Sunday, December 20, 2015

Of mice and emails

When our visitors, Doug and Lisa Jernigan, left in early November, we had no idea what a crazy month we were about to have. The first incredible thing to happen was when an Ik friend of ours, Kalimapus Joseph, was attacked by a leopard while checking his traps! Seriously? Do we still live in a world and age where people routinely get mauled by predators? Apparently so, at least in Ikland. Joseph bravely fought off the beast until his brother-in-law speared his would-be killer, and Joseph got away with some claw cuts and bites, but fortunately nothing lethal. Here's a photo of Amber treating him:
Things were only going to get weirder: For some time we had been expecting to go to Kampala in early December for an adoption hearing. Because we didn't know when the hearing would be exactly, this prevented us from even planning our Christmastime activities. Then, on November 19th, at 2:02 p.m., we got an email from our lawyer saying the judge wanted to hear our case in a week's time, on Thanksgiving, November 26, at 2:30 p.m! We weren't prepared for this, but the sudden news spurred us into action. We had to make some quick plans that included trying to get the last bits of required paperwork from a stalling government official, and arranging for transporting and accommodating the girls' relatives who needed to come with us to Kampala for the court hearing.

As if that wasn't enough, a CNN reporter from Nairobi showed up on Friday at our house. He was doing a story on the Ik and wanted to interview us. He did his interview but came back again the following Monday to video me working with the Ik men on the dictionary project. Just before they arrived on Monday, we heard a buzzing sound above our heads. We looked up to see a small helicopter drone with a video camera watching us. At first I thought it was the President's advance security team (see below) scouting out any suspicious things before the President's arrival, so I just smiled and waved! But then the CNN folks arrived, and we could see them operating the drone with a remote controller. Odd. Very odd.

That was Monday, and in the evening we still expected to use Tuesday to pack leisurely for our trip to Kampala (on Wednesday). However, this state of relative calm was quickly shattered. We already knew that President Museveni and the First Lady were scheduled to visit Kamion (the Ik people's administrative 'capitol'). Since it was the first visit of the President to Ikland, it was going to be a historic event that we didn't want to miss! Our plan was to pack up Tuesday morning, and then head over to see the President at 4:00 p.m. But then Monday evening we got news that the President changed plans and was going to be in Kamion at 10:00 a.m., and we were advised to be there by 8:00! That meant we suddenly had to pack for a huge trip and two weeks' stay in Kampala right away. We had every reason to be stressed, but I can say that we weren't. We executed the necessary processes of packing up and shutting down our homestead in those few hours before bedtime.

As it turned out, even though we were in Kamion by 8:30 in the morning, the presidential helicopter didn't arrive until 1:30. Yes, that's right: we waited FIVE hours for them. TIA: this is Africa. That's really the only explanation one needs; it covers all unusual and/or inexplicable phenomena. Anyway, they finally came, gave a short campaign speech, and were on their way (they only stayed about 20 minutes total). The cool thing is, though, the President walked over to our tent and shook our and the girls' hands, asked where we were from, and if we were taking care of 'these girls'. Totally worth it!

The pace certainly didn't slow down the next morning. We had to run around town, picking up relatives, getting last-minute documents translated (orally) and signed by the family. Then we had to go to the government official's office and get him to sign a couple more forms. Then we had to drive back into town, get some forms photocopied, and then take them back to the official. By 12:30 p.m., we finally hit the road to Kampala. At 2:00 a.m. the following morning, we fell into bed in Kampala. It was the longest, most grueling drive, but somehow, by the grace of God, we made it. I can't tell you how. It is miserable to drive on Ugandan roads at nighttime. People don't use their high and low beams correctly. If we can coax them to turn off their high beams, they enjoy putting them back on right before we've passed each other on the road and it blinds you. Amazingly, the night of our drive, we had a full moon to help me see the road better. I was exhausted after six hours of driving, but by the half-way mark, I felt God giving me a second wind to make it the remainder of the way to Kampala.

That same morning, Thanksgiving Day, we were to be at the lawyer's office by 10:00 a.m. for the signing of final documents. Then we were to be in court at 2:30. Both the lawyer and his secretary stressed the extreme importance of being at the courthouse early, at 2:00. We did our best to stay on top of things, but still, we got stuck in a massive traffic jam just before 2:00. We started making Plan B: parking the truck somewhere and putting everyone on motorcycle taxis (dangerous but speedy). We could see the turn-off just ahead on the left, but traffic was in a gridlock. We prayed and then at about 1:59, the jam moved a little and we were able to make the turn, putting us at the courthouse at 2:06. We waited a few minutes and then were ushered into the judge. It lasted maybe ten minutes, max. He asked a few basic questions and scribbled furiously. Then, just when we were bracing for his verdict, he nonchalantly told us to come back the following Tuesday for the verdict. A little anti-climactic!

More waiting.

I walked into town to see Pope Francis on Saturday and got my wallet stolen.
On Monday, we sent the girls' mother Alice, aunt Primina, and uncle Zachary back to Kaabong on an airplane. It was the first time any of them had been on a flight, let alone near an actual aircraft. Putting them on the airplane was one of the funnest things we've ever done. Later we could tell they loved the experience!
Tuesday afternoon rolled around. We drove the long way across town back to the courthouse to get our verdict. We told the girls that no matter what the judge said, they'd stay with us, that we'd remain a family regardless. It only had to do with paperwork issues. We must've waited for almost an hour. During that time we met some lovely people from Michigan who were adopting a Ugandan child and were getting their verdict at that time as well. Their names were Aaron and Gwen. At one point their lawyer came out and handed them a draft of their favorable adoption ruling. Moments later ours came out too. He handed us the document and said, "It's finished." Really? That's all? That's all. That adoption had been granted!
We decided to stay in Kampala a little while longer, both to attend uncle Hillary's graduation (see below) and to see if we could go ahead and apply for the girls' US visas. We've been told that process could take 6-12 months, so we definitely wanted to get it started before going back to Timu for three months. Hillary graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Public Administration that Thursday. It was a real privilege for us to be there along with his dear wife Lily to celebrate the occasion:
By the end of that week, we were growing discouraged because we had not been able to find out the info we needed about how to apply for the visas in our special circumstances. In particular, emails to certain Embassy officials had gone unacknowledged for ten days. In resignation, we decided to just go home to Timu on Monday morning and let the chips fall where they may. Though our faint hearts could hardly hope to believe it, God was at work under the surface of our disappointments. And He chose to use the most humble and often despised of instruments.

Saturday evening, when I was out running an errand, the AC in our truck suddenly went out. It has been working flawlessly for months, but I heard a sucking sound, and then the sound of some junk filling the fan and clogging it, preventing it from blowing much air at all. I quickly called the mechanic to see if they worked on Sundays, but they did not. So, after consulting with Amber, we decided to postpone our trip from Monday to Tuesday, to give us a chance to fix the air conditioner. Fine. Sunday evening we did what we should've been doing all week: we prayed together. This is where it gets good.

Monday morning, the mechanic fixes the AC for free, since it only involved removing the mouse's nest from the fan compartment under the glovebox. (My friend Robert Lane did it once for us, as did uncle Calvin Schrock; I am a linguist and prefer to leave such technical issues with the experts!) So I guess this was at least the third mouse's nest to be removed from there! Anyway, that afternoon, we finally got an email from both the immigration office in Nairobi AND the US Embassy in Kampala. The Kampala embassy informed us that there was to be an adoption Q&A meeting the following day at 2:00 p.m. So we postponed our trip home from Tuesday to Wednesday!

Our friend Adam Leach, who was waiting to come back to Kaabong with us, graciously agreed to watch the girls as we went to the adoption meeting. (I should add that in the hour before the meeting, I made some critical navigational errors that got us stuck on a mountain, in front of the gate of an abandoned mansion, with absolutely nowhere to turn around. We had to go in reverse for several hundred yards, up a slope so steep and slippery I had to use 4x4 low to get up. I laughed at the absurdity of our lives, while Amber quietly tried to cope with her rising pulse and blood pressure). In the end, we made it to the embassy right on time...and were greeted at the security desk with a notice that the meeting had been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, and that no further meeting had been scheduled. Apologies for any inconveniences. Indeed. You know, I'm pretty sure I didn't even read the whole notice because I instinctively knew something like that would happen. It's the poetic nature of life's absurdity. Of course! The meeting we had delayed our trip home for, to get answers we've waited ten days for, was canceled with no explanation. Of course! Why didn't I think of that?  TIA.

Half in shock, half not, we kind of looked around stupidly at the people in the waiting area. Then a familiar face jumped out: Gwen! The women we had met the week before at the courthouse. So, having nothing better to do, we wander over to her and her friend, sit down, and commiserate about how terribly the US Embassy in Kampala treats US citizens. Gwen only needed a form, the 'blue form'. After maybe twenty minutes, she and her friend decide to go over to the reception, where the male receptionist is safely ensconced behind inches of greenish bulletproof glass. We watched Gwen talk, plead, wait, smile, wait some more, and then get let into Fort Knox! This gave us courage, so we moseyed on over and asked the guy if we could just speak to someone from the adoption unit. He said 'no', the meeting has been canceled. We don't leave. We stall. We explain that we just have a few questions, that we waited for this meeting, and now we have to go back home to Karamoja. Very far. Upon hearing the word 'Karamoja', he picks up his phone, calls someone, and then hands the phone to us under the glass. I foist the phone into Amber's hands, as she tends to be the one that doesn't forget important details. The Ugandan lady on the other end fully and politely answers all the questions which we were going to ask in the meeting. Could this really be happening?

We find out enough to realize we could put together the visa application packet and mail it (to Chicago!) before leaving for Timu the next day. So we go back to the guest house, fill out forms, double check them, triple check them. And then Adam and I head out to face Kampala's traffic, to print out forms, photocopy forms, buy an envelope, and take the packet to Gwen who had agreed over Facebook to take the applications back home with her to the States. Around 8:00 or so, the envelope finally makes it into Gwen's hands. Adam and I battle traffic to get back home. And then we leave the next morning at 4:30 am and drive all that long way back to Kaabong. Mission accomplished: Since leaving home two weeks earlier, the President's hand got shook, Mercy and Mumu's adoption got granted, the relatives got sent home by airplane, uncle Hillary got graduated, and the visas got applied for.

If that little Timu mouse hadn't built a nest in the AC system, if that nest had been sucked down into the AC fan mere hours earlier, we would've driven back to Karamoja all day Monday and wouldn't have seen those emails until nighttime. If we hadn't seen those emails, we wouldn't have known to stay a day longer for the adoption meeting. If we hadn't gone to the adoption meeting--even though we had to get answers elsewhere--we wouldn't have known how to start the application process. And if we hadn't met Gwen (and Aaron) at the courthouse, our application would've been consigned to the less secure international postal system. God had been working to weave this web of significant events together all along. Neglecting prayer, we tried to take things into our own hands and just got frustrated and discouraged. Now all we can do is thank God for mice and emails. Underneath whatever chaos you may be experiencing in your life right now, the Creator and Upholder of the universe is working to accomplish His will, which includes what's best for you and those you love. Trust Him.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jamming with the Jernigans

I mentioned in the last blog that we had visitors recently. Our church in Tallahassee has come up with these cool partnerships, which they call 'Barnabas partners'. For every missionary on the field, there is a Barnabas partner in the church who supports and encourages them. Our Barnabas partners (and long-time friends) are Doug & Lisa Jernigan. We first met them a month after we got married in 2005 when we both went on a medical mission trip to Peru. The friendship stuck and has kept growing since then. 

This was their second trip to Uganda to encourage us and walk alongside us in any way they could. And encourage us they did! The time together was so meaningful, and we walked away with a better grasp of what each others' lives are like. It was true fellowship, not to be taken for granted. 
 Soon after they arrived, we started the long journey north. We didn't do the 15 hours all in one day, but stretched the drive out over three days. We took two days of holiday along the way. First we visited Jinja and stayed at a lovely eco-lodge right on the Nile river. The next day we drove up to Sipi Falls on Mt. Elgon (eastern Uganda).
Our girls made friends quickly. 
Hornbills near the Nile.
 When we finally got to Timu, we went to work. Two new nurse friends from the Baptist team in Kaabong came up to Timu for a few days of training under Dr. Lisa. They were SO grateful for this time together and getting a feel for the medical needs of our district. And we were SO grateful for the company and assistance that Amanda and Jillian provided as we visited/treated the Ik. Jiggers is still a huge problem along our ridge, so we went looking for those who could use our help.
 It's been cold and rainy for the past nearly two months, meaning that many children presented with colds/flus. It was wonderful to have a doctor around! I can't tell you how much more security I feel when working with colleagues.
 Some evenings we would walk to our near-by neighbor's villages, looking for the sick.
 While we were out and about dealing with community health issues, Terrill & Doug were at home and attending to some fun projects. First, they put up a zipline. Our kids spend A LOT of time outside...hours every day. They make their own fun with sand, sticks, water, and leaves....but we wanted to add to their fun (and that of the community children) with some new toys. It was and is a hit.
 Okay....it's not just for children....I was, uh, testing the weight limitations.
 This week we found this older girl riding on the zipline with a baby strapped to her back. She was pretty desperate to try that thing out. I'm just thankful she didn't fall off and land on the baby.
 Another project they worked on was building a picnic table and setting it up in a lovely, scenic location for outdoor lunches. So thankful for Doug's handy wood-working skills!
 And then Doug helped Terrill finish a tree house. They put rails up and crafted a ladder for easy access. The girls have already been setting up house and 'cooking' in their tree.
 Our girls were thoroughly spoiled that week. We had requested that the Jernigan's bring roller skates, which they did. Our girls are now learning to skate and balance on wheels. We figured that it would help with their coordination, and provide a rainy-day activity where they could expend energy. Do I hear an 'Amen' from you moms out there?
 Some of our best times together were spent around the ukelele. Doug & Lisa blessed us through group worship, and times of spontaneously breaking into fun songs.
They left us last week and we've been getting back to our routines in Timu. This is how you find us...in a cloud (for missing our friends), and literally in a cloud as rainy season continues upon us.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A jiggery jig

Hi friends! Happy Autumn to you. While the leaves are changing there, it's pouring down rain here. Our second rainy season has begun. We're thankful for the water to fill our tanks and give people a second chance at planting crops. 

It's been a long while since our last photo update. We spent most of September and nearly all of October in Timu. It was a peaceful number of weeks and we found ourselves content to be here. I've been spending every morning doing Kindergarten with the girls. They are becoming more focused at school, and I'm becoming more patient. Thank God for His sanctifying work done through family relationships! 

Terrill continues to test his dictionary data with three blind, elderly gentlemen. We'd been hoping for the longest time to have doctors come for a visit to Kaabong district to assist people who are partially or fully blind. Well, one morning a truck drove up to our gate with the announcement that they were looking for the blind. An eye surgeon had arrived at Kaabong hospital and was looking for candidates who might need his help. We directed him to those we knew along the ridge and multiple elderly were able to receive care. Our three language assistants were all taken to the hospital and underwent surgery. They came back to Timu with moderate improvement to their vision. Thank God for this provision of eye care to many in Kaabong district this past month!

Now, let me turn your attention to some critters. The girls have been wanting a pet for the longest time, but we travel so much that it would be difficult to care for a pet. Well, we found someone selling two turtles at the beginning of September and decided the girls might be able to keep these little gals (they decided they were girls) for two months until we headed back to Kampala. They enjoyed their pets and released them back into the wild last week. 
Above, Mary is enjoying some banana. Below, Lemu is pushing Allison in her stroller. 

 And since I'm on the subject of critters, let me bring up the jigger problem in Timu. It's actually not limited to Timu, but problematic all over our district. Some money was donated towards shoes for those who are suffering with jiggers. If a person is wearing shoes, it's less likely that their feet will have exposure to the sand fleas that want to burrow under their skin. So, we've been making village visits in the evenings to find where the worst jigger problems are along our ridge. People gathered around and tried to convince me that they had jiggers in an attempt to gain a pair of shoes. I inspected many feet and at least half of those we saw did indeed have them.
 After we found those in need, we gave them soap, vaseline, safety pins, and pain medicine to take care of their jigger problem. We returned a week later to assess the situation. If they had removed jiggers, they were given a pair of shoes. The old ladies were the most delighted to receive the shoes, dancing with joy and blessing us.
Janet & Terrill have both had jiggers that I've had to work on recently. It's hard to avoid jiggers when so many people have them and are spreading the problem.

Starting in August, the gardens of Timu were ready to be harvested. Since our employees (day guard/gardener and house helper) are frequently working for us during daytime hours, we decided to help with the transport of their harvest (maize) from their gardens to their villages. This required loading vast amounts of maize into the back of our vehicle and driving it up a steep hill. But, we were happy to do our part in the harvest.

In an effort to give our girls more outdoor activities, Terrill had started the construction of a tree house. Here he is working with our friend, Adam, to get the wood cut properly and a platform up in a tree. Such a handy guy to have around, and a good dad too!
I celebrated my birthday in Timu this year and was completely content to be there...a gift from God. Sometimes I long to be other places during important days. But this year, it didn't matter. I was with people I love, and they gave me chocolate. ;-)

On October 8th, we had a family meeting with the relatives of the girls. We discussed many things, including us possibly adopting the girls. The family believed it to be in the interest of the girls that they stay with us and we were given the 'green light' to pursue adoption in Uganda. We've hired a lawyer who is currently processing paperwork and trying to get us a court date in December. The only concern of the family is that we keep in touch with them no matter where we end up. That is a request we intended to fulfill anyway, as we want to keep the girls' heritage and biological family alive in their minds. We don't see this as taking them away from their Ik/Karamojong family, but as us joining two families together....cementing our relationship with these dear Ik/KJ friends.
The girls always enjoy visiting their Ik/KJ cousins in Kaabong.
They also enjoy visiting their Texan friends living in Kaabong. They were pretending to be animals with tails.
We just hosted some friends from Tallahassee, FL for ten days and can't wait to tell you about the great time we had together...but that will have to wait for another blog. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why is the sky beautiful?

Have you ever wondered why the sky is beautiful? It wouldn't have to be. It could just be functional, useful. (Actually it could be both dysfunctional and ugly, but then we might not be here to see it...).

For instance, the SUN, the eye of the sky, that yellow star at the center of the solar system, fulfills several functions necessary for life on earth. It is the source of the gravity field that keeps our planet in a yearly orbit, exposing different parts of the earth to differing levels of light and heat throughout the seasons. This promotes an astonishing diversity of living beings. Heat from the sun keeps the planet from freezing over and killing out all living things. Light from the sun powers plant life, which in turn powers animal life. The sun does all this and does it beautifully.

The ATMOSPHERE, the lens of the sky, that thin layer of gas and particles enshrouding the earth, also fulfills crucial life-sustaining functions. For one thing, it acts as a barrier that absorbs dangerous debris from outer space. It also filters out harmful radiation from the sun and other sources. And perhaps most importantly, it contains all the gases that life needs to survive. The atmosphere does all this and does it beautifully.

WATER, the tears of the sky, that chemically simple yet indispensable substance, is the lubrication of all life. Fish live in it, plants soak it up, animals drink it. Our bodies are made mostly of it. We take it in, fill our cells with it, and excrete it. Water occurs as gas (mist, fog, steam), as solid (ice, snow, hail), and liquid. It rains down, flows over, and swirls all about us. It is lovely in all its forms, and all forms are found in the sky. Water fills our world and does so beautifully.

Put these three together in the sky above us--sun, air, water--and the result is not only the thriving of God's creation but also gratuitous, unending beauty. On our ridge in Ikland, with a nearly 360 degree horizon as our vista, we have a privileged position to watch God paint atmospheric masterpieces.

What follows here is twenty pictures taken of the firmament over Timu during the last six months. I trust these photos will testify to you of a God who makes things both useful and beautiful. The sky would never have to be this gorgeous...it just is, day after day, year after year:






















In our marriage, Amber is naturally more interested in functionality, I in aesthetics. These natural tendencies show themselves in our choices and opinions. But we both agree that the best situation is where functionality and beauty are both involved, where functional things are beautiful and beautiful things are functional. That would seem to point to a deeper truth about the universe we live in and the God who made it: what God makes serves a purpose but does so in the sheer delight of beauty and loveliness. So why is the sky beautiful? I guess because God likes it that way.