Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Retreating and winding down

At the end of the January semester (now renamed Easter semester; next is Trinity semester, and September is now Advent semester), we have a week of two retreats:  two days with all the students, then a day of leaving and the new guests arriving:  the spouses for the finalists arrive, with children in tow.  Then we have two more days of retreat with just the married finalists and their families.  

In previous years I tried to not attend since I'm not married, but I was quickly reprimanded.  I told this story to one of my students, and his reply blessed me tremendously:  "It's good that you're here.  You need to meet our wives because the relationship doesn't end here; it will continue."  Amen!  

Though this introvert gets quite exhausted and doesn't feel that she gets sufficient rest to prepare for the students to arrive on the first Wednesday of May (with lectures beginning the following Monday), the retreats really are a lot of fun.  The students are relaxed because they've finished their exams, and they actually smile again.  The lecturers may be stressed because of the deadlines for marking exams; I was working with my three students to get their dissertations complete so they could print, bind, and submit them before the deadline.

What I enjoy most about the marrieds' retreat is meeting the spouses and the kids.  The majority of families remain at home while the student comes here; it's quite rare for the entire family to uproot and stay in Mukono or Kampala, though it does happen.

A special joy for me was meeting my little friend Luke, whom I had the honor and joy of naming last year.  I'll get to see him again in December when I go to Kumi for his dad's ordination, though I doubt he'll remember me.

My student George, his wife Grace, Luke, and I didn't get the girl's name, though she's a helper.

Then there's little Jeremiah, who's a pretty happy kid, except when he's looking at a camera phone:

Poor Jeremiah... his dad's lecturer subjected him to selfies!
And now the campus is fairly quiet while we wait for the students to return next week.  It's a tiny bit eerie, though it is a nice change.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Repatriating a cat

The Dennisons left on Wednesday, which for me, was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day.  I have been praying for them to hear clearly when the Lord wanted them to go, and I prayed for all to go smoothly with their exit.  The Lord graciously answered those prayers, even though the time frame isn't anything I wanted!

Mary Jane asked me if I would take their cat, Meri, and of course I would.  I've gone long without a cat, and have missed having one.  Meri knows me, and my flat is one of her hang-outs.  Here, she decided that she wanted to come inside for some reason:

Meri is a bit of a free spirit, so I've been a little concerned with how her repatriation would go.  Wednesday, David, one of Mary Jane's kids (and Meri's human) brought her down the hill while I brought her food.  I was hoping that if she knew her food had moved, she'd be more inclined to come.  

Around dinner time, I went up to the Dennisons with a tiny bit of warmed chicken to entice Meri down the hill, and it worked.  She scarfed down the food, and made herself at home all night.

I let her out this morning, and went looking for her at lunch.  She's used to coming and going at will, and I'm not always home.  I brought her down, she ate, and then made herself at home.  In my chair.

And then she found a place to hide during the thunderstorm.

I think we still have a ways to go, but the repatriation isn't going badly.

Monday, April 6, 2015

In other news...

In more recent news, reports are surfacing today that police have arrested members of an Al-Shabaab cell in Kampala, finding maps that indicated universities and hotels across the country that were targets. 

Please join me in giving thanks for this development, and pray that further terrorist operations would be discovered and disrupted.

Memories of September 12

Do you remember how you felt on September 12, 2001?  I do.  The shock and horror of September 11 had faded, and the reality that our land had been violated in a most atrocious way set in.  I was working at a government client, site and our vehicles were searched for days after.  We had entered this new reality of terrorism, and were forced to find a new normal with this invisible enemy.

That’s how Holy Saturday felt to me this year.  The shock of the Garissa attacks had faded, though the horror remains, especially as information about the perpetrators comes to light.  The wait to observe the Resurrection seemed to last forever; I desperately wanted something to celebrate.

I struggled with reconciling my beautiful, somewhat bucolic campus with this new reality.  I’m used to seeing askari (security) around, and since the break-in, I’m used to seeing or hearing them more frequently around my flat.  I’m used to seeing our askari, the police, and the army working graduation.  I’m used to the police post on campus.  I’m not used to the thought that potentially, the police post might need to expand to include some element of an anti-terrorism unit.  We have 8,000 students on this campus, and close to 1,000 staff.  I’d say that’s a high-value target. 

Mary Jane and I have both had conversations with people in which, when they ask where we stay, they invariably reply with something along the lines of “why on earth do you stay out there?”  It’s only about 17 kilometers to Kampala, but if you can do it in 40 minutes, you’ve had an epic traffic win.  If you can make the drive in less than that, and it’s either 5:00am on a Sunday, or the zombie apocalypse has happened.  But once you get here, you see the green lawns, beautiful gardens, and a plethora of birds and monkeys talking.  Apparently, we’ve just had monkey maternity season here, and we see lots of monkey families running around, with little ones of various sizes.  Mary Jane calls it monkey daycare.

I think what’s hardest for me about this is the cultural loss of innocence. African hospitality dictates that you do everything for a visitor; the world stops for visitors.  If you don’t know someone, they’re a visitor, and you treat them accordingly.  I’ve seen a man drive up a motorcycle to get a large bag of maize that probably weighed over 100 pounds.  Obviously, he couldn’t do it himself.  So he called to another man who was walking to come and help him.  The man came over, they got the bag on the back of the bike, and they parted ways.  To ignore him would have been extremely rude. 

Where are we going from here?  I don’t know.  We’ve become accustomed to having our cars searched to enter shopping centers.  We’re becoming accustomed to metal detectors to enter churches.  Will this affect how we treat strangers and visitors?  I don’t know. 

We did this after the World Cup bombings in 2010, and we found a new normal, though over time, I’m sure some complacency set in.  I wonder whether we’ll repeat the pattern.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Last mzungu standing (almost)

Alleluia, He is risen!

I'm so thankful for a beautiful, and safe, Easter morning.  We had lots of police and anti-terror units here last night; I heard one of the large trucks as it was leaving this morning (and that's a quarter-mile downhill from my flat).  Bishop Muhima preached a wonderful sermon, and the Chaplain asked me to celebrate, which is always a tremendous joy.

The Dennisons hosted an ex-pat Easter dinner, which was bittersweet, as they are leaving this week.  Brian was already scheduled to do some travel, but Mary Jane is leaving with the kids this week also. They have been here seven and a half years, and with four children, their considerations are quite different from mine.  I spent a good chunk of yesterday crying, as I'm going to miss them horrendously.  I've been praying that they would hear clearly when it's time for them to go; I didn't mean for it to be so soon!  However, they have peace with the decision, and I'll do everything I can to help them leave well (to include inheriting some kitchen things.  That's missionary life; I'm so sorry you're going... has anyone claimed that really great pot?).

The USP American undergrads are leaving this week as well.  That decision came from DC, and while I understand why the decision was made, my heart is breaking that they have to leave under these conditions.  They are also leaving before the Rwanda trip and semester debrief, which is quite unfortunate.

Tonight at dinner, we were talking about all the people leaving.  Some are leaving just for the summer, and some are leaving for good.  Another long-term missionary is leaving in May, as is the English Language Fellow who's been here since August.  It feels a bit like an exodus, and Brian commented that I'm the last mzungu (white man) standing.

That's not quite true; the USP staff is still here, as are a couple others.  However, it does feel that way, as I like these people, but don't generally socialize with them.  I must confess that the phrase punched a bit of a hole in my heart.  It feels very odd to be the nearly last one of what used to be a large missionary community on campus.  Again, there are other missionaries here, so I'm not bereft.  I'm actually rather spoiled to even HAVE a community of missionaries around.  It's just a change, and not one I'm terribly excited about.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

What a difference a headline makes

After the terrorist attack at Garissa, news reports here featured a warning that Al-Shabaab is planning an attack on a school along the Kampala-Jinja highway.  Now, this road is 53 miles long, and UCU isn't right on the road (it's on Bishop Tucker Road, which branches from Jinja Road), and there are quite a few schools along this road, though obviously, UCU is the largest.

Perhaps it's my naïveté; I didn't think much of that.  However, I did see a report on Facebook that UCU is indeed being targeted.  I've never heard of this news source, so I take it with a grain of salt, though we are a Christian university, so that indeed makes us a target.  The write-up includes a nice little history of UCU, so while I don't know these people, they do get some journalistic points from me.  

Obviously, terrorism and its threats bring confusion and worry; that's the point.  Please pray for the leaders and security forces here as they guide and protect us.  We still have the American undergrads here; please pray for wisdom for the administrators of the USP program and the respective universities involved.  Please pray that decision makers would have peace, especially the parents of these undergrads.

I am fine, and am at peace.  Seeing the article undid me a bit - it's never fun to see that you are a target.  However, it's a reality; I'm a Christian living in a country where there are terror cells.  When I'm in my collar, I'm easily identified as a Christian.  I find myself returning to Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation - 
    whom shall I fear?  
The Lord is the stronghold of my life, 
    of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked advance against me 
    to devour me, 
it is my enemies and my foes 
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me, 
    my heart will not fear; 
though war break out against me, 
    even then I will be confident.
One thing I ask from the Lord, 
    this only do I seek:  
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord 
    all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord 
 and to seek him in his temple.

I'm preparing a sermon for Wednesday on suffering, with 1 Peter 4:12-16 as my text.  This week's events certainly give a different perspective.  I especially like verses 12-13:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.


Requesting prayers part two

We are all stunned and horrified about the massacre at Garissa yesterday.  I'm sure I could find words to describe what my heart is feeling, but Archbishop Wabukala of Kenya did it so much more eloquently, so I'm going to post his comments here (paragraph breaks are mine; they were not in the original source:)

My dear Brothers and Sisters, On this Good Friday we gather in our churches across Kenya in the shadow of a great and terrible evil. People who deal in death have slaughtered 147 people in Garissa, most of them students, and brought wrenching anguish to their families and a deep sadness to our nation. These young people died because they were Kenyans and they were Christians. This attack was a calculated manifestation of evil designed to destroy our nation and our faith, but on this Good Friday we are reminded that the very worst evil can do is not the last word. Through spite and blatant miscarriage of justice, Jesus dies the agonising death of the cross, but his last words are ‘it is finished’. 

The cross was not a tragic accident, but the fulfilment of God’s purpose to reconcile men and women to himself through the atoning death of his Son, a reality gloriously confirmed by his resurrection from the dead.But we must not rush on to Easter Day too quickly.  Today we stand at the cross with Mary and the other women, heartbroken by loss and suffering and despite the horror before their eyes, not running away. Horror is fresh in our minds too and let us not run away or deny it, but stay by the cross. We stay with Jesus, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, we share in the grief of Mary and we share in the grief of those who have been so shockingly bereaved, but as Mary was to discover, we know that this is not the end of the story.Jesus death upon the cross was not in vain. By his death, death has been destroyed. The stone rolled away and the empty tomb of Jesus assures us that death does not have the last word. 

As we think of those dear ones who died at Garissa because they were Christians, let us remember the promise of the Lord Jesus that nothing can separate them and us from his love. Above all, let us resolve today that these deaths, and those of other Kenyans who have died previously at the hands of Al Shabaab, will not be in vain. We call on the government to do all in its power to protect the lives of its citizens and we call on the world community to recognise that this latest outrage is not just an attack on Kenya, but part of an assault on world peace. The time has come for the world to unite as never before in defeating this growing menace. While governments have a vital role, even more important are the hearts and minds of ordinary people. Let us covenant together before God that we will never ever surrender our nation or our faith in Christ to those who glory in death and destruction. 

We will not be intimidated because we know and trust in the power of the cross, God’s power to forgive our sins, to turn death into the gate of glory and to make us his children for ever. Amen.