psalm 1 hope that the small seeds will grow and thrive and bear fruit in Bunidubygo, East and Central Africa, the world.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Good Friday thoughts on Moral Injury

I was today years old when I learned that Abraham Lincoln's assassination took place on a Good Friday.  In the excellent annual Biola Lent devotions, I took this poem "The Martyr" by Herman Melville (of Moby Dick fame) to be about Jesus . . . but it turns out to be about Lincoln:

Good Friday was the day
    Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
    When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm--
    When with yearning he was filled
    To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conquerer, be kind;
    But they killed him in his kindness,
    In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.

 Lincoln was walking another path of the cross, of personal risk and suffering and loss to right the wrongs of centuries of a country fuelled by the enslavement of Africans. 

The path of Jesus was costly to him, and continues to be costly to those who listen to the "take up your cross and follow" injunction, to his "love your neighbour as yourself" teaching. As Pilate questions him, he confirms that his new truths do not take hold by political wins, by overpower others, by visible awards. 

Good Friday procession in front of our house, with singing and crosses

I think the juxtaposition of Good Friday and the Scriptures from Hebrews, Isaiah, the Gospel of John .. . with then opening news and email to find one from the doctors' association purporting to represent American physicians of faith, a jarring discordance.  The leaders of the doctor association sound a bit  self-congratulatory because they went to the Supreme Court to argue that medication approved decades ago by the FDA now should be disapproved. It's a medicine that can be used in early abortions, but also one that is also used to treat dangerous bleeding and ulcers and other things. The argument was that IF a woman took this medicine for an abortion and THEN had to seek medical care for a complication, a Christian doctor might be called upon to care for her,  arguing " that our members will experience harms, such as conscience violations, when they end up being forced into treating patients suffering from complications of chemical abortion". 

As a doctor, I find arguing against treating patients because their behaviour "violates my conscience" a very troubling line of reasoning. Will we now not treat gun shot victims, if they were in a gang that fights with guns? Not treat motor vehicle accident injuries if they were driving too fast? Not treat hypertension or diabetes, if they were in our opinion gluttonous? Not treat cancer, if the patient was a smoker? Not treat liver disease, if the patient was an alcoholic? Not treat a child with AIDS, if the father was promiscuous? The human condition, per the creeds of our medical organisation, is riddled with sin. We've all made bad choices, harmful decisions. When the injured, bleeding, gasping patient presents, we don't first assess the violence to our conscience. We don't weigh whether treating them will enable them to continue a lifestyle we deplore. We assess their need, and our care can be an opening of the door of love into a life that might need some.

I lost three children by miscarriage, and thankfully no one refused me treatment because they worried I could have intentionally killed my babies. I've cared for numerous others where the causality of the fetal demise is not clear, here in a country where abortion remains illegal but still happens as it has throughout history. Medicine is a strenuous calling. So is love. So is faith. I applaud the 21rst century attention to the impact of endless need and limited capacity to meet it on the care provider. The world is a broken territory, people do wrong things, and the the unseen spiritual realm includes evil intent. All these make for doctor stress, but I struggle to make the story about us, as if it justifies withholding care if we can give it.

Loving this shattered world is a dangerous choice, and for Jesus it led to crucifixion. He was killed in his kindness, because of our blindness. Lament, small steps towards repair, thankful attention to the persistence of good, commitment to community, all these shine a path through the post-resurrection reality of the "already" and the "not yet". Lord help us to be a people of sacrificial love more than a people of righteous indignation. Especially me. 

The boys of WHM-U with their home-made crosses as our Good Friday service starts

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Giving up winning for Lent? Football and Easter in Bundibugyo.

 The entire secondary school local football (soccer) season was compressed into a single week in Bundibugyo. Our sports committee planned it this way, perhaps to spend less of the fees they extract by paying referees and security for fewer days? 21 schools entered boys' teams and were assigned into 5 groups, and 8 schools entered girls' teams assigned into two groups, so that the plan was one day for simultaneous group stages (4 teams each play each other in six slightly abbreviated games), one day for quarter-finals for boys and semifinals for girls, one day for finals for girls and semis AND finals for boys. If that sounds impossible in a district that is in the grip of an East African heat wave (90+ degree weather making playing multiple games per day unhealthy), and in a place where transportation and communication and regulation-size pitches are in limited supply, and in a place where an 8 am start is considered timely if it happens by 10-11 am . . . well you have the picture.  Nothing went quite according to plan.

CSB 2024 Boys' Team

CSB 2024 Girl' Team

Girls' team again, just for fun    

We have spent most of the last week either cheering our teams on from the sideline, waiting hours for referees or officials, or trying to follow the late changes to schedules and teams. As usual, two teams were disqualified for having hired non-student players (the only two our coaches raised questions about . . . no doubt there were others). As usual, we were often the school to beat, the school to cheer against, because we are the top academically and have a long history of sports success too, plus we have the nicest pitch and campus, and the most outside help with things like microscopes and computers .. . we stick out, which is hard in a place that values conformity. As usual, there was a tense morning where students from another school disagreed with a referee's off-sides call and stormed the pitch to attack the ref, and even the coach physically pushed a ref (that team was NOT disqualified, but when they didn't get their way they took a forfeit in protest). Our western rules-based cultural values, and values around planning and timeliness, made us feel self-righteous this week. But in a place where power is an antidote to fear, winning is a sign of safety. And in a place where so little can be controlled, people don't expect a schedule to predict reality. So, this is just football. It generates deep reactions.


Scott snapped this but I love the way it encapsulates the week ... praying for BOTH teams prior to the Final Match, for no injuries, for good sportsmanship, for enjoyment and for peace!

We field actual students, and our coaches are actual teachers. Our teams had no real "season", only the 3 group-stage games and the playoffs. Our boys went to semi finals where they lost a very close game, honestly they played very well with better passing and control and strategy than the old days, but any team can lose on any given day. Our girls went to finals where they also lost in a close game .. . but since two teams get to go to regionals, they will move to the next level in spite of not winning the district. It's probably good for football that four different schools progress, St. Mary's Simbiya and Bumadu Seed for boys (both government-funded schools); Haven and CSB for girls (both private church-based schools).

Everyone would rather win, and win big, and feel powerful and competent. I would too. But being immersed in this intense little season has me thinking about Football and Easter. 

Our coaches Alex and Michael, who wisely embody all the truth below .. . . 

The value of the sport for these kids? Physical exercise and skill, community effort and teamwork, learning to listen to a coach and follow rules, feeling the delight and admiration of the crowd, the fun of being outside, belonging and identity. But also the way sports become a microcosm of life, because all of that does not add up to sure-fire winning. They have to struggle, and often meet injustice in the form of adults making harmful choices for them, or using money to subvert the fair play. They have to face failure and disappointment with character, own up to mistakes. They have to trust that they are loved whether things go their way or not. They have to choose whether to obey rules or to react with violent anger. They have to give up some comfort and ease and rest to stick with their goals. As do we all.

Certainly even though Jesus told his followers repeatedly that he was going to be handed over to harm, that the way to victory involved costly sacrifice, that sitting on his right and left was a path that passed through death . . . we still find it hard to grasp that the painful sorrow of Good Friday was the redemptive path towards the grave-exploding norm-shattering joy of Easter morning.

So, we head into "holy week", the Palm Sunday to Passover to Good Friday to Easter Sunday stretch of remembering the turning point of history. Giving up winning . . . the way to glory.

Our bench

Bodas waiting for the post-game rush to take spectators home

Former players coming back to support

Cheering with staff!!

Forrest family cheering on the team.

Another day, our mission school cheering our Ugandan school

Topista's daughter Ingrid is now like my daughter Julia was on the team .. . mom solidarity

TEam support for the games

Another day, all the team women supporting the CSB women

The trophy we didn't win

Bonus for reading this far, we have had some hard days in the last couple weeks, and not a lot of time to keep up the blog. But we also had some great joys last weekend:

Newest member of Serge East and Central Africa, Zemirah Jean Opedun!!

Byanga Ivan graduated  at the top of his class with an MPH from Clarke International University. He grew up with our kids, was Jack's close friend, graduated from CSB, and was a Kule-scholarship nurse. This is a glimpse of the post-Easter reality.
Below, the post-graduation party with relatives and friends.

And last but not least, the faithful Bible Translator who now consults from America, Waller Tabb, in country for a few weeks!

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Back-to-School FANTASTIC news and yet . . help our unbelief!

 Two weeks into the 2024 school year: Ugandan schools follow a year-round calendar-year schedule, with three 3-month terms spaced by three term breaks, the longest one being between years and encompassing Christmas/New Year so just over. Every late January/early February finds us repairing/mending/improving the physical buildings, gathering teachers for training and spiritual formation, praying, and then receiving our Senior 2 to 4 (O level) and Senior 6 (A level) students back . . . while also promoting the enrolment of new Senior 1 and 5 classes. That's where we are right now.

The new students come a week or two after they old, because they must wait for the release of their end-of-school exam results by the country. Primary School (P1-7) finishes with the PLE (Primary Leaving Exam) whose results determine qualification for S1. Secondary (O Level) is judged by the UCE (Uganda Certificate of Education) exam at the end of S4 whose results send students into S5/6 or other pathways, and the Advanced "A" level UACE exam at the end of S6 determines who goes to University. In the last two weeks, the PLE and the UCE have been released, which allows us to rank applicants . . . but the UCE and UACE ALSO allow applicants to judge us. So we were very very grateful on Thursday to find that our Nov 2023 end-of-O-level UCE scores were amongst the best ever, and by a LONG margin the best in the District. 

Bundibugyo ranked 133rd out of 136 districts for secondary school exam results this year, nearly the bottom.  That's why we are here after all. God sends his people to the margins, to the places that most need to hear good news . . injustice is not equally distributed in this world, meaning those called to model and sweat for justice need to be in places like this.  So when Christ School's results show 75% of our students scoring in the top two divisions, and all our averages making us comparable to the top 10-15% of schools in the country, we're thrilled (to put it another way, we are living in a place that otherwise is in the 2.2%ile from the bottom but by God's grace we're enabling students to get to the 90th%ile!). 

All good news, but all that shining costs more than most families can afford, to pay fair teacher salaries, buy some books, and feed everyone. Yes, thanks to our loyal and generous supporters EVERY STUDENT pays a subsidized, reduced tuition cost, a bargain compared to similarly-performing schools closer to the capital. And 10 students per class receive full OVC (orphan and vulnerable children) scholarships, targeting kids who are even needier than the baseline. We gave 76 students the opportunity to join S1, but likely many will not show up on their first day on Monday because even our subsidised fees stretch their single moms or their grandparents raising kids left behind or their intact farmer families just trying to scrape by. Every half hour it seems another parents is knocking on our gate asking for help. 

So the back-to-school reality carries the same paradoxes as most of life here. We are so proud of our staff's good work and our students' great performance. We believe in the way this education allows kids to serve their district, sets them on the road to being nurses and teachers and pharmacists and politicians and pastors. And we know that the zero-tolerance for cheating or abuse means they are safe here, and the daily value of worship and Bible study shapes their souls. So much hope as the new school year starts!  And yet . . . the poorest parents will struggle to pay and so opt for crowded government day schools instead of CSB, and the few who have steady incomes will often succumb to the illusion that it's always better to send their kids far away so opt for schools in Kampala. We and most of our team mates will help those we can, but we also long to see the community believe and invest. This morning Scott contributed to a dad of disabled twins, but we wonder if he'll have the courage to commit to sending them. It is emotionally and spiritually exhausting to live with such flimsy filters of protection from all the sad stories. . . . but even more exhausting to be a parent trying to do your best for your kids, or a student dreaming of belonging.

Faith never gets easy. Lord we believe, help our unbelief, just as the parent of the child in Mark 9 exclaimed

First chapel back to school for 2024

Cocoa prices enable school fees: eat more chocolate for Bundibugyo!

Repairs to the stoves and chimneys to cook 3 meals a day for 300 people ... 

Leadership team organising entrance interviews

Running a school means stocking a clinic to treat minor illnesses. . . especially malaria!

The hopeful new students taking an entrance exam, managed by our excellent Director of Studies Kiiza

The never-ending projects include improved drainage around the entrance gate and . . 

Installing the many new smoke detectors we brought back. Chairman of the Board wears many hats, and climbs many ladders. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Ragged Rainbows

 Dry season has failed to blow in in Bundibugyo. Usually right around Christmas a hot wind heralds a departure of the daily rains and begins a multi-month stretch of scorching sunshine, turning the grass a crunchy brown. This year we've continued to have frequent clouds heavy with moisture, and almost daily outbursts. Yesterday for the second morning in a row our morning walk left us damp with misty cloud and dripping rain. As we turned back towards home, the rising sun behind our backs peaked over the mountains with enough sparkle to form a ragged little patch of rainbow ahead of us. If an arch is 180 degrees, this wasn't more than ten of those, with indistinct tattered margins. It wasn't much of a rainbow.

In my head I heard the scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" where Jimmy Stewart meets Clarence, whom he's just rescued from drowning, and the pudgy little nobody with outdated clothes claims to be his guardian angel. Jimmy Stewart says "well, you look just like about the kind of angel I'd get." That was what I thought about the rainbow, just the sort for us in 2024. It only lasted a minute, and was so partial and subtle and early that I doubt anyone else remarked much on it. But it was there.

Such is hope these days. A muddled, scraggly sign more than a stunning, admirable sight.

One month into the year, and the way ahead feels foggy. School started this week in Uganda. As always, we have lots of competition for the OVC scholarships but it's more challenging to get paying students to enrol (even though every student is subsidised about 50%) ... our niche is families with capacity and will to invest a very modest school fee into their kids' education, but without the capacity to send their kids out of the district (the dream of anyone with an upwardly mobile life plan and a steady government salary). Part of the challenge of living in a marginal place is that everyone deeply believes that outside is better. Slowly we are giving the confidence and pride in the performance of the poor, but every year it's a struggle of prayer. The cloud here is a life of poor nutrition and substandard primary school and undependable subsistence, but the sunrise ray that lights a rainbow was the staff prayer walk on Saturday night. 25 years into this project, the 25 or so teachers KNOW HOW TO PRAY, they see the needs and have the vision for academic excellence and servant leadership for the good of Bundibugyo and the glory of God. For an hour or two we went from class to dorm to office to infirmary to kitchen to chapel to lab to pitch, praying for 2024. A ragged rainbow glow.

Half of January we were in the USA for a Serge leadership annual "objectives" meeting, putting practical plans onto the strategies we formed in September. More cloudy days of discerning the spiritual and physical needs of the world and our people, and debating priorities and praying for grace. We dashed around multiple states before and after that week to touch base with both moms, my sister, and each of our kids, for a day or two each, plus visited two of our supporting churches on the two Sundays we were there and a third church for a midweek lunch. The ray of rainbow-producing hope in all that non-stop interaction was the beauty and strength of relationships holding onto us over decades. Within Serge, within our church, and particularly within our family. Another Wonderful Life line fits here: "no man is a failure who has friends .. . a toast to my brother, the richest man in town."  Amen.

Now we are back in Bundi, in all its murky dampness and heavy responsibility, three multi-country many-leader zoom meetings in the last week-plus as well. The complexity of partnerships, the health challenges of isolated families, the inescapable reality of illnesses and injuries not easily fixed, the scramble to meet deadlines and write teaching and pay attention to everyone here, made cloudier by the inevitable trials of people we love on the other side of the ocean too. Both of our moms are plucky and independent, but both have had a harder time in the last few months. And all our kids seem to be approaching transition in 2024, the one first on our heart is the eldest who has several job offers, none quite ideally clear. Carrying the weight, asking God to enlarge our hearts. Then one day last week a shockingly large gift to BundiNutrition from the estate of a person we don't even know how we are connected to. The fragmented light assembles temporarily into bands of colour and beauty.

Here is a ragged rainbow recap of the opening weeks of 2024 . . wish I had a pic of the actual ragged rainbow, but this will have to do:

The Ministry Team: All Area Directors and Executive Leadership
And our faithful Home Office Staff with whom we met that week as well

My sis and fam!

Most photos in early Jan are in front of Christmas trees, but Caleb was moving the next day for a 6 month assignment elsewhere, so we helped pack his house into a storage unit.

Back to Christmas trees, Jack and Julia in SLC

Luke and Abby showing us their Baltimore neighborhood
Our favourite lunch stop on highway 1, with Scott's 91 year old mom Ruth!
And in my mom Judy's lovely home

The Grace OPC missions committee sending us off to the airport to return, after church and lunch. Grateful!

Then it was back to Uganda . . . . 

The annual beginning of school staff prayer walk, best way to start the year

Scott supervised 23 infrastructure maintenance and improvement projects.  100 buckets of paint do a lot.

More prayer

Staff in the teacher lounge for inservice and worship

Our theme was Be Moses: a leader BElives, MOdels, SErves, and EquipS.  

The January team, with visitors!

My computer . . hard to work when I'm just wanting to pray for these two. Join me.