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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Road to Emmaus

Charles Musunguzi preached on the latter section of Luke 24 today, where two followers of Jesus are walking away from Jerusalem, discouraged, bewildered, questioning, maybe even fleeing the sad and tumultuous events of the weekend.  They don’t understand what God is doing.  But this is the very situation Jesus chooses to enter.  He does not wait for a prayer meeting, a properly organized worshipful reception.  He comes to walk along the road with two defeated men who don’t have the answers right.  Charles reminded us that in our weakness Jesus comes alongside of us.  He does not wait for us to get it all together, in fact in our moments of defeat we may find his presence even more tangible.  How encouraging, that we can be weak, wrong, tired, and even running away, but Jesus will still graciously walk and teach and feed us.

On causality, losing, and witchcraft

The Christ School football (soccer) team lost yesterday, in overtime, to Semiliki High School 2 to 1. They have not lost in the district in a long time, and this was a difficult end to our senior student Birungi’s long career as team captain. It was a well-contested game, and in reflecting on the loss it has been interesting to see how deeply and quickly we all search for reasons. I heard very rational explanations from a few teachers: even Manchester United sometimes loses, in other words, it is not possible to ALWAYS win, and we should not worry. But most of the fans, kids, and observers are not so sanguine.

Mostly, there was the issue of confidence. It was a rainy day, and many times the boys lost their footing when trying to get a shot off. This was compounded by the fact that the strikers seemed afraid to shoot: afraid to miss? Afraid to be blamed for the loss? In a culture of equality, where it does not pay to stand out, is it better to keep passing and let someone else fail? Then there was the further mental issue of doubt: do our players believe they can win without Kevin? They may not be sure, and it shows. And Kevin probably would have convinced them to take more shots and have more confidence, if he had been there. Then there was the crowd: CSB had scored early and began strong, but the crowd grew and grew as the rain tapered off, and seemed more and more pro-Semilki. This could impact the players, but also the refs. There were a number of times that a line judge flagged a violation and was ignored by the main referee, or that calls seemed to be biased. Are the refs afraid of the crowd? Maybe. Then there was the huge advantage that Semiliki had: the leading scorer from last year at CSB, Ahebwa Leonard, finished O levels with Luke but then transferred to Semiliki this year for A levels. So CSB was beat by their own player, essentially. Then there was the long slow impact of integrity and coaching and work: CSB’s success means that other teams have decided to actually practice together, rather than just cobble together random players who may or may not be actual students at tournament time. So for all of these reasons, it was a close and difficult and long game.

Afterwards, however, there are two explanations that seem to be overtaking all of the above. First, the CSB staff has accused Semilki of having an illegal player or two, boys they recognized who were playing under false names. If this is proven on Monday, the result will be canceled, and CSB will advance to the finals.

Second, the girls who milled about the goal and chanted and cheered throughout the match, errupted into a frenzy near the end of the game when they dug up a scrappy paper filled with “herbs” which they accuse the opposing side of burying in the goal to prevent scores. Yes, witchcraft. They were so beserk and convinced that I had to physically restrain the ring-leader during the end of the game, and Annelise had to talk them down afterwards when they were blowing off steam by talking of violence. The essence of African Traditional Religion has been described as problem solving: the world is not going my way, so I need to know why, to protect my family, to strike back at my enemies. It makes perfect sense in this world view that a team who wants to win would purchase a charm, and that at team who loses would accuse the winners of bewitching them.

So I see in this loss a microcosm of many of the problems we face here daily: self-doubt and a sense of inferiority prevent kids from taking risks. Intimidation by the group further binds them in fear. Corruption means the playing field is rarely level. And the pervasive fear of witchcraft, of malevolent spiritual forces, is always just below the surface. They are just kids playing a game, but we have to fight on all these levels on the football pitch if we are to see lasting Kingdom changes for freedom and truth in Bundibugyo.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Smiling at milk

Birungi Suizen smiled yesterday.  His little fragile life continues to teeter on the brink, but for the first time (for me) he grinned.  This boy is the embodiment of weakness, one of the least-of-these.  His mother has revived hope.  Please keep praying for him, for a miracle of life to grow.  

I smiled too.  Because when this smile happened, we were in the process of moving new UNICEF food into our store.  Last week the promised provisions came to fruition.  When we had celebrated the end of Ebola, all of the dignitaries walked together through town to the hospital grave sites of the medical workers, where there was a special ceremony honoring Dr. Jonah and the others.  On this walk I approached a tall mature African-American looking woman, thinking someone of her age and color who was now flying in on a helicopter with the big-wigs was someone I wanted to learn from.  I enjoyed hearing her story, she turned out to be a remarkably brilliant and courageous pioneer of medicine from Panama, working now as a country director for UNICEF, Dr. Gloria. Dr. Gloria was moved by Jonah’s story as well, and by the needs of Bundibugyo, and promised to do something.  Stephanie had long been appealing for UNICEF involvement but had been denied by their regional representative, so when Dr. Gloria heard that, she promised action.  Sure enough a couple of weeks later a delegation arrived and toured the hospital, seeing the needy kids.  Then last week a truck came with boxes and boxes of supplies, in the midst of the Easter holiday.  It wasn’t until yesterday that Heidi and I attacked the organization.  We cleaned and cleared the Paeds ward store room, arranged shelves, and unpacked.  

After years of improvising and doing our best, we now have bags and bags and bags of powdered milk formulas, specially designed with vitamins and minerals to treat severely malnourished kids.  Birungi Suizen was the first to receive some.  Many others will follow.  They also donated Oxfam kits with cups, spoons, buckets, potties, scales, pens, record cards . . . An amazing and generous boost to our meager supplies.  

This donation for the sickest inpatients is still only one small and specific part of BundiNutrition.  We will continue to buy and give normal milk to motherless babies, supplements to children affected by AIDS, outpatient beans and g-nuts and soy flour to moderately malnourished kids.  We will continue to import dairy goats (51 to arrive Tuesday!!) and maintain a coop of egg-laying-hens.  We will continue education and outreach, home visits and follow-up, demonstration gardens and seed distributions.  But the UNICEF milk powder means that the most severely affected children, the ones actually in the hospital, will receive a much more nutritious product.  

God provided.  We, and Birungi, are smiling.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On Fear and Flies

Most years circumcision season follows Christmas, the longest school break of the year and the dry season weather, the holiday atmosphere and enjoyment of the cocoa harvest, all making January the ideal time to perform this cultural ritual for boys.  The tribes in our district circumcise males only, in groups, historically between the ages of about 8 and 15.  It has been a time for passing on stories and traditions, sleeping outside, moving in groups, dancing and drumming, and no small flow of alcohol.  Some years we barely notice the occasion, then other years seem to be deemed auspicious and many groups of boys go under the knife.  The first January of relative peace after the ADF I remember as a major year, one could meet women circling in the muledu dance in the early morning on many compounds, their heads wreathed with leaves.  I think there used to be multi-year cycles, so the up and down of numbers persists in spite of the process becoming diluted by contact with the rest of the world.

But not this year.  In January the government announced that due to Ebola all circumcision was suspended.  When the district was declared Ebola-free in February, we noticed the upsurge of ceremonies.  It should have all been over by now.  But in the last two weeks, the season has escalated into the biggest ever.  Every night there are drums from one direction or another.  I have two patients admitted now with complications.  Friends come daily asking for “medicine” for their sons.  We hear that even men and boys from other tribes who reside here are undergoing the ritual.  Families are no longer waiting for the age of near-puberty . . They are cutting boys as young as 1 year, who will never remember the cultural significance.  

Why?  The power of rumor.  Everyone believes there is a new fly that has invaded the district and bites uncircumcised males in a very sensitive place, causing irreparable damage.  I’ve been trying to trace this rumor.  One possibility is that four kids in a family all died some weeks ago, and they had swelling in their private parts and stopped urinating I’m told (which could be explained by kwashiorkor, or renal failure from many causes, and it is possible that it isn’t even true).  There was also one kid who really did get a terrible allergic reaction to an insect bite in the groin whom I saw a few weeks ago, and tried to catheterize to relieve his inability to urinate.  I’m sure he made an impression on anyone else who saw him.  How an actual case grows to become a public threat, to the magnitude that hundreds of young boys and young men are undergoing the most painful ordeal of their lives . . . It is amazing really.  I suppose it shows from a public health standpoint that people are very much capable of massive behavioural change in a short period of time if the perceived threat is serious enough.  And this one clearly is.

Meanwhile we listen to the drumming in the dark, and mop up the problems in the daylight, and hope it has a positive effect eventually on HIV prevalence.

Garden encounters, part 2

It was my turn to plan prayer meeting this morning, so I went back to John 20, looking for a tie-in with the holiday weekend . . . And it was like looking into a mirror.  If you know me you can imagine me as Mary, weeping (doing quite a bit of that lately remembering Jonah, remembering my Dad who died on Easter night two years ago), up early, and ready to approach the men who may have moved the body and fix the problem.  Oblivious to the holy moment, single-mindedly looking for a solution, ready to work, missing the point.  Lord have mercy.  He does.  My prayer was to see Jesus, to be settled by His call, to lay aside my ideas for making things right and go and be faithful to His sending.  At least that was my early morning prayer.  By 9 am I’m afraid I was once again ready to accuse angels of treason and ignore the voice of the Lord in my wrestling with the mess of this life.  But I take heart in my kinship with Mary, and the patience of Jesus.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On healing heels

Jack ran too hard, too far, on poor shoes, his strength and stamina outstripping his growth plates. Almost a year ago he began to run cross-country, enjoying the fellowship, the approving attention of the coach, the bonding with other boys. But he was young and big and growing rapidly and wearing hand-me-down shoes. He would occasionally complain of pain in his heels, but we did not stop him. A big mistake on our part. By Fall we did finally realize he needed rest, so we stopped the cross country, but he still occasionally mentioned the heel pain. The xray machine was broken in Bundibugyo, so it took a long time to get an answer. Before Christmas when I was finally in Kampala for a few days, I took him to get xrays. We sent them to a dear friend and supporter who is an orthopedic surgeon, and he looked at the films and listened to the story and diagnosed “calcaneal apophysitis” (Sever's disease) in January. An over-use injury, a sort of stress fracture. Rest was ordered, no bare feet on our unyielding cement floors. No sports. Now two months later, we see little improvement, in spite of the always-shoes and no-running rules. Jack has tried not to run, he really has, but he’s a whirlwind kind of kid, a storm of activity, not easily stilled. We are starting to worry. Our friend sent orthopedic heel pads that would have helped, if the package had not disappeared in the obscurity of Ugandan mail. So we decided yesterday to put one foot in a cast and give him crutches, thinking that would slow him down and give at least one of his feet time to heal. The only casting material here is good old-fashioned heavy damp plaster. 24 hours later we have given up. In spite of very functional crutches hand-made by Scott, Jack was tending to hop on the non-casted foot. And consequently, the non-casted heel was actually getting WORSE, probably faster than the casted one was getting better. We took the cast off. Tonight he’s very discouraged. He could use prayers for healing his heels. He’s a very athletic kid. He does not sit still easily. This is very, very discouraging for him, and my heart aches too.

A few thoughts on resurrection, from the weekend

Resurrection sound like a dramatic word, but in practice the glimpses are subtle. God does not overwhelm our senses. Even Mary was slow to recognize reality. How much more so am I. Birungi Suizen did not die on Easter weekend. He was as close as it is possible to come by Good Friday, gasping, intermittently conscious. But Sunday morning he was sitting on his mom’s lap eating a soupy fish sauce, with a snarly little protest when she stopped feeding him to talk to me. Resurrection? He still has far to go, but I’ve rarely seen a little flame of life so stubbornly flickering, so close to being snuffed but smoldering back to light. Matte’s ribs seem to carry a few more millimeters of flesh. The three 1-kg preemies, one of whom stopped breathing repeatedly when he first came in, are snuggling along on their mothers’ incubating breasts, today clocking 1.45, 1.3, and 1.6 kg. Boxes of UNICEF food arrived over the weekend, the real-deal malnutrition milk supplements instead of the ad-hoc formulas we’ve been concocting. I saw staff today covering for each other, pitching in outside their areas of duty to help. Yes, resurrection changes, slow maybe, murky, but there if you squint hard and really look. Highlights of the weekend for me: celebrating passover as a team, reclining, asking the questions, breaking the unleavened bread and drinking the cups of wine, washing feet and celebrating the community of the redeemed, the rescued. Gathering on Friday afternoon, after services, in the side room of the community center on simple benches, praying through John 14-17, a powerful time drawing very diverse people together to lift up the troubles of Bundibugyo. Watching The Passion, which is full of Scripture but hard to fathom, best seen soberly in the company of trusted friends and then followed by prayerful meditation on Is 53, into the night. Sunrise on Easter, drizzle, considering canceling our little sunrise service but over-ruled by my kids, heading down to Massos passing the camouflaged forms of armed soldiers just waking in the dawn, like the first Easter, soldiers. Easter service, a visiting worship leader dancing and clapping the crowd into a joyous swaying celebration. Finally the afternoon feast, family-like, resting together, secure, including three of my orphan students brought into the fold of our family for a day. All of these moments infused with the quiet glory of the resurrection.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Two Gardens, One Question

In the garden of Gethsemane, when Judas led the  temple guards to capture Jesus in the dark, He asked them, “Whom are you seeking?” (John 18:4).  When they answered Jesus of Nazareth, he simply stated “I am”, the Old Testament name of God, the one reference point for all the universe.  Blasphemy, unless it was true.  This is the turning point of the story, the beginning of the long road through torture and death.  A question, a choice, a probe of the heart, the motives.

Three days later, in the gardens around the tomb, Jesus asks Mary “Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:15).  She also pleads for the physical body of Jesus, willing to carry him, not to mock trials and beating but to safety and embalming.  This time Jesus does not declare His identity, he simply says “Mary.”  In His voice, his commanding tenderness, His calling out to her, she recognizes Him.  

Jesus does not ride triumphantly through the streets after His resurrection, He comes quietly, in closed rooms, along the road, in the early morning garden.  He does not lecture on His origins or His work, instead He asks:  Whom are you seeking?  

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Glory and Devastation

Somehow God’s promise to put the world to rights is not achieved by blasting evil out of the way, but by his people bearing its weight so that the force of evil does its worst in the chosen people themselves. Alongside the vision of glory we also find the vision of devastation. NT Wright, lecture series on Evil Good Friday is a day of devastation, and a day of glory, and a day to ponder the paradox that the extremes of both intersect on the cross. Many times this week I’ve been reminded of my own heart’s desire to blast evil out of the way, to smash it with a lead pipe, to impose a triumphant order on this mucky world. That is what the disciples expected of Jesus. But that was not God’s plan. Being called to the slower path of bearing the weight of malnutrition and poverty and and hate and loss . . . Seeing it, touching it, sometimes experiencing it . . . That is the way of the cross. That is the way that evil truly meets defeat. That is the way seen only by eyes of faith, Good Friday eyes that squint ahead to believe that Resurrection morning will come. Join us in praying for Bundibugyo, and for our own hearts. In “downloads (pdf)” there are two prayer guides. One is based on John 14-17; we will be using it this afternoon with a broad spectrum of community people (teachers, church members, health center workers all invited) to apply the final words of Jesus to praying for His Kingdom to come in this place. The second is based on Isaiah 53; we will use it this evening as a team to meditate on the suffering of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On crushing the serpent

As we move into the Easter weekend, we move into the spiritual battle that peaked on Good Friday but still continues.  As a mission we sense a call to pray specifically against some of the cultural forces that oppress people here in Bundibugyo.  I will give one example of corruption, since it occurred this week:

One of my former students went to obtain a driving permit so that he could legally use a mission motorcycle to help us with nutrition outreaches, and after many offices, fees, lines, bank transfers, and a day of effort he landed in an office in which he was issued yet more forms and told that the cost for the approval of these forms would be 50,000/= (about $30, a week’s wages for a mid-level professional).  He asked if he would receive a receipt for this, upon which the person behind the desk laughed at this absurdity and began to explain the way the world works to this young man whom he no doubt perceived as hopelessly naive.  My student then clarified that this money would essentially be a bribe, and gave the form back, refusing to participate.  In the end he was only able to get a provisional learning permit without paying the bribe, but I have to say his indignation over the entire affair gives me a glimmer of hope that the rising generation of CSB students will not accept business-as-usual when it comes to blatant corruption.  If only more people would take such a stand!

Culturally acceptable patterns of oppression can be vague and nebulous, hard to recognize, easy to justify away.  But God knows we are concrete and visual creatures, when He wants to present truth He often works through a story or a physical demonstration (compare the amount of the Bible devoted to history and parable rather than theological treatise, or notice the way prophets like Jeremiah used props like plumb lines, or consider the visceral nature of the passover meal and communion).  Good Friday commemorates the ultimate victory of Good over Evil in the paradox of the death of Jesus.  In Genesis this is foretold as the crushing of the serpent’s head while the promised One’s heel is bruised.  

This visual image of the evil one as a snake is very vivid to me today, because we had a snake in our house last night.  Everyone but me was in bed.  I had been at my desk and walked out into our sitting/dining room (the main area of our house) to turn off the lights.  As I walked in, a dark slithering form inched across the rug, right in the middle of the four chairs where our kids had been reading books before bed.  It was not so large, about 3 feet long and fairly slender, and not so fast due to the coolness of the night.  I called Scott and Luke to come with weapons, and Scott took the lead pipe we keep under our mattress and killed it with a few solid blows.  It released a putrid stench, and it’s blood smeared our floor.  We’ve had a few very small (juvenile) snakes in the house a long time ago, and cobras in the yard, but the sight of this fully grown snake penetrating the safety of home, well, it was unsettling, as if evil incarnate had come to fight back.

But this morning I sensed a good lesson in this image.  The snake was no match for Scott.  Yes, people suffer and die from snake bites, but invariably those occur when the person comes upon the snake in the bush of an overgrown garden, or when the snake slips into a home seeking warmth at night and goes unnoticed.  Unseen snakes are dangerous.  But in one on one open combat, a human can prevail.  The Evil One tries to slip unnoticed, causing harm by stealth, but will be defeated when seen and recognized.  

Defeated, but the bruising will also take a toll.  Please join us in prayer this weekend.  I will try to post some prayer guides by tomorrow.  If we could only crush corruption, apathy, infidelity, passive-aggressiveness, tribalism, fear, defilement of school girls, and other insidious evils with a lead pipe!  Instead we must pray and persevere, we must bandage our bruised heels and march on.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Witness to Death

Stewart died this morning, the 7 year old son of our health center’s in-charge medical assistant Biguye. I’ve worked closely with Biguye for many, many years, and grown to respect his judgment and perseverance.  When he beckoned me in the rain Friday morning to his apartment on the hospital grounds as I arrived for work, I was surprised to see his young son lying on the couch, jaundiced, breathing hard, with an IV drip going into his arm.  Stewart had sickle cell disease, which is extremely prevalent here.  He had always been on the small side, and weak, but rarely acutely ill, and only had a history of one transfusion prior to this illness.  All weekend we conferred together, listening to his failing heart struggle more and more, praying, trying everything available to assist his fight.  A staff child, like a team child, draws on  my heart in a personal way, and I found myself going back a couple of times a day, hoping to see a change for the better.  But no.   By Sunday he was not responding sensibly to questions.  By this morning he was not responding at all.  I watched his growing restlessness and could only imagine the distress he was experiencing.  Many children die, many in my presence, but not usually when I know the parents well, and have to watch the inexorable progression of the demise over days.  It was painful.

After he died, the staff quickly cleared the room of furniture and laid his body on a mattress on the floor, wrapped in a sheet.  They functioned like one big family, crying, discussing arrangements for the burial, spreading the news, collecting money.  I think we all thought of our own children, of their vulnerability, of Biguye’s pain.  He’s a stoic man who has seen much of life, and he made a few short speeches thanking all of us for the help.  But I know his heart is breaking too.  

When someone dies, the onlookers shake their heads and say “it is God’s will”.  But it isn’t, not really.  God let his own son die because the death of 7 year old Ugandan children is NOT OK.  It is not the way the world is supposed to be.  And changing  this world requires suffering and sacrifice, the ultimate suffering and sacrifice paid by God Himself.  It is a mysterious truth that His people continue to pay.  And it seems this year that working at Nyahuka Health Center, confronting death on it’s own territory ever day, is exacting a high toll from our staff.  Jonah paid with his life and Biguye with his son.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Three months ago we cried out in the midst of our desperation during the Ebola epidemic for your help. The response was overwhelmingly gracious, and we are very grateful. We don’t want to fail to account to you for what happens with your gifts, so here is a brief update.

Africa Response Fund
WHM just sent out a letter thanking those who contributed to the Africa Response Fund. We are taking the button off our blog today, as a symbol of thanks for the way you responded. The gifts of nearly 300 people totalled over one hundred thousand dollars. Fifteen percent went to the immediate expenses of the team for flights, the superb help of the Herrons, and renting a large evacuation house for two months; fifteen percent went to the WHM Sending Center in Philadelphia for their expenses in supporting us; and seventy percent now has been carried over into two new funds:

  1. The Jonah Kule Family Care Fund
  2. The Dr. Jonah Kule Memorial Leadership Development Fund

The Family Care Fund will cater for the school fees for Jonah’s six children over the next 20 years, and build his widow a decent house. The Leadership Development Fund will sponsor a local person’s medical school tuition; we have targeted the medical assistant who worked in the epicenter of Ebola because his clinical competence and character of service most embody the legacy of Dr. Jonah.

We estimate that the family fund has enough for the next decade, but we will let you know if the children need more help in the future. It is possible that God will move more resources into the second fund for sponsoring more students in the future, but for now we are content to start with this one.

Goats and BundiNutrition
Right before Ebola broke, we put up a blog button for the give-a-goat Christmas tree ornament project, as a way to support BundiNutrition’s purchase of dairy goats for HIV-positive families. In spite of the distraction of a life-threatening epidemic, you gave enough for two full truck-loads of goats! The first shipment of 50 goats will arrive in April. BundiNutrition projects and needs are ongoing as we purchase not just goats but milk, oil, sugar and beans for feeding inpatients, peanuts and seeds for local production of nutritious outpatient food, and new chicks to replenish the egg project, and salaries and transportation for extension workers who train people to care for the animals and follow-up families back at home. Again we thank you. We are starting 2008 strong, and our costs (about $3000/month) are half covered. We hope many of our monthly nutrition donors will continue to give in 2008 to make up the other half of our needs ($1500 per month). The BundiNutrition designation number is 12371, and the links to that remain on the sidebar.

We can only pray that God abundantly blesses you as you invest in His Kingdom. As you put your treasure here we know your hearts are with us.

Strong Women

Some women this week have reminded me of the prominence of women in the Easter story.  I’ve been a single mom for only 8 days while Scott is at a conference, but it feels like months.  This morning I got up to make donuts for my kids as a Sunday treat, then was called to see a staff’s very ill child at the hospital, then two neighbors who were ill, all before church.  But when I am tempted to feel sorry for myself, as if I have too much to manage, I look around and realize that Africa is full of strong women, patiently plodding on.  Melen carries a quiet dignity, her smile comes more easily now that her baby boy has been safely delivered.  Her world is one of women, Jonah’s sisters and her girls, running a nursery school and managing a family, with little help from any men.  Nurse Agnes also raises her children and works at the health center while her husband is in school 10 hours away; she’s not even from Bundibugyo so she has no extended family to support her.  Olupa leaves her baby with a relative while she comes to work.  I sat this morning with the two wives of my elderly and slowly dying neighbor, they supported him from each side as he vomited, undaunted by the inevitability of his decreasing strength.  These women clean up the messes, prepare the food, hold the sick, listen to problems, show up for work, go to the gardens.  As in the days of Jesus, when the men run away, they will be the ones washing the body for burial, mourning at the graveside.  Even though they have been treated like property for centuries, the women of Bundibugyo are made in the image of God, and His glory remains in their souls.  Even if education is a struggle, and brothers or fathers quibble to make a profit of goats off their marriages, or husbands beat them to show who is boss, these women can not help but express the creativity and competence that God created in them.  So they sing and dance in the choir, and sew colorful fabrics into attractive dresses.  They scrape together small roadside stands to sell some matches or roasted bananas.  They are not all saints, but they do hold the fabric of life here together.  I’m humbled when I think of most of their lives, and my complaining is at least muted by their reality.  God’s best plan is for men and women to complement each other, and I’m ready for Scott to get back today!!!  But until he does, I take courage from the strong women around me.

Palm Sunday--on triumph and suffering

Scott has been at an Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation meeting for a week, one of about three foreigners in a sea of Ugandan district doctors and administrators, evaluating their programs and planning for the next year of effort to stop the transmission of AIDS.  It is messy.  I would like the same thing the people of Israel wanted on Palm Sunday:  a messianic power-show of defeating evil once for all, a definitive correction of the world’s ills.  For us that might mean a lovely clean hospital where we are in control and everyone shows up for work and drugs are in plentiful supply and we see cures left and right and everyone can come and see how it should be done . . . But that is not the way God chose to work.  We’re listening to a lecture series as a team, and NT Wright reminds us that God’s answer to evil is to get dirty, to come down, to involve Himself in the story, to transform from the ground rather than impose order from on high.  In a way that has encouraged me to slog on, to plead with passive-aggressive staff to do their work, to make phone calls about drug supplies, to confront, to pray, to hold on.  To go to meetings where we don’t quite fit in, to patiently work on establishing trust with the government, to press on in spite of imperfect programs.

Last week Kisembo preached:  it is easier to fight for Jesus than to die for Jesus.  I think that is so true.  This week as we remember the events of Jesus’ life and death, let us pray to enter the same way He did.  A King coming in peace, moving relentlessly towards the place of suffering, purposefully, soberly.  

A post for Kevin

CSB’s football team won their second match of the season, against Kakuka, 7 to 0 on Saturday.  They came out strong with beautiful passing and team work.  It was amazing how quickly and deftly they scored.  Mid-game was a mire of careless booting the ball, but in the later second half they revived their style.  Some of those boys have been coached for five years or more by Kevin and Alex, and it shows.  Besides good coaching, consistent practice and a real field to play on, our team  also had shoes, a clear advantage, I actually wonder if we shouldn’t try to have a stash of shoes for our opponents just to make a better game . . . Scores were made by Birungi (2), Kasoke (2), Richard (2), and Abdul (1).  Richard also had two great assists on Kasoke’s and Birungi’s scores.  Luke is practicing with the team even though he can’t play, just to benefit from Alex’s discipline and exercise; but I also sponsor five boys actually on the team (two starters who are among the strongest players, and three boys who at least get to sit on the bench in uniform and feel a part of things . . . ) and it gives me joy to watch them play and succeed.  So much of their life hovers at the margin.  Most of them are thrilled with grades that eek them past failure.  The kind of clarity that shines in a 7 to 0 score comes rarely to their psyche.  So my mother’s heart basked in their joy yesterday, and I wanted Kevin to know that his legacy lives on.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold

This is the JB Phillips translation of Romans 12:1, quoted by Marva Dawn in her book Truly the Community.  She talks about how each person has a unique aspect of the glory of God to embody and reflect, and a true community allows individuals to safely explore and express who they are.  Instead of cultural rules that stamp out deviation and constrict diversity by molding character from the outside, we should encourage that transformation, the emergence of who we were truly created to be, from the inside out.  I’ve been watching a physical picture of that in Birungi Suizen.  His sharp bony face and curled body had a certain reptilian quality when he came in.  Over the last week, he’s reminded me of chameleons, who molt as they grow, shedding one skin as a new one replaces it from the inside.  His scabby oozing outer layer peeled off and from underneath grew a healthier version.  He’s gained over a kilo, which for him is a 20% increase in body weight.  He’s getting feistier, more alert, hungry.  He’s talking.  As the medicine and milk went deep into his body, he was slowly transformed from the inside out, and the real Birungi is now emerging.  This kind of transformation takes time, a lot of time, and feeding, and care.  But when it does happen, it is worth the effort.  (Matte stood up Friday, still a bag of bones but less in pain, a hint of energy returning; when we backed off on the sedation for Ngonzi Christopher his tetanus-induced dyspnea worsened so he’s getting more valium, but hanging in there, thanks for praying for them too).  As frustrating as it is to deal with malnutrition and all it’s complicated mess of family dysfunction and poverty and oppression and evil . . . The reward sometimes comes, watching resurrection in a slow time-lapse of day to day glimpses.

And I want to see that in the other two main spheres of my life, family and team.  A good family and a good team are that TRUE COMMUNITY where the squeezing conformity of the world is released, and God’s glory can be nurtured and revealed in each person.  It is also a privilege, a slow but sure one, to watch my kids and team mates emerge and transform.  Yesterday the Pierces moved into the “headmaster’s house”, the home the Bartkoviches had occupied for many years.  Before they moved, they hired a work crew to do major renovations, knocking down walls, changing doorway patterns, subtracting some cabinets and adding others, painting everything an invigorating green.  I like the result, but more importantly the freedom to make those changes allows them to move into a position as themselves, not squeezed into the mold of those who went before.   Naomi danced around the mess of boxes and books and dust and sticky not-yet-dry varnish in delight, telling me this is really HER house, in a chattering out-of-the-shell way that amazed me.  She felt the new look reflected her choices, expressed the Pierce uniqueness, and that gave her joy.  (And I found out as we organized in her room that we are kindred spirits in not liking our sheets tucked in our beds when we sleep).  

As missionaries we are in double jeopardy of the squeeze, or maybe triple:  we have our culture-of-origin ideas about what is right that sometimes seem more important than they should as we flounder in the strangeness of a foreign land.  We have the strong squeeze of the host culture, often a place where the rules punish deviation harshly as  a survival mechanism for marginalized people to maintain identity.  And we have the added burden of being public spectacles and objects of curiosity whose lives and choices can be mistaken for representing God’s ways.  How we need the humor and joy and freedom of community, the team a place where each person can emerge in God’s image, not America’s, or Bundibugyo’s, or World Harvest Mission’s.  That takes inner feeding, time, and courage as leaders.  I pray for that.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why I keep going

Today I remembered why I keep going.

There are three little boys at the hospital who need more than the paltry medical care we can offer to have a hope of survival.  The oldest is Matte, who at 15 weighs less than the average 5 year old, every bone prominently protruding from his shrinking flesh.  We think it is TB, from his chest xray, so we have started therapy.  He smiles and says “thank you” in English when I hand him a jar of peanut butter and tell him to eat a spoonful every few hours.  The second is Ngonzi Christopher, 8 years old, beads of sweat in an intricate pattern on his straining face as he spasms in the classic rigor of tetanus.  When the spasm passes he can answer my questions in Lubwisi, his breathlessness being the chief complaint, tetanus a disease that suffocates a person with their own uncooperative muscles.  We are sedating him and supporting him, but after a series of phone calls I have determined there is no tetanus immune globulin in the country, and no ICU that will take him.  So only quiet, fluids, prayer and hope remain.  The third is Birungi Suizen, age 4 1/2.  I posted his picture last week, when his pitiful condition made me weep.  Today I wept when his sweet spirit surfaced.  He’s been admitted now for a few weeks, against all odds still alive.  Like a chameleon, he peeled off his sickly scabby skin and a new layer is emerging from within.  For the first time he’s sitting, and I found him eagerly sipping the milk his mother fed him from a spoon.  Every day I give him a piece of candy which he grabs, my assurance of his mental alertness.  Today I held out my closed fists, and instead of one piece I had enclosed two. He chose the right hand, and I turned over my fist to reveal the two pieces of candy on my palm.  Two!  He looked at them, and at me.  Then he slowly took one in one hand, and took the other and handed it to his mother.  I wanted to cry again.  This tiny suffering person was ready to share his first bounty, not to horde but to give.  He is barely alive, his years of malnutrition and neglect have to have impaired his intelligence, but he understands love.  

That’s what keeps me going.

Keeping eyes open

As I rode down the road this morning, I could see the barren peak of the Rwenzoris in it’s post-storm clarity, a shadowy horizon against the blue of the day.  We’ve just had a spate of visitors and I find myself challenged to see this world from their fresh perspective.  So I kept my eyes out for sights that have become normal to me, but which I really should appreciate:
  • Six people riding one motorcycle.  Yes, six.  Most SUV’s in the US don’t even drive around with six people.  They were expertly arranged with a medium kid in front, a smaller kid between the next two adults, and a woman at the rear with a toddler tied onto her back hanging over the rear wheel.  The perfect family transportation.
  • Our muscular builder walking down the road holding hands with another man, a sign of friendship, not anything weird.
  • A bright blue fluttering kingfisher alighting on our grass-thatched kitubbi as I left.
  • My shrivelly old lady neighbor smoking a home made cigar as she swept her dirt courtyard.
  • A couple of dozen women in a shuffling circle dance with wreaths of leaves on their heads celebrating the boys in their family about to be circumcised (we had heard the drums all night, but as Luke cheerfully pointed out better drums than guns . . . )
  • A cow with 3 foot long horns that shouldered me off the road
  • Coke bottles lined up full of thick orange palm oil for sale
  • No one looking hurried, no matter how late they were for school, no one too busy to stop and comment or greet or stare . . . .except me of course, zipping by, almost too fast to notice the rest of the world.

Going Post-It

I remember when “going postal” was a euphemism for raging insanity, because of a postal service worker who shot his fellow employees.  When Scott travels, I find my center untethered, my sanity slipping, my patience fraying at an alarming rate.  A couple of years ago when I was coping alone I resorted to post-it notes, everywhere, to remember all the details of my usual responsibilities plus his, because our life is definitely a two-person job. Then I heard a silly song (Philadelphia Chickens CD) making fun of typical “I’m so important” busy-ness, and felt convicted.  I think I’m going post-it again.  Today I forgot to send my kids’ lunch to school, appreciate the irony of being called at the nutrition clinic by my son to tell me I forgot my own children’s nutrition.  I biked home to pull something together, then was leaving them and pulled out a list of things I was trying to remember from the hospital . . . And Annelise reminded me of my post-it note phase.  When I’m the single parent and single doctor and single team leader, life comes at me from all directions, and I find that I start to slip.  So the best prayer is to probably simply remember my sense of humor, sort out the truly important, and cheerfully let the rest slide.  But not lunch.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Baby Jonah Muhindo, 8 March 2008

Last night we got a phone call that Melen was in labor. I had asked to be with her when she delivered, and when I talked to Jonah’s sister they were still at home, waiting but soon heading to the hospital. We planned to meet in 2 hours . . But this being baby six I went 45 minutes later to pick them up. Only to find they were already at the health center (she stays right next door). I burst into the delivery room to find that she had just delivered a healthy baby boy! She never even made it to the delivery table, but had him on the bed the midwives use to sleep in when they are on call. I thought this might be a real moment of grief, but instead I think the joy of this baby outweighed the reality that he is already fatherless. Labor and delivery are a women’s world anyway, so his absence was not strange yet. It was fun for me to be the one to clean and weigh the baby, and hold him to warm him while Melen cleaned up. Two of my favorite nurses, Agnes and Rose, were in the room, as well as Jonah’s two sisters Sophia and Janet. I’ve been through a lot of life with all these women, especially in the last couple of months. It was a rare sweet moment, the bright white clean delivery room, the laughter of the women, the relief of Melen, the burbly grunts of a newborn, the bustle of care, taking time to pray together. An hour later Melen was ready to go, so we headed out to the truck in the darkness, to drive the hundred yards up the road to her rooms. We sat by lantern-light while he eagerly began to nurse. Melen smiled. I’m sure that in spite of the ultrasound she didn’t REALLY believe this child was a boy until she saw it with her own eyes. Having a son is crucial in this culture, even more so for a widow. A quiet sign that God was caring for her, after five girls, a boy to carry on Jonah’s name. We pray he will be courageous and true as his father.

Goodbye to Scott Will

Our hearts are flowing with thankfulness for Scott Will’s six months here, he was literally a God-send, yet also over-flowing with the inevitable sadness of goodbye. We hosted a candle-light and kitengi dinner out under the bougainvillea last night in his honor, then a bit of humor, some good stories of how he stood with us in the Ebola days, and lastly prayer. I will include below the last few lines of a poem we wrote, because if we don’t laugh we’ll just cry. Think Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham to get the cadence, and imagine the dialogue to be between us and the WHM Sending Center convincing them to send Scott Will back:

Say! I think Scott Will will do!
He can go from here to there
With World Harvest anywhere.
He can manage snakes in the house,
He can dispose of bugs or a mouse.
We’ll send him up the steepest rocks
We’ll trust him with a deadly pox
We’ll hope he doesn’t spill his blood
When slogging through the deepest mud.
We’ll not worry over heat or rain.
We know Scott Will won’t go insane.
He can take charge of dairy goats
Even in a place remote.
Scott will will do, yes he will do
Scott Will will do it all, it’s true.
Yes we see Scott Will will do.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Lancet Cover

Here is the quote on the cover of this week’s Lancet (the premier British medical journal):

Africa carries 25% of the world’s disease burden
yet has only 3% of the world’s health workers
and 1% of the world’s economic resources
to meet that challenge.

That about says it all.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Introducing . . . .

Today was a cultural milestone for our family: we attended our first “introduction”, sort of an official engagement party, a melding of the western idea of rings and engagement and dressing up and cake with the African tradition of the man’s family coming to the prospective bride’s family with their bride price of goats and gifts. So some aspects were very familiar to us: pink and white ribbons, festive balloons, the bride feeding the groom cake, speeches, rings. Other parts reminded us that we are not in Kansas, so to speak, such as when the gifts we brought (goats) began munching on the building (banana leaf shelter). We loaded up four vehicles just after noon, which we had decorated with flowers, balloons, and toilet paper, to bring Ndyezika’s delegation of about 50 people to Juliet’s uncle’s home. They had set up tarps on poles to provide shade in the grass out front. The groom’s family and supporters sat on one side facing the bride’s family of another almost 50 people on the other side. There were welcomes, prayers, a “break-lunch” (like breakfast, but about five hours later?), and then the games began. Juliet’s brother very dramatically asked why we had all come to their home, because they had been planning another function and wondered what this major interruption was. Then Ndyezika’s spokesman went WAY around the bush several times with much laughter until he finally named the woman they were seeking. To this the bride’s family responded that her father had a hundred children, so they were not sure where to find her. She might be in Masindi, but they would need petrol for the motorcycle to go look for her. The groom’s mukwenda (negotiator, go-between, spokesman) produced and envelope of money, and a bride-relative was send on a pretend motorcycle with sound effects around the yard looking. He sadly came back and reported she was not found. This charade went on for several rounds, i.e. Here is the aunt and she can call Juliet but she needs air time for the phone . . . Finally a half dozen OTHER girls were brought out, and the mukwenda had to pay their transport to get them out of the way. On the last round another half-dozen young women came out of the house veiled, literally they had sparkling nylon scarves completely covering their head and face. They bowed down and the hid, and the groom’s people stalked around discussing which one was Juliet. They finally chose, and they were correct! At that point Juliet then sat by Ndyezika, on our side.

Then the negotiations started, and it all became a lot less fun. I found it hard to restrain myself, because I know a number of people on the bride’s side, and their histories (defilement of young girls, multiple wives, serial marriages, wife-beating, alcoholism), and the fact that NOT ONE of them has been officially married in a church or paid anything CLOSE to what they were demanding from Ndyezika. We were mercifully seated to the side and told to keep quiet, so we did. Both sides made dramatic exits en masse at different points. The booty we brought included 10 goats, a cow, 50 kg of sugar, 8 crates and 2 jerry cans (40L) of beverages, a mattress, lantern, hoe, boxes of soap, a suit and a dress, a jerry can of paraffin, I can’t even remember what else! It was quite a pile of gifts. The first goat was judged to be too young (requiring extra money). The cow was rejected on the grounds of being male (requiring extra money). And the huge stack of money was rejected on the basis of being half of the absurd amount asked for (though still probably 5 to 10 times what most people pay). It took a couple of hours to resolve all this, but in the end they accepted all the gifts and animals but declared that Ndyezika has a debt for more money, but the ceremony could go on. Everyone seemed happy with this, though it still made me sad to see men of this caliber putting more burden on the young couple, all for greed. At that point we were hours into the day, it was almost evening, and our restless kids and we were all tired.

But then the day was redeemed. Ndyezika and Juliet gave each other rings, inexpensive metal wedding bands, which they will shift to the proper finger when they are actually married but for now serve as symbols of their commitment. Ndyezika spoke first, without any qualms, a beautiful speech that brought tears to my eyes, about how he had prayed for a godly wife and how God had answered his prayers, how he had waited and worked for Juliet to be his wife for a long, long time, how he would be faithful all the way to death. It was the only part of the day that really gave any glimpse of the holiness and reality of marriage. It was very moving. Then Juliet also spoke, about the power of God and of prayer, about how amazing it was that they had reached this moment, about how this ring showed that she was waiting for Ndyezika and for the day she would marry him. She turned then and looked right at the haggling family members who had been difficult for the last several hours and said basically: “God is so powerful and has so clearly brought this about, that if anyone thinks they can disturb our marriage, I laugh in their face.” It was about the boldest statement I could imagine. She was poised and stunningly beautiful and the two of them are so happy, it made all the other unpleasantness worthwhile.

It was only at the very end, the 6 or 7 hour mark, that the “Introductions” (which is what the day is named) were made. Ndyezika’s uncles decided to blend us into their family, which was sweet. So when “fathers” were called, they stood up with Scott. Then “mothers” included Ndyezika’s mother and me. “Brothers” included our boys, and “sisters” included Julia. We also had to do many groupings of photos with all of the above as the sun set.

Ndyezika and Juliet are one of the only couples I’ve ever known here to make a commitment to wait on living together until marriage, to go through all the proper family channels. They are taking a courageous road less traveled, and they will no doubt meet opposition. Her father has already mysteriously delayed the wedding for another month. So they can still use your prayers, to pull off the church ceremony and meet all the family demands. Pray that many other young people would have the desire to follow this path, would see the joy and beauty of their relationship and dare to aspire to something like it!

World AIDS Day, 3 months and 5 days late

Thursday Bundibugyo celebrated World AIDS Day (Dec 1), better late than never. The festivities were held at Nyahuka Health Center, so though it would have been the first day in weeks without a major event (other than the usual team meeting) planned, the breath we hoped to catch was swallowed up in the all-day affair. Most of it was fairly predictable, the speeches, the songs. Scott was asked to speak as the NGO representative, and emphasized this year’s theme of Leadership by honoring our health center staff who show leadership in working hard to care for HIV positive people, and then calling on members of the community to show leadership in their families by seeking counseling and testing, by coming for treatment, by speaking out against stigmatization, by boldly modeling and teaching faithfulness in marriage to their children. The primary school who sang avoided the usual “we welcome you our visitors” cheery chant, and instead sang a lament in a minor key, decrying abuse. It was quite haunting. And for the first time, a group calling themselves “Bubandi People Living with AIDS” performed. About two dozen of our AIDS patients formed the group! The public nature of this event and their willingness to identify themselves as people living with AIDS was a huge step towards openness. Their leader was the mother of our little patient Dixon who died a couple of years ago, a woman with no remaining living children, who continues to struggle on.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

. . . And back to the Battle

After Birthdays, Visitors, Prayers and Parties . . .(see below) we are now back to the Battle of Bundibugyo, the day to day pushing back against the chaotic fallen realm of the prince of this earth, the daily determination to cling to our God and to His sure but subtly advancing Kingdom. The verse that has stuck with me this week is the one that Jesus whispered as He died, from Psalm 31:5: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit . . “ If Jesus could take that verse from a Psalm of trust and deliverance and apply it to his final moment of suffering on the cross, then surely I can commit all to God in the daily struggle that is life here. It is a little over 24 hours since we waved our last visitors off on the plane. But in that time the onslaught is back full scale. The Paeds ward is packed. Three new 1 kg (2 pound) preemies, more and more desperately malnourished children with tragic tales of mentally ill or dead mother, of absent fathers. A little boy with AIDS whom we have been struggling to reclaim from near death for a month (and who had made real progress I thought), Byamukama James, died last night. We resumed immunizations and full lab services this week since Ebola was officially declared over, but in both cases only after overcoming significant barriers (no record book, interruptions in the cold chain, absent staff, etc.). Meanwhile on the school front, a third teacher moved on to a better paying job. Two had left to join a government school less than a mile away for more money and less work, and this one left to join Coca Cola! There is a significant personal issue that is causing much angst amongst some of our Ugandan colleagues in the nutrition program. And two mysterious deaths are now under investigation for yet another potential viral infection.

Yesterday morning our team gathered to pray. And last night I looked over the list of 12 urgent things we prayed about, and realized that God had moved in significant ways on 9 of the 12 requests! Yes, we are in a battle, but we are not alone. Pray for us to remember that, and join us in praying for His Kingdom to Come.

Jack turns 10!

Jack turned 10 on Monday, which means that our whole family is in double digits now (until Scott turns 100, but that’s a ways off). This is a great stage in our family’s life, and one we are very thankful for. After his early morning at school we hiked and swam at Ngite with the Bolthouses, where Jack likes to jump from the highest rocks into the pools of the river. The whole team came for pizza, prayers for Jack, a “10” cake with firecracker candles, and we ended with a dance party on the side porch lit by candles and powered by Toby Mac. Jumping, eating, and dancing . . . Plus a little book reading and drawing and hugging or wrestling, and you pretty much have Jack’s ideal day. At 10 he is smart, wild, affectionate, mischievous, loyal, funny, provocative, short-fused, coordinated, and much-loved. And when he dances you know this is a boy who has grown up in Africa.

Snapshots of a Visit, part 2

When our WHM/Trinity team left on Friday, we welcomed the Bolthouse family in their place. Bill and Laurie have been friends-we-had-not-yet-met for many years. They were missionaries in south-east Europe in the late 90’s and now have an amazing and unusual life, embodying the truth that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” God blessed them with resources which they have chosen to spend on the Kingdom rather than themselves. A few years ago they invested in us by buying us the ultrasound machine that now forms a large part of Scott’s ministry to HIV positive pregnant women. So when they planned a family trip to Uganda to visit some of the ministries they have supported, they asked to treat us to a couple of days at the game park and then visit our home in Bundibugyo with their three daughters. Our families connected quickly and deeply in the way that only shared experiences of cross-cultural struggle and war and parenting and refreshment of the Gospel can do . . . We watched a group of hyenas stalk and chase kob in the early mists (the first time we’ve ever seen hyenas at full speed rather than the slink into shadow, and a sobering reminder of their power and danger), saw two female lions and their two cubs lazing in the morning sun, floated down the Kazinga channel with dozens of hippos and hundreds of diverse herons, storks, egrets, kingfishers . . . And lastly ended on the back of the truck in the midst of a herd of elephants, when everyone was focused on the tiniest little baby elephants on one side of the road and Laurie and I yelled as a huge and angry mother elephant charged us from the other side of the road. Thankfully she quit as soon as we sped a safe distance away. When God finally answers Job’s suffering, He does so by pointing to the wild animals He has made. We always find the beauty of the game park a good antidote to the pain of Bundibugyo, so those days were a great gift.

From Mweya we returned to Bundibugyo for a first-hand look at our team’s ministries. Like the visitors the week before, they were able to tour the school, converse with students and teachers, see the hospital wards, malnourished children, goats, and even take a refreshing dip in the Ngite Falls. Both groups of visitors left us encouraged by their heart-level connection to God’s Kingdom in this obscure place, by their prayers and support. We are grateful. Half of the first group ended up stranded in Entebbe for a day when their BA flight blew five tires and aborted take-off and evacuated (! Rivaling the Barts’ horrible travel saga, though perhaps just extending it since they were carrying trunks for the Barts). The other half went on to Sudan with Michael and are just arriving back in the US today. We know that the cost, both in finances and in the emotional/spiritual toll of experiencing this place of spiritual battle (the hailstorm that struck us at Ngite where 9 years ago some of the same men had prayed against a demon the community feared inhabited a certain rock would be just one example), is high. So we are thankful for those who count that cost and are still willing to come.

Caleb turns 13

Another teenager! This child was the one who taught us the story of Abraham and Isaac as we held on through some preterm labor to deliver him safely in Africa, though we knew that being a missionary did not guarantee an outcome of our choosing. This child was once a failing-to-thrive baby struggling with chronic infections in this soupy mess of disease we call Bundibugyo, necessitating intestinal and liver biopsies at Hopkins for the final conclusion that he was just like most kids here, sacrificing his body’s growth to protect his brain and survival. This child rode on his father’s back running through gunfire when we escaped the outbreak of a rebel attack over a decade ago. This child forced us to make the impossible decision to perform middle-of-the-night-emergency surgery for testicular torsion (with Dr. Sessanga no less) in the grungy and ill-equipped Bundibugyo hospital many years ago. This child later developed appendicitis and clung to us in pain as we struggled to get him to a better hospital this time in Kampala (thanks to MAF) where his appendix was removed. In other words, reaching the milestone of 13 is no small praise for us.

We celebrated Caleb’s birthday with a sunrise cook-out breakfast at our favorite campsite 2 in Mweya, where we had traveled the night before to accompany our first team of WHM and Trinity Presbyterian Church visitors. Pat and I whipped up dozens of chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, and coffee while the rest went on a game drive, then returned for a great time of fellowship and celebration in the cool morning air. That evening after dinner we sat again around the bonfire at the lodge where Caleb read aloud from Deuteronomy as a recognition of his maturity in the eyes of God, then we read him some lists everyone had contributed to throughout the day: 13 things we love about Caleb, 13 memories of the last 13 years, 13 Scriptures for a 13 year old, and 13 qualities that make a boy a man. Our visitors got prizes for naming 13 bird species they had found throughout the day, or spotting a group of 13 elephants. It was a joy to mark this milestone with our extended WHM and team family, and to reflect upon God’s goodness to us in that place of His creativity and beauty.

End of Ebola

Last Wednesday we joined the district celebration of the End of Ebola, the final closure on months of struggle and loss. A helicopter full of Ministry of Health, CDC, World Health Organization, and other visitors touched down and set off a parade through town as the dignitaries marched from one end to the other. We congregated at the hospital by the graves of the four health workers who died of Ebola and were buried there. The Minister of Health’s representative, Dr. Otaala, honored Melen with a speech by Dr. Jonah’s grave. It was so crowded I could not hear much of what went on, but when the crowd thinned out Jonah’s family and we were able to once again embrace at the site of so much sorrow, and weep together again over our loss. It made me thankful that we had been there in early December when no one else wanted to come near, and made me realize again the bond we had from that terrible time. From the hospital the whole delegation moved to the Boma Grounds, the large grassy field in the center of town where tents and chairs had been set up for the speeches. By this time the whole day was running several hours late (as usual) and the visitors were worried that gathering clouds could threaten their ability to fly out. So the ceremonies were mercifully compressed from the planned 4 hours to about 2. . . Enough time for a local member of parliament to make outrageous and inappropriate statements about his intention to continue eating monkeys, and for the rest of the visitors to make respectful and encouraging remarks about the courage of the survivors and to honor the memory of those who died. We were seated with the Ugandan doctors, not with the Kampala visitors, which seemed appropriate. Scott was thanked several times, called forward in a select group of about a dozen to receive certificates of recognition for their service. The best moment for us came when Dr. Sessanga was recognized as an Ebola survivor and a health worker. As he was returning to his seat, the guest of honor Dr. Otaala took the microphone to thank Scott for caring for Dr. Sessanga when he was ill with ebola, because they had been medical school class mates. Just as he was saying that Dr. Sessanga had reached our seats on the way back to his, and he and Scott hugged each other. It was a sweet symbol of the little redemptive bits of connection and relationship that come through shared suffering.