Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Battling for Bundibugyo

As I hear the evening call to prayer that is broadcast from the town mosque over loudspeakers throughout Nyahuka, I am reminded that there is much more to this place than what we see. I am reminded of when Paul speaks to the Ephesians as he says "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Indeed, it seems that there has been much wrestling in the heavenly realms lately. The last few days have been difficult for alternating members of our team, either from sickness or sadness or a combination of the two. It seems that, at times, we are just spinning our wheels, putting band-aids on gaping wounds, or as our WHM Director told us today, "keeping our finger in the dike so the dam does not break." Even though we were not at our house from 9:30am to 3:30pm, in the other hours there were no less than 14 people waiting in the katubi to ask for monetary assistance. At times, we start to wonder what the function is that we serve here.

After we settled our three little ones into bed and Aunt Pat was reading a Bible story to them, we quickly jumped in the car to lead the first of this term’s Bible Study at Christ School Bundibugyo. With bad attitudes, marital discord, and minimal preparation, we hastily but sincerely asked God to intervene and show up among the staff as we started the 9 week course of “The Gospel Centered Life” with them.

And He did. In a big way.

Starting with only 3 staff at first, the room filled to 17 (of the 25 staff) who were engaged, thinking, challenging, reflecting, and really seemed to struggle as we talked about Week One’s lesson. The question was proposed about how do we minimize sin in our life so that we appear better to others and in an effort to hide from God? As Travis read the list of suggested ways, he stated that this list was created by Americans and asked if they are also culturally true in Uganda. One of our favorite teachers laughed out loud and said “Oh yes! These describe us very well!” We all agreed that these ways that we try to hide our sins are no different than they were in the garden. Irregardless of if we are American or Ugandan, we are all in pursuit of being independent and trying to appear better than we are. The conversation continued and finally closed with an encouragement to feast on these truths throughout the week now that we have had a taste of such riches.

Usually when we end with a time of prayer, there is silence and then someone says “pray for peace and against sickness.” But last night, these are the requests for prayer:

“That we would be willing to face these truths.”

“For a deeper understanding of the gospel.”

“For opportunities to share the Word.”

“For Chris who had surgery on his hand and is recovering at home.”

“That our faith would grow higher and higher daily.”

“For the students and their exams.”

“For the gospel to build community, to enable us to love each other.”

Please join us as we pray in these ways, that the gospel would truly change lives here, starting with us, the staff of Christ School Bundibugyo, “for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood...”

So, as you are munching on your Cheerios on Tuesday mornings, please remember to pray for us as we are at that time meeting to share, learn, and grow together at the CSB Staff Bible Study.

On being a man- Continued

Miracle babies- these twin girls were born at 30 weeks and weighed 1.5 kilos a piece. Both developed neonatal sepsis while in the hospital and both have now reached 2kg and are home!
The team: These are the wonderful people we work with and scrap together whatever resources they can to save as many lives as possible. Jennifer and our intern Anna are in the front row. I am blending in in the back.
My buddy Simon- six weeks of an incredible miracle

Rounding on the patients

Teaching a father how to "Kangaroo" his premature infant

A mother of premie twins doing a remarkable job

Spoon feeding a 1kg newborn premie

The Nyahuka Health Center is a place of hope and despair. Hope because hundreds of children come each month and most leave healthy and happy. Hope because there are several Ugandan workers who work hard, love Jesus and love the patients. Hope because the Myhres have invested blood, sweat, tears and soul into this health center for the past 17 years and the community sees it as a place of healing. Hope, because it is a place where we can truly love the poorest of the poor at a point of time in their life when they need it most. Hope because of stories like 2 year old Simon, who came in with a small dark spot on his hip. This spot ended up being an area of dead tissue resulting from questionable medicine given by a local healer. This spot grew into a 9 inch by 9 inch area where all tissue died leaving his muscle exposed. Each day we came in and watched the area grow and tunnel beneath his skin across his buttocks and down his leg. We tried different medicines. We treated the wound and debrieded dead tissue. We prayed. And we prayed. I was certain we would have to at least amputate the leg and wondered if this child would lose his life to the spreading infection. Then one day the tissue began to heal. 5 weeks later and this child has almost complete closure of the wound and is walking around with no problems. Its amazing! There are so many stories like this where a child comes in seizing from severe malaria or with rotting flesh from malnutrition and leaves a few weeks later better off then when they came. Their smiles speak a universal language of hope, love, life and gratitude.

Despair because it is a place where my heartbreaks every time I enter through the gates. Children die here. It is a cold and hard fact. Children die of infections, dehydration and malnutrition. Most of these really are preventable if the resources and workforce was available. Unicef just visited our site to check on our nutrition program. This past quarter we had an 18% death rate for our children enrolled in their Severe Malnutrition program. It is unacceptable, but how can we change this? Children are brought to our center starving. Their skin is swollen and peeling from the lack of proteins. They have no muscle and you can see their hip bones where their bum should be. We have a great program, but the children need to be treated sooner. By the time the parent, grandparent or aunt brings them in, it is too late. The disease is often the result of a deceased father and the mother, who now has no income watches the child waste away- or the mother has been abandoned and has no way to gain income, or a sibling is born and breastfeeding is stopped before the child has a chance to build up a nutritional base, or the family is just so poor that during harvest time they have some income and food, but in the in-between they eat non-nutritional roots- hoping to survive until the next job. Other children suffer from TB, HIV, or sickle cell disease which eats away at their nutritional base. Still others suffer from chronic infections of malaria or intestinal parasites. The result is a death rate of almost 20% in the district and a population of children that are anemic, stunted in growth and in brain development. The need is great. Despair also because the workers are few. We have chosen to work in a Ugandan health center and not create a Mission hospital. Our hope is to bring lasting growth and reform within and not an oasis of health outside of the normal pathways. As a result we see the troubles of a broken system and the effects on the population. Our despair is that the health clinic is understaffed leaving only 2 Clinical officers (similar to physician assistants) to serve a population of >50,000 people, one doctor to serve a population of 300,000 and not enough nurses to fill all the shifts to care for these sick patients. With my responsibilities to the team and Christ School, I am headed to the hospital only twice a week. This is really just enough to see these children, change a few medicines, do ultrasounds and pray. It does not significantly change care at this point. I love the other aspects of my job, but despair aches in the back corners of my heart where I shove these thoughts until I can return to the health center.

How does this go with being a man? Where is the help? Where are the resources? Anyone reading this knows the problem and is helping. But what about the rest of us? Who is willing to stand up for these children? Do they deserve less because they are born in Africa? Does God love them less? I DO NOT THINK SO! Yet, we love them less. As a man, we are called to love the unlovable, forgotten and defenseless. It is a privilege to do so. It is hard. It is often lonesome. It often is filled with despair. But we reserve the hope that these children are not forgotten, that they are loved and that redemption is coming.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Lilli!

This morning Lilli awoke all smiles as she has been waiting 364 days for today, her birthday! It is hard to believe that our little girl is now 6 years old. When she was a baby, she fit into the category of "spirited baby" the one who knew what she wanted and had plenty of energy to make her needs known. Her head full of black hair soon grew into a beautiful gold, long enough that she donated 10 inches of it to "Locks of Love" at age 3. Though she is timid at first, her fascination of all animals has moved her to pet the big cows, make rounds in the goat pens in our yard, and even chase and catch a young chicken this week. She is concerned that our friends do not know the love of Jesus and thinks of ways the we can share with them. She is gifted with a heart for hospitality and service and was delighted to receive an African apron as she said "well, mom, we have always baked together. Now we can match with our aprons while we bake!" One of her favorite ways to serve is to take water and ground nuts our to our visitors in the katubi. Today she received a gift that she has begged for the last 6 months...a slingshot! It was precious to see her wear her apron around the house with a slingshot in its pocket.

Today, we enjoyed a birthday breakfast, playtime on the grounds of her school, her first day of "no nap, just reading time" (a rite of passage for a 6 year old), baking, and a delightful locally farmed talapia dinner with her requested cheese pasta and carrot birthday cake. We were grateful for the company of John, Loren, Brian and baby David Clark and Aunt Pat Abbott. It was especially meaningful to skype and talk on the phone with family as this was the first of the kids' birthdays that we have not been with family. The miles that are so long between us seem somehow shorter when we can hear their voices.

Lillian was named for Lillian Dickson, a spunky, courageous, and compassionate missionary in Formosa, which is now Taiwan. I was moved by her story and great work among the poor as I read "Angel on her Shoulder" while pregnant with Lilli. Mustard Seed International, founded by Lillian Dickson now serves in many countries aiding in educational, pastoral, and medical fields. We are always encouraged by its current director, Bill Deans, who became a good friend to us while we lived in Charleston, South Carolina. Our Lilli's middle name, "Joy" comes from the verse that is associated with her name (in my friend Mary's famous name book) that says, "'Shout for Joy, Daughter of Zion, for I am coming and I will dwell amoung you,' declares the Lord." God does certainly dwell with Lilli and she certainly shouts for joy!

So, as we close on the 30 minutes left in this day, we are grateful to God for the 6 years of the precious life of our daughter, Lillian Joy Johnson, our African princess and adventurer extraordinaire!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So many hats

Truly a Renaissance Man, Travis has been a Jack-of-all-trades.
Here are some of the many hats he has been wearing:
Creepy Creature Killer
Mentor and Friend to young men
Brick oven pizza guy
Tour guide and vision keeper for visitors who are considering service here

Truck Repairman
Friend to youth, trendsetter that men can also carry and care for babies
"The Man with the Key"

Veterinarian and carer of all things living
The Mazungu who rides bikes for both work and hobby

Daddy who tries to play soccer with kiddos between meetings

Chairman of CSB who discusses budget, staff problems, schedules, and students

Co-team leader who facilitates Gospel Centered Life study for team

Tour Guide to visitors who consider service here

Preacher to CSB chapel

Breakfast egg cooker and espresso coffee maker

Dog and kid washer in the river behind our house

Husband who partners in the trials of life here

Campfire tender so we can teach Ugandan friends about Smores and sing praises together

Lawnmower repairman

Katubi Confidant

Budget man in charge of personal, team, nutrition, school, and other accounts

Bible Study leader for staff

Water Tank Fixer

Electrician who fixes the voltage stabalizer again and again and again...

Doctor whose heart breaks for children in critical need, praying for the day when he can share some of these hats with others and he can be more present at the health center

But most importantly, Travis wears the hat that His Heavenly Father gives him: the hat of a Son of the King, who is loved, accepted, and for whom he serves.

And I thought the DMV was bad...

It seems that every missionary letter I have read always includes a request to pray for their visa to be approved or to speedily arrive. I never gave that request much time or attention, but casually prayed that their need would be met.

Until today.

Today, we joined the ranks of those who have experienced the immigration office of a host country.

It seems that our paperwork was not completed correctly for processing on the American side of things to be sent for the Ugandan side of things, so we are still in the land of visa limbo. In great effort to proactively arrange details a month in advance, we located the immigration office in Kampala (a non-descript building without a sign, situated next to a tobacco leaf warehouse where one smells the leaves drying), secured a parking spot (a muddy patch on the side of the road), and did the divide and conquer move that parents so often do (one stays in the car with kids while the other hastily runs the errand). After my bag was checked by a security guard, I wandered around until I found a woman behind a piece of glass who stared at me and continued to repeat that I needed to apply for a special pass and take this paper and that paper and then go here and there. When I explained that I would love to take care of these things now as we live 9 hours away in a remote area, she told me that I have time and I need to come back closer to the date it expires. So, I got the various papers and decided it was time for PLAN B.

Plan B was to do the parent swap. This time Travis went in and I stayed in the car. As it was now 12:30 and there were no snacks in sight, the kids were hungry and getting cranky for being car bound. We tried to count boda bodas (motorcycles), tell stories, and then gave up and just did what everyone does to us, stared at people. Travis called from inside with hopeful news that all was going well and he had all his papers filled in, he was just waiting for the immigration worker to eat lunch. And he really meant it, she was eating right in front of him. After another hour, after she finished her lunch, she decided that she was going to run an errand and would be back in 30 minutes. Rescuing me from insanity in the car, Travis drove us to a nearby shopping area for the kids and I to eat lunch (now 2 o’clock). Upon returning, he waited again and then was directed to a different woman who decided not to process his papers and told him to do what? Apply for a special pass. She then scolded him and told him that the team leader for WHM Uganda should come and talk to her about this problem. Travis did not have the heart to tell her that she was, indeed, already talking to the team leader for WHM Uganda. Empty handed and discouraged, Travis returned to us. So, now we are on the paper trail for that special pass until our work visas are secured. And now we are in the ranks of missionaries who are having visa issues and are now requesting that you to pray for our visa to be approved. Or at least for them to give us a special pass!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kampala, 5 days of restocking and refreshment

laughed and enjoyed a farewell dinner with interns

got our caffeine fix at Good African Coffee (love that we can get cappuccino that rivals Starbucks for less than $2!)

felt so good to be able to understand and worship in English at Calvary Chapel

kids were brave to go to children’s class and enjoyed reward of ice cream

Aidan refused nursery class

felt very western as we watched “Toy Story 3”, ate stale popcorn, and had dinner at “Pizza Hot” which was almost like Pizza Hut

providentially met Fort Portal couple at food court of mall

cooked dinner in, remembering how to use electric stove

not able to find needed medical supply at pharmacy

ventured into the electronic section of town in search of voltage stabalizer

kids enjoyed playing together on pavement, learning to skateboard

Travis contemplated where or how we can have our own patch of pavement

grocery shopped for the next 6 weeks

Lilli discovered she loves spring rolls at Thai restaurant

negotiated (again!) internet coverage in Bundibugyo

video skyped Travis’s family for the first time...first time for them to see Aidan since he was 3 months old!

stayed at peaceful and secure home of government friends

killed a rat in the bathroom

washed clothes in a washing machine!

watched Aidan crawl on a tile floor (ours is too rough of concrete for his knees)

negotiated price for a lawnmower at store called “game” (mini version of fusion of target and home depot)

so thankful to get new truck battery as ours had to be jumped more than it started

found needed wheel for teammate but “the man with the key” was not there

spent the day at immigration office only to be denied renewal of visa, for now

found nearby place for kids to swim in kiddie pool

started to think about november’s trip to USA for WHM team leader training, Aidan’s first bday, visit to churches, family, friends and support raising for medical ministry expenses

ordered meat so we can have something to eat besides goat at each meal

wished a happy 4th bday to neice Addy

skyped for some check-in encouragement from WHM pastoral care

negotiated and purchased 2 laptops to add to the ailing fleet of 9 computers (6 of which have viruses)which serve all staff and 350 students at CSB

organized 7 months of receipts (amazing what you can do without interruptions!)

packed late into the night to secure boxes on top of truck

said goodbye to the ethnic restaurants, variety of stores, maddening traffic, comfortable housing, and protected family time in Kampala as the sun was rising on the road to Bundibugyo

You know you have lived a little while in rural Africa when...

You are an expert in slaloming your car through 2 feet deep potholes.

You time how long it takes you change a flat tire and try to beat yesterday’s record.

Your kids bedtime routine includes taking malaria medicine.

Grown men hail your children as fearless because they hold chameleons.

You break for monkeys- sometimes to see them, sometimes to swerve and miss them.

ROUS’s (Rodents of Unusual Size) are real and provide a challenge to ones manhood.

Fast food means slowing down at a village and buying sticks of meat thrust through your window.

You type blogs by candlelight not because it is romantic but because the power is out.

You make enchiladas with chipattis.

You eat a samosa with “chips” instead of a burger and fries.

Your child can identify a warthog before a pig.

Your five year old daughter asks for a sling shot for her birthday.

Your three year old son raises his eye brows instead of saying yes.

You even negotiate prices at the “Walmart” in Kampala.

5 dollars seems a lot for a meal but you will pay it in a heart beat for a good scoop of ice cream.

Your 9 month old says hello by raising both hands high in the air waving them back and forth

You read the “Wilderking” series (highly recommend) to your kids and they recognize characters around you and believe that you live in the Feichifen.

Your son asks for M&Ms with G-nuts.

Your daughter asks as you cross over the equator why it is not hotter at the center of the earth. You have to explain why .5 degrees latitude is not that much different and it is definitely hot enough.

Your children rejoice in tepid showers because they are not as cold as the “waterfall” showers we have at home.

You call your shower at home a waterfall because the water is piped from a local waterfall, it somehow makes the coldness more bearable.

You hire seven men to slash on the property just so they can pay school fees and hospital bills.

You son practices “slashing” the grass with a wooden machete.

You bring your children home “early” from the church service after two hours and the sermon has not yet started.

You pray before you put your card in the ATM hoping it will give back money.

Your dog chews on avocados he finds in your back yard.

Buying three carts of groceries seems normal. Paper or plastic is not referring to the bag but the boxes you are packing it in.

Fixing lawnmowers, treating cows, working on house wiring and plumbing and treating patients in your front yard all happen before you start your work day.

You have dear friends that wait for you at your katubi to greet you when you return from a week long trip.

You children cheer when you drive into the village that you are home!


I am often restless. Lately, I have been feeling like I want to run away, to choose a new life, rather than the one that I am currently living in Africa. When Travis went for a bike ride yesterday, I joked that I may not be here when he gets back. I think he was afraid it was not a joke.

The enemy has been whispering lies. That I don’t have any friends. That I am not a good mom, wife, neighbor. That I am going to wither up and die here and no one will even care or miss me. And not having much sleep or alone time makes those lies sound louder and more believable. However, I am hearing truth from the Word and from my husband to identify what is falsehood and what I can rightly believe.

And I am reading. In Voices of the Faithful this month’s reading focus around the theme of contentment. While the editor emphasizes mainly contentment with material wealth, I am struck by my lack of contentment in the areas of occupation, friendship intimacy, beauty, and appreciation. Of course, the part of scripture that is always quoted about contentment is when Paul speaks to the Philippians when he says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty of in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

And I am struck by a word that I never noticed before: learned. Paul learned it. He did not receive it once he became an apostle. Even Paul whom we admire, quote, base missions practices upon had to learn contentment. And I did not somehow become completely content the moment I became a missionary, like some superhero power that allows me to live in the midst of poverty, away from my family, and without much community and feel great about every minute of every day here. I am to learn contentment. In Voices it is noted that the original Greek word for learned comes from the same word as disciple. So, Christ is using my life’s circumstances to disciple me in the art of contentment. And part of that discipling is my increasing dependence on and discovering of the presence and power of Christ in each circumstance I face.

So, for now, I will sit in this place of learning contentment, to recognize and ask for Christ’s presence and His power to be with me, to help me love others, to guide me in decisions, to disciple me so that I can rest in Him. And slowly by slowly, He can teach me that “secret of being content in any and every situation” and hopefully, I will be a good learner.

What they learned- Memoirs of Summer Interns

(John, Phil, Anna, Jordan and some poor elephant)

What the African Interns learned this summer:

How to pasteurize milk.

How to ride a motorcycle.

How to teach someone how to drive manual 4wd.

How to make a pizza from scratch in a woodfire oven.

How to properly cut pineapple, avocado, and mango.

What a “chocolate tree” looks like.

How long a letter takes to get to Africa.

How to sleep in extremely tight quarters.

How to start an IV on a dehydrated two pound baby

How to speak Ugandan African English.

How to “kangaroo” a premature baby.

How to treat malaria.

How to teach a Ugandan how to roast a s’more.

How to say yes without saying a word.

First time to lead a Bible study

How to make a daisy chain with just grass.

How to make a rope from jungle vines.

How to swing on a vine like Tarzan.

How to boil an egg in a hot spring.

How to appreciate good fresh fish.

How to flush a toilet that does not have a handle.

How to eat beans and rice with my hands.

How to make candy bars when trying to make brownies.

How to preach.

How to weld (well, I watched!)

How to take a basin bath.

How to make a Jedi costume with limited resources.

How to speak Sudan African English.

How to say “thank you” in four languages.

How to eat with one hand.

How to use a cho, well, I tried.

How to correctly use a pickaxe.

How to attract bees while trying to kill bugs.

How to teach 70 students physics.

How to live in a tent with 3 guys.

How to do the handshake dance.

How to take off oil-based paint of skin.

Mostly, Anna (Uganda) and Jordan (Sudan), the summer interns, learned first hand how to desperately seek Jesus each day and see that He is alive and at work in Africa. We miss you guys already!

Monday, August 9, 2010

On Being a Man

Often during the day I will look around at our surroundings and wonder why are we here. Sometimes this is with a little smile and a feeling of thankfulness for the opportunity to be somewhere and do something few in America will ever get to do. Sometimes it is with a furrowed brow and a quiver in the stomach thinking we need to pack the car and leave tonight. Who in their right mind would move their family to the center of Africa? What would compel someone to do such a thing? These are questions of mine and questions posed to me by many friends and family. These questions often get stronger the longer we are in Bundibugyo district. We “emerged” into Kampala Saturday night to stock up on supplies and have some uninterrupted family time. It also allows me to actually think and ask God some questions. Most of this happens on the 8 hour bumpy/off road trip.

We have been attending a Calvary Chapel church while in Kampala and loving the worship and teaching. We entered yesterday and the opening song was Blessed be the Name. The song states, “the Lord gives and takes away.” With each situation we are to bless His name. I can’t always do this. Especially as I think about everyone we left behind and opportunities we said good by to. I love what we have been given in Bundibugyo, but not all of it.

The speaker then spoke on being a man. He works with orphans, widows and soldiers in Sudan. Most of the time it is easy to dismiss these “man challenges” as false bravado. This man is living it. His challenge was from Daniel- that we would fear not our life but God. We should do what is right by defending the poor, fatherless and widow. As men, we should always stand for those who are to weak to stand for themselves. The sermon can be listened to at Calvary Chapel Kampala. I do not recommend the sermon for the faint hearted. This man is dealing with soldiers and his examples are hard. I do not usually agree with war, yet I have never before lived in a place where children are stolen and women violated on a regular basis.

I have been hoping to blog for sometime now on what we are doing. Yet, I could not find the words for it. In the heat of the battle, sometimes you forget why you are doing what you are doing. I feel I have some words for it now. It is simple. God loves us and calls us to see Him and love Him by showing his love to those who are forgotten. We are seeking to do so through teaching, healing, mentoring and sitting. We seek to be advocates to those for those who have no advocate. We begin to understand his grace as we extend his grace. We are freely giving to those who could never repay and at points have no idea that they even need help. We are giving Hope in a place that has had none for a long, long time. So, to give some substance to this, I hope to post a blog on the health center and the school. It is hard being here, but it is fulfilling. We need people willing to come and live life to the fullest with us here. We need a few good men (and women). Stay tuned…

Monday, August 2, 2010

Summer 2010

This past summer has been a great time of learning new things, making new friendships and saying goodbye to some dear ones. All in all, we are thankful to be here and hopeful about what is next. Enjoy a glimpse of the summer through this video we put together to celebrate our intern Anna. Miss and love you guys,