Friday, March 27, 2009

The War Zone

It's kind of funny, and it kind of sucks.

Yesterday, I was writing this assignment. I wrote about Father Jerry, the same one I blogged about. I started writing words about how it's easy to live simply for a couple months while you're an expatriate living abroad, with your real life in storage back home safe and sound and the same. Then I wrote "But to live simply back home, to make your whole life mission, that's scary."

I'm coming home. Wednesday, May 6th at 8:25 pm. In five weeks.

I was going to go to Gulu, work with a church, live with awesome friends. I would learn a whole lot from going to the north, maybe even more than if I come home. But it would be easier. And it would be procrastinating on changing my life back home. Coming home, it's scarier to me than going to the war zone, because it's my own personal war zone. If I fail to live differently at home, than it was all for nothing, coming here for all I learned I didn't really learn anything. Knowledge is worthless if you don't act on it, right?

So. I'm coming home to the war zone. I'm looking for jobs on Craigslist, and I'm going to reconnect with the refugee organization. I'm gonna try to be a true friend and a true daughter and a true sister. I'm gonna look for Jesus in everyday working life, and not just in Africa. And that's where you guys come in. Cuz I need your help.  I came to Uganda to learn about the war and how to bring peace, but in the process I found out that I still need to learn how to have peace in my own life in my own relationships. Like with you. And with Jesus.

So I'm coming home. In a little over a month. And I'm going to try to be your true friend/sister/daughter/lover/beloved. Be patient with me, I'm gonna be in a little over my head. It's going to be a war zone. Hold me to the promise to fight. Because otherwise all of this was just so many words, broken promises and youthful idealism. But I think these words can be true. I think compassion can be a way of life in the war zone.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Father Jerry

Friday night before dinner Father Jerry drove to the compound we were staying in to speak with us. He drove to us from Kampala, where he had been taking weekend classes for a masters degree. He didn't look like a Father. He had on a black button-up with an open collar – although he was a man of the collar. He told us stories.

She lives in his parish. She lost her mother to AIDS. She's the oldest, so now she's in charge of the family, which includes grandmother. Grandmother needs medicine. I already forget if she has AIDS, too, but the label shouldn't matter anyways. Jennifer can't afford to go to school, though her younger siblings are able to, because of Jennifer. Her grandmother's still alive because of Jennifer. Jennifer sells her body to men in the community so that her grandmother can live and her siblings can go to school.

The next one…I have forgotten her name. I'm ashamed.
She would walk to see Father Jerry, she would come to him crying. She was dying. She had AIDS. Father Jerry would sit with her as she cried. He went to the States, and spoke at a church, and the church gave him a suitcase of things to bring back to her, including a doll. They gave him money for this girl, whose name I cannot remember. The night he told us her story, he had only just returned the week before. The day before he spoke with us, she died.

Margaret could have easily been a Jennifer. She could have been the girl whose name I have forgotten. But money came in time for her. She stayed in school, and she is in secondary school right now. We don't know her future, but her present is happy.

His Car
A British organization, I believe it was, gave Father Jerry a car. He's been able to travel much more easily to the several churches in his parish. He's been able to take countless people to the hospital, especially children. Many lives have been saved because of that car. Two lives were lost in that car. Two children, in their mother's arms. They died on the way to the hospital.

Father Jerry asked us that night if God is fair. It's the first time really I've heard a church leader here be willing to ask a difficult question and let the question hang there without giving an answer. Father Jerry remembers the name of the one I have forgotten. He had the opportunity to go to America and get his masters degree. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. But he decided he had to stay here in his community to be Present with them, so that girls like the one whose name I cannot remember would have someone to cry with her, and someone to remember her name.

Sunday we visited one of his parish churches. He preached. He prayed, face next to the goblet, over the communion. And he smiled. And he danced. And he encouraged the people. He was wearing his collar, but we already knew he was a man of the collar.

Luweero and Labels

This weekend we traveled to Luweero to learn about AIDS. A certain family has spent the last several years creating a program to meet the needs of AIDS victims. That family has each member contribute 10% of its income for the program, which provides food for six families. Once a week all the children come to their center and play games, talk, have bible study. Its called the Mirembe Orphans and Vulnerable Children Service Centre, and it's about as grassroots as it can get. AIDS is this huge issue that gets huge concerts and huge celebrities. But this family…they're paying to feed six families and they're playing with kids. Local children are also invited, so it's not just the "AIDS kids." When we were there, we didn't know who was who. And it didn't matter. No labels. Because labels suck. One of my pet peeves is labeling. Yet I do it all the time. And you have to, you think in labels, categories.

I almost got to go to the north this weekend with a Pastor Steven, to Arua district which is along the DR Congo border. It didn't work out, but I won't forget the conversation we had in preparation. He told me that in the rural areas, people might assume I'm Episcopal since I'm American, and think that I would be teaching homosexuality. Labels. In Luweero we met Bishop Rt. Rev. Evans M. Kisekka, who oversaw several Episcopal turned Anglican churches in California, that asked him for permission to become part of the diocese of Luweero after rejecting the Episcopal admittance of homosexuality. Yesterday in law class my friend Rob, who's Episcopal, did a presentation on homosexuality and argued that Jesus' message was peace and love, not condemnation. My Ugandan friends argued that if you blur the line here, soon thieves will justify themselves, that two cities were destroyed for homosexuality in the Bible (which isn't quite true), and that it's wrong the way school boys will get "sugar daddies" to provide their school fees (which I accept). I realized that they're coming from a very different place, though probably not as different as I'd like. When my Ugandan friend purposefully antagonized Rob, and then whispered to me about how fun it is to do so, I did have to laugh, but I was also sad.

Sometimes, labels are just a tool of the powerful to score points and to marginalize. But partly, labels are necessary to distinguish right from wrong. But even then it doesn't really matter, if there's not love. I watched Sometimes in April yesterday, about the Rwandan genocide. Amazing movie. There's this scene of someone watching tv as a bureaucrat stumbles over trying to call it acts of genocide, but not actual genocide. Labels stop to matter in finding right and wrong, because if there was love you wouldn't need a label to make yourself do something. A child doesn't need to be an AIDS orphan for you to help them if there's love. Murder doesn't need to be genocide for you to stop it if there's love. And someone with relationship drama doesn't need to be homosexual for you to listen if there's love.

Labels are important to identify distinctions, but they can also be perverted to create false distinctions where none should exist. I think everyone agrees on that. It's just making the distinction between the two where everybody seems to lose the love a lot of the time. Self included.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Scene 1
[Saturday morning 8:30 AM at Uganda Christian University. Far shot as Geoff and Sarah step onto the track field for a run. Geoff nods to a Ugandan friend walking up to them.]
Janai: [smiling, still a small distance away and walking] I want to ask you some questions about faith!

Scene 2
[Inside classroom looking out over track field. Teacher's voice slowly becomes recognizable. Clock reads 9:30 AM. Pinky, Janai's friend, has been looking out the window, wondering when these three will stop walking around the track. She watches them take turns gestulating wildly and hopping around. She laughs. When the teacher looks over she smiles innocently, and settles further into her seat.]

Scene 3
[10:30 am short view from Sarah and Janai still walking, them foreground, Geoff sitting talking with another Ugandan background. Off-screen voice calls out, wide shot of them and distantly on the hill overlooking track a figure in a red shirt]
Martin: [astounded, teasing] Janai! You're still walking? You're late!
Janai: What do you mean? What time is it?
Martin: It's already 10:30!
Janai: Ah! Hey. [grabs Sarah's arm] I've got to child rehabilitation. Want to come?
Sarah: [surprised, curious] Uh…sure, yeah! [pause] What's that?

Turns out that means going to a children's home to sing and dance, talk about a bible lesson and play soccer. With a cell group from the Kampala Pentecostal Church. Turns out that deciding to go wake up early to eat breakfast and run with Geoff cuz we were both feeling distant from God and people means meeting a girl who wants to talk about God and people, who wants a sign from God but then looks at the trees and sees, a girl who happens to be from Gulu and goes to the church when she's there I've been asking God if I should volunteer with, whose name happens to not be her real name but the name she got when she came to Christ after growing up Muslim a name that happens to mean God hears, a girl who happens to be an answer to prayers, though I'm still not sure what the answer is.

Friday all the local primary schools came to that same track for competitions. I had run the day before, and was reminded of how much I love to run, so it was heaven to be around so many young cheering, singing, laughing young people. Especially young people in pink and blue and red and yellow uniforms.. Actually, that's partly why we decided to go running Saturday.

This race started, and right away it was cool to see this kid in a red shirt and black sweat band and no shoes take the lead. They were running, and we were thinking wow they're going pretty fast maybe it's a 400, or 440, or whatever this track is cuz it's bigger than normal. But then they went for a second lap and we figured okay an 880. That second lap the kid who'd been keeping up with the one in the red shirt had to stop and sit down. By the eighth lap we'd lost count, and about five kids had started taking turns trying to catch up and pass the boy in the red shirt, including a boy in a ripped wife beater, hawaiin shorts and boots. But that kid just kept running. And you know what? That kid kept running for all of it. Every single one of the total 25 laps. Smiling every once in a while at his cheering friends with a flash of white teeth. He had ran a 10 K, over 6 miles. A kid in primary school, so at the very oldest maybe 15. Insane.

I got a picture of him. His name's Rashid. He's the one on the right. In the red.

I was walking home really fast Saturday, passing people right and left. But there was one guy I hadn't passed yet on the winding village path. I wanted to. I guess Rashid inspired me. Anyways, if I'm not playing the let's pass everyone it's a race game, I'm playing the let's smile at everyone and see what they do game. Some days, I play both. So I smiled as I started to pass him. But then he smiled back, and asked how I was. So I quit playing games, and we started talking. Half an hour later we were talking still, but now we were talking about how the media only shows the starving Africans, but not the Africans leading good work in their communities. Robert already knew I'm taking development studies. I asked him what he does. He owns a non-governmental organization and does community development. We kept walking and talking until we got to my road. It turns out he was going to visit his mother. Who also turns out to be my neighbor.

And I almost just passed him up.

Lesson learned? Play games until someone plays with you. Then stop playing games.

And I still don't trust myself. I'm really struggling to have patience. With myself. With other students. With miscommunications. With sitting in questions. It scares me, because when you lose patience it's cuz you don't love enough to suffer. Patience is long-suffering, and it's a choice, like running every lap even when it hurts. Love is very intentional. It's a choice. Lately, it's been a really difficult choice. Pray, please.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

sit in THAT!

"…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." – "Letters to a Young Poet," Rilke.


Apparently the VMAT2 gene is a genetic explanation for human spirituality: "people are, essentially, hardwired to seek a 'higher power'" (Sojourners, "Genetics, Gender and God"). I wanted just to post this cuz it made me sit and go huh how about that. But in sitting I'm scared people will jump up on it to defend or attack God. But I'd prefer it if instead of saying one person's religion is a crutch or another's a lie, we realized everybody, religious or not, has a pair of glasses they're trying to understand the world through. Some people try to keep them clean, some don't. Some take the easy answers, some don't, whether you're religious or not. But sitting in the question always gets a better answer in the end.


Relient K says the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair. If life were "fair" it'd be black and white and eye for an eye and, thanks Gandhi, we'd all be blind. I love that about grace, that there's mercy instead of judgment and life instead of condemnation. But there's something I still haven't figured out. If God is the lion pursuing us and God always gets what he pursues, then why would he pursue one person who doesn't deserve him, but not the other, if he loves them all? Unless he does, and he always gets what he pursues, and so nobody goes to hell. Which sounds rather nice. Until Hitler's in heaven. And I don't know maybe he is, but that's hard to believe. Or does God simply not always get what he wants? But if he tries sometimes he just might find he gets what he needs? Heh heh. Rolling Stones. Heh. Seriously, though, I could accept that if he wants all to respond to him with love but not all do and he gave us free will. But does an all-powerful God create a world where he can't always get what he wants? I don't know.

People make it out that if you think in black and white then you're stupid. But if you mess the two together too much then all you think in is grey gray where you can't even agree on how to spell a word.  And then "fair," "just," and "good" mean whatever you want and Hitler was mature for realizing that all's "fair" in love and war, and that sometimes there are simply costs. And that's not good. But at the same time, it seems like there really are costs. But how much is too much? I don't know.

Why did Diedrich Bonhoeffer think God created a world in which man would have to sin personally to do what's right publicly? Why do we accept that division between private righteousness (read: right relationships) and public justice (read: right relationships).
People admire Bonhoeffer. I admire Bonhoeffer. He was planning to kill a man. But it was Hitler. And if there's one thing I learned in high school, it's that Hitler was a bad man. A very bad man. We make it black and white. Hitler bad. Bonhoeffer good. And then the cost's okay. But Bonhoeffer had a whole lot of grey gray he was dealing with.


I sang Lilyannie to sleep with the same lullabies my mom sung me to sleep, telling her how there's no one else in the world like her who thinks or acts or smiles like her. If I really believe that about every person, then I don't want to use any cheap answers to justify anyone's life or death.

My cousin-brother Michael says God is very funny. He says sometimes he doesn't know why God made him. Because Michael's had a tough life. And honestly I don't want to tell his story right now cuz he's Michael my cousin-brother and that's what's most important. But he thinks God is very funny. And I agree.

My white Macbook has definitely been to Africa. It made me happy, because a good bit of the dirt came from Lilyannie, and so I thought it'd be a constant reminder of her when I went home. I thought about how just like my muzungu computer's going to take pieces of Africa back with it and be a muzungu+ computer, so would I be a muzungu+. But then today I was able to clean some of the dirt off. It's like when you think you have a tan and then you take a shower. I wonder how much of Africa is going to come off of me when I go home. I wonder who I'll forget. I'm scared.


A brother told me I should ask God my questions, and wait for him to answer. So that's what I'm trying to do. I didn't really share these questions for you to give me an answer. I'm just trying to practice transparency.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bring it On: Second State of the Sarah

I'm listening to I'mma Shine by YoungBloodZ right now. That assertion I'm gonna shine. The instrumental that backs it up makes you believe it's true.

And you know there's been some days this month when I really haven't felt that way. There's been days reading this book The White Man's Burden that's busting on the West for thinking that they can just impose some foreign solution on situations they don't know anything about that I think I must be so arrogant for thinking I can help. There's been days where I've felt like I don't know why I'm here I shouldn't be here I don't belong here. And I don't. But there's other days when that's cool and I kind of do belong. There's been some nights when I'm afraid that I follow a religion that has done a lot of harm and hating. And I do. But there's other nights when that's cool and I see I follow a religion that has done a lot of loving, too. There's been days when I read books like Girl Soldier and I struggle cuz the Sunday School answers to suffering sound trite. But there's days when I read Bruchko and suffering isn't a question but an answer. There's been days when I've wrestled with if I'm a Christian or if others would say I'm a Christian cuz there's a lot I thought Christ was that's he's not. But there's been days though when I realize that's okay to wrestle with. There's been days when I'm reading the Bible and I just have to shut it because I don't understand and it makes me upset. But there's days when I'm thinking bible verses to myself in my head and it's true and I know it. There's been days when I feel lost, but there's been days when I feel found.

You know what? Where is the Love by Black Eyed Peas just came up again on iTunes. I'm still having a hard time figuring out just where the love is. But know it's there. Seek and ye shall find, right?

The week in Kapchorwa was good. I did a lot of speaking from the front at the women's conference and at church again and in classes about seeking first the kingdom of God, the just kingdom of a just King where there's just relationships. And dude I don't have those just relationships or even just really compassionate ones and some nights before and after days talking about those just relationships I'd wonder if they're real or I'm a liar and a hypocrite yet talking about it you believe it can be real and you know it's good and you want it even if you don't have it. Cuz love makes you compassionate and just.

And that's the kingdom I want. Maybe tonight even I won't know if all of what I'm saying is for real. I won't now if the kingdom's just not here yet or if it's just not real. But more and more I'm just like that kingdom is worth believing in, so God please Bring it. Oh, and you know what I'm not sure but I think he says It's already brought my daughter, just keep praying Bring it on and it's brought.

That's about where I'm at. Some days when I see the complete failure of kingdom people myself most of all to be that kingdom to each other I'll still question where is the love God that your supposed to give us where are you in our lives where are you if you're God with us. But you know some days I see the kingdom.

I've been so scared that I'll leave Africa without learning the lessons of love and friendship and the Holy Spirit working today. But I finally woke up to the realization that I'm NOT going to learn that lesson before I leave Africa, nor before I leave this earth. I'll still be learning it the day I die. And that's cool. I'm trying to ask God the questions so that he can answer them. That's where I'm at.

Love, peace and joy to you, wherever you're at.
Where are you at, by the way?
Love peace and joy to you there.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Joy Despairs

Joy does despair, but meanwhile widows, orphans and soccer moms save the world.

I had just given a short lesson during church on Matthew 6:33 and how when you seek first the kingdom of God all these things matter less so that you share with one another and so create just kingdom relationships. After standing at the door to shake hands, we began to walk home only to see a crowd gathered around a single girl on the ground weeping. She had lost her money while playing. How much? Only 1000 shillings? Can I give it to her I ask myself. I hesitate a bit, because I'm stingy, but I do. But she is still crying. Oh, it was 10,000 shillings. I cannot help. I have the $5 that it amounts to, but American money doesn't help in Kapchorwa. The church members say they will try to pull together so that by next week they can give her a gift. Some of the members walk home with her so that they can reason with her short-tempered mother. I ask my mother the girl's name. Joy. I ask why her mother would be so angry. I learn those 10,000 shillings would have fed the family for the whole week. I do the math. Even if that 10000 shillings was for only one person, that was less than a $1 a day. The statistic I learned at a 30-Hour-Famine so many years ago of extreme poverty being living on less than a $1 a day suddenly has a face. Later I learn that the mother chased the girl at least a half mile down the road before leaving her to stay with a relative.

My mother in Kapchorwa is Reverend Diane. She is 36 years old and leads the church here. She has her bachelors and masters in education and teaches at the secondary school maybe 4 kilometers from our home or nearly 2.5 miles. She walks everyday. When she was finishing her masters degree her husband died. Her two boys were about 5 and 1. My mother is a widow. After her husband died she went back to school and became a reverend. She's a leader trying to help her community. She built a new home behind her old one and she started a kindergarten in the old one and paid women from the community to teach in her old home and use her kitchen to make porridge for the kids everyday.

Her husband came from a polygamous family, so he has many 10 siblings. Two of the other men have also died in the past ten years. One of those died in 2001, and in 2003 the widow left the children and ran away. I found this out after I'd spent most of three days hanging out with Ronald, a 22-year-old who was a month late going to school because his family was struggling to get school fees. We'd spent the days talking about the power of music and cutting matoke leaves and pounding g-nuts into sauce and shelling, winnowing and frying coffee beans. Ronald is one of the kids that woman left behind. Ronald is an orphan. And guess what? He doesn't wear one of those bright orange Orphan t-shirts that we were using at Biola to raise awareness. He's like you or me. His father was a military officer who imprisoned a soldier for beating his wife. The soldier decided to kill him and several other men at the court. Ronald wants to be a lawyer. But in his private life he wants to use music to sing about orphans and love and relationships.

Samuel's about the same age as Ronald. He's a partial-orphan. After Idi Amin was out of power, a lot of weapons were left behind in this area. One tribe, the Karamoja, managed to take many of these. They live in a very dry part of the country, and they took to cattle hustling, stealing cows from many people in Kapchorwa through violence. Samuel was a baby when they raided a village once. Samuel was with his mother when she was shot dead. Samuel didn't know she was dead and  continued to suckle from her breast. That's how his mother found him. I didn't know any of this when I was introduced to a young man on our walk back to school. I only knew this guy Samuel in front of me could speak English and kept joking with the Reverend about whether stealing was wrong or not.

One of the boys with him looked about twelve to me. He had a way of sticking out his chest that made me think he was trying to look like a man. A couple days after meeting them we were sitting staring out across the great valley that's my momma's backyard and staring at the falls that go down the cliff and attract tourists that provide jobs as guides and the opportunity to learn English for guys like Samuel. As we sat there sipping tea and talking, she pointed to caves along the cliffs. She told me the story of one day in 1997 when five boys of about 8 years old went into the cliffs. She told me the story of the one little boy who was a Christian and kept refusing to drink the liquor they brought down, because here to be born again includes a somewhat frustrating legalistic but powerfully life-transforming standing in front of the church and rejecting of the past way of life including alcohol. She told me the story of how those boys beat him until he died and tossed him over the cliff. She couldn't remember his name when I asked.

When I met those boys I didn't see those things. I just saw a tall young man and what looked like a boy trying to seem like a tall young man. That boy is actually 16 years old. Those boys, my mom told me, are thieves. But they're also guys that the community hasn't found a place for or a way to help them. I know only part of their story. But there's another side and I don't know it. I can only tell what I know.

What's a muzungu from California doing here? Preaching at the church and giving encouragement in five different classes at the secondary school and going to the market. What am I doing here? What's my role? Part of me never wants to leave Uganda. Part of me didn't want to leave Kapchorwa. Because I haven't answered that question yet.

Here's the thing. There is a place. There's even a place for Obama on my mom's wall on a magazine fold out with his pictures of him and his girls and his wife with her name spelled Mitchele. There's even room for muzungus to wear jeans and act like muzungus at all the resorts dotting the cliff. But where's my place?

I don't know. But it was odd to hear from my friends about their moms and dads in Kapchorwa who work with Compassion International and help children sponsored to go to school write letters to muzungus like me in America. It was weird to realize many of the students I talked to were only at school because of those sponsorships.

We're reading Compassion by Henri Nouwen right now. Compassion is to suffer with somebody, just to be Present with them and not always try to fix their problems but care about them and be in relationship with them. Emmanuel God with us is the ace of this kind of compassion. And I'm really not the ace at it. Because it's in fetching water and grinding g-nuts with them that I get to share with them their lives. But it's not my life, cuz after ten days I left, and in two months I get to leave and go back to the states. But I'm learning.

Cuz widows and orphans aren't just victims and helpless. They're reverends and musicians and lawyers and they have something to say and something to contribute. Even those boys I was telling you about out of the community, they have something to contribute. It's people just living their lives and walking a little girl home when she loses her money and getting the community together to pay for what she lost. It's walking 15 kilometers just to visit with somebody. It's holding a women's conference so that you can encourage and pray for one another. It's having compassion. And it doesn't take a super-hero.

We had a discussion, and one of the girls said was wondering about the choice between being a soccer mom and saving the world. But soccer moms can save the world. Soccer moms do save the world. Seriously. There was a group of five Christians in the slums of a major Mauritanian city who decided to actually live in the slums. The slums were full of rural immigrants who were illiterate and not used to urban life and from different tribes and different religions. There wasn't enough jobs and not even enough water. Talk about tension. They organized the youth in the midst of all of this for soccer games and speaking love into their lives. Those kids decided to make a newspaper. And then a radio station. And they made a community where before there was only a crowd.

Soccer moms can do that. And I don't know exactly what my place here in Africa or on planet Earth might be but I know I want to have compassion and I know I want to have community and I know that those things change everything.