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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.