Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New days

Today in Kampala, it feels like a spring day--but with the sapphire sky of fall. There is a firm but gentle breeze that keeps rustling the banana trees before it rolls over and over through our house, where we keep the doors open all day, every day. Outside on the clothesline are large, billowing bedsheets that match the sky, flanked by the small patches of red dishtowels. There is also one of John's shirts, whose yellow reminds me of the daffodils in Little Rock when spring is persistent about arriving. (I would photograph it for you if our camera charger hadn't blown out from the 220 volt current! Oops.) And it's the little things: The kids aren't fighting today, but rather chasing each other through the house in bare feet. The compound hums with school (W. reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish) and cooking (fish tacos and cornbread!) and squeals as I clutch the scuffed back of C.'s bike seat and run behind it (confirmed: marathon runner I am not).

Lately, cuddled up on oversized cushions in the garage-turned-school-room, I have been reading to the kids from Little Pilgrim's Progress for our school devotional time. It's intriguing to all of us, and they ask me to read chapter after chapter. Maybe one of my favorite aspects is the constant presence of the King on Little Christian's journey to the Celestial City as Little Christian encounters all variety of daunting challenges. Today and yesterday, I feel as if the King has given us one of His arbors or meadows as we plod along over here. I see Psalm 23 materialize before me more than ever here, and so often, its verses come to mind. Could it be the green and blue everywhere? He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.

Today--yet again--I am thankful for God's careful, complex, and compassionate orchestration of our journeys.

Monday, August 20, 2012


From what I hear about running a marathon--which, unless God moves His arm in a truly miraculous way, I will never, ever do in this lifetime--runners eventually hit a "wall". The cheering crowds are gone. The muscle stores are finished. Maybe you're running through the ugly part of town. You wonder if you can take another step. The fatigue is overwhelming, I've heard. Your brain is thinking, what was I thinking?

I've heard that about month six of missionary life. Watch out for month six, everybody's said. It can be a real bummer.

Well. They may be right. Maybe my "ugly part of town" is getting hit by a boda driver, or having a couple of friends' homes broken into. And after six months of chugging away at this, I sometimes hear my muscles saying Must. Lay. Down.

Today has been a good day. But it's been among days where the running feels long. The temptation to emotionally, physically, or spiritually fold is persistent.

Thanks for those of you who keep praying for us. God's strength is being made perfect in weakness--ours.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:11,12, 21

The bodas

I was pulling out the other day from the butcher shop with C. in the car. A taxi--here, a fifteen-passenger van, also known as a matatu--waved me into the oncoming lane of traffic. This is how it's done here often; if one lane of traffic is clear in turning, the vehicle pulls out until it can go into the desired lane. The rest of the traffic was stopped.

...Except for the motorcycle that just then attempted to go around the front of my car.

The driver and rider went down. In settings like this, Africans often swarm around, shouting at one party or the other. Even to think about it, fear surges in adrenaline bursts around my heart.

As I backed my van into the parking lot to talk with the driver--protocol is not to contact police here--I simply started praying. My heart knocked in my ribcage. Accidents make anyone nervous, but I also had two people hit me last fall before I left. (Note: I will never claim to be a good driver. The last accident that was my fault was when I was sixteen, but that's by the grace of God. No joke.) A guy had hit me three weeks ago with a boda, and with the scary reality of me not knowing the protocol here. Now, there was gathering crowd of people, passionate whether they'd seen what happened or not. 

Was it my fault? I wondered. This accident made three drivers that have hit John or me in six months. That's an unfortunate average. I kept remembering a quote from one of John's human resources books: If Bob has a problem with everybody, the problem is with Bob. I felt lost, foreign, and scared.

Just as in the last time a boda driver hit me, the driver aggressively demanded money. He said he needed "treatment" for his knee, where he'd scuffed a knee on the concrete without breaking skin. The rider also demanded payment for the 1/2 inch cut on her knee. In light of the reading and various conversations with nationals and missionaries I've had since both incidents, I now feel relieved that I did the right thing in not giving money--and simply by gently responding.

No, it turned out, neither accident was my fault, in my understanding and from the primary witness' perspective. Both times, the drivers rode away without visible injury or vehicle damage. (They actually damaged my car.) Boda drivers have deplorable reputations around the city; some people, when hit, have been known to get out and deck the boda driver. One source tells me that an incredibly high percentage of the accidents--as in, 70-80%--at the local hospital are caused by these drivers. (Few wear helmets, too.) Credible sources recommend to me that I not allow boda drivers to assume they can drive recklessly and then be paid for it.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing moments was when a well-dressed Ugandan leaned in toward me. "Madam, the question is really, do you have money?" Please excuse the cynicism of my inner voice, which replied silently with a frown, Yes. That is really the question, isn't it?

God was so faithful to answer me with the wisdom I asked for. Of all the people I don't know in Kampala from living here six months, just then a manager of the coffee shop I visit--twenty minutes away--was pulling out of the same shop. She embraced me, greeted me in Luganda, and quickly stepped in to help.

Soon the crowd disseminated, and while I was on the phone with John to see what I should do, the driver left. (Oliver explained that this was another sign that it was not my fault: They would never have left, because they would assume they could get a lot of money.)

I felt relieved, but deeply shaken. Combined with some of our staff's recent break-ins--one quite intrusive--I was reeling culturally and in my security. Two questions kept ricocheting through my head.

1) What if the next time, it is my fault?
2) What if I kill someone?

In truth, a friend of mine here knows three or four women who have had accidents that killed people, including one where someone simply walked into the road without looking right or left. Since the accident, I've talked with a number of people to formulate a plan in case something happens--which includes calling local friends.
The latter question, in my mind, was exaggerated by the fact that--as I anticipated--most of my impact here is similar to that which I had in the U.S. Yes, God's helping me to love deeply here locally. I also write. But the center of my impact is on my home. So what was I going to say? Nah, I didn't make a world-altering impact here. But I did manage to kill somebody.

To which my faithful husband looked at me skeptically, and loaded his voice with appropriate sarcasm. "I think that you should change your strategy to make such an impact here that it justifies the taking of a human life."

Thanks, Hon.

But as I have prayed and thought about this fear that closed itself around my heart, I realize that we learn a lot about a person through the questions they ask. First of all, I was going back to an old way of thinking: that life impact is measured by change in people, or by quantity of some sort, or doing something "big"--instead of a successful life being one that glorifies God by loving well. As Galatians reiterates, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Secondly, Hebrews 11 keeps reminding me of men and women like Noah, who used his resources and energy to invest in building an obscenely large boat in the middle of dry land. I am not building, God tells me, something I can see.

And thirdly, I can become idolatrously focused on my "impact", which quietly commandeers the purposes that God has for me--or supersedes God Himself. My dreams, my significance are at stake.

Plus--the reality is, in all of my fears, God is greater. The kids have been memorizing Romans 8:28. So my question becomes, if God would allow something horrific like a fatal accident to happen, would He not still have an entirely loving purpose? Would He not still have it gently, purposefully woven into His perfect plan? Wouldn't He only allow it to happen if it was in the truest sense, "for the good" (Romans 8:28)? Even before that fateful trip, singing Seeds' "Do Not Be Anxious" with C. in the van, I'd realized the anxiety that curled its bony little fingers around my chest. I'd asked for God's protection, then plopped the trip in His hands. This was part of the story He'd written for us that day.

So Friday, I finally emerged to at last retrieve some groceries. If it hadn't have been for local dinner guests coming, maybe I would have let my family get by on PB&J's for a couple of days. Hebrews 11 came to mind as I rounded the corner. By faith, I mentally quipped, Janel pulled out of the driveway.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Family life in photo, #2

I love these brothers! (Side note: Can you tell where they did the paint "touch ups" on our house? All the paint is mixed by hand...)

B. woke up (finally) missing something this morning. That tooth must have sat at a 90-degree angle for about two months.

We started school this week--partly in preparation for FAMILY coming to visit this fall, and wanting to take off a few weeks! The new reading corner is a huge hit, and the blackboard on the back wall is perfect. Thanks to our awesome Oliver helping us so much with the house, I feel exponentially more prepared this year. But I still get nervous about the ramped-up schedule.

This girl adores reading. (Woman after my own heart.)

African shirt for a Father's Day present!

This kid's a thinker. Contrary to the picture, he seems to thrive here. He's gotten very blonde in our "endless summer" here.

Two of the nineteen eMi kids that are our kids' ages. Our family is deeply thankful for this. These are two of the boys' closest friends.

....and here's one of Corinne's. Can't imagine how much these quality, well-behaved kids have made a difference in my kids adjusting here.

Two beauties in one: The African sunrise, and my daughter, enjoying it with me.