After much preparation, in November we have started going to the United Methodist Church in each village to have an all day planning session with all the local chiefs, leaders and people. Pastor Isaac Sebit rides his motorcycle and we ride ours, since the Hankins need to use their Landcruiser every day. Most of the rural roads are treacherous with ruts, mud holes and sandy spots, so we fall off the motorcycle now and then (at very low speeds with no serious injuries.) Usually Steve drives; but there is about 10 miles of the dirt road northeast of Yei that has been smoothed and hard-packed this year, and Diantha drove that stretch last Friday, her first trip driving the cycle. We switched drivers when it was time to go off the main road, and spent one hour going down a grassy lane, with mudholes and potholes, etc. Hard going, two falls despite new mud tires, but the meeting after we got there was very good. At the beginning of the planning meeting, Steve reminded folks of Jesus' teaching that if we have faith even the size of tiny mustard seeds (we held up sesame seeds), we can move the mountains represented by their huge problems. He also reminded them of the story of Jesus' feeding the 5,000 as a reminder that though the people may feel they have few resources in the face of the big task ahead, God wants us to make the commitment of offering it. Diantha had brought 5 small loaves and two dried fish, and gave them to some of the children to bring up front; of course the children started sharing it among themselves and eating before their part, but that's ok; the adults applauded and laughed as the children held up what was left of the object lesson. By the end of the meetings with the first three villages, we are as excited with the process of getting people to take ownership and action as we are of the selection of projects. Each of the 2 churches so far chose getting training to improve their farming production, wisely concluding that this might not only help them feed their families better but also give them more cash to solve other problems including paying school fees and for medicines. We're arranging for them to be trained by another nonprofit group here that does excellent training, and will help them reproduce that training back in their villages for other farmers. Since we'll go through this village planning process with 17 churches, it will take some months, and it will be slowed by the registration and campaigning for the important Referendum to be held January 9-16 on whether south Sudan should be independent from the north.
On November 8 Diantha and I were traveling to Kirikwa, a remote village about 2 hours from Yei. We worked it out that Diantha should ride on the back of Pastor Isaac Sebit's motorcycle, because he is a much more experienced motorcycle driver than I, and we decided it was safer for her. I drove our motorcycle, which I had spent a scant 2 months learning on since we got it. About an hour into the trip as we dodged huge potholes in the road, I was necessarily going slowly, less than 6 mph, but steered too tightly around a pothole and the motorbike fell. I put out my right arm to catch myself as I fell, and my weight and that of the bike pushed the arm into my shoulder. My arm and shoulder hurt badly at first, but after about 5 minutes it subsided enough that I decided to get back on the cycle and drive another hour to Kirikwa II United Methodist Church. I was able to help Diantha facilitate a 4-hour planning meeting with Kirikwa I and Kirikwa II UMCs, eat a leisurely meal with the churches, then drive 2 hours back home to Yei. For about two weeks after the incident I kept thinking it was just a strain and bruised muscle, but after 2 weeks when I couldn't raise my right arm past my shoulder, I talked with a friend Sunday after missionary fellowship, Dr. Constance Rossow (German doctor) advised me to see her husband Dr. Matthias Rossow right away about my shoulder, so Monday I did. He diagnosed a partial rotator cuff rupture and urged me to get an MRI right away to determine whether just physical therapy, or surgery plus physical therapy would be needed. According to Dr. Matthias, surgery of this kind would have meant going to the U.S. After several days of preparation (mainly hounding the insurance companies to pre-authorize the MRI; Blue Cross did, UMVIM did not) Diantha and I flew to Kampala on Thursday and got the MRI the same day. I appreciate all the prayer, because it was very difficult -- but important -- to have my shoulder stuck in an extremely painful position for the 1 hour it took for the 48 exposures the MRI took. Friday we picked up the results and took them to Dr. Norberto Orwotho, the same very excellent orthopaedic surgeon that operated on Boo! The way all this timing worked out was indeed God's doing. Dr. Norbeto's assessment is that I do indeed have a partially ruptured tendon, but it is not bad enough to need surgery. Diantha and I are deeply grateful to God for that! And we got to attend a most amazing worship service with the Congolese refugee United Methodist Church in Kampala, and Diantha and I had time to relax, and celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary with some great restaurant food! Who knew there was fantastic Italian, and even passable Korean food in Uganda! I saw an excellent Physical Therapist in Kampala who gave me some good exercises and a list of things not to do. I am not doing the things I'm not supposed to do, and doing about half an hour of exercises three times a day, and already seeing improvement as the other muscles and tendons in my right arm gain the ability to compensate for the torn tendon. The main limit I face is not being able to drive either the motorcycle or the land cruiser for several months. It means Diantha and Phyllis have to do all the driving. And it makes it harder to figure out how to travel to the village churches, but we are determined to work that out so we can go to at least 2 or 3 every month and continue our work.
Some parts of dealing with injury have been surprisingly smooth for me: I got quick and excellent medical attention in Yei at a mission clinic, we were able to book an airplane flight to Uganda in a matter of days, the East Africa Annual Conference responded quickly with help by providing a driver in Uganda, the doctor and physical therapist in Uganda were extremely professional and helpful and gave me attention right away. But it is daunting to realize the distances to medical care that we had gotten used to having nearby: there is no ability to get certain tests, like an MRI, in south Sudan; and the closest physical therapist is a 5 hour drive away. The hardest part of the whole process was trying to communicate with insurance companies in the US who showed little flexibility to the difficulties of dealing with a health problem when overseas: the difficulty and prohibitive cost of communication by phone, the difficulty of finding a fax machine here, etc. And the most sobering part of the experience was reflecting on the reality that our Sudanese colleagues, pastors and lay people, have no access to the insurance and medical care that we are able to access. It was a powerful reminder of the enormous privilege we continue to carry as we live and work here. Readers can continue to pray for the Sudanese people who have so little access to medical help, and may consider making a contribution to the Sudan mission medical fund (at Holston Conference) toward the cost of medical expenses of Sudanese pastors, church leaders and their families.
Many of you have asked about our safety as news stories focus on the tensions, threats and scenarios of conflict leading up to the January 9 Referendum on separation or unity. Voter registration for the referendum began November 15 and will last two weeks. We have noticed more rallies, trainings of registrars, posters and also wake up every morning to the sound of the UN training Sudanese police to prepare for these events. We have some very knowledgeable friends who will keep us informed, especially if there is potential danger for us. We live on a compound with a fence and a guard, which is very near the UNHCR office, which monitors the situation and also keeps us informed. As we look at the situation, we think we are blessed to be in one of the safest places in south Sudan, with less crime and more calm than most places. We'll keep you posted as national events and our mission work develop, but meanwhile, pray for Sudan, for the referendum, for the Sudanese people, for the United Methodist churches, and for us and the others here working to help people.
Seeing a Christmas tree in the hospital lobby in Kampala was the first reminder that it was two days before Advent. I realize how much I depend on cold weather and other cues to get me ready for Christmas. As we talk with mission and other expatriate colleagues here, we find that we are in a tiny minority staying in Yei for Christmas. We'll celebrate with a Christmas church service at Yei UMC, and probably a potluck Christmas dinner with Boo and Phyllis and a few other friends. We're all so busy we don't get to spend much time together. Meanwhile, we put Handel's Messiah on the the CD player, and look wistfully at snowy, cold emails and photos from friends.