Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Going for it: A new blog

(Deep breath.) Well, I'm doing it--launching a new blog (ack!) on practical spirituality: A Generous Grace.

Would you be willing to check it out, and even share it/like its Facebook page/subscribe if you like it? And, while you're at it, pray that God would make Himself known through it. Thanks, friends.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The accident

Life before we left for our home assignment was a bit complicated.

I've been wondering how to write about this for some time. Even now, whatever I write seems either melodramatic or flat, or simply one-dimensional.

When traveling home ("Uganda" home) from the airport around midnight after a surprise visit to the U.S. for my (Janel's) dad’s birthday, something very difficult happened. A driver picked me up from the airport—a Ugandan friend we know. Running on about three hours of sleep from my 24-hour travels, I was still excited to see my family. The windows were down, allowing the temperate breeze to refresh my skin, which seemed coated in that thin film of mysterious traveling gunk (my son has recently coined the phrase "feeling airplany").

But about twenty minutes into the trip, we saw a taxi minibus swerving in front of us. There was a presumably drunk man who was trying to cross the road. Considering we were probably traveling at least 45 mph, we couldn’t swerve out of the way. The pedestrian turned directly in front of our car. His head hit the windshield above my lap, leaving a basketball-shaped indention in the spidered glass.

He was killed.

After reeling silent prayers and considerable pleading on my part with the driver, we stopped about a kilometer later. But I think my driver was primarily concerned with getting out of there, and returned to his seat after checking the windshield.  (Mob justice is a legitimate concern in Uganda.) He didn’t want to stop at the police station, but finally caved to my wide-eyed pleas.

We stopped, and spent about three and a half hours at the police station, kind of a concrete bunker equipped with a corrugated tin roof, what appeared to be a filing room of tilting stacks of paper, a desk, a bench, and a clock as lethargic as the policemen. (I arrived home at about 4:30 AM.) Another police station found the body. I saw no one actually concerned about the man, another passenger after already another one or two deaths on the road that evening. My time at the station, aside from the ten minutes to take my statement, were largely me declining subtle attempts to bribe and trying to figure out how, in the confusing and, to my Western mind, illogical system of Ugandan justice (would quotations around that word appear cynical?), to keep my driver out of jail. The driver was also trying to convince me to give him $500, ostensibly for the same reason. After all, I had made him stop.

The driver returned bright and early a day later trying to convince me to pay a bribe. This was, I eventually gathered, so that the police station at which we spent those lovely midnight hours wouldn’t contact the station who found the body: "You said you would help me!" I’ve had many conversations with both Ugandans and missionaries to navigate how to actually achieve justice in a system where justice is rarely found. As you can imagine, this situation is extremely complicated.

I was quite shaken. Flashbacks were superseded by a general--but only temporary--feeling of insecurity and unease, though I believe I am past that now (the latter, not the former). Unfortunately, the accident occurred on the busy main road by our new home, which we must take to travel anywhere. God has given wisdom, strength, and compassionate relationships to handle this tragic, baffling situation carefully and with peace.

Still--it took awhile to come to grips with the fact that a man died. That people saw it as an opportunity to make money. And that God still had a wise and loving reason for this situation in which a man's life ended before my eyes--a more common experience for an African, but less so for me--in the vehicle He knew I'd take.

These circumstances, along with moving in the span of a week, John climbing Kilimanjaro, preparing to leave the country and the office for two and a half months, and a number of frustrations with our new home (e.g. dangerous electrical wiring, poor construction and unreliable repairmen, swarms of mosquitoes making it difficult to sleep) found us arriving in the U.S. weary, at my lowest cultural point. This speaks loudly to me, since I hope you can tell how alive I typically feel here. I've been thankful for a couple of months to step away, have a few long chats and no few tears with friends and family, and now to return yesterday--my husband calmly handling the wheel on our drive home--
to the firm embrace and animated chatter of both Westerners and Ugandans.

The ensuing questions I've grappled with around all this, along with their mysteries or consolations, are perhaps a post for another day. I will say that God is unquestionably a healer, and my trustworthy Holder of Answers (whether I know them or not). But thank you, friends, for your prayers.

A preflight conversation

Between my son and I:
W (despondently): I don't want to go.
J (tiring a little of this continued line of conversation, opting for humor): What are you going to do, lay down on the tarmac in protest?
W: Yeah. But if they ran over me, they'd probably just say, There goes another...STEALTH. MASTER.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A form of "welaba" (goodbye)

It's the end of an era of sorts.

This August, our EMI office plans a landmark move to a joint facility with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF--remember Jim Elliot?). It's a move that carries tremendous implications for eMi's scope of ministry here in East Africa. It's why my husband is leading eMi's third fundraising climb up Kilimanjaro two weeks from now! (Woot!) And it does mean that we'll save a bundle in housing costs moving an hour outside of Kampala.

In light of us heading to the States for two and a half months of home assignment and our lease coming due, we've decided to move (Ugandans say "shift") early. It will be, in the manner it seems we are so fond of, notably nuts. I returned on the morning of January 30th. We move on February 6-7th, and John's dad arrives to climb Kili with John (!) on the 9th. They return on the 22nd, and we fly to the States on the 26th. Anyone else doing the math here? It's never been my best subject.

But more than the insanity hitting us is actually the good-byes.

The kids completed their last library story time at the Giving Tree, after which they were even given certificates of volunteering and vinyl posters of their time with the kids!

It's goodbye to the kids in our neighborhood who come over to ride the bikes or jump on our loaner trampoline.

No longer will all of our eMi staff live within five minutes of each other. Some will remain in Kampala for their kids to go to school. The new area is more remote, so we'll live spread among the corridor of rolling hills lining the road to Entebbe. This means our community will change significantly.

And I hope to be commuting to the refugee center once a week. For as much as I loathe Kampala traffic, I my heartbeat has been at the center this past year! (Unless God shows me something else I should be investing in more locally.) This means that someone else will be following up with students from my class who showed so much interest in Jesus last term.

All in all,more is "shifting" than our boxes. Just as our last return from the U.S. marked a tangible chapter--a blooming of sorts--into such a fullness of ministry here, God's good plans following our next return remain to be seen. It's time to step out of the boat again.

And much as my heart is grieving the richness from which we are stepping away...He has yet to disappoint us. Bring. It. On.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What we celebrate

I'm going to diverge for a moment on a more family-related post. I just returned from an incredible journey of fifteen days (thank you to my incredible husband and remarkable housekeeper!) for a truly epic surprise party for my dad's 60th birthday. My eyes feel the sting of tears even now as I glance through the photos. My sisters and I, spread on four continents, haven't been on the same country for three years! You can see a video of the actual surprise moment on my Facebook page (if you're at all interested, it's worth it!).


 What I will never forget--and which most people don't receive until their funerals--was an open mic time that lasted for an hour (with more still waiting to share) in which person after person shared slices of my dad's generosity, compassion, and courage in so many aspects of his life. I wrote an article a couple of years ago about my parents' tremendous legacy of generosity, and it was something to behold to hear all the testimonies of this life well-lived. As I said at the party, my dad had always hoped to pass on the family business of farming to his kids, but then became the father of all girls. When they signed on as staff with FamilyLife nearly 20 years ago, that dream may have been confirmed as evaporated--but now, I see that as usual, God's dreams are bigger than ours. Because my dad's "family business", of compassion, generosity, and proclaiming the name of Jesus, has gone international.

A friend of his wrote a blog post about 10 lessons of a life well-lived that he learned from the party. A good man is indeed be hard to find--but I'm blessed to have way, way more than my share in my life.

Love you, Dad. And I celebrate your life.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Don't waste the waiting

It was eleven months. Long ones. I'll acknowledge that in the spool of eternity this is only a scrap of thread. Yet waiting seems to tug extra thread from that spool, causing time to stand as still as the air of a Mississippi August. Waiting, and of course outright suffering, are two of God’s most effective chisels on the soul.

In October 2013, my heart skipped a beat with an e-mail from our office administrator—one of those good news/bad news kind of messages. The good news: The Ugandan government had approved our work permit for another year. The bad news: This permit was scrawled with the words “last”—as in, this is your last one. As we researched this, its finality seemed hazy. A few had appealed with success, but others had wheeled their belongings into a 757 and departed this country.

So much seemed to hang in the balance: Our investment of ministry and finances, language acquisition and cultural adaptation, vital relationships and family adjustments. But more than that, it felt like a dream, tied by the hands and feet, and laid on an altar of stones. Would this be the time God provided a ram, or did He have something different in mind?

There’s a fair chance you’re waiting for something too: hopeful, perhaps with fear crackling around the edges. Perhaps it’s the success of a medical treatment, the news on a job, the end of a semester or trimester, or the end of singleness. So much of life, from Heaven to the oven timer, is waiting.

This year, God seemed to be whispering that I should not waste my waiting, in its refining work for the soul.

Waiting seemed to unleash so many of my spirit’s occasionally irreverent and usually quite revealing questions, allowing them to bubble to the surface. Why would God seem to bring us to full stride in our work—His work!—here, and then pile us on a plane? Why us? What if I have to go back, and why does that make me feel so afraid? Does God’s will match my own? Does mine match His?

Waiting is a deeply spiritual work, where our faith is road-tested. It’s part of the Bible’s DNA: waiting for freedom from slavery, deliverance from exile, the fullness of time to finally bring the Promised One. Waiting for Him to finally make His kingdom come in all its fullness and staggering beauty.

Waiting is when our faith makes choices—toward trust or fear; toward my will or His. It jerks back the curtain of comfort to reveal what we are clutching to ourselves, what has become so dear that the heart feels suspended in mid-air.

For me, it was a sense of purpose, identity, and flourishing that—among all of their Godward benefits—had made themselves an idol in my heart. Mine were questions I thought I’d answered. But the waiting left them naked, exposed, bare in their faithlessness and restlessness. And during those eleven months, God walked with me, settling my soul’s unsettled parts once again, pressing them deeply into Him and all I knew Him to be.

So imagine the shriek that filled our neighborhood last October when my friend Semei ducked his dark head through our gate, bearing his trademark broad grin and waving a thin piece of paper. “I have good news!” he shouted. My heart dropped in my chest. I swallowed. Surely not, after eleven months. Could it even be over?

And yet—it is. We have permission, for now, to stay another three years. Even in leaving, I would not have been put to shame (see Psalm 25:3). But He chose to remember our family in this way, and to say, I have plans for you here. Tears leaked from my eyes as I hugged friends and jumped up and down, and as my children and I huddled to pray in thanks in the dust of our driveway.

Maybe you're waiting for something, too. If you are--don't miss the waiting.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pushing out the poor

I sat in the back of a "special hire" the other night--our form of a taxi--beside the curious mélange of sights and lights that clamber together on a Kampala street on any given night. I was airport-bound, off to a priceless, once-in-a-lifetime surprise for my dad's (also surprise) 60th birthday party. My heart felt full of emotion as I'd just kissed my children and husband goodbye for two weeks with two of them sobbing (thankfully, neither one was my husband).

But also leaving me relatively mute was my driver-friend Robert, navigating the clotted Kampala streets in fits and starts. I inquired of his family, but I knew what was really on his mind. I asked halting questions about his newly-closed shop, and how he was faring. But I didn't probe much deeper after I sensed dark embers of anger--another man providing for his family, brought to his knees in the impotence of poverty.

Two weeks ago via newspaper and likely radio, Kampala Capital City Authority--the maintenance and beautification arm of city government--notified all vendors that they must have a permanent structure (e.g. concrete) and a license for their building, or it would be torn down. Legal? Yes. Beautifying? Yes, physically speaking.

Yet Kampala residents realize the vast scope and repercussions of this measure. Nearly every single street is lined on both sides with temporary structures of haphazard planks, solid shipping containers, and odd conglomerations of tarps and materials. For people who've obtained precious little formal education, this is their available livelihood, allowing them to provide for their families feasibly and honestly. Robert's wife worked in the small corner shop he'd scraped to set up, saving money for their daughter's education. Now, a heavy padlock glints on its metal doors.

This is relatively mild compared to the tilting heaps of wood that lay dismantled up and down our street, some of them smoking. Some of our produce vendors have simply vanished. Certain goods no one can find because the sellers have scattered. Vacant slabs of concrete stare blankly, once having sold chapatti and samosas from a crooked, productive little window, Africans gathering to chat and grab inexpensive food. On the day our street was vertically flattened, friends reported that the vendors they knew stood with blank stares, directionless and, like Robert, perhaps flattened themselves.

Via word of mouth, I've been told by Ugandans that the government has expressed its desire to push the poor from the capital city of this developing nation. Really? Only those above a certain income rate are welcome, when Uganda's GDP is $248 lesser per year than Haiti?

Yes, our streets are looking more and more like Nairobi's, I'm told. Clean; less eyesores. But now, eyes turn to the crime rates, reflecting what some view as their remaining option. Will those look like Nairobi's, too?

The powerlessness I feel, looking at my friends from my relatively untouched perch of Western citizenship, boasts few adequate words. Since we arrived three years ago, the streets have grown smoother, the imports sparkle in their variation, and my grocery store started taking Visa! But to tell the truth, more rights have been taken away from average Ugandans than have at all been awarded or expanded--at least in my limited view. For someone on a justice-related mission, to say I find this disturbing is an understatement. And even more vacant is my understanding of what to do preventatively, rather than simply extend additional relief. What do I do for the Roberts of this city?

And Lord, how long?