Uganda, Here We Come!

It’s finally here. We’ve been praying, planning, training, waiting, talking, learning and wondering. Now we’re finally heading out. Our departure date looks to be the first week of January, 2011. You’ll recall (or see from my previous few posts) that I was in Bolivia for two months this past summer, learning the nuances of – and getting experience in – hand-drilling water wells. Water For All, International (WFA), the folks with whom I was in Bolivia, have invited us to become their point people in an effort to begin a new well-drilling movement in northern Uganda! Because a well-drilling movement isn’t something that occurs in a short-term trip (or trips), Sherry and I are planning a 6-month (or so) first trip, and then an ongoing focus on the people, language and culture in the place from which we believe the movement can grow. Let me explain . . .

We’ll begin in a town named Soroti, in partnership with a local non-profit called Global Care. Global Care currently operates out of several locations in Uganda, sponsoring children, working in schools, focusing on school drop-outs with micro-businesses and vocational skills, and hopes to expand into working with handicapped and other poor and marginalized children in Soroti. They have asked WFA for help in securing wells that will bring regular clean water to kids and families within their local sphere of influence. My first job will be to help them with 8 new wells.

Now, when it comes to creating a “well-drilling movement,” it becomes paramount that our (well) trials are successful – meaning that the locations in which we drill have a high potential for success. By success, I mean that at least 9 times out of 10 we get good wells that produce somewhere around 20-25 liters/minute of clean water. This is obviously the “textbook version,” and reality (or Terry Waller, Exec. Director of WFA) may dictate some adjustments, but that’s the goal at which we’re aiming, both for WFA and for the wells on which we’re partnering with Global Care!

Because of the long-term focus of initiating a well-drilling movement, we can’t say for certain – until we’re there and on the ground for some time – that Soroti is the best place from which that movement can begin. Thus it is difficult to know whether Soroti will be the location from which this work will build in Uganda.

Now, having given you all the “data” about what’s happening, let me tell you how I really feel about it . . . it kind of scares me to death. I believe without a shadow of doubt that this is something we’re called to do; but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m convinced that WFA is the perfect organization through which I can utilize both my gifts and the education and training I’ve accumulated over the past 7 years; but there isn’t a “career path” or retirement plan. In fact, we’re “volunteers,” investing in eternity – and utterly dependent upon the One Who controls our account in the Bank of Heaven. Thanks for being interested enough to read this far!

Santos’ New Well

This is Santos, washing his hands with water pumped for the first time (at over 5 gallons/min!) from HIS OWN new well, which Water For All (WFA) taught HIM to drill; today we helped him complete the pump installation, and he will now be the pump installation “expert” for his water club (of 4 more wells). See if you can imagine with me just a couple ways in which life might look different for Santos and his family, now that they have essentially unlimited access to safe, clean, cool water from their 146 foot (45 meters) deep well.
They have unlimited, safe, clean, cool water for drinking and cooking. Until now, they drank from and cooked with contaminated pond water or from jerry cans carried back and forth from the community well, ½ mile away. The community well water is probably clean, but there’s been no way for them to keep the containers clean. Imagine the health implications.
They can bathe. Until now, they climbed into bed every night, unwashed, wearing the same clothes to bed they’d worked in for days if not weeks or even months. When was the last time you climbed into bed, in dirty clothes, without bathing – simply because there wasn’t water to do so?
His wife can wash their clothes at home whenever they are dirty. Until now, she had to carry them the ½ mile to the community well, waiting in line for access to the pump along with all the other villagers, washing by hand in one bucket, rinsing in another; then she had to wait for them to dry on the fences or bushes around the well, and finally, after at least 2-4 hours, carry them the ½ mile back home. No wonder clothes got washed infrequently.
Santos paid $100 for this well. It is scandalous that people still live this way when clean, safe water is so available. Sherry and I will be heading to Africa somewhere around the first of next year to begin the process of finding more folks like Santos and his family, who have been marginalized, forgotten and with no hope or dream they could ever have unlimited access to safe water. Thanks for coming along with us on the journey!

Next Steps . . .

Do you ever marvel at the turns your life takes? I’m sitting in the Kanga coffee shop in Davao City, Philippines, looking at the woman I fell in love with 40 years ago. To me she is even more beautiful today than that day I noticed – really NOTICED her (might it have been that tight green sweater and sparkling green eyes?). I’d known her for several years already, but never dreamed she might “like” me. Then a couple years later as we stood at the altar, no wait, the judges desk (in Walla Walla, WA where we ran away to be married), I couldn’t believe she was truly mine!

We’ve been on a wild journey since that day (Feb 17th, 1972). We abandoned ourselves to follow a Jesus we barely knew and have over the years continued to revel in the power of His work in our lives. We have 3 children who’ve grown into amazing individuals – each of whom married equally remarkable people. In three weeks or so, our 5th grandchild will be born.

And we’re at another crossroads. We have spent the last 7 or 8 years preparing for this next step of the journey. Sherry has been here in the Philippines for almost 3 months, completing an internship as a midwife; after our return to CA, I’ll be leaving for 2 months in Bolivia, hand-digging water wells among the Quechuas with an organization called Water For All. After that, who knows? We’re looking for some direct and clear guidance as to what the future might look like. All we know is that we have committed the rest of our lives to living out (as best we can) God’s word through Isaiah . . .” to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke . . . to share [our] food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when [we] see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from [our] own flesh and blood? . . . and if [we] spend [ourselves] in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then [our] light will rise in the darkness, and [our] night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide [us] always; he will satisfy [our] needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen [our] frames. [We] will be like well-watered gardens, like springs whose waters never fail. . . (Isa 58:6-11).

I invite you into the journey with us!

Nairobi, Sudan and Mambas

I’m not gonna lie to you. I think I’d rather be in Sudan. In Bor its hot (I think we averaged in the 120’s the whole time), muddy, full of bugs, snakes and scorpions – and oh yeah, people shooting at each other. But Nairobi? Posters in the guesthouse where we’re staying warn that you can basically expect to be mugged, especially if you look like a tourist, so they request you NOT leave the premises after 6:30 pm. And there isn’t a lot I can do to hide the fact that I’m not from these parts ☺ There are millions of people in this city, and I think every one of them has a vehicle that belches 6 pounds of carbon with every lurch forward (of maybe a foot at a time) in the unbelievable traffic. The diesel exhaust lays like a blanket over the entire city.

It is oases like the Mayfield guest house and the people who come here that make visiting this city wonderful. Just tonight we met a young lady who is a nurse, working for the past 2 years at a clinic north of Werkok, in Nuerland, just east of Malakal, near the Sudanese border with Ethiopia. Sherry learned a new treatment for snakebite . . . Tazer! Yes, they treat snakebites with a stun gun! Even the deadly green and black mamba bites are rendered powerless with a few hundred thousand volts! I wonder if they found this out by accident . . .

More later . . .

Not like a Lost Boy . . . but still a long walk

I should have known something bad was going to happen when we had to be pulled out of the mud within the 1st 5 minutes of our drive to town. I had arranged to ride to Bor with Paul Anyang, one of the local guys who takes people to and from Bor for 10 Sudanese pounds each way. I had to make good on my promise to pay the first installment on our tractor and none of our vehicles could make the drive . . .

Riding with Paul is an experience. He has an Isuzu SUV (not sure the model) that is a 4WD vehicle – but only 2WD now because some parts are broken. It had rained several times and the roads were pretty muddy. After getting pulled out BY OUR NEW TRACTOR, we hit some places where the water was as much as 3 feet deep, but the ground was solid underneath so we passed right through. It did look pretty scary, but turned out to be no problem. As we left, I’ve never seen a 5-passenger vehicle so loaded. There were 5 people squeezed into the back seat; 2 ladies piled on top of bags of “stuff” in the back and a 9-year-old girl on my lap. Because I have white hair, I’m automatically assigned the front seat ☺

Once we were in town, Paul dropped us all off about a half mile from the Governor’s office and I walked in. The Director-General of the Ministry of Agriculture was out sick with malaria and he was the one who was going to walk me through the process of making my payment. He did send his driver who picked me up and took me to the Ag Ministry offices. There I met Solomon, a very gracious official who took about an hour to get a 3-line letter written and copied. The letter was my “authorization to make an installment” on the tractor. Once we got to the Ministry of Finance, we went into an office that had 4 desks with 1 man at each. I kid you not, each person in the office had to write something on the authorization letter and hand it to the next guy. From there, I got escorted to another office where I found one guard and next to him a cage, completely enclosed with bars, where the “cashier” sat. I was summoned into the cage and the cashier said, “Give me the money!” Overall, it took almost 4 hours to make the silly payment!

Then the ride back. Like the ride into town, we were packed to the gills. We stopped several times while Paul negotiated fares or whatever. We were constantly hounded and people who wanted a ride to Werkok yelled him at repeatedly. By the time we got started it was about 5:00pm. At 5:25 – about 1/3 of the way, we got a flat. I thought, “no problem, we’ll just change the tire and be on our way.” Not so much. Paul had a flat a couple of days before and it wasn’t yet repaired. We had no spare and we were about 13 miles away and it would be dark in about an hour and a half. Paul just stood there staring into space – I had no idea what he was thinking, until he stopped a truck coming towards us heading back to Bor, never said a word to us and got in! He left us there on the road and headed back into town!

We started walking through the mud and potholes filed with water . . . and two and a half hours later (yes, in 2 and a half hours I “walked” over 12 miles; the Sudanese walk so fast I could barely keep from running) I stumbled onto the compound, with some massive blisters on my feet and drenched in sweat. But I was home, and home safe. No problem. Welcome to Africa.

April 21st – Long day

Last night was a good night of sleep. It didn’t start out hot and didn’t get too cold. I even had to cover up with a top sheet ☺ (JP, you’ll be delighted to know that for awhile once we return, even I will be freezing anytime the temp goes below 75 degrees. Amazing how cold 75 feels when the daytime temps hit over 120!).

I was feeling a bit melancholy this morning, meditating on the verses in Luke 8, but especially verse 1, where it says, “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.” (NIV) I was trying to imagine what it would be like to do that here in southern Sudan. Everything about life here in Sudan is hard – even for the Sudanese. Late this morning, I had a conversation with John Kuol (compound manager), who commented on how hard life is here in Werkok. Today, we don’t have a working vehicle except two motorcycles, one of which is less than reliable, meaning that we’ll likely have to walk the 25 km to the airport. We don’t have consistent communication except for a satellite phone, which is expensive and gets prepaid minutes added from Grand Rapids, Michigan (though telephone and internet through the VSAT is supposed to be up and working any time now). We’ve been virtually without outside communication since our arrival here on March 21st, a month ago today.

The day after a hard rain, you can’t imagine the bugs. You lift the “toilet” seat and hold your breath so you don’t breathe in one of the hundreds of newly hatched flies that rush you, celebrating their new metamorphosis from maggot to bomber. As I sit typing, I have to constantly be shooing these little black beetles off my screen. I’m being dive-bombed by crickets and flies and flying ants. I’ve picked at least 30 beetles or ants out of my hair and another 15 or 20 from the back of my neck or inside my shirt – all within the past hour or two. All afternoon, we fight horseflies, which bite. I mean BITE! To the point that they actually draw blood; and snakes, and scorpions and 2-inch-long cockroaches . . . During rainy season, you can’t sit outside past dusk because of the clouds of mosquitoes – and if you’re in a tukul, you climb into your mosquito net early, trying to at least postpone the inevitable malaria.

And Luke talks about Jesus “traveling about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news . . .” The times I’ve read these verses from my home in southern California, I never realized how differently they’d look, when reading them through the lens of East Africa. I have a new appreciation and deep respect for missionaries here, because “traveling from one village to another” is unbelievably hard and uncomfortable work! God Bless you Dave and Joy, Ian, Forrest and Cameron!

April 20th – Rainy Season

We rose at around 7:00 am this morning to sunshine, with a few clouds off to the North and East. By 8:15, the sky had begun to darken and by 8:30 am it was almost as dark as evening, just before African darkness begins to swallow you up. By 8:45, the wind erupted into a maelstrom, clubbing us and scattering the stackable (Costco) chairs, along with anything that wasn’t tied down or wedged against an immovable wall; it ripped the shade cloth on the porch to shreds and we had to lever shoes under the door to keep it closed. Horizontal rain rushed under the ridge cap on our roof, inciting a whole team of intruding streams into the room. Lightning and thunder so close and powerful that the ground and walls trembled against its might.

It rained off and on for about 6 hours, often with rain that looked like almost like solid sheets. John (the local Sudanese compound manager) and Josh and Aaron had gone to town to take Junko (the visiting Pediatrician from CHOC who lives only about 10 miles from us!) to catch her plane to Nairobi. They returned at about 7pm – all of them covered in mud, with stories about how difficult the trip had been. It took them over 3 hours to travel less than 20 miles. At one point, they went for over 100 meters never seeing the road because of the entire thing being under at least a foot of water. They got stuck in the mud several times, had to push the car out and once had to be towed out of the mess. All this even with John, one of the best drivers I’ve seen. Imagine the massive potholes and furrows created by huge, overloaded trucks trying to get to Bor or even all the way to Juba . . . then imagine the same road being traveled by drivers who have never had driver’s training and don’t really know how to drive, let alone attempting some of the worst conditions I’ve ever encountered!

John said that if it rains even once again, the road will be completely impassable. No wonder the ex-pats (foreigners) try to get out before the rains really start! According to everyone we’ve spoken to . . . the rains have actually started a month early this year. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, just like we were, how WE will get out if it rains again? The reality is that our best bet will be to strip down our belongings to what we can carry in our backpacks . . . and walk the 25 km or so to get to the airport! Good thing my orthotics didn’t disappear with my black shoes 🙂

APRIL 17th

It started out like a normal evening; we’d had a good day of work around the compound. Josh and Aaron had made good progress on the VSAT. It was set on the pole, trenches dug for the coaxial cables and the lines laid. Just waiting to try and point the dish, capture the satellite signal and set up the software for the modem. Visitors were coming, too. In fact, 7 representatives from Samaritan’s Purse, Canada had arrived about 15 minutes earlier and gone off to visit a small clinic about 20 minutes away. I’d set up 3 tents and got all their mattresses and linens ready; Sherry had been busy cooking and cleaning all day.

I think it was Sherry who first noticed that all the villagers were running. The people here NEVER run – unless something (usually bad) has happened. In fact, when you run for exercise, you’ll generally get chided and often yelled at, because when people see anyone running, they think there is a problem and they want you to stop immediately! It turns out there was indeed a problem. We caught bits and pieces as packs of men ran by, all carrying their guns. In the little village less than a mile away from us, 2 children had been abducted from the side of the road by a small group of Murle (neighboring tribe) and the entire village was running to try and find them. Then, a pickup truck came barreling down the road and turned into the hospital compound to deliver one of the young moms who’d been shot in the leg above her knee, shattering her femur. She was in incredible pain and we were praying she wouldn’t lose her baby as she is 7 months pregnant

After a preliminary surgery to attempt removal of the bone fragments and any visible bullet remnants, Dr Ajak took the injured lady to Bor Hospital, where there was x-ray equipment to make a complete diagnosis. . [As of 25th April, the lady is doing well and Dr. Ajak saved her life!)The crazy thing was that we, along with all of our visitors had been in Sudan long enough now – that none of us were terribly surprised or shocked about the evening’s events. Once the immediate excitement died down, we all just sort of went back to our regular conversations! Imagine. After only 5 weeks here, we’ve begun to grow accustomed to the violence. I hate that.

Tragedy in Werkok

I awoke to gunfire again today. It is Good Friday and I’m sitting in the HIV/AIDS office of the Minister of Health, waiting for the Secretary to finish sending her work so I can use the Internet. This is an amazing place. On the way here, I got some more updated information on the death count from the fighting over the past few days (about 20 miles south of us in a place called Anyidi); from the tiny village of Werkok, there were 21 young men killed – all of them under 24 years old. Besides the ones killed from Werkok, there were a total of over 50 Dinka killed and at least as many Murle deaths. The Murle had actually set a circular ambush and got the Dinka in a crossfire, mowing them down from the front and rear. Apparently these guys are such bad shots that the Dinka, despite being caught in the crossfire firefight, killed more Murle than the Murle killed Dinka. The tragedy is beyond comprehension. More than 100 young men dead.

Contemplating the death and resurrection of Jesus, our hearts grieve with the families and know that peace can only come as a result of the resurrection power of transformed lives. Apart from that, it seems there is no hope. Most of the Dinka here have no confidence that peace can ever be achieved; because of the systemic syphilis and resultant barrenness of their women, the Murle are forced to raid and kidnap children just to insure their very survival. Add to that the reality that the Government of Sudan is arming and supporting them in order to foment further insecurity and the picture continues to get even more bleak.

I am overcome with sadness at the wretchedness of the lives of these dear people. Not only does the climate conspire against them (this weather is the harshest I’ve ever seen), but the insecurity and fear and revenge and abject poverty overwhelm and consume the lives of the people. Is this really the 21st century? Can people really be so brutal and value life so little? Clearly we cannot change all of Sudan, but now having become aware of this specific problem in this specific place, with people whose names we know and whose families we have visited, how can we just stand by and watch? Will you please join Sherry and me in asking God for wisdom in how to approach this horror? Will you please join us in asking God for safety for the children and young men who feel bound to protect and avenge them? Will you please join us in beseeching God for changed hearts that will allow for peace to break through the tribal hatred and for those who claim to know Jesus to begin walking with Him, in deed and in truth? It is a task far too big for us – and facing it is almost unbearable. Thank you for joining with us, at whatever level you can. God Bless you!

Greetings from Werkok!

Greetings from Werkok, Southern Sudan

April 1, 2009
I’m writing from the HIV/AIDS office of the Minister of Health of Southern Sudan. This is the first opportunity I’ve had for an extended period of internet access. Following is a relatively brief summary of our adventures since my last post. I’m waiting for nearly 350 emails to download . . . so I have a bit of time . . . 🙂

We arrived in Juba on Wednesday March 18th. Its really odd landing in a new place, not knowing the language and not sure anyone is going to be at the airport to meet you. we were actually met by Muki Lita, a friend of Mamer’s, who was to arrange transport for us. Muki (whom we’d never met) yhen handed us over to a taxi driver, who took us to the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) conference center. When we arrived, we found Mamer across the street at the radio station, in the middle of a press conference. We met a lady from the State Department, some other dignitaries and the Lost Boys delegation. After the press conference, we went to the “hotel,” dropped off our bags and got shuttled off to another meeting. This was a meeting of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which got capped by a closing speech by Dr. Luk Abion (sp?), Minister of Presidential Affairs. We got ushered to front-row seats, which would have been great if Sherry wasn’t so sleepy that she kept nodding off as the afternoon wore on . . . 😉

After the meeting we went back to the Oasis Camp Hotel, which was a metal Chinese container with an air conditioner hung on one wall. There was running water (cold), a flush toilet sitting on a completely broken-down pressboard floor. There was also a mosquito net over the one bed, which was shorter than my frame. For this slice of paradise, we had the privilege of paying $240 per night! The room price did include all our meals, which we ate just a few feet from the Nile. Astonishingly beautiful!

Thursday (March 19th) we drove to Bor, after waiting hours for the “Jonglei Coordinator” to find a vehicle that would take us. The drive from Juba to Bor was 3 ½ hours of bone-jarring, white-knuckle, nail-biting action. We were traveling in a convoy with the Minister of Finance for the State of Jonglei – along with his machine-gun-toting entourage. Picture the worst unpaved road you’ve ever traveled with giant potholes, rocks on a sometimes hardpan/sometimes sand substrate. Then try to imagine flying over it at 100 – 120 kph. I don’t know exactly how fast that is in mph, but from my front seat perspective, it was REALLY FAST. At one point, we hit some sand and started sliding toward a ditch on the side, but the driver barely slowed down, got the vehicle (a Toyota Land Cruiser) under control and quickly ramped back up to speed.

On Friday March 20th, we finally met with the Governor. Wait. Not just the Governor, but with the Ministers of Finance, Education, Infrastructure, Land, IT and the Commissioner of Bor County. H.E. (His Excellency) Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk was incredibly gracious to us, praising Mamer’s achievement in completing his education. As Mamer explained the AgSudan project, the Governor listened attentively, then basically said he agreed with the whole concept, and then committed to personally invest in the project – as well as take responsibility to help raise the $$ required for startup. He also committed the use of some tractors he has in his compound. Overall, we were completely taken off guard by the positive response we received!

March 23rd. Mamer and I visited the village, and got confirmation that they did indeed want to grant us the 10km X 10km piece of land to start farming.

March 24th. It was 127 degrees today. Over 100 degrees throughout the evening in our tent . . . until about 3 am when the wind and rain started. The good news is that the wind blew so hard that the tent sort of caved in and wrapped against my naked body, with the cold rain touching me – but through the silk of the ten so I didn’t get wet. It was the best part of the night!

I rode a Suzuki 650 (nice machine!) into town to meet with the Governor again, but he pushed us off to the Commissioner of Bor County. What a wild ride this has been (not talking about the moto; I never went above about 35 mph because of the crappy roads).

On Wednesday, March 25th, I visited the village where we will have our farm project. I was the only white guy and the only one who spoke English. My “translator” spoke an English I rarely understood. When I arrived at the village, all the elders and chiefs were waiting for me, excited about getting our project underway. Right after arriving, a young man showed up, who was recently returned from Phoenix. He was very antagonistic about our project and didn’t want the elders to give us the land. So I was standing in the middle of 25 men – all screaming at one another – most of them carrying AK-47s. finally they dealt with the complainer and we were ready to leave; but the one guy who spoke a bit of
English said there was a problem with the vehicles. I had agreed to pay 200 Sudanese pounds total for 2 days transport for me to and from the village; (I had also come the previous Monday with Mamer to get approval from the elders for the land). Now this guy was demanding that I was liable for an additional 200 pounds each for two more vehicles so all the village leaders and soldier escort could come with us to view the land. I told him I had only requested to see the land, and didn’t request either an escort – or a parade! I told them (the elders) they were welcome to come with us, but I wasn’t going to pay. After they yelled at me for a bit, and I stood smiling and refusing to pay for more vehicles, they realized they didn’t want to pay either . . . so we left in one vehicle. It was a Nissan Frontier pickup; I sat in the front seat with the driver (and his AK-47). 7 soldiers, one with a belt-fed machine gun, and 7 elders from the village piled into the bed of the truck, and we were off.

Leaving the village, we entered the bush. At one point, we scared a gazelle and 2 soldiers and one elder jumped out of the truck and started firing! It took about 12 shots – all from the AK’s – but they finally took down the gazelle. Not bad from about 50 yards with a short-barrel gun. The land was pure forest, lots of very prickly trees and bushes. I asked about the animal population on our land and was told it is home to lions, zebras, leopards, gazelles, many other kinds of deer, baboons, monkeys and various snakes. Can’t wait to set up a tent and hang out. Want to come join us?

Since then, Sherry and I have been hanging out at the hospital at Werkok. I’ve been working mostly with Dave Mueller, painting, dry walling, taping the walls, putting on roofs, etc. There is a giant dedication this coming Sunday, at which we expect several hundred to attend. Sherry is busy working at the hospital, assisting in surgeries, handling patients and organizing the pharmacy. She has already done wonders in helping there!

So this is the latest. We might get a VSAT set up at the Werkok compound, which would allow us email and internet access. If not, I’ll try to keep this updated every few days by coming to town and accessing via the Ministry of Health or another NGO that is friendly to us.

Thanks for your prayers. We miss you!