Saturday morning

The dinner party was cool. The living room was really hot (this morning I found the radiant heat in the living room turned up to full blast. it was about 90 when I got up) Conversations. Lots of them . . . about Siberia, about downward mobility. About whether Creation was a literal or figurative 6 days. About LAPD. About Trader Joe’s latest great cheap wine (Santa Ema). About what it means to live out the gospel as families with kids running all over, turning on the heater without the adults knowing it and wondering why it was so hot in the room LOL!

Dinner Party

Should be fun. 9 adults and 7 kids in a 2-bedroom apartment (or condo. whatever). We’re hosting the Nesbitts, Swansons, Princes and a new friend named Dennis (won’t know his last name until after dinner). Getting ready is fun, despite the fact I ripped off a toenail trying to move a table from the kitchen to the dining room. Whats amazing is we actually have enough room to do this deal.

Living out the Gospel isn’t convenient, but it is right. Sometimes what’s right isn’t easy. Or convenient.

What’s up with Rick?

All right, so its been almost a year since I last posted here. . . and a lot has happened in that year! I took a 2 1/2 year hiatus from full-time work after 25+ years in the flooring industry to go back to school (Cal Poly Pomona), from which I just graduated with a BS in Animal Science! Ultimately Sherry and I are still headed for Africa, where we’ll be involved in microdevelopment for marginalized people. I know Animal Science is a long ways away from flooring, but it is an interest I’ve had for decades and finally decided to pursue. It fits because the microdevelopment projects will be focused on using meat animals – like goats – as the basis for creating an economic infrastructure for people living in grinding poverty with little hope and usually no advocates.

Sherry is working as an RN in the ER at Long Beach Memorial Hospital. I’m working with a company that does cross-media communications (includes custom printing and marketing solutions). She’s one year away from finishing a Masters in Nursing and I’m ready to start a new Masters in Intercultural Studies and International Development. My program is a joint effort between Fuller Theological Seminary (the Intercultural Studies component) and Hope International University (the International Development component.) Its a 3 year program, but much of it can be completed online if we end up going to Africa sooner. We’re now living in Long Beach, since our house in Huntington Beach is still leased to a wonderful couple, who have been there since we left for Pomona in September, 2005. Email me if you want or need our new address!

Until we head off to Africa, I’m really stoked about our involvement with a group in our church called “The Gathering.” I’ll write more about The Gathering later . . .

Saturday was a wonderful day. We did our regular Marshall Canyon run then came back and spent the balance of the day working around the Sorority house, getting the rest of our stuff moved in, wondering at what might be in store for us as we get to know the 24 girls who live here!

Sunday (yesterday) started with Church, during which Lou spoke from Daniel 5. The ultimate message had to do with our response to what Jesus did in history – how will it impact our lives and how will we respond to Him? Then at the ABF, he led the group in the beginnings of “Life Mapping,” in which each of us looks at a timeline of our lives, trying to see any patterns in how God may have been shaping us over the past several (or more) years. Sherry and I actually did the life mapping exercise nearly 2 years ago with Lou and Laurie. It became one of the defining factors in my making the decision to finally commit to completing my college education.

After church we went to a family party at which I met an interesting man named Tom. Don’t know Tom’s last name – just that he was a microbiologist for the USDA. Tom is a friend of one of Rich’s cousins. His wife died early this year and he’s now staying with one of his sons in Sunset Beach. Asked lots of very specific questions about our plans to go to Africa and commented that this son would like what we’re doing. I wish more of the family had taken time to talk with him. The older generations have so much to teach us, but we’re just too busy to slow down and mine the treasures of their experience.

As I scanned the small gathering, the body language � especially of the warriors was all wrong. Their eyes sent chills cascading down my spine despite the heat of the African savannah.

The name of the village was Lopeduru Aparukude, situated in the bush about 20km away from the trading center at Nabilatuk in the province of South Karamoja, in the Northeast of Uganda near the Kenyan border. The people are of the Pian tribe, but known to the rest of the world as the fiercest modern-day warriors � the Karamojong. When we arrived just outside the village after a bicycle ride of nearly 2 hours, several men were lying on the ground in the shade of a giant acacia tree, their heads “pillowed” on the tiny wooden stools they carve and carry about with them. It was 10:30 in the morning and already scorching. None of the women were around and though the village knew we were coming, these men barely moved as we dismounted. However, when my backpack came off the bicycle rack, and my yellow Nalgene bottle flopped free, one of the old ones jerked up on one elbow, asking what I “carried” with me. When I told him it was only water, he lay back down, disappointed, hoping I had come to share some waragi with them! Waragi is the brutally intoxicating banana liquor made locally � what we�d call moonshine here in the US!

Damac (pronounced, da-mash) Felix, the older of my two translators began some preliminary introductions, asking them to send for the traditional animal healers (these are the ones often referred to as “witch doctors”). Once the healers arrived we would begin the formal interview and survey I had been commissioned to complete by Dr. Jean Grade, DVM and missionary sent out by the Christian Veterinary Mission. The survey was designed to catalog indigenous knowledge from the healers about different ways animals (especially goats) medicated themselves, and then which specific plants the sick animals sought out for their treatment. In addition, we wanted to know if the healers used any of the same medicinal plants or treatments on humans. This was the first time I had conducted the survey without Dr. Jean�s assistance and I felt privileged to participate in her vision of using her love for animals and expertise with their care to gain entrance to the hearts of the cattle-loving Karamojong. It seemed she had found the secret to being Jesus� hands and feet to this majestic people.

Once the healers came, Damac Felix began the formal introduction process. He spoke for a long time � longer than I thought the information should take. While he spoke, I watched the people, wondering what they were hearing . . . and what they were thinking. As I scanned the small gathering, the body language � especially of the warriors was all wrong. The coldness of their eyes sent chills cascading down my spine. I leaned over and asked Onyang John (my younger translator) to tell me what Damac was saying. He said Damac was telling them how important the white man was (me), and how it was their duty to answer whatever questions I had for them. He was explaining how I had left a lucrative American career in construction to study animal science and now I had come to Karamoja to get further training in how animals act. How I was in a special program in University for studying animals and that I thought the Karamojong had real knowledge I could use . . .

Part of what he was saying was true, but it was presented in such a way that made me look as though I had simply come to use them. Though I knew Damac�s intentions were good, I held up my hand to stop him and asked Onyang John to begin translating exactly what I was saying without interpretation or evaluation. I clarified that I was not there on my own behalf, that I was there representing Dr. Jean and KACHEP, the non-profit, non-governmental organization set up for and run by Karamojong themselves! Their countenances softened a bit, but I still sensed resistance as we went on with the survey.

The actual questions took over an hour to complete. During that time, more warriors gathered around the outskirts of the group, listening, leaning on their AK47�s, watching the interaction between me and the traditional healers. These warriors are men who have been trained from about 5 or 6 years of age to kill with their hands, bow and arrow, knives, spears and guns. They are so fierce that even Joseph Kony, the brutal warlord of the northern Lord�s Resistance Army (LRA), who has kidnapped and enslaved thousands of children and displaced over a million people, refuses to encroach upon their territory! These men are today�s real-life version of Hollywood�s John Rambo (who they actually believe is real person � and whose “life” they strive to imitate)! I know it sounds crazy and so out of place, but in the middle of nowhere � in the bush � in sub-saharan Africa, they know who Rambo is and have somehow found ways to see the movies!

At the conclusion of the survey, it is customary for the one doing the survey (me) and one of the elders present to pray, thanking God for the time and making requests for the village�s people and animals. Whether Christian or not, the Karamojong are very spiritual people, often beseeching God for His favor upon them. One of the elder healers had earlier agreed to pray after me, so I finished my prayer and nodded to him to pray. He said, “I can�t pray.” I asked why not. “I am too angry!” he responded. I started watching the warriors, wondering how they would react to this new development. I asked what he was so angry about. “I am so angry I could collapse!” he yelled. He lifted his tunic and pointed to his emaciated stomach and protruding ribs, then jabbed his finger at me, still yelling, “Look at you! You�re white! You�re fat! We have had 2 years famine and 5 years drought. You have food and you have money. I want it!”

My mind began racing! How do I respond? With their hunger, anger and hostility, I knew they would kill me instantly if they knew how much money I carried. I remembered that according to their culture, I was someone who didn�t own cattle, didn�t know how to fight, carried no weapons and potentially offered no help to them � after demanding something from them. In short, I would be classified as an enemy of the lowest scale and there were no moral implications for them whether they killed me or allowed me to live.

Fortunately, he didn�t know that indeed I did have money, too much money. I had just the day before exchanged the remainder of my US dollars into Ugandan schillings (to pay for my stay in Karamoja and for the balance of my trip) and hadn�t had the time or opportunity to hide it away safely! But I couldn�t give it to him. It would leave me alone in the bush with no cash and no way to pay for my lodging, food and transport back to “civilization.” It would also undermine 7 years of work done by Dr. Jean, during which she sought to partner with the Karamojong rather than create dependencies on Western aid. I still planned to go to other villages to conduct more surveys and if I gave money here, each new village would also want money and feel slighted if they didn�t get any. What I didn�t know � and found out later, was that these very warriors had killed 5 soldiers just two days earlier.

I looked him in the eyes and said, “My heart breaks for the conditions which have caused this hunger and famine. Please remember that I have not come for myself, but on behalf of Dr. Jean and KACHEP (the local organization helping the Karamojong). Our goal is to bring Western technology and knowledge of animals together with the great knowledge of the Karamojong. This joint knowledge will help to prevent future famine and will hopefully insure continued food and resources for the Karamojong. I do not have any food, and I will not give you money.” He returned my gaze, stared at me for what seemed like an eternity and then respond
ed, “You are fat and you are white. White people move with money. I want money.” For the next 20 minutes, we locked eyeballs and went back and forth, him demanding and me refusing money.

Through the course of this “negotiation,” I quickly came to realize that the situation was far beyond my control and understood that my life hung in the balance. I thought of my wife and my family, grieving inwardly at the thought of never seeing them again. I recognized that my risk was likely the same whether I did or didn�t give the money. I opted to trust the Lord and continued to refuse. We had reached an impasse and I saw that he wasn�t going to relent, nor could I.

I told Damac and Onyang that it was time to leave. As much as I feared doing so, I stood up, turned my back on them, shrugging away the chills and began walking toward the bicycles. We mounted up and started what felt like a slow-motion ride away. For the first few minutes, I fully expected the crush of a bullet or an arrow in my back. But it didn�t happen. Somehow, despite his anger, the old one had let us leave. Later I asked my translators whether it was as bad a situation as it felt to me. “It was a miracle they didn�t kill you” was their reply. No kidding.

My first response was, “I�m never going back there again! Anyone would be crazy to attempt any ministry to these ungrateful, cruel people!” But the moment I spoke the words, it dawned on me that the Karamojong are no different than any other people living their lives according to their own story rather than Jesus� Story. The reality was that He had allowed me the privilege of being His hands and feet to them in this instance, and He had spared my life so I could indeed go back and minister His mercy to a desperate people He loves.

OK, so now I’m going to post some more information I sent to some email friends, but thought it might be good to have available for the whole world to see . . .

So much has happened since we returned from Uganda. Some good . . . and some not so good. I’ll see if I can give you a quick recap.

1. We got back in late July, confirmed Sherry’s nursing school and she started Aug 15th at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona. That was good.

2. After a tough 4 weeks, we leased our house through December 2006 to a wonderful couple that loves living there. That was good.

3. We moved into the “Beef Unit” at Cal Poly Pomona and I started working with the cattle�on Sept. 6th. That was good.

4. In late September, I started to get sick; cycling fever, chills and fatigue. We weren’t very attuned to the symptoms, so it took several weeks for them to diagnose my malaria. The malaria had lain dormant in my system for nearly 3 months. That was bad.

5. I started the 7 day treatment of really high doses of quinine and doxycycline. The doc here doesn’t see malaria very often and got his information�from a dated textbook, so I ended up with too much of both medicines and by the 6th day, I had really severe diarrhea. That was bad.

6. At the end of the 7 days, and then another 4 days waiting out the diarrhea, he (the doc) wanted me to start another medicine, primaquine, to destroy any latent malaria in the liver, but primaquine is only effective for 2 of the 4 strains of malaria. He didn’t know which�species I had, but still wanted me to start the meds. I refused to start until we knew the strain. That was bad.

7. In the process of blood tests, the doc asked me if I’d ever had hepatitis because he was concerned about the effect that primaquine may have on my liver if it had been compromised in any way. I told him that I had “non-A, non-B” hepatitis about 20 years ago, which I got from some bad food from a Mexican restaurant. After a Hepatitis screen, I came back positive for Hepatitis C. That was really bad, especially since it looked like I’d had it for about 20 years.

8. One of the characteristics of Hep C is that it causes chronic fatigue, so they recommend a lifestyle that doesn’t involve extreme physical work. Guess what kind of work I do at the Beef Unit? Extreme physical work, sometimes moving up to 100 bales of hay a day, each of which weighs 100 lbs or so. That meant I couldn’t continue working�there, which meant we couldn’t continue living�there, which meant we had to move right away – and we couldn’t go back to our house because it was leased until December 2006. That was bad.

9. Sherry’s mom and dad have a condo in Sunset Beach they let us use until an apartment was to come available�at the Western University campus. We expected that to be about end of December or 1st of January. We moved to the condo�just before Thanksgiving. That was good.

The doctor was unable to get the malaria typed, so I finally took matters into my own hands and began working with Scott Kellerman (the doc we were with in Uganda), who happens to be here in the US through January. Scott and I both talked extensively with the CDC in Atlanta and got them involved. We had the hospital send my slides to the CDC’s malaria division. Finally, the chief malaria doc from the CDC called and said that I was one of the 1%-3% of people in whom prophylaxis fails – and additionally, the malaria I had was the first in 50 years from the part of East Africa�I visited! Also, this particular strain of malaria did not require the 2nd course of primaquine treatment, since the parasite resides only in the blood and doesn’t “hide” in the liver. So, a single mosquito found the single white man in the remotest part of Uganda in whom the anti-malaria medicine would be ineffective. Now there’s God’s sense of humor for you!

As far as the Hepatitis C, I was waiting to find out the viral load in my system and the species (there are 6 different strains), after which I was to see a liver specialist for a biopsy to assess the amount of damage to my liver from the disease.

So, at this point we were wondering what God could possibly be doing with (or maybe to) us. What is interesting and amazing as I look back on it, is that all these “negatives” served to crystallize our focus – and to reaffirm our intent to return to Uganda – only now to do so as quickly as possible. If it turned out that my liver was damaged severely and they limited my lifespan, our plan was to pack up immediately and return as soon as we could get it done. If the damage was minimal and would respond to the treatment, we decided we would stay in school, finish the course of Sherry getting her RN and me getting the Animal Science degree, and then return to Uganda somewhere around the first quarter of 2007.

Then the surprise. The day before we were to move to the condo, the doctor called to ask if I had received the test results from the hepatitis viral load and RNA genotype tests. I hadn’t and he said he had them, but he was confused. I clearly had (and still have) the antibody for Hepatitis C . . . But there was no virus. It was gone. He said there was no medical explanation for this, but it sure was good news! AMEN to that!

Now, the malaria is gone, the Hepatitis is gone and we just needed to find a place to live. Oh and there’s the little detail of income. During the malaria, the company I worked for�was unable to maintain�my health insurance,�so we had to go on their COBRA policy. That meant we had to find about $20,000 extra income while I’m taking 20 units a quarter and Sherry is buried in the equivalent of Medical school. We continued to pray and then just last week, I found out that the guy the Beef Unit hired to replace me had quit. I asked the farm manager about it – and she offered me my old job back – and said we could move back into the same place from which we moved just a few weeks ago!

The result? We spent about 6 weeks on the beach, were available for our daughter and son-in-law as they brought our 2nd grandson home, recovered completely from all the sickness, don’t have to find a place to live and only need to supplement about $8,000 to pay for health insurance instead of the $20k we originally thought.

So now we’re rejoicing in the goodness of God and preparing to get right back on course as if nothing had happened, except that He used hard circumstances to reaffirm our calling to serve Him as Jesus’ hands and feet among the pygmies in Uganda!

We were in Uganda for 6 weeks this past summer, not with any particular agency. About 3 or 4 years ago, we really started getting restless, wondering what the last half of our work life would (or maybe should) look like.�We both�felt like we had tasted what America calls “success,” and found it lacking. Part of what I wanted to do was be strategic about preparing for the transition if there was to be one. I began by going back to Junior College to get all my general ed classes finished, with the ultimate goal of transferring to Cal Poly for animal husbandry. (Sherry and I ran away at 18 to get married and I never went to college). Sherry had also gone back to school and graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2003 with a degree in Criminal/Social Justice. As I went to Orange Coast College for my GE classes, she went to Golden West College�and started knocking out all the pre-reqs for Nursing school. Our thought was that she could work as a Nurse and I could do some development projects with animals wherever we ended up.

Then 2 years ago, our daughter-in-law Bethany (married to our youngest son, Daniel) spent her Inter-Cultural Studies internship (from Biola) with Dr. Scott Kellermann, who founded a hospital for the pygmies (www.pygmies.net) at the entrance to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in SW Uganda. The Forest borders Rwanda and the Congo, so it is at the very southwest corner of the country. If you remember the movie “Gorillas In the Mist,” that is the very forest and those pygmies are the very ones to whom Dr. Kellermann is ministering. After Bethany got back and recounted some of the stories of her internship, Sherry and I were moved to write Dr. Kellerman and ask if he could use 2 fifty-year-olds with no medical training. He wrote back and said, “just come!” So that’s what we did! While there, God confirmed for both of us that this was His plan all along and that we were to return there as quickly as was practical for us to do so. It seemed that all our training was a precise fit for the situation there in Bwindi and He had really knit our hearts with Scott and Carol Kellermann and several of the local pastors and church leaders.

Once we’re done with our formal training, I’m not sure what organization we will go through. Our church, Grace Brethren of Long Beach is in the process of evaluating whether they will send us out as formal missionaries. We have just begun that process, so don’t know what the outcome will be. We have another year or so to get it all figured out.

“Africance” – September 28, 2005

Ah, so you wonder what the name means, do you? Well, a couple years ago, Sherry and I decided that the Great American Dream wasn’t so dreamy for us. We began to ask questions . . . questions like, “Why do we in America have so much and those in the developing world have so little? Was it simply luck that we were born here and ‘they’ were born there?” Is material prosperity God’s blessing? If so, then is poverty the withholding of His blessing? If the worldwide Church is His Body and those in other parts of the world (marginalized and in poverty)�are part of His family, doesn’t that mean they are also part of MY family? Of course that assumes I am part of His family as well . . . Oh and here’s the one that really got us, “What part does (or should) my faith play as I contemplate the answers to these questions?”

Yikes! Gets a bit uncomfortable, doesn’t it? We began to see that there is a direct correlation between what we say we believe – and what our lives�look like �on a daily basis.�We came to the conclusion that we said we�followed Jesus and said were part of His family and we did lots of the things Christians in America do . . . but our lives didn’t look much different than those who made no such claim! Until this point of realization, we were simply doing what everyone else we knew was doing . . . making as much money as we could and planning for “the golden years” when we’d be able to “enjoy the fruits of our labor.” We maybe felt bad about those struggling “over there somewhere,” but our focus was inward and upon ourselves. We hadn’t recognized that the “blessings”�we had received from Him were not simply for us to consume – but to share – and to share with those other parts of the Family – of The Body – who had need where we had abundance. Now, let me confess here. I didn’t want to share! I didn’t want to disrupt my “comfort.” But�Sherry and I both�began to see�our selfishness and “what�we wanted” as inconsistent with the faith�He described in the Bible. So what to do?

We determined to change our lives to “look like” those in which decisions are made on the basis of a worldview which takes into account the rest of the world – not just our little slice of it. We began living for significance rather than success. This past summer, that process took us to Africa, and after some further training will take us back there again. So, the name “Africance” is simply a way for us to describe living for significance in Africa!