Mission Partners

Let me tell you a story

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Last time Mama Miriam, 40, was pregnant, her baby died at birth. “A” was determined this time would be different.

Every week, a dozen pregnant women gather with A and her team-mate. They talk about nutrition, foetal growth, breast feeding and other revolutionary ideas. They even practised putting condoms on cucumbers. (The bananas were too ripe). They usually finish with some stretches and A checks their blood pressures.

She noticed Mama’s blood pressure was high. “It’s happening again” said A, remembering last year’s tragedy. “You must go to the clinic as soon as possible”.

A local midwife did a quick ultra sound and estimated her pregnancy at six or seven months, and the baby only 1kg. The government clinic agreed that keeping her blood pressure down for the next two months was going to be important. “But your case is too complex for us here” they said. “You need a letter from Social Services to get free treatment at the public hospital.”

Thankfully Mama has been diligent with her documentation, and is one of the few people in our neighbourhood with an official identity card, somehow obtained for her unofficial address. She even managed to get a letter out of the local government representative to show she was ‘poor’. She remembered smugly: “He was asking me for money, because I’m not in his official area, but I just kept silent, and he gave it to me anyway.” Her own husband was ill, so she had waddled her own pregnant self to about four different public agencies on public transport getting the right signatures.

Knowing time was precious, Mama and A gathered all her documents and set out early the next morning for the Social Services office. It turned out that Social Services wasn’t at the location the clinic said it would be. So where is it? “It’s close” a bystander said. “That way I think”. If you’ve ever experienced an Asian megacity then you know how unhelpful such vague directions can be, with roads rarely signposted, buildings unnumbered, and houses and offices mashed together in an impossible pile of human enterprise.

The goose-chase that followed took them (via other loosely associated government offices) to a home for street kids and the homeless. The place was oddly empty except for a group of uniformed men hanging about smoking. A well-meaning social worker visiting from out of town took pity on this odd pair: a blustering foreigner and a heavily-pregnant, one-eyed woman from the dump. He personally escorted them in his car to the correct location, some 6km from the original destination. The office was entirely un-signposted and set back from the main road behind other buildings.

It was right on the start of lunch break. Several staff were sitting at desks staring determinedly into space. Not leaving. Not even eating. Just “on break”. Incredibly frustrating to watch! The walls were covered with notifications of missing children. Who would ever see these posters? They recognised the faces of two kids from our own neighbourhood (who, we found out later, were actually being held in a police cell for begging in front of a fancy supermarket).

Then the break was finally over, and getting the letter was surprisingly fast. They wrote the date wrong, so twinked it out and typed over it, wondering among themselves how many other letters that day they had dated incorrectly. “Just take this straight to the hospital, and they’ll take care of the rest”. Good news, finally! They returned home, exhausted but satisfied, A ignoring the neighbours tut-tutting for leaving her own baby for so long.

Mama and A made time to tackle the hospital two days later, A worried about the possibility of preeclampsia. Upon registering, they produced their precious letter. “The date’s been tampered with!” the staff informed them. “We can’t accept this!” In despair, A tried to explain that it came like that. Another staff member rescued them: “Actually you don’t need this letter at all. Your supporting documentation is sufficient.” So their well-earned letter was discarded. Good to know!

The biggest surprise was still to come, however. After a 3hr wait, Mama finally received her free consultation. “You’re dry,” the doctor declared after the ultrasound. “The water’s gone. You’re lucky you came today, because the baby needs to come out, now!” It didn’t help that A’s phone battery died, but she was able to borrow a charger from another patient and call me. The father, still unwell, visibly deflated when I informed him. He carries the burden of providing for four other children, and no doubt the grief of last year’s stillbirth. And now the prospect of a tiny prem baby added to the mix. Another of our team-mates was able to give him a lift to hospital, and his wife made sure the kids were properly fed for the next few days.

The baby was born that night by c-section at no cost to the family.* To everybody’s amazement, she was 3.2kg! A healthy weight, and breastfeeding fine. “What miracle is this?!” we all asked ourselves. And then… “how incompetent is that local midwife at reading ultrasounds?!!” (We’ve had a lot of bad experiences with her, but our neighbours keep using her).

In hindsight, Mama remembers some fluid discharge the night before, but as it didn’t come with pains, she thought nothing of it. By the time we were at hospital the baby was already in distress and would not have lived much longer, though her mother didn’t realise. Maybe the same thing happened last time. But this time, our intervention saved a life, and for that we are all so grateful to God.

The news spread in our neighbourhood. A few days later, a man stopped me on my way home from teaching English. “It’s so great what you guys did. Usually nobody offers more than a bar of soap from the nearest shop. But taking someone to hospital is no small thing.” (From our experience I have to agree). “And you care, even if they are a different religion.” he said. I tried to explain that Isa teaches us to love our neighbours as ourselves. In the current climate of fear and intolerance, it seems that more of this is what’s needed.

 

*PS In another baffling twist of bureaucracy, at the moment of birth, the baby was classed as a new patient and therefore not eligible for funding (and the mother prohibited to leave) until the correct documentation was produced. Thankfully our team-mates and the father did this part of the leg-work, visiting all the same government officials again, only this time for the baby.

Encouragement in Albania

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We had three months travelling around New Zealand at the start of the year, beginning  in Auckland and going as far south as Dunedin. We especially enjoyed getting to know our grandchildren a bit better. It was also such a pleasure to be in New Zealand when our son Shaun proposed to Tiana. They plan to get married on the January 6, so we will be making another quick trip back to New Zealand for the occasion. 

It has been very encouraging returning to our church in Tirana, Albania, after three months away. Here’s some of those encouraging things:

New people. One of the first things we noticed was quite a number of new people that weren’t coming to church when we left. One family has moved to Tirana from Berat and are now living in our area, and have joined the church. Another woman lives near the church and recently became a Christian. The thing that we noticed most about her is how hungry she is to understand the Bible.

Bible study groups. Our Bible study groups continued while we were away, and both groups finished Book 1 in the Life of Christ series we began studying with them before we left, and now they are now ready to move on to Book 2. A new Bible study group is going to begin with the new church members.

A new vision. Erion, the pastor, has been praying about a new vision to develop the main church building into a ‘community centre.’ Here in Albania there’s not a lot for young people to do, so the vision is for a centre where they can go to learn or practice English, learn a musical instrument or just to hang out together with other Christians.

Outreach to Poliçan. Erion took the men to visit Poliçan regularly while Murray was away. They continued to build relationships with the group the men were meeting with, and Erion managed to develop some other relationships as well.

Welcome to David and Anne. Soon after Féy returned, our ECM team in Albania welcomed a new family from Germany. David, Anne and Leonora stayed with us for their first month while they found and prepared an apartment. David is a psychologist and Anne a midwife. A lot of people in Albania suffer from a lack of hope, both for themselves and their country. David and Anne’s vision is to use their training in connection to the church to help to develop hope. Their desire is to invest in youth and young families to help them practically, as well as help them find a new home in Jesus. For the next year or two, their focus will be on learning Albanian as they prepare to serve here in Albania.

The backyard farm

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It is not quite June yet but the beginning of the month will be really busy with special visitors, students’ final exams and graduation, seminars and village visits.  Life rolls on, sometimes too fast to keep up with!  I’m sure many of you find it the same.

A big vote of thanks to those who prayed for rain, even though the usual rainy season (that wasn’t) was officially over. We enjoyed a full month, (mid-April – mid-May) of the beautiful stuff, and consequently, crops are thriving around most of Kondoa area. God is amazing!

Bible College, Ordinations & Visits

At Kondoa Bible College (note the updated status!), all is quiet between meals. It is Study Week. The eleven survivors of the three-year Theology certificate course are reading through notes and nervously anticipating questions. Their provincial exam papers in Old Testament, New Testament, Theology, Church History and Pastoralia have come through to Peter via the internet, complete with many mistakes which have had to be rectified. The exams run until June 2. Please pray for the students in this stressful time, and for Bishop Given as he decides on placements for them.

The six 2-year course students are now halfway through! They are a bright, enthusiastic group, even though only one has been to Secondary School. They have completed my course on Teaching Methods. Their final assignment was a 20 min teaching slot and they did really well; most of them included some form of drama which pleased me. My cousin Linley, from Christchurch, NZ, asked if I could make use of flannelgraph pictures to which I responded enthusiastically. She has been sending packages regularly through the post, and I have enjoyed working out ways to use these, especially in teaching children. The students were in awe of it!

July 16 is the date set for the ordination service, at which Peter is due to become a fully-fledged Anglican priest! We had expected that the first woman to be ordained in this Diocese would be included, but it seems that that will have to wait until next year.

As Registrar, I have to oversee all the papers set for the 2 year course and collate all marks for all students, so life is a bit chaotic at present. I have also got involved more with Mothers’ Union things. Last week we went visiting two women who had recently been bereaved, and just as we arrived I was asked to give the “word” of comfort (i.e. a short sermon!). God is proving so good though, in giving me the words to say, and it seemed to hit the spot for many of the women there!

Early this month we welcomed 11 visitors from East Tennessee: lovely people, most of whom had never before set foot in Africa. During July, a large group of secondary school students and teachers from Kent, UK, are due to arrive. And this weekend, Andrew (our vicar from Rangiora), John (a member of the parish and a technical whizz), and Steve, a vicar from the West Coast, are due to fly out to Tanzania. They will have a full-on ten days leading healing and deliverance seminars in different villages in this Diocese, as well as working out the best ways to help with building projects.

We are still waiting for Peter’s book on Grief to be finished at the publishing press. Someone is still “working” on the cover! It’s an exercise in patience.

The Farmyard

We live in a veritable farmyard. Apart from the ever-multiplying chickens and ducks, there are cows and goats, wild dogs and … snakes, two of which hoped to set up shop in our lounge. I’m thankful that Peter was around to dispose of them both times! In our garden mice, frogs, chameleons and snails (one I measured at 21cm) abound, although we haven’t seen many tortoises this year. Our cat, Kelele, spends a lot of time outside, waiting for a feast to appear, for our roof is home to pigeons, bats and lizards.

Unfortunately, a mongoose is also active in our area. It broke into the chicken coop which had housed a small brown hen. We had been gifted with her from a village visit the previous day. We came home from the College to find it hacked to death and gutted. We were quite upset by that.

Peter had an unusual experience the other day. There are nests of swifts in our carport. Peter, just walking through it, realised he had, literally, “a bird in the hand”. It had just flown into his relaxed hand, and almost as suddenly, with a swoosh, flew out again!

NGO part 2 – Why all the trainings?

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Three of our staff came into our office after a week long Malaria training. After they raved about how wonderful the training was, I asked them a question. “What is one thing you are going to change, or improve at your Health Center after the training?” Even after prompting and trying to give them ideas, we couldn’t come up with anything. Not one thing. Eight of our staff were there for a week. 320 working hours. Our staff already treat malaria really well. They didn’t need a training on malaria.

The problem

Of all the issues I’ve had with NGOs, meetings and ‘trainings’ is the issue which which has driven me the most crazy, and provided the most hilarity. Don’t get me wrong – trainings can be a core part of NGO work, I run them myself! Just last week Marie Stopes needed to teach our staff how to insert family planning methods, and it worked really well. Often though trainings are a colossal waste of money and time, and more importantly devalue learning by putting barriers, or distractions in the way. I think this is so important, I’ve created my own ridiculous jargon phrase ‘learning distraction’ to emphasise the point. Maybe it can be new NGO speak!

I have so many problems with trainings and meetings, but I’ll limit myself to 7, no… 8.

1) Allowances for participants. Allowances for transport, accommodation, day allowances. ‘Big men’ turn up for 30 minutes to get a wad of cash, reinforcing harmful cultural stereotypes. As well as wasted money, it’s a learning distraction. How can you concentrate on learning when you are waiting for more money than you have seen in weeks? Friends have told me that they sit there all day planning how to spend their 50,000. At one meeting there was nearly a riot when allowances were less than expected. 30 minutes was spent discussing the situation. It was telling when a participant said “this training will be useless if we are not facilitated properly.” In the minds of the participants, I think he was right. At another one day meeting, I was handed 150,000 in allowances, plus a 8 gig pen drive “from the American People.” All 40 of us were. You do the math.

2) Lack of important and practical material taught in effective ways. Material should be evidenced based, with experts, or at least people knowledgeable in their field teaching new information or skills. Models and frameworks are tossed into the ether, never to be used again. Material is often not taught in effective ways that will be practically useful. Much time is also wasted on inefficient group work, which is often a mix of sharing good ideas which most people already know, and reinforcement of bad ones. I’m all for participation, but it needs to be well thought through.

3) General Opulence. Meetings are held in the fanciest hotels. Food is fancier than local wedding food. Everyone is given wee books and pens (and sometimes pen drives!). Bottled water is given on demand. This makes trainings and meetings into a status symbol and I think contributes to a space where people are trying to impress each other, rather than learn together. A huge learning distraction.

4) Meaninglessness of resolutions and action points made. Of the 10 or so meetings/trainings I’ve been to, almost none of the resolutions made have been carried out. So far I’ve been elected onto 3 follow up ‘committees’ that have never met, and never will.

5) Paying the people organising the meeting extra money on top of their salary. Why do you pay staff extra to do something that should be part of their regular job? This just encourages NGO staff to hold unnecessary trainings to fill out their wallets as well as their time.

6) Wasted person hours. Half a days material covered in 2 days. Two days material covered in a week. For our malaria meeting 320 hours of quality patient care were taken from us, for next to nothing gained.

7) Unnecessary attendees. People who only speak Acholi at English meetings (happens at most meetings I’ve been to). Random local government officials who have nothing to do with what’s being discussed. ‘Big Men/Women’ who hijack the meeting with speeches and other agendas.  Having unnecessary attendees present causes random off-topic discussions bringing yet another learning distraction.

8) Use of unhelpful NGO jargon, which muddy the waters and provide yet another learning distraction. Much NGO speak has become a quagmire. People all know vaguely what the word means without being able to pin it down. There is also straight confusion, where the speaker means one thing, and the listener hears another. ‘Volunteer’ for example to the western ear means working for no pay out of the goodness of you heart, while to a local listener can mean quite a well paid job! Here’s my NGO-Speak Bingo game I use at meetings to entertain myself. I’ll generally win within the first 30 minutes of the meeting.  I’m not the only one who thinks this is ridiculous.

NGO Bingo Facilitation Mobilisation Implementation Empowerment/Empowering Sensitisation Capacity Building Stakeholders Governance Girl Child Scaling Or Scale up ‘Volunteer’ Accountability ‘The field’ Gender Balance Resilience High-Impact or Impact

 

Solutions

Lacor Hospital (the biggest mission hospital in Uganda) has a great solution. They don’t let any staff go to trainings and meetings unless they absolutely have to. And it works really well. When I asked a hospital boss why they don’t allow their staff to go, he said. “Trainings are usually 100% useless and they waste time. Why should our staff go?”

When we do hold trainings, here’s 8 ways to make them better

Don’t give allowances. The exception perhaps, is an actual refund of public transport costs for people who don’t live in town. If you’re doing a training in the village, people already live there. If you are training educated people, most of them live in town so no transport is needed Hold a lot less trainings. Many don’t need to happen. A classic category which are often unnecessary are “stakeholder” meetings, where the NGO invites government officials, religious leaders, community members etc. to tell them about the project in their neighbourhood. They achieve very little and can even add barriers when officials inevitably suggest more meetings, or use the opportunity to add unnecessary bureaucracy to the project. I was really impressed that a hundred-million dollar maternity project we’re working with had zero stakeholder meetings. They talked with us, trained our nurses and then started. Invite only people that are going to benefit directly. Target carefully. Don’t invite people who only speak Acholi if you are going to hold the training in English. Don’t invite big people just for the sake of it. Invite people who will be keen to learn, and have a lot to gain. Get Experts and top quality presenters to take sessions where you don’t have the expertise. Spend your money here, rather than on other areas of the training. Don’t just get your NGO staff to cover topics that they are not experts in. If you’re going to do it, do it properly. Hold meetings and trainings in more austere locations. The District Council hall in Gulu costs only 10,000 to hire. Many trainings and meetings could be squeezed into NGO offices. Hold shorter trainings. Can you do this in one day rather than two? What material is less important that you can cut? Can you remove the morning or afternoon tea break? Serve Beans and Greens with Posho and Rice for lunch. Why should every meeting have 2 kinds of meat? Make the thing less about the lunch and more about the learning. People will still appreciate a free lunch (eventually, after they get over the meatless disappointment J). Ban the Jargon words (start with the bingo table) which can’t be used by trainers or participants. Be specific, use real life examples. Give people a list of words at the start of the training that they aren’t allowed to use. Make it fun by rewarding people who notice when the banned words are used.

NGOs part 1 – Pay your workers less

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I don’t usually preface, but in this case it may help people dislike me less. I believe that NGOs go about much of their work the wrong way in Northern Uganda, to the point where some of them may do more harm than good. I’m writing a series of blogs on where I think NGOs are going wrong, and how they could fix it. These here are opinions. Informed opinions after 4 years operating amongst NGOs in Northern Uganda, but opinions only.

Abandon Ship

Last year, one of our best nurses left one of our rural health centers. With no warning and without telling anyone. It was the 3rd nurse that year who left for an NGO job. We rushed to replace him, but it put the only remaining nurse there under a lot of stress, and I’m sure patients weren’t cared for as well in the meantime. Our replacement wasn’t as good. I didn’t hear the nurse who left again until 6 months later, last week. He came to apologise for leaving abruptly. He said he felt really bad about it, that he had let his fellow staff and the patients down. He’s a great guy and it was good to catch up and reconcile everything. When I asked him why he left for the NGO job, he looked at me as if it was a stupid question.

“The money was too much, of course” Too Much Money?

So why is it bad to pay Ugandans a lot of money in NGO jobs? Surely you pay them as much as you can afford to help them and their families get by in a poor country. Unfortunately, its not that simple. There are at least 3 enormous negative effects of high NGO salaries.

1) High quality workers get lured out of sustainable, productive service provision jobs (health work, business, teaching etc.) and into the NGO sector. It’s a local brain drain of epic proportions. In one case this became so extreme that the run-down government hospital wrote to anNGO asking them to stop stealing their nurses! Most of the best minds should be innovating and leading the society from institutions and businesses that will continue serving people indefinitely. Instead the NGO sector is overloaded with the best educated and most capable, while the cogs which drive sustainable progress creak and come to a halt.

2) The distraction of huge NGO salaries means that workers don’t concentrate and get stuck into their current jobs. Many workers have a legitimate ‘grass is greener’ syndrome. People are ever on the look out for that ‘Golden Goose’ job which pays 2 or 3 times as much, even if the NGO job only lasts 6 months. You wouldn’t believe how much time and effort local people spend thinking about and applying for NGO jobs rather than getting on with their current work.

3) High NGO salaries wreck the aspirations of young people and skew the entire education system. When you have a deep, honest conversation with people at university about what they want to do, very few have serious aspirations to help their country, or bring people out of poverty. What they really want is a cushy, high paying NGO job. People should have a heart to start productive businesses, teach at schools, be nurses at hospitals. To work within the system to create lasting change. When we advertised for a job managing our Anglican church health centers, I was expecting degrees in public health, or at least administration. But no, over half of the 80 applicants had a degree in “development studies”. What even is that degree? A ticket in the lottery for a bloated NGO job. Another phenomenon is that many people want to be ‘drivers’ so they  earn more than teachers or nurses by driving NGO workers around. Bizarre.

So why do NGOs pay too much? From talking to a bunch of people about it, these are some of the reasons (again add your own!)

1) The donors back home just don’t understand local salaries 2) NGOs have a budget which they need to spend, and salaries is a way of spending it. 3) NGOs rely on local NGO workers to suggest/decide on salaries – perpetuating the cycle 4) Wanting the best worker possible for their job (not OK, see below) 5) Wanting pay equity between local and Ex-pats (White guilt plus healthy instinct)

The Solution

The good news is that we can solve this problem almost overnight! Here’s how.

Pay the market rate for your staff. Find out what the local market rate is for teachers, nurses, lawyers or whoever else you hire. Ask for the salaries for similar positions among business people, government and private not for profit enterprises (Church Run) and add no more than 10% to that. Not pay Ex-pats much more than you pay locals. Wanting equity between local and expat workers is fantastic, but the solution is not to increase the local salary, but lower the Ex-pat’s! This reduces the tension to have to pay locals ludicrous salaries to match. If Expat NGO workers can’t handle being here on close to local salaries, then I don’t believe they should be here. It should be a sacrifice to work a place like Norther Uganda, a big one. Awesome hard working, caring Ex-pats will still come work for your NGO, even if they are paid less. Be prepared to not hire the ‘best of the best’ with a reduced salary. Why should NGOs get to hire better workers than the government, buisnesses, or mission hospitals? Realise that your work is not usually more important than what everyone else is doing. Be comfortable with hiring good workers, even if they aren’t the best. You’ll still get good workers, don’t worry!

Then spend the money you save on salaries on…. whatever you think is best! Hire an extra worker, sponsor more kids to school, drill more boreholes. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Feel free to disagree, comment, agree, ask questions, disagree or whatever you please.

Two Camps

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I want to thank God and thank you for your prayer and support that came in for both our recent camps. They were amazing! About 70 children attended our Hebron Children’s Camp, and right from the start there was a sense of peace and happiness! (I can assure you this doesn’t always happen!).

When I looked at the food scrap bucket the first night, it was totally empty. They ate everything! When they had games, they were all so happy. They didn’t mind who won or who lost! (I can assure you this does not always happen!).

This year about 40 of those who came were first-time campers and they all made a commitment to Jesus. About 30 were campers who had been before, and they made renewed commitments. God touched everybody as we had prayed. I was able to ask a few children after the camp’s closing about their experience – they had enjoyed everything. One older girl said God showed her to be more obedient at home – the stories were on Joseph. Another girl said that God had healed her of a heart condition. A smaller boy said God had changed his life, but he could not explain in what way! I saw a pastor’s son (he’s about 11) sitting at the back during Holy Spirit night and explaining to another boy exactly what was going on. His parents were so pleased to hear about that later.

We have just finished the camp for disabled people as well. Probably about 60 came. It was a bit quiet to start with, partly because we had been hoping for more people to come. But on the next day, wow what a change. It was lovely to see the people with disabilities feeling free to be themselves and share with each other what is on their hearts. They had so much fun and laughter too. The thalidomide boy with no lower arms or lower legs could run. A wheelchair user man was not embarrassed to crawl to the swimming pool – he enjoyed it so much. One woman shared later that she knew about this camp but felt it was beneath her to attend. But she came and and so enjoyed it and was refreshed spiritually too.

 

More than the worst thing we’ve done

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“You have to wash! Look at you! I’ll tell the school matron to beat you if you don’t wash!” Kenneth’s mum scolds him, inspecting his uniform and behind his ears. Its visiting day at Gulu Primary Boarding school.

Its true, Kenneth is looking a bit grubby. But he isn’t roaming the streets stealing and setting fire to grass-thatched huts. And in front of us sits a little report card full of top marks, indicating he is currently placed 4th out of over a hundred students in his class.

While his Mum is over-fixated on his messy appearance, she brought him a soda and his favorite meal: fish and rice. I brought a big box of biscuits and bananas. In the shade of a red flowering tree, he reads to us from an English story book, perfectly. As always, he is quiet. But he is smiling a lot. It’s a beautiful day, in lots of ways.

Backstory

For those who haven’t heard this story, about a year ago, we woke up to find our grass-thatched hut roof ablaze with fire. When I screamed, neighbours came sprinting with basins and jerrycans of water (no taps, no hoses!). Miraculously, Lacor fire truck arrived quickly to further douse the flames. Within an hour, it was all over and we were left amongst our sodden, ashy but intact home feeling shocked but grateful. Our initial suspicion turned out to be correct: this was the work of an 11-year-old neighbourhood kid, Kenneth.

Why? Kenneth’s mother and our close neighbor Lucy were caught up in a complicated family feud to which we were completely oblivious. Two weeks prior, we found smoke billowing out of Lucy’s window, and discovered her bed, piled with her possessions, blazing. At the time Lucy (who has sickle cell disease) was on oxygen in hospital. So it was us who confusedly marched the culprit, wee Kenneth, to the police. After this we were added to his enemy list. Two weeks later again, our roof was burning

By the day of his hearing in court, we’d made up our minds. Drop the charges, bring him back home. My friend Christo, a counsellor, agreed I could bring Kenneth once a week for sessions. He joined our after-school phonics class for neighbouring kids. Nick’s parents generously offered to sponsor Kenneth to go to boarding school, which served the double purpose of removing him from a chaotic, harmful home environment and getting him back in school. Kenneth slowly started to unfurl, the depth of his eyes slowly started to wake up.

We are not heroes.

The risk in this story is that we make ourselves the heroes. The white saviours who found the black miscreant child a sponsor to school and become his patrons.

Please allow me to dissolve the hero narrative for you:

Mercy and reconciliation was not our first response… remember, we were the ones who marched Kenneth to a police station after burning Lucy’s bed, where he spent two nights alone in a cell. It wasn’t even our second response. Post-igniting our hut, we took him straight back to police and followed up to ensure he was held in the youth remand home until his charges could be heard, which is a horrible place. Mercy is easier when you have resources. Spending time together and including him in our class reconciled us with Kenneth. But we also had the social capital to find him a sponsor for school. This guaranteed goodwill and a new start with Kenneth’s mum, who I believe was the embittered brains behind the arsons all along. Most people here can’t summon this kind of help. Long term, the forgiveness approach has a higher probability of turning out better for us as well as Kenneth. Our action was very pragmatic! Kenneth was clearly capable of revenge. Leaving him to Uganda’s criminal justice system for a year or so could keep us safe temporarily, but what could he do upon release?

Now that we’ve cleared that up, this story has two major points.

Point 1: Non-complementary behaviour (aka, ‘love your enemies’) actually works

A group of friends sat around on a lazy summer night, drinking wine and eating cheese. Out of the blue, a guy with a gun appears, highly agitated, demanding cash and threatening to shoot. Except no on had any money. What do you do? Well, it was a true story. And in that moment, one of the cheese-eaters offers the guy a glass of wine. And the script gets flipped. They humanize him, he takes the wine. They all drink, talk, eventually he leaves.

It’s a true story, check it out on Invisibilia podcast. Offering wine to your gun wielding assailant is an example of non-complementary behavior, which is essentially responding to hatred/violence with an opposite approach, such as kindness. Again and again, life shows us that non-complementary behavior can ‘flip the script,’ and transform relationships. I believe this concept was first coined by Jesus… ‘love your enemies.’

The most awesome story in this episode is about a small Danish town’s approach to terrorism prevention. Police noticed a pattern of missing young men – 34 guys who left for Syria, responding to a call by ISIS to come build the Islamic State. They didn’t close their borders, declare those who left ‘enemies of the state,’ or make arrests upon their return. Instead, when they came back they invited them to have tea. They help them to enrol in courses, find jobs, find accommodation, even get medical treatment for bullet wounds. Most importantly, they offered them a mentor, and made sure they felt like they belonged in Denmark. It worked. Incredibly, the returnees they invited came, as did over 300 other ‘potential radicals.’

Whether it’s in the realm of personal interactions or national policy, the Jesus-logic ‘love your enemies’ actually works on a deep-principle-of-the-universe level. Surprisingly often, the guy with the gun picks up the wine glass and the kid who lit your roof on fire becomes a regular visitor, and wannabe-terrorists decide they would rather be proud Danish citizens. Obviously it doesn’t always go that way. But respond with love and it becomes a possibility, and you will expose hatred for what it is and at least contain its spread. Match the antagonism and you step into the cycle of escalation, retaliation and alienation. The last couple of decades of American foreign policy makes that pretty clear.

Point 2: “Each of us are more than the worst thing we have ever done”

– Bryan Stevenson, death-row lawyer, author of ‘Just Mercy’

Stevenson describes a man in his last few hours before execution who came to him and said, ‘this has been such as strange day. All day, guards asked me how they could help me, what meals I would like, whether I needed stamps to send last letters.’ The man continued, “more people have said, ‘What can I do to help you?’ in the last 14 hours of my life than ever did in the first 19 years.” Bryan wrote, “All I could think was… Where were they when you were 3 years old being abused? … Where were they when you were a teenager and you were homeless and struggling with drug addiction?”

When I first met Kenneth, people told me he was bad news, a hopeless criminal. When I visited him in the remand home, I started to piece together his story. He was born in a time of war. After his father died, he was expelled from home whenever his mother’s mental health tipped over the edge. His brothers taught him to steal to survive. Slowly, the real Kenneth is emerging. He is super intelligent, inquisitive, shy, but warm.

Each of us are more than the worst thing we have ever done.

Jesus specialised in this. When a corrupt official, a tax collector for the Romans climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus passing, he visited the man at his home. The man turned his life upside down to join Jesus’s movement and paid back all the people he had cheated double. When Jesus saw a group about to stone a woman for cheating on her husband, he challenged them, ‘let the one who has never done anything wrong throw the first stone.’ They left, and he stayed to talk to her. Jesus engaged with the people everyone else despised or ignored, he understood their full story, and reclaimed their humanity. Prostitutes, self-righteous religious leaders, the poorest of the poor, the sick, prisoners.

To sign off…

I’d like to share that Kenneth just finished reading his very first chapter book. It was Fantastic Mr. Fox. He devoured it in one day, and actually understood it. Here in Uganda, that’s a miracle. We are going to watch the movie together when school breaks for holidays next week. Imagine if he was still in Gulu’s youth prison and we all missed out on all this life.

Snake-o-clock

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It is the time of year for snakes!

I was off to babysit some friends’ boys for the morning. As I pulled up to their house I was greeted with cries of “Do ya wanna see our snake?” Well I knew they used to have a pet snake but this was a whole different kind… The poisonous kind… Luckily it was already dead, ‘cos that was one long snake and I was glad it had already been given the death blow before I was in charge! But of course once the danger was gone I was happy to pose for a photo as if I was the brave dispatcher.

Last week David, one of my pharmacy technicians was leaving the pharmacy on his way to lunch and saw something slithering across the concrete and went to investigate. In the corner of the stones that surround the garden area was an Echis (the deadly snake that we had trouble getting anti-venom for when the hospital opened). There were a whole row of patients waiting for their medicines outside the Pharmacy only a meter away, totally unaware that this deadly creature had crept up behind them. David poked his head in the Pharmacy window and asked for something to kill a snake and we gave him the only thing that we thought would work, a short square stick of wood that holds the window shut at night. With a few deft blows the snake was mortally wounded and writhing on the ground and David was on his way to lunch again (after I made him bleach the “Snake Killer” stick).

 

Here’s the complete image from above:

21 Days

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A few weeks ago Miriam Tillman shared that the Hospital of Hope was once again facing Lassa Fever season in northern Togo. They were going to remain on high alert until they hadn’t seen any new cases for 21 days. She wrote the following update last Thursday.

We finally reached day 21 but are holding our breath… Lassa Fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness that is endemic in many countries around West Africa but was not believed to be in Togo until last year. One of our Missionaries became sick and died from an undiagnosed disease but it was not until a second Missionary got sick that we found out they both had Lassa Fever. Last year these were the only two cases that were discovered in Togo.

In February this year, as I was preparing to return back from furlough in New Zealand, I found out that our hospital was treating a patient with Lassa who had arrived from a neighbouring country. Since then the Hospital of Hope has treated five Lassa Fever patients from Togo and the surrounding countries. We are taking precautions to limit the risk of exposure to our team and medical staff. Until further notice we are limiting our clinic services to follow-up and urgent cases. We are also washing our hands with bleach water when we return from market or visiting and not meeting in large groups (which restricts playing sports and going to church). We will remain on high alert until we have not seen or heard of any new cases for 21 days.

Which brings us to today… day 21… Unfortunately we had a patient die over the weekend who is a potential Lassa Fever patient and so we must wait until the blood test results come back from Lomé tomorrow before we can know if we are at day 2 or 22.

 

Unfortunately the tests confirmed that the patient had Lassa, meaning they were at day 2. Please pray that no further cases will occur so that the hospital can resume it’s normal functioning as soon as possible.

The playground

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Our play equipment in our Junior Playpark had really become old and shabby and needed replacing. Last year we were given a whole set of play equipment (like a McDonalds playground) which had hardly been used. The challenge was, how would we get it it out of the building it was in and out of the tiny streets of an old part of Manila?

Well, someone lent us a six wheeler truck and with six men we spent the whole day dismantling, loading, travelling and then finally unloading it back here. That involved 3 hours of taking it apart, carrying each part through double doors, down steps, into a yard and heaving them onto the truck – by the end the truck was completely filled! 

The next challenge was how to erect this indoor equipment outdoors, but in the shade so it’ll be nice and airy (and beyond the access of frogs and cats!). Our school PTA President and her committee got behind the project and raised money for roofing to install it outside in the Junior Play-park. All this week our maintenance men and caretakers have been busy fitting all the bits together again. It was quite the puzzle, but they’ve succeeded and it looks good. Praise God!! Engineer Daniel, husband of the PTA President, is organising his workmen for free to put up the roofing and fencing and gate. 

Isn’t that just like God! He wants to bless us! We are his children! We didn’t even pray for this, but he knew we needed it and where it was, sitting doing nothing, just gathering dust. Now it’s ours and ready for the kids to enjoy.