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Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the Road Again

A cool evening breeze rustles the eucalyptus leaves on this ridge of
the Rift Valley where we have stopped for the night, at Sunrise Acres
Farms. We have found this cluster of four cabins, cows, wood stoves
and homemade jam, down-to-earth here-for-life missionary managers, the
most peaceful spot in Africa, at least for weary missionaries. It is
more than the homeyness of the quilts and shelves of old books; it is
a spiritual shalom that pervades this place. We are extremely
thankful for the ministry of the Stovers, and AIM, and for the hours
of respite we can spend this afternoon and evening before the long
journey back across the border tomorrow.

Because whenever we land here, it seems our souls need a bit of re-
raveling. Once again we leave Luke in one country as we rattle back
to the next one. He faces major SAT and AP exams in the next two
weeks, and beyond that the intimidating prospect of being a year away
from entering college on another continent. We met with two members
of the RVA admissions committee who were cautiously sober about
Caleb's chances of entering the 10th grade class in the Fall . . .he's
number 2 on the waiting list, but the class is already over-full and
there are no known openings. We're coming out of four days of fairly
intense prayer, discussion, meeting, and relationship, as we met with
the other three Africa teams and leaders (two Nairobi, one Sudan, and
us) and our Director of Ministries and CEO. We return to a three-
month stretch of ministry, visitors, interns, recruitment, fund-
raising, vision-ironing . . .too long for a sprint, but pretty close
to that pace, perhaps something like the 800 meter race. Before we
even get home there are uncertainties and errands and delays in
Kampala and Fort Portal, and we feel like we've already been on the
move for too long. Transition is inevitable, as we work with team
mates to discern their gifts and callings and try to help them be more
effective and resilient, as we respond to the ever-changing needs of
Bundibugyo, and as we pursue that cup of God's will that challenges
our trust.

And so we will hit the road as the sun rises again tomorrow, back to
the mix of comfort and cost that we call home, back to the heart-
stretching call to love.


When we are in Kampala, we sense the culture-shock amazement that our capital city is becoming more and more modern every month, and surely must be fairly equivalent to Nairobi by now. NOT SO. Two nights in Nairobi have left us reeling. It has been a long time (?years) and we'd forgotten how amazing the city is. Traffic, garbage, car- swallowing potholes, hustlers, and slums to be sure. But also schools on every side, gardens, skyscrapers, even malls. We wandered in a daze through a few of the stores, and sat sipping iced cappuccino with a burger and salad. Is this really still Africa?

But friends, not luxuries, drew us to Nairobi. We stayed with Bill and Stephanie, two amazing long-time kindred spirits, original members of our college (and post) "Africa Team", the group of committed colleague couples that kept us moving towards mission. They both have PhD's from Cambridge and after many years in Ethiopia now teach systematic theology and church history and Greek at the continent's premier graduate school of theology in Nairobi. They graciously welcomed us into their on-campus bungalow, to fill their guest room and crash Bill's 50th birthday celebration. With Paul, we reminisced about life at UVA and about our early years as missionaries and parents. It was a reunion in all the best senses, a re-affirmation of our common faith and vision and a safe place and time to reflect and be encouraged.

And between our two evenings with these friends, we spent a great day with team mate Pat. Breakfast at Java House (scrumptious), and a full- day exploration to find the most eccentric and artistic glass- recycling project, a Willy-Wonka-like kiln where artisans form glasses and vases from the remains of bottles, all surrounded by bizarre sculptures and a trailer-park feel in the midst of vast cattle-ranch plains south of the game park. Pat heads to the US for a short HMA, so we needed that day to catch up with her, and to dream together of how our Creator God wants us to reflect His artistic character in our Kingdom-work here. Surely creating beauty from scrap must fit in somewhere.

Nairobi must have dozens of interesting and successful art galleries, hundreds of self-help projects, not to mention more hundreds of NGO's and wonderful ideas and school opportunities and training, plus state- of-the art equipment, even in some of the hospitals, all at a pleasant 6000 feet . . . no wonder so many foreigners congregate here. We were glad to join them for a day!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

sms from Heidi

Thanks for praying for the renewal of the milk supply. Through a
letter, a visit, some emails from friends who know friends, and
supernatural mercy, the director was able to access a new supply for
out nutrition unit. We feel a little taste of the George Muller last-
minute provision. Heidi sms'd that Friday we had three packets of
milk left (out of about four thousand for the year . . ). But
Saturday morning a truck arrived with 60 crates, enough for several
months. I suppose we are always desperate and dependent, we just
pretend that we don't have to rely on God most of the time. So a
dramatic provision reminds us of reality. We are grateful.

Not My Will

That is our prayer, as we sit in the old colonial gardens of a hotel
in Naivasha, Kenya's Rift Valley, studded with yellow-barked Acacia
trees, and flowing with a palette of bougainvillae. As we face the
cup of this world's sorrow and brokeness, we reflect upon the hours
Jesus spent in a garden, too. God takes the dissolution of His
creation seriously, so seriously that the cup of His wrath spills over
into consequences of disease and hunger and isolation and despair. We
pray to see that removed, but we acknowledge, soberly, that the way of
removal may involve our tasting. Pray with us that we would trust the
love of our Father, and his all-things-are-possible power, so that we
hold with both hands the cup He hands us in this time of planning, and
swallow His will. And that we find the cost of such a draught dwarfed
by hope, for ourselves and for Africa.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Step One

Yesterday we left in a tropical downpour, only to find out that Nathan
and Sarah's hoped for airplane ride would not materialize, so they
needed to pile on our truck, too. We ascended the mountains in an
eerie mist, complete with baboons silhouetted, huddled in the trees.
But once on the other side, the clouds dissipated, though the day was
still quite long with errands in Fort Portal and with us not wanting
to dislodge the loose shock and spring that had torpedoed Scott's day
last week. Step one of our journey was to reach Kampala, which we did
by early evening. I have no great desire to live in the city, but I
do find something about this place vibrant. Cramped one-room shops
lit at night, some with a TV or a pool table, shelves of biscuits or
cooking oil packaged in the tiny daily allotments of the poor, hair
salons with loiterers, used clothes stretched on curvaceous hangers.
Everywhere darting motorcycle bodas, overbearing mini-buses full of
commuters, random pedestrians, blaring horns, all though with a good
humor. It is a city of the scramble for life, of a rising expectation
and eroding culture, a city of filth, and a city of beauty.

And the center of pretty much everything that goes on in Uganda, the
place of multi-story office buildings, grocery stores with
refrigerated meats and bar-code-scanning check-outs. This morning I
headed to the fortress of efficiency that is UNICEF, braving the
intimidating security to talk my way into meeting a very busy and
important executive whose subordinate forgot to tell her I was
coming. I understood her insistence on protocol and order and yet I
think she also heard my plea for the kids in Bundibugyo who were about
to be sold out on a technicality or oversight. All in all as much as
I could hope for, the promise to "look into it". Not a clear "expect
a shipment this week", but far from a "no."

The rest of the day, a little of this and that, some kid time, picking
up a hand-woven kitengi cloth that Luke had requested (we use them for
towels), finding out that Tuesdays are half-price at the movies and so
our whole family could go to the matinee. Dinner by candle light at
our favorite Indian restaurant. Fun. Perhaps the anonymity of being
just one more mujungu among the many, one more person no one knows, is
the best part of Kampala.

Step two begins tomorrow at 6, the drive across eastern Uganda to the
border and into the central Kenyan highlands. We will traverse one of
the major east African trade routes, the two-lane paved corridor of
goods that flow from the port at Mombasa throughout Kenya, Uganda,
Rwanda, Sudan, into even Congo. And so I end with some news from
today's East African Newspaper, detailing a special field
investigative report that collected data on trucking: "Bribery
expenses total about $891 per truck, accounting for over 21% of the
total export costs." There are 36 road blocks along the way, from
borders to police checks to weigh stations. Drivers face the subtle,
indirect request for a bribe at 78% of these stops. It takes 5 times
longer to move cargo from the Kenyan port to Kigali (Rwanda) than it
took to get the ship from Japan to Africa. Over 57% of the journey
time is spent, stationary, at the road blocks. . . . I will remember
all of this tomorrow when we see the endless lines of trucks backed up
at the border, or when the police wave us through their nail-studded
barriers looking for more lucrative vehicles to question. And I will
ponder the connection between the trade routes and the AIDS routes,
wondering whether the harshness and futility of the African trucker's
life makes him more vulnerable to high-risk HIV-transmitting
behaviour. And I will be thankful that we brave the potholes only a
few times a year, and do not live on the roads every day.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

traveling mercies

In a few minutes we begin our trek to Kenya, for meetings with WHM
leadership focused on East Africa, and to take Luke back to school.
Right now thunder rumbles and thick clouds dim the early morning,
which is ominous when we are trying to pack everything under tarps in
an open pick-up bed and have to drive on muddy roads. En route
tomorrow, in Kampala, Scott will be trying to get some work done on
the vehicle to help us survive the approximately 48 round-trip on-the-
road hours (and much of it is NOT nice road). I will be trying to
strike the right balance between outrage and diplomacy as I visit
UNICEF offices and plead for another year of milk formula . . . the
supply we've been waiting for for two months as our last packets have
dwindled to nothing seems to be inexplicably unavailable. So over the
next week we face many hours of jostle and heat and car-boredom,
passive-aggressive officials, challenging accommodations, and
dangerous drivers. The inevitable good-bye to Luke will hang over us,
and be another death to pass through. We also look forward to sweet
fellowship with other WHM missionaries and old friends in Nairobi,
rest for weariness, renewal of vision. To a bit of protected family
time, and a relief from the relentlessness of Bundibugyo. Please pray
for a UNICEF change of heart, for safety on the road, for intra-
familial kindness over the journey. In short, for the mercies of God,
which sustain us here, to travel behind and before.

Mt. Zion Primary School

This morning a new primary school was dedicated on the Uganda/Congo border, perched on a small hill next to the soldiers who use this vantage point to protect the border. We could see the tailing end of the Rwenzoris and the Semiliki River basin all the way across to the Blue Mountains of Congo. A spectacular spot, which we pray will also become like the real Mt. Zion, a dwelling place of God. Bishop Hannington Bahemuka, the Charismatic Episcopal church leader who also translates the Bible into Lubwisi (see two posts below), organized the effort to build a higher quality Christian primary school for orphans and other children in this remote place. He was joined by a team from International Stewards in the US, who funded the land and construction costs, but also spent the last several days running a seminar in our Community Center to train pastors in the Biblical principles of giving and stewardship. As long time friends of Hannington and partners in mission, we were invited to witness the dedication and pray for the school. About two dozen of the first pupils, in neon green school shirts and black jumpers and shorts, and led by their teacher a former Christ School student, lined up to thank and welcome the visitors/ Several hundred parents and community members clapped and worshiped on the hill top. Hannington acknowledged that this is a small and fragile project with uncertain funding, but we serve a God who surprises us with unlimited possibilities. . . . so that these children may someday be our doctors and bishops, and this hill may be the center of a university.

We have prayed for primary school education in Bundibugyo, and this may be one of our "by prayer and partnership" steps towards investing in emerging leaders.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hat trick

Rose, our resident midwife, called at 5pm to say that Nora, the mother carrying triplets was fully dilated and could we come and help. Scott and Heidi hopped in the truck and sped down to the health center to find Girl#1 swaddled and safe. Girl#2 promptly emerged without even a peep from the mother. Another 15 minutes and Girl#3 emerged. All were born head first, a blessing from above. The whole event proceeded quietly, efficiently almost effortlessly (easy for us to say). A medical privilege to witness a vaginal birth of triplets...not likely to happen in the litigious setting of the USA. We chanted "Webale Kwejuna....Webale Kwejuna...Webale Kwejuna"(thank you for surviving)... a sort of thrice "Hip, Hip, Hooray". Nora was too tired to respond with the usual "Webale Kusabe"(thank you for praying).
The girls weighed in at 1600g, 1500g, and 1650g and all cried briefly. They were early - probably about 34 weeks gestation. Please pray for their survival. The chances that they all survive, despite their apparent health at birth, is slim.
Thank you for praying.


Tomorrow we will celebrate Heidi's birthday, with mangos. She requested a mango dessert, so today I made two lovely pies. A heap of fruit that a few hours ago was growing on a tree a few yards from my kitchen door now cools under the criss-cross lattice of crust. Tomorrow morning's milk, minutes from being inside the cow, will be mixed with a few eggs sold off the excess from the chicken project across the street and flavored with vanilla grown on a local farm. Then we will churn it in a hand-cranked freezer surrounded by ice we've been stockpiling in our emptying fridge. The pie and ice cream dessert will follow a dinner that includes avocados from another tree in the yard, and lemons from a third, on tortillas made from scratch and sprinkled with cilantro from our garden and lettuce from Nathan's. The beauty of accumulating a meal from resources which are largely within a stone's throw is one of the aspects of missionary life I love, both for the challenge of combining limited ingredients and for the freshness of being forced to use locally grown ones.

This is a hungry time of year in Africa, the rains have begun but the fruit of last season's harvest has dwindled. Our elderly neighbor came asking for food this morning. A group of our boys spent a post- soccer hour shaking down the mango tree mid-day for ripe fruit, then Julia's friends showed up in the late afternoon to collect even more. I'm thankful the tree is having a bumper year to bless our friends, for these kids is it not an expendable pie to celebrate a birthday but perhaps the only food until dinner they can get their hands on. It is hard to imagine surviving here without our cow and her milk, and as thankful as I am for our small garden and few fruit trees we lean heavily on our cash to purchase food that others can not. Last night I was called by a doctor from UNICEF, who slowly and indirectly and politely made it clear that the organization is hesitating to re- supply our nutrition unit. The indirect and Africa-correct reason: all their stocks are designated by donors for the LRA-affected areas in the north. The real reason: I don't know, but I'm hoping to make a personal visit on the way to Kenya, to stop in their office and beg.

And so the classic and constant tension of savoring the richness of a golden mango and a creamy flow of milk, while strenuously advocating for the listless and scabby kids whose mothers drag them into the hospital as a place of last resort. East African population growth leads the world, and Uganda leads East Africa, so that today's paper reported that 8.8 million more people were hungry in this region than when we arrived about sixteen years ago. This place can produce both a fruitful tree, and yet the even more fruitful population means that hunger continues to rise, that abundance slips behind want.

Pray that we would enjoy the bounty of God's good earth with grateful hearts, and that we would use the ensuing energy to strive for justice.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lubwisi Bible Translation-where we stand

The WHM-Bundibugyo Team has been supporting the translation of the bible into the local language of Lubwisi since 1991 when Rich and Alie Benson pioneered that work. Our partnership continued when Waller and Mary Tabb of SIL took over in the mid-90s. The work has since been fully handed over to two Ugandan translators, Charles Musinguzi and Hannington Bahemuka who continue to faithfully toil day-by-day chipping away at the thousands of chapters in need of translation. SIL continues to support these guys logistically and technically, but the work is primarily now in Ugandan hands.
We received a report from Waller Tabb yesterday that the New Testament translation is now 59% complete. Please continue to pray for these faithful laborers who grind away at a task which is measured in years rather than weeks or months. Sort of like building the pyramids in my mind.
Waller's closing words in his update came from 2 Thessalonians 3:1
Finally brethren, pray for us, that the word of the LORD may speed on and triumph , as it did among you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

growing up

Luke hiked to Fort Portal with the Sudan interns and Nathan yesterday, and Caleb hiked to the forest and back down with our new team mate John Clark. No parents involved, or needed. Luke's purpose in going all the way over was to visit a young man who became his closest friend at CSB. Kataramu Taddeo is an amazingly pleasant teenager, with the most remarkable study habits and best grades of anyone we know. He and Luke consistently took the top positions in all their classes. Since finishing O-levels, they have stayed in touch, though Kataramu is from our neighboring district and only ended up at Christ School because of an orphan sponsorship program through his church. On Good Friday, we got a call from Kataramu that his mother had died. He had already lost his father long ago, and 5 of his 12 siblings, so he was no stranger to grief. Still, as the youngest and only one still in school, we know the untimely death of his mother (from asthma, a death that most likely would not have occurred in a more resource-filled world) hit him hard. We missed the burial, but Luke decided to go and see his friend within the 4 day traditional mourning period, a very culturally appropriate and important response to such an event. He left his fellow hiking missionaries in a hostel in town and took a motorcycle taxi out to Kataramu's home alone, to spend the night. This is a pretty big step for a 16 year old, to go stay completely cross-culturally with a family whom he knows only through his school friendship, hours from home. He was so glad he did, though. It is gestures like this that cement friendships, and Luke has been around long enough to know that friendships like Kataramu's (and his other friend Nuuru's) are a rare gift. He met back up with Nathan mid- morning in town, and the two of them set a WHM record for hiking back over the strenuous mountain pass in 4 hrs 5 minutes. It usually takes us at least 6 hours, sometimes 7 if we rest a lot. To do the 20+km route, with about 5 thousand feet of elevation change up and down, twice in two days is pretty crazy.

More than probably any time in the last few months, I am very aware tonight that our son is growing up, that the independence of going away to boarding school in another country is maturing him faster than I had imagined.

War Dance

Heidi brought back an award-winning documentary film called War Dance, and we had the opportunity to watch it last night. We highly recommend it on many levels. Artistically the cinematography, color, pacing, framing, all are superb. But the real power of the film lies in the ability of the crew to make the atrocity of the Lord's Resistance Army's war upon the Acholi people of Northern Uganda palpable, while still holding out hope in their beauty and resilience. The documentary focuses on the lives of three children going to primary school in an IDP camp, and one by one they tell of their experiences of war, some quite horrific (this is not for younger kids, there is intensity in the dialogue that made Jack and Julia cling to my hands, too close to home . . . so for even younger kids it would be too much). But all of this is set in the context of the annual Ugandan primary school music competition, where schools compete all over the country and are then selected for finals. We have often watched the preliminary stage here in Bundibugyo, but never been very clear on what happens to the winners. In the movie we watched the chosen school rehearse and prepare, then followed them through the contest. In this way the stark realities of their lives are balanced by the laughter and music of their culture, and in spite of sorrow they find strength in the experience of success. Like CSB football, the music competition becomes one of their islands of competence, a life-raft of success that keeps them afloat in the chaos created by the rebels.

This movie makes my top 5 on Africa, for sure, and I think anyone who watches it should be moved to come and nurture and encourage kids in the arts, sports, drama, whatever activity that could serve a similar role in their lives. Today we faced the post-Easter morass of patients, our two houseworkers went on strike because we burned in our trash pit some old junk that they considered their right to take home, our schedule was a topsy-turvy mess with exams at CSB, a second team kid came down with chicken pox and another team adult got very sick overnight, word come of the disgruntled distress of some other workers who resent the new taxes being required through us by the government . . in other words, it was a typical day of struggle. So in the midst of our war on poverty, on darkness, on destruction and deception . . . let us remember the dance, the brightness of a child who is praised, the pride of a group who is given the opportunity to succeed.

It's a movie that helps me to not give up. And that's saying a lot.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Our Favorite Photos

We've been uploading pictures up to our FlickR site for a couple of years now to keep the site fresh and give a window into our lives and this place...but that site has over 1300 photos now--not really edited or refined.
So, we've chosen our Top 100....our creme de la creme...and put them on a new photo-hosting website called Zenfolio. Our personal favorites in about 10 categories.
So check it out here!
Or in the new link in the sidebar...and feel free to comment...and enjoy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tali Hani, ahumbukie!

This is the phrase we were told to repeat in church today: He's not here, he's risen! As the preacher retold the story, I tried to think of the ways I look for Jesus in the wrong place. Do I prefer an entombed Jesus, one who is to be thanked and pitied but is safely out of the way, stationary, controlled, and findable? Do I expect him to follow my rules and meet my expectations? Probably. Instead, He sends a messenger or two to announce the truth. He's not here, He's on the move, out in the garden, awakening the day, making all things new. Scarred but whole, achieving victory through absorbing the pain and suffering of all humanity and emerging to breathe life into His world. Calling us to love our enemies, to carry our crosses, to rest in His mercy.

This has been a full weekend, of many hours of prayer and fasting, and now of celebration. We create space by following the rituals of remembrance, space for Jesus to come and to act. But we do not control the outcome, and we wait expectantly to see what He will do in the coming weeks and months. This morning's worship was a foretaste: first we all crawled out of bed for a brief outdoor sunrise worship, then Jack and I attended the Church of Uganda just up the road to see Ndyezika and Juliet's 3 month old baby Arthur Atukunda baptized. Arthur screamed his head off but the atmosphere of holy ceremony and loving community prevailed. Then we joined the rest of the family and most of the team and a few hundred other lively worshipers at Bundimulinga New Life church. In two more hours the whole team will gather here for a family meal together (and last night we had a blast at Naomi's Egyptian Birthday party complete with silly costumes, games, and creative stories and songs presented to her by various talented team mates). Some other or our friends will probably come by today, too.

Easter is a morning of freshness, beginnings, and community. But tinged with cost. Three years ago, at midnight on Easter night, my Dad died. Just now we got news that Scott's dad had a somewhat serious bike accident this weekend and is coming home from the hospital, recovering. The memory of my Dad's long-suffering, and the present reality of Scott's Dad's injuries, reminds us that the celebration, though begun, is not complete. That Jesus is not always doing what we expect, or want. That we have to look out of the tomb and follow him into this world or risk and loss, until we also resurrect. That death, though defeated, still puts up a fight, and catches those we love in the cross-fire.

So these are words of faith, not sight. When they were uttered, Jesus was not visible. The women who heard them had to go forward in faith. He is not here, He is risen indeed.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Aching Visionaries

The mourners are aching visionaries.

The Stoics of antiquity said:  Be calm. Disengage yourself.  Neither laugh nor weep. Jesus says:  Be open to the wounds of the world.  Mourn humanity's mourning, weep over humanity's weeping, be wounded by humanity's wounds, be in agony over humanity's agony.  But do so in the good cheer that a day of peace is coming.  (Wolsterstorff, Lament for a Son)

Jesus, as the Messiah, stepped into the crucible of judgment, taking on in his wounds the pain of the world (Is 53).  We gathered again yesterday afternoon, after church, for prayer, inviting the teachers from our school, the health center employees, the church leaders, and some random friends to join us as missionaries in aching and vision.  I admit that I doubted anyone would come, after already sitting through a 2-plus hour morning Good Friday service, to sit again on uncomfortable benches in the blazing heat of afternoon and pray for another 2-plus hours.  But God has His people in peculiar places, and His plans.  We had about two dozen again, but this time the missionaries were only a minority.  It was a picture of the Kingdom to see these Ugandans, from different denominations, different tribes, different ages and education levels, different roles in life, praying for the cup of suffering to pass from Bundibugyo, and praying that God would strengthen all of us to choose His will even if that path lay through the pain of the cross.  

My heart was greatly encouraged by the picture of community, and the reality once again that the Kingdom is coming.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Passover and Passion

Enacting the last supper gives us context for remembering the pivotal weekend of the history of our planet, perhaps of our universe. Under the full moon we gathered by candlelight, to break the matzah and fill the four cups of sanctification, remembering the plagues of Egypt, redemption and praise. We had two dozen in our community, a little band of people who find themselves in the middle of what God is doing in an African outpost just like the small band of disciples in the Roman backwater of Jerusalem. I could empathize with Jesus' followers, coming to the evening sensing the tension of danger in the air, expectation, confusion. Like them, we so not see clearly God's plan and power in the apparent setbacks of life. Like them, we wonder what Jesus is up to. A moment of peace and sharing food comes as a welcome respite, but like the disciples we carry grief in our hearts from the day's failures and disappointments, from the brokenness of relationship, from impending separation, from divergence of vision.
Yet that is just the point. Jesus celebrated this meal with ordinary people, who did not fully comprehend the plan, who had their own agendas, whose concern for their reputation crept into their community and tainted their love. The beauty of Passover lies in the remembering of what God has done, not in discovering that we are strong. The same God who did not refrain from engaging the enslaving and cruel no-gods of Egypt is present here, in Bundibugyo, today, engaging the principalities and powers of witchcraft and greed and corruption and abuse. The same God who provided a sacrificial lamb at ultimate cost to Himself comes into our community with His love, to transform our paltry affections into lay-down-your-life courage.
And so we remember, with a meal and music and readings. With fellowship and prayer we testify that it is not by the might or the wonder of our community, but by the reality of a living God that we go forward into the world.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Preparing for Passover

God knows we are visual and tactile humans, spirits encased. We need to touch and eat the flat unleavened bread to understand the haste of the Israelites fleeing for their lives. To understand the nourishment of Jesus' body for us. To understand the purity of clearing sin from our lives. To understand the simplicity and wholeness of redemption. And so Scott and I spent the afternoon rolling out matzah and baking it in our brick oven, preparing for tonight's messianic passover seder with our team, a time to remember in community what God has done, for us.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Friendly Football

Yesterday the boys' match was reasonably friendly . . . they scheduled it for 10 am to avoid the drunken crowd that disturbed the first semifinal. Unfortunately, they kept the plan a secret until yesterday morning, and it took until early afternoon for Bubandi to round up their team, since they are not a boarding school and probably have pretty irregular class attendance. So it was another limbo day, with CSB suspending class schedule and the team in uniform warming up and everyone standing around waiting through a four hour delay. Nevertheless, CSB managed to win 5-nil.

But the big news in friendly football was the girls' match. It seems that we missed a cultural clue last week. When Simbya agreed to play a "friendly" match with our girls, we interpreted that word as "non- tournament, unofficial". But they did not show up, and sent word that CSB had not demonstrated friendship by sending them "something". Classic. Friendship is defined by the exchange of material goods. If you are someone's friend, you loan/give to them when they are in need. As any American reader might imagine, since we pretty much define true friendship as a relationship untainted by the contamination of financial exchange, living in a culture where true friendship is defined by transaction takes some getting used to. The CSB team sent a crate of soda, and the girls showed up yesterday afternoon.

Christ School won, 3-0. It felt like a very historic event, two secondary school girls' football teams playing each other, in football season, in uniforms, with spectators. There was passing, dribbling, plays, scores. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, it was amazingly physical. Another historic event for our family: Julia got to play for about a quarter of the game. She's 12 (years younger than the other girls) but tough, and she hung in there. But a mujungu wore a CSB uniform and played in a game, and that was beautiful to see. Afterwards she was hugging her team mates, laughing, jumping up and down, even running the post-game lap they like to take. She feels amazingly connected to the team, and we are so thankful for that, and for Ashley's role in it. Another fun aspect of the game: boys stood and drummed and cheered for the girls just like the girls always do for the boys' matches. And afterwards I saw some of the top players of the boys' team organizing to get soda for the girls! Nathan also did a phenomenal job of officiating a very chaotic and physical game

So in spite of confusion, delay, threatening weather, an airplane landing with the Sudan team, motherless baby nutrition day and normal hospital rounds, school, etc. . . . it was a good day of friendly football, and a taste of how the game should be building community for kids in Bundibugyo.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Crowd Chaos

In the filter of Easter week, yesterday's football (soccer) match gave us a taste of the scene in front of Pilate's court, as the crowds were whipped into a crucifixion-demanding frenzy.

Hundreds (?a thousand or more) of people came to the semi-finals yesterday afternoon. The first game pitted Semliki, the winner of one zone, against Simbia, the number two team and our neighbors. Though the teams were fairly equal, Semliki pulled ahead 2 to 1 on a penalty kick. The fans were, by game time, loosened with alcohol and passionately protective of their teams' rights. Since the nationals are in Fort Portal, for the first time any team would have a realistic chance of raising the travel costs to actually attend, so competition is the fiercest it has ever been. Several times groups spilled onto the field. At one point police had to beat people away from the goal, using sticks. I saw another group fighting back with police who tried to remove a disorderly man. By the second half, the rain was pounding down, which cooled tempers somewhat as people huddled under trees and play went on. The boys were slipping all over the field. I stood for a long time in the CSB girls' kitubbi where a drum reverberated through the posts and the girls danced in a shuffling circle, psyching up for game 2 in which we were to play Bubandi. Eventually the missionaries watching withdrew to the Pierce's porch, except Jack who watched soaked on the sideline . .

It was near the end of the game, Simbia had a good drive towards the goal, and a Semliki player touched the ball with his hands only a few feet from the goal, deflecting it out over the end line. His team mates started to yell at him for his error, and the Simbia players all signaled for a penalty kick. But neither the line ref nor the main referee saw it. They called for the ball to be put back in play as a goal kick (Semliki kicking it away from their own goal). At that point all hell broke loose. Men supporting Simbia mobbed the field. I called Jack back to the porch. The ref was engulfed, and he's a big guy. The players withdrew. For almost an hour, it went on, arguing, gesticulating, grabbing the ball, refusing to let play go on. When it would seem to calm down, the core of trouble makers would rile the crowd up again, running around waving their arms. Knots of organizers tried to meet and find a solution, David came out too, and Nathan tried at one point to get control of the ball . . . Eventually the referees called the game over, and refused to hold the second match out of fear for their own safety.

It was a graphic picture of how a restless mob can be agitated by a couple of dozen men into a dangerous beast, capable of destruction. I try to imagine Jesus standing quietly in the midst of the chaos, not answering, aware of His own impending death and of the superficial passions that will storm him to the cross.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


From a NYT article yesterday about Kabila, but applicable to being a missionary too . . . "Being president of Congo is like being an emergency room doctor without enough gauze. The country of 68 million people has been the African wound that just keeps on bleeding."  
Today is the 15 year anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide.  We remember listening with growing concern and horror to the radio reports of bodies coming down the river into Tanzania, and Lake Victoria, as we along with the rest of the world tried to grasp what was happening only a few hundred miles away from us.  Those days were the fuse which later ignited our whole region, in a conflict which smolders and flares even now.  The story is as old as Cain and Abel, vying for love, for supremacy, for resources, for survival.  

Happy Birthday Grammy!!!!

My mom was born on Palm Sunday in Ripley, West Virginia, a few decades ago. Today we celebrate her birthday, from many thousands of miles away. This post is in her honor, and in honor of family sacrifice. As Scott commented today, the cost of missions is not generally extracted in eating grasshoppers or missing the air-conditioned mall. The cost rings highest in the loss of normal family relationships, the way that year after year we miss milestones and celebrations as well as the day to day passage of normal life. And that cost is born in extra measure by our parents, particularly those who live far from other family, or live alone. So here's to Grammy on her birthday, and to the rest of our family too, and to the parents of our team mates who also spend their birthdays without the very people they most treasure.

Palm Sunday

Feeling sympathy for those who wanted Jesus to FIX things instead of riding a donkey in peace. As we read the Palm Sunday passages this morning, I pondered that it was right after this that Judas gave up on the plan. He, and others, no doubt expected Jesus to go public with power, to turn his righteous wrath upon the Romans. Instead He took his anger right to the temple, and turned it on his own people. The whip and money come first into the picture as Jesus overturns the religious racket. They return to the story a few days later, 30 clanging pieces of silver thrown on the same temple floor, and cruel whips brought down on Jesus himself. The transition seems to have been the final realization that Jesus was NOT going to overthrow the oppressive government . . that He was calling for repentance rather than war.

Someone told me this week that someone else in a position of power in our very own district tried to extract a BRIBE from the doctor who has been sent by WHO to help post-Jonah. Instead of begging him to work here, they were trying to make a profit from his paperwork. This kind of thing makes me feel like Judas: why can't God just strike down in justice? Why the path of the cross?

Praying this week that we find ourselves ready to follow this King who rides the donkey instead of the war-horse, who speaks truth and love even for His enemies.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

same sport, different gender

The Christ School Girls' Football Team was to play their first-ever match yesterday, against St. Mary's Simbya. Only sadly, St. Mary's never showed up to play. It seems they probably don't even have a team, in spite of teachers agreeing to the match in that classic African don't-want-to-disappoint concession. Meanwhile Ashley's team at CSB had such hopes of playing competitively, in their donated uniforms and new-used cleats. Since they had the full field (a rare gift in the season when the boys' team is in full practice), they instead scrimmaged against each other, and came out 2 to 2. It was still empowering for the girls to play full-field, have a few spectators, dress the part, run and run and kick. Promoting girls' sports is more than an uphill battle, it is an up-mountain one. There is no other school nearby willing to invest their meager space and resources in girls when they scrape to even support boys. In spite of good evidence that girls in sports delay pregnancy, have a stronger self-image, achieve greater physical health, and perform strongly in their academics . . . the barriers of cultural expectation (even the dress code), domination by boys, lack of equipment, lack of role models, all conspire to make this a pioneering effort. Still, other schools in Uganda have girls' football, and Bundibugyo will some day follow suit. JD started the team, interns like Lydia have boosted the process (even i used to play with them when they were desperate . . ). Ashley has taken it one giant step forward. We look forward to the day when girls can play.

Torpedoed by Brokeness

The tyranny of clutter, and the relentlessness of needing to feed and clothe and maintain six lives (directly, not to mention the team's indirectly) challenges my Sermon-on-the-Mount No-Worry-about-Tomorrow faith. For Scott, though, it is the torpedoing effect of one broken item after another that spins the day into crisis. Yesterday he was driving through Bundibugyo Town with our new family the Clarks as well as Nathan, where they had gone with him to his weekly clinic there at the hospital as well as essential visits to the bank, post - office, market, fuel station, etc. A simple bolt which held a shock absorber in place evidently reached its last shred of tensile strength against the relentless jolting harshness of the Bundibugyo roads. When the bolt gave way, the shock absorber did too, and before they knew it the entire massive spring coil that holds up the car frame was dislodged. The truck was immobilized, leaving a nap-deprived two year old and several thirsty missionaries on the side of the road. Three hours, two jacks, lots of advice and entertained onlookers, sweat and grit, and one trip to the used-bolt duka later . . . the spring was seated back in its home bracket, but it pretty much killed half the day for half the team. This on top of two broken weed wackers, a toilet with a stuck valve that ended up draining our entire water tank before we knew it, multiple broken spokes on my bike still waiting for a repair, all four fuses blowing out in the inverter when I turned on a blender (which I use all the time), the fear that this event had zapped Scott's back-up hard drive with all our photos (that was recovered, thank God, but again with time and work), our dairy cow suffering from her third episode of mastitis since calving and needing roping for injections twice a day, a broken light cord, a continuing war against roaches in our kitchen, the hospital fridge out of propane meaning we have to rescue all the vaccines in our own so that thousands of kids don't get the same whooping cough I have . . . all that in the last day and a half, not to mention walking through an appendicitis scare with one of our teammates (it wasn't, but the burden of deciding NOT to evacuate someone is still heavy). And this morning he's been gone for the last hour at the air strip trying to repair the mower that will prepare the landing area for the Sudan team's visit next week. So we feel buffeted by the onslaught of inconvenience, the demands of broken things needing attention. Luke suggested we should just live without our car, bikes, fridge, toilet, solar power, and mowers. Tempting (briefly). Clearly they are technologies out of place in Bundibugyo, and it is no small personal effort on Scott's part to single-handedly push them on.
Here are some words from Jesus Calling. by Sarah Young, a gift to me from Kim Stampalia (a great gift, I might add):
I am calling you to a life of constant communion with Me. Basic training includes learning to live above your circumstances, even while interacting on the cluttered plane of your life. You yearn for a simplified lifestyle, so that your communication with Me can be uninterrupted. But I challenge you to relinquish the fantasy of an uncluttered world. Accept each day just as it comes, and find Me in the midst of it all. . . Remember that your ultimate goal is not to control or fix everything around you; it is to keep communing with Me.
We could use prayer for living above the broken circumstances, for listening carefully so that we follow the path that includes the hard work of straightening whatever we are called to straighten and leaving behind the things we are called to merely accept.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mid Week Victory

CSB defeated St. Mary's Simbia today--they had both been undefeated previously, so this final match of the "regular" (though rather short) season was anticipated to be close. We won 3 to 1. It was a lovely evening and a huge crowd, lots of cheering and good play. The team has matured over the weeks of play, and the strenuous and wise coaching efforts of Alex and Nathan are showing, with some excellent passing and control. Our "son" Mutegheki Joshua scored again on a fantastic header off a corner kick. Two of our other boys also played--John came in briefly for CSB and had at least one nice play down the sideline, and Kwik was the key defender for Simbia. As the boys jogged off the field with huge smiles and cheers of the crowd, I relished this moment of victory, this island of competence in which there is the brief experience of success in their lives.

Meanwhile we could use some mid-week victories in other realms. My bronchitis has matured into full blown whooping cough I think. I'll survive, and with about 4 weeks down and entering the 5th I must be at least turning the corner towards recovery, though the night-time spasms of gasping coughing can be difficult and draining. Good to remember why we immunize! And how much worse it would be for a baby. And what it is like to face life each day from a point of weakness and dependence. Others on the team are also sick with viralish syndromes, so we would appreciate prayers for healing, for awareness of God's merciful presence in the midst of illness, and for protection of the rest of our families.