Sunday, August 15
The week before we leave for Africa has been one of disinvestment. The phone broke, and we bought a $13 replacement phone at the drug store. Then just after getting the muffler and side mirror fixed, the car broke down and we were told it needs a new engine. We sold it for parts. The same week we met with the people who came from Florida to discuss buying our house; even though they ended up deciding not to buy it right now, Diantha and I went through the emotional process of letting go the house we built and raised our kids in for 19 years. When I mentioned at work how much was breaking down all at once, one woman immediately replied that the devil was trying to disrupt our lives. But I that's not the way I see it. For several years I have been pondering Jesus' repeated reminder that if anyone would follow him, they must “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me:” and now I finally feel these words taking shape inside me. I have by no means come close to selling all or denying all, but its the furthest I've ever gone.
Monday, August 16
A dozen Christian friends from as far away as Chattanooga, Greeneville and Kingsport drive several hours and gather at the airport in Alcoa to send Diantha and I off. At my request we form a circle and each friend gives us a hope they have for Sudan that we can take with us: lasting peace, courage and joy, a home for orphans, healing and wholeness out of brokenness. When its my turn, I say my hope is that the people of Sudan have patience to work at the long hard task of rebuilding their lives and nation, and patience to keep choosing this path rather than violence. At the end we pray for all these hopes to be fulfilled.
Tuesday, August 17
Arriving at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda we spot the man with the sign for the Fairway Hotel here the staff at East Africa Annual Conference has arranged for us to stay. It turns out the promised hotel shuttle has left some time ago with a group from an earlier flight, so hotel guy Abdul has contracted with a private van-taxi to drive us the 40 miles to our hotel in Kampala. We load the bags in the van, and Abdul disappears! As the young driver pulls out of the airport, I realize we are totally at the mercy of someone with whom we have no sense of accountability, in a place totally new and strange to us. Suddenly I feel much more vulnerable than I have on the whole trip so far and I'm pushed further than ever to trust God for protection. I pray.
Wednesday, August 18
We have an amazingly good first night sleep and get up in time to meet Robert Kisubi who takes us to our appointment with Bishop Daniel Wandabula at East Africa Annual Conference. Bishop brings in 4 staff and 2 District Superintendents, we all introduce ourselves, then he gives us a quick history of EAAC. When we're asked to make remarks, we share our vision for mission service in Sudan emphasizing a grassroots planning process ineach church and village out of which projects in health, agriculture, microenterprise will come. We talk about the importance of integrating literacy into all these projects, of working collaboratively with other missions, NGOs, and government groups. The strength with which the Bishop and staff affirm this vision amazes us. We ask for patience since this longer-range approach will take time to bring results, and they quickly agree. Hallelujah! Then we go to get our money changed, buy cell phones, and even have time to check out the International Hospital.
Thursday, August 19
The driver sent by EACC is a little late, but we still get all our planned shopping done in a half day! We are extremely grateful that we've had several conversations with Boo and Phyllis Hankins, already in Sudan, about what is most important to buy in Kampala and where to get it. We take the driver to lunch back at the hotel cafe, and repack our bags because we can only take two carry-on items and a 22 pound checked bag on the small Eagle Air plane to Yei. Then the driver takes us to the EAAC offices again to leave 4 big suitcases and the stuff we've just bought, including a two-burner gas hot top to cook on, a printer for our computer, and 2 pillows to be brought later in September on the UMCOR truck that will bring furnishings for the Hankins' new house. After having worked hard at getting rid of so many possessions as we left home that we should have divested long ago, it feels funny to both of us to be buying things for our new (rented) home in Sudan; but we've planned carefully to get the minimum stuff needed to enable us to carry on our missionary service.
Friday, August 20
It's Diantha's 58th birthday, and things have gone so smoothly we have nothing we have to get done today! Anne Travis has emailed that we should rest while we are in Kampala, and this day we can. We sleep in a little, have a late breakfast, then go to the desk to ask about walking to a museum we have heard is nearby. The desk clerks all urge us to take a taxi, saying walking is too dangerous; after the last two days being driven around Kampala I believe them. As one of the desk clerks, a young woman, walks us down to taxi stand at the gate, she complements Diantha on dressing modestly like an African woman, perhaps an unspoken contrast to the tank-topped Italian tourists who clogged the lobby this morning. Diantha tells her that our daughter made the dress she is wearing, and the young woman is surprised we have a daughter old enough to make such a beautiful dress. The clerk is more surprised when Diantha tells her how old she is and how long we've been married, and she comments that it must be a happy marriage from the way she's seen us interact over several days. It strikes me how much we witness without realizing it, by the way we act in parts of our lives we don't think about as the witness parts.
Saturday, August 21
We rise at 2:15 am because the hotel staff insist we have to get to the Entebbe airport 3 hours before the 7:00 am time we have been told to show up at the gate. The reason, they say, is that following the bombing of the soccer club in Kampala several weeks ago, security has been much tighter and it takes longer to go through security at the airport. So the hotel van races through abandoned streets in the wee hours, we breeze through security, and sit for three hours waiting for the ticket counter to open. Its the only time the people we've been relying on in Uganda have been wrong, so we forgive them though we can't really make up the sleep on the hard plastic chairs of the waiting room. Right at 7 am, the missionaries from the UK John and Poppy Spens walk into the airport and I'm delighted to introduce them to Diantha. Poppy is carrying a portable ultrasound machine back to the Martha Clinic in Yei, and she and Diantha immediately begin talking about health care matters while John and I find we share a strong interest in getting the various mission efforts in Yei to collaborate in more concrete ways. As we settle into the little 19-passenger plane, Diantha turns to me and says, “There's no turning back now.” Actually, there hasn't been for some time, but it really sinks in then. I make sure she sits by a window, and she notices the difference in the abundant, organized farms of Uganda and the scarce cultivation when we cross into Sudan. The plane's smooth landing amazes her too, and then we get out onto the red maram clay landing strip and hug Boo and Phyllis.
After Boo and Phyllis have taken us from the airport to the UMCOR guest house where they and we will stay, we finally have an hour or so to make up a little sleep. Then at 2:00 pm we splash water on our face and walk to the new little meeting hut built in front of the guest house where the Sudanese United Methodist pastors have begun to gather. Eventually 14 of the 16 show up, a good turnout, for what we realize is a reception to welcome us! We speak briefly about our hopes and plans for mission service, and then one by one most of the pastors speak, some briefly and some at length and some practically preaching a whole sermon. They have been praying for us to come, they are joyful that we are here, they are thankful that the Church has sent us to help them, they have great hopes and expectations for the impact we can have. I'm actually kind of scared (I find out later Diantha is too) by the immensity of their expectations. As the hour and a half of sharing and prayer ends, I tell them that there is so much to do that I am aware it impossible for us to do it out of our own abilities; BUT that I know three things: with God all things are possible; that needed change will happen as we are partners with each other, each teaching the other what we know; and that though I don't completely understand it, I believe God has a great purpose for Sudan of which we are all together a part.
The more I reflect on this welcome, the more I am blown away by the first step of trust the pastors have placed in us. Thank you, God.
Sunday, August 22
I've been looking forward to worship at Yei United Methodist Church, especially because it will be Diantha's first time to worship in a Sudanese church. Sure enough, I watch her enjoyment build to ecstasy when at the first “hot song” the children rush up to grab her hand and dance, jumping up and down with her. In fact, she has several children holding each of her hands. I get teary when I see her glowing face, and realize she is taking the time to look into the face of each child dancing with her. I'm seeing Jesus taking the time for each little child.