20 October 2013

Katherine and Tim

They make a good pair.

“And another set of questions nagged, about profound and juxtaposed inequality - the signature fact of so many modern cities...Some people consider such juxtapositions of wealth and poverty a moral problem.  What fascinates me is why they’re not more of a practical one.  After all, there are more poor people than rich people in the world’s Mumbais.  Why don’t places like Airport Road, with their cheek-by-jowl slums and luxury hotels, look like the insurrectionist video fame Metal Slug 3?  Why don’t more of our unequal societies implode?...In the hours that passed, I arrived at a certain clarity...I had little to lose by pursuing my interests in another quarter - a place beyond my so-called expertise, where the risk of failure would be great but the interactions somewhat more meaningful...The slumdwellers I’d already come to know in India were neither mythic nor pathetic.  They were certainly not passive.  Across the country, in communities decidedly short on saviors, they were improvising, often ingeniously, in pursuit of the new economic possibilities of the twenty-first century.  Official statistics offered some indication of how such families were faring.  But in India, like many places in the world, including my own country, statistics about the poor sometimes have a tenuous relation to lived experience.  To me, becoming attached to a country involves pressing uncomfortable questions about justice and opportunity for its least powerful citizens.  The better one knows those people, the greater the compulsion to press...There being no way around the not-being-Indian business, I tried to compensate for my limitations the same way I do in unfamiliar American territory: by time spent, attention paid, documentation secured, accounts cross-checked...When I settled into a place, listening and watching, I don’t try to fool myself that the stories of individuals are themselves arguments.  I just believe that better arguments, maybe even better policies, get formulated when we know more about ordinary lives.”  
 - Katherine Boo (Author’s Note: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity) (finished yesterday)

“Do you know how Satan tempted Jesus? [turn this rock into bread, throw yourself off this cliff]...He’s trying to say, I want you to be like Merlin, and I want you to be like Superman, because the powers of Superman, the powers of Merlin, made them in-vulnerable, made them impossible to attack.  You couldn’t spear Superman, you couldn’t nail Superman, you couldn’t kill Superman, because their supernatural power made them in-vulnerable.  Jesus’ supernatural power does not do that.  The grand miracle was the incarnation in which God, the glorious God, the Son of God, became vulnerable.  When the woman with the hemorrhage touched Jesus’ garment, do you remember what happened? How did he know that she had been healed? He said ‘power went out from me’ - he felt weak.  In other words - his strength went to her.  Her weakness went to him.  Isn’t that interesting?  Do you know how often, when Jesus Christ did a miracle, it made his enemies more angry at him so finally when he raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11, his enemies said, “now we’ve gotta kill him.”  Jesus’ supernatural power not only did not make him in-vulnerable, it made him more vulnerable, more spearable, more nailable, more killable.  Why? The very last verse tells you.  How does Jesus deal with our brokenness?  He bears it.  He bears it...not just the disease, all the brokenness, death itself, the curse of us turning away from God, the disintegration, the weakness the suffering the death that is our lot now, fell on him on the cross....strength through weakness...Jesus Christ saves us by becoming weak, by going to the cross and dying for us....how are we going to bless the country, the neighborhood, how are we going to bless the world? How are we going to deal with cancers and slums? We have to become weak and to pour yourself out and to do the great works that Jesus did, is to give your money away, is to give your time away, is to give your heart away, but that’s what we have to do. 
Rodney Stark, who was a great historian, and who wrote a great book called Rise of Christianity [tells of eyewitness accounts from the plague in the early centuries of Christianity]: 
‘The doctors were quite incapable of treating the disease, the people became afraid to visit anyone, and as a result thousands of people died with no one to look after them.  Indeed there were many houses in which all the inhabitants perished through lack of any attention.  The bodies of the dead were heaped one on top of the other and half dead creatures could be seen staggering about in the streets, the catastrophe became so overwhelming that men became indifferent to every rule of morality, many pushed sufferers away, even their dearest, often throwing them into the road before they were dead, hoping to avert contagion....Most Christians in the plague showed unbounded love and loyalty never sparing themselves and only thinking of others, heedless of danger they took charge of the sick, attended to their every need, ministering to them in Christ and many departed their life serenely happy for they were infected by their neighbors and cheerfully accepted their pains.  The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of elders, many in nursing and curing for others transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.’
Where do you think they got that idea from?”
- Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, [“Healing the Sick” : Matthew 8:5-17] (listened to today)

bearing each others brokenness...Katherine Boo did.  No indication she believes in Jesus... “the profound and juxtaposed inequality” she wrote of and her perplexion at how the walls we insulate ourselves with don’t just collapse on top of us...we as Christians, yes, but also as humans in general, do not love our neighbors by creating walls of insulation/protection/security/peace/beauty...but by going and crossing those lines of “expertise” and comfort that Katherine speaks of, where “the risk of failure would be great, but the interactions somewhat more meaningful”...those lines that protect us from the brokenness and suffering of others...those lines that put us not only at risk of failure, but also put our lives themselves at risk...our “happiness” at risk...our contentment with the status quo...and from experience, when we do, we not only have the honor of bearing the burdens and brokenness of those around us, but also learning from and experiencing their glory...this ingenuity Katherine writes of, their sense of humor, their intellect, their simplicity of life, their creativity, their beauty amidst their brokenness.  Getting into the muck of ordinary lives instead of cruising by on the Airport Road past our luxury hotels and glossy billboards with photos of starving children...the better we know people, the stronger our desire to press into and against the injustice and suffering in their lives.  Jesus could have used his power/position to make himself “in-vulnerable” as Tim points out - preventing all possible harm/threat, but He didn’t...quite the opposite.  Maybe I should take note.

11 October 2013

What's in a voice?

Pittsburgh, PA NLDS Game 3 (October 2013)

What's in a voice?
I have known the sound of nothing so long
Since I was just a flutter
from the tenderness of her "shhhhh...."
to the distress of her "[sigh]......"
from the stern holler of "HEIDI!!!"
to the delight of "Heidikins!....."
her inquisitive questions
her seldom shared life suggestions
There's reason
There's reassurance
There's familiarity
There's functionality
There's correction
There's compassion
There's conversation
Then it creaks and groans and slows...
threatening to halt
A word here, a throat cleared there
I want to pull it back
back from the ALS abyss
A voice, you say?
Would by any other name sound so sweet?
Not hers.
It's just a name - letters, sounds, syllables - you say?
Yes, but it's hers.
It's just a body - bones, muscles, joints - you say?
Yes but it's hers.
It's just a voice - tones, pitches, vibrations - you say?
Yes, but it's hers.
God made this name, this body, this voice.
and He made them hers.
He made my name, my body, my voice.
and He made them hers.
What's in a voice, you say?
It's hers.

20 September 2013


"Hello, is Susie there?" - anonymous caller to 5445 Kincaid St., Pittsburgh, PA ~ circa 1985
"I'm sorry, you have the wrong number." ~ 6 yo Heidi, sure that there was no one by the name of "susie" living at our number.
Sue? yes, but Susie? no.  Turns out it was my aunt Cynthia, calling for my mom, who at the time went by Sue, but back in the day was known by her family and others as Susie.  And these days she's known as Susan.

Yesterday was "Susie's" birthday.  She spent it in the black Honda Civic with her hubby of 37 years,

Labor Day Weekend 201

driving across the flat plains of IL, IN, and OH headed for Pittsburgh, the first stopover on their much needed R&R trip to a family favorite, Maine.  If there's one thing the Lutjens' are good at, it's road trips...

one such infamous trip - to Maine I believe - in the Dodge Caravan

...long hours, long distances, but usually pretty spectacular destinations.

Thunder Hole - Acadia National Park - Bar Harbor, ME
This was one of those destinations (stollen from google images...I can assure you there was not this level of photographic technology around when we visited this spot when I was small - well, or if there was, this pastor's family for sure didn't have it). I don't ever remember Thunder Hole being so sunny and clear, usually overcast and misty...I also don't remember those snazzy guard rails, but maybe they were there and I was too young to notice.  I'm not sure if you've had those experiences in life which when recalled, the sheer memory of which is a visceral experience...feelings I'm sure I cannot put adequate words to...standing on those rocks, covered in sea spray and shivering, watching/listening to/feeling wave after wave CRASH and THUNDER into this rock cove along the ME shoreline...grabbing onto mom or dad or brother/sister for security...not so much in fear, but more in awe, wanting to touch someone else and be sure this was real...imagine our small minds and bodies, literally quaking in the wonder and power of these waves, this noise, this marvel created by the expression of life by God's creation.  May very well be one of my favorite places on earth.

I've been thinking lately that one of the things I'm thankful to my mom for, one of the many things that I love about her, is her shared sense of wonder and marvel in what is around her.  Her facial expressions when she finds out something fascinating or surprising, the dramatic "you're kidding?!?!?!" that often follows such expressions...her love and recognition of the wonder that is physiology and the inner workings of the human body, her appreciation of natural and created beauty of all kinds, from simple things like the color in her salad, to the complexities of pieces of music and grand works of art...her intrigue about people and places that are different from her own experience, her enjoyment of the pursuit of really understanding something and not just glossing over the seemingly "small and unimportant" details...all of these things and more I've experienced all of my life and grown in gratefulness for as the years go by - here's to the hope and prayer that some of it has rubbed off on me!   Marvel she does.  Wonder she knows.

Thanks mom.  I love you.

18 September 2013

He knows

Daniel answered and said, 
Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him.  And it is He who changes the times and epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.  It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness and the light dwells with him.’”
~ Daniel 2: 20-22~


physical pain/disability, emotional distress, spiritual distance/isolation/dryness, mental reality distortion, grief, loss, change, unknown, unbearable circumstances, hateful people, corruption, deceit, theft, violation, war, complete exhaustion, presence of enemies, sin...

“there’s a light at the end of the tunnel...” 
- if things are bad now, don’t worry, there’s hope [light] ahead
“shed some light on the situation...”
- if things are difficult or murky, the light will help make things clear
lights, camera, action!”
- first part of the movie making sequence? you need to SEE what’s going on, then you start recording 
                                  what’s going on, THEN you cue in to what’s actually going on
“make a right at the second light...”                        
                                - landmark
- (ever heard “make a left at that place where you can’t see anything”?)
“this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine...”
- “lemme show you my dark corner”? nope
“scared of the dark...”
- place of fear not of comfort
“I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley...” 
- place where bad things are done and no one can see to rescue you - unknown
“lurking in the dark corners...”
- places where people do not often choose to go
“he has a dark past...”
                                - he has done the kinds of things he would rather keep hidden
“those were dark times...” 
- periods which you would like NOT to revisit
“It’s too dark in here, I can’t see anything! Turn on the light, will ya?”
- The antidote for the darkness? Light.

to know: (verb) = be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information

“know” the facts (information)
“know” the feeling (experience)
“know” the place (observation)

Daniel says God knows what is in the darkness.

He KNOWs it.  He knows all the facts.  He knows the who: names, faces, and stories of all people involved, or not involved.  He knows the what: every detail that makes up this particular story.  He knows the when: the timing of the circumstances, what came before and what will come after.  He knows the night or day, weekend or weekday, the day the month the year the hour the minute, and how inconvenienced/stressed/pressured you are as a result.  He knows the where: home or work, street name and address, state, country, continent, and climate.  And maybe most importantly AND most puzzling, He knows the one we rarely if EVER know...He knows the why:  not the means but the END, the purpose, the goal, the justification, the motivation, the cause, the value, the benefit, the role in your life and the lives of those near or far.

He’s KNOWs it.  He’s experienced it.  Been there.  Felt that. Seen that.  Heard that. Smelt that.  He’s NOT unexperienced, immune, or naive.  He notices.  He’s read the briefing and the background checks.  His nerve endings are sensitive.  All 5 of his senses (and maybe more?) are not only functional but keen.

He KNOWs it.  He’s the ever-present observer.  Nothing has gone on that he is not privy to...not only has he been on the receiving end of all of it already, but he’s also been the witness to ALL of it.  It’s a different perspective than that of participant, but just as valid and important and pertinent...

In our Bible Study chapter on El Elyon last week, in the verse after verse that we read about our God Most High, this is the one that stuck out: 

 “...He knows what is in the darkness...” - Daniel 2:22

What is it though, about these simple words? Well, this post is me working that out...And in the end, I realize that the comfort is in the fact that He knows...not just in fact, or witness, but in experience...the feeling of, the reality of the darkness.  

Now that I stop and think about it, the fact that “He knows” was also the main take home lesson I learned from Dr. Calhoun’s class I took at Covenant Seminary entitled “Sickness and Suffering.”  Dr. Calhoun started the class off by telling us he was not, in fact, going to be able to answer the “WHY?!” question that He knew was looming large in all of our minds, and in his own as well...but he did remind us that God was not untouched by darkness [sickness and suffering] himself - the loss of His only Son, the betrayal and rejection and violation from His people...and the list goes on.  THAT was “worth the price of admission” for me.  After watching children die day after day in Uganda, after watching “big men” eat money and resources out from under their neighbors and those they are intended to serve without accountability, after struggling to  love my teammates well and them struggling to love me well, after hitting rock bottom emotionally, after having every single prop or buffer I was used to leaning on knocked out from under me, and preparing to head back to a long term commitment of more of the same, THAT was what I needed to hear, THAT was the lightbulb I needed turned on.  I needed to know that He didn’t look down from his comfy throne in heaven where everything is peachy keen all the time.  I needed to know that the suffering, the darkness, was not something He doled out to all of us, but something He knew something of Himself.  He knows what it’s like...He knows what is in the darkness...my darkness, your darkness, his darkness, her darkness, OUR darkness.


PS: The same week as the Daniel light bulb, this Op Ed article, coming in from Japan, was published in the NY Times.  A Facebook find for me from a friend from college, it was timely, fascinating, and powerful.  I don’t think Pico Iyer knows this line from Daniel about the darkness.  I don’t think He believes in the God that knows said darkness, but his reflection on darkness or “suffering” is spot on in many ways.  See for yourself.

03 September 2013

partial truth

one of those days.  one of those belly-rumbling, slightly-more-aware-of-ones-muscles-and-joints, dizzy-headed-even-while-lying-down, days.  This one spent in bed, reading.  Book of the month = Cutting For Stone.  I’m not a very good missionary, in that I’ve read very very little of what’s written (fictional or non) about the countries/continent which I call home.  This particular choice is a fictional tale set in our neighbor to the east, Ethiopia.  I have some faint recollection that President Obama made a big deal (in a positive way) about it when it was first published...and several members of my family have read and recommended it.  So far tales of medicine, that since I’ve been mostly out of the acute clinical practice setting now for a year and a half or so, I can enjoy in my “time off”...a tale of family and it’s looser-than-biology definitions...a tale of culture...a tale of hearts and souls and life and the lackthereof and the stuffs of those lives that are important.  It’s good.  I doze in and out as a read, not yet sweating in my pajamas.  Various teammates come in to check on me, and eventually I emerge for something for lunch.

After achieving nourishment, I head back to the Shire and on the way notice that there’s an issue of Outside magazine I haven’t read yet on the coffee table.  I swipe it and continue on.  The cover promises a never yet told version of the famous American ascent of Mt. Everest 50 years ago along with something about a speed run down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and racing horses across Mongolia.  Sounds hopeful for proper sick-day escapist reading material.  I lift up my net and along with my magazine climb back into the happy place otherwise known as my bed.

See, every few months, we get an installation of our mail from friends in Arua.  We brought said installation with us last week when we returned from R&R in Uganda.  Included in said installation was several months worth of Michael Masso’s Outside Magazine subscription.  We’re always eager for current-ish reports of the goings on of the “outside” world, and this publication never seems to disappoint.  Well written, often blunt and amusing reports of people even crazier than we are, doing things we would never dream of doing...okay, things I would never dream of doing (can’t speak for our slew of 23 year old male interns...one never knows what they deem reasonably do-able) in places we’re easily convinced need to be on our next travel itinerary.

I open up to the Everest article because when downloading Cutting for Stone from the St. Louis Public Library onto my Kindle, I’d looked for Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer but was disappointed not to find it available in ebook format...so, the mountain was already on my mind.  Christine asked me if I’d ever try to climb Everest...clearly she was never present on any of my family backpacking/hiking/camping vacations growing up...I quickly told her absolutely not...it doesn’t sound to me like fun by any stretch of the imagination ...well, except the beauty...okay, AND the adventure...AND the thrill of summiting...but lets be honest, I could never EVER hack it...even without the oxygen tanks and frostbite and altitude sickness and such...so, no, no thank you.  But reading about it?! Fascinating...

“Like all great feats of alpinism the West Ridge is only possible for those who fully commit.  Perhaps Hornbein put it best, describing his mentality that final day as ‘the total feeling of detachment with anything else in the world that seemed to matter - family, child - only Mount Everest was there at the time, and only the summit above us seemed to be beckoning me.” 
- Grayson Schaffer’s last paragraph in the article

...and after a glance at the Marmot Polartec NeoShell jacket ad opposite the end of the article, I turned the page... “Born on the 9th of July”...and a dramatic photo of an ash covered Mundari cattle herder with his white long horned cattle in the background...whoah.  taken aback.  South Sudan was born on the 9th of July, 2011...South Sudan is home to the Mundari cattle herding tribe...and the Dinka, called in the article “the Tribe of Hummers” (refering to their affinity for the oversized and over priced 4x4 vehicles)...and the Moru, the predominant tribe here in Mundri where we live...wait wait wait...hang on...flip back the page... “Jon Krakauer”... “Life magazine”... fallen climbers’ bodies emerging from the icefall 6 years after their climb attempt of the highest mountain in the world...and an insullating shell jacket ad promoting their product with the phrase - “What gives you life?”...let’s try this again, and I flip forward a page...same Mundari shot...same mentions of Juba and brand spankin’ white Land Cruisers with the light blue and yellow EU symbol on the sides and road travel held up by potential land mine extraction procedures...from Everest to Juba, from frostbite and down insulated jackets to the dust covered bodies and stiff bone/rubber bracelets of the Mundari...un. real.  striking. along the lines of an out of body experience, to see the place you call home presented as such a wild and untamed wilderness with vast potential for tourism and adventure capital...in the context of this adrenaline rich publication geared towards people with way too much time and money on their hands...

Most of what this article about South Sudan presents is truth, but it’s only part of the truth...the photos are real, and dramatic, but really only represent a part of what I see and hear and smell on a daily basis.  It’s exciting to see and hear people “talking” about South Sudan, to see it get a place “on the map” so-to-speak...to see people write about the vast resources this land has to offer the world, to hear outsiders comment on the reality that is your life in ways you’ve never heard/thought of before...

We are headed out of the dismal capital, driving south for four hours toward the Imatong Mountains...The ambassador wants to tour the south of South Sudan, get some exercise, and then fling himself off the peak in his paraglinder, avoiding a crash landing in the Central African jungles while claiming some fun distinction like First Unpowered Descent from a Place No One Has Heard of...”

- he he he :) and...

South Sudan is not a society in recovery: there never was any real infrastructure, government, civil society, rules, laws, or rule of law here, so there is nothing to recover.  Instead it’s a scratch country, invented as a solution to an insoluble problem of semi-permanent war and defined by what it lacks.  There is no electrical grid, no mail service, almost no roads even of the dirt kind, and perhaps a few hundred miles of asphalt if you count every paved block in Juba.  The have-nots have a lot of not: barely a smidgen of schools, almost no health care, a population living on zero dollars per day in a subsistence-farming economy where cattle are traded like currency.  There are more guns than people who can read; refugee camps are more common than towns; snow would be easier to find than a road sign.”

wow.  well when you put it like that...or...

“Juba is more encampment than city, a sprawling settlement of homely huts and instant apartments whose population has swelled to more than a million as waves of returning exiles and rural people have moved in.  Many thousands of foreigners have come here as well, riding around in white Land Cruisers during the twice-a-day traffic jams that are a mark of pride for locals.  The most common signage is anything beginning with the letters “UN,” and a trip across town uses reference points like “Go past WHO” and “Turn left at WFP”... “In a place where hotel rooms are made from empty shipping containers and everything from gasoline to rice is imported on the back of a truck from Kenya, inflation has sky rocketed: a taxi across Juba costs twice as much as in New York, hastily built apartments are priced as if in central Rome...”

hm. crazy but ‘tis true.

But Patrick Symmes doesn’t mention the toothy ear to ear smiles that I love so much,



 the cozy crackling sound of charcoal with a pot of, well, anything on top,

Mary & Mel making sweet potato fries 
the taste of a too-hot-to-touch cup of kere kede that’s been simmering for a while with sticks of cinnamon and is chock full-o-sugar...the waves and greetings along the road, the turn of a child’s face from wide-eyed wonder at your strangely pale skin to a smile creeping across their face when they look you in the eyes and realize you’re smiling and not going to eat them or hurt them like they’re told in the stories they hear...
he doesn’t mention the teachers that really care and really are trying with what little they have to give the future of their country an education,

 he doesn’t mention the injections given by staff that care in health centers across the country that save lives from malaria, the wounds cleaned and dressed and healed as a result,

Mama Roda and yours truly
the babies born and thriving,

Salome and baby "Heidi" - my namesake - spelled for accuracy by request

the churches rockin’ with handmade drums and gourd shakers...he has only told half of the story.  But that’s okay, he’s left the other half for me.

25 August 2013

parting of the red tape

"Parting of the Red Sea" - version 1
permission to be, please.

when you are guests in a country, you have to play by your host's rules.  What happens when your host doesn't actually know what it's rules are?  bureaucratic red tape chaos.  When you are a new country, you have the privilege of making your own new rules.  It's great.  Freedom = choice.  BUT when this freedom is found in a context like that of South Sudan, in an African context in which organization is NOT a cultural strong suit, freedom = choice = mayhem!  With no strong centralized process, every office takes the opportunity to call its own shots and every person in every office takes the opportunity to call their own shots depending on, well, who knows what, depending on the color of the shoes they're wearing that day or the number of full matatus that passed by them that morning on their way into work, I have no idea really.  It takes "getting the run around" to a totally new level.  Totally contrary information from every person you talk to, spending days going from office to office, desk to desk, as the amount of money that you owe in order to play by the rules goes up and up and up...

when you have even a single bone of organizational capacity in your body as a missionary you find yourself in the role of pursuing logistical issues for your team.  Like the African context, the missionary context is not one of organizational strength.  I'm a nurse.  I'm pretty good at following rules/directions.  It's a professional liability not to be.  But when you don't know what the directions are, things get, well, let's just say "complicated."

Our team has been trying to play by non-existent rules for several years now, and it's kind of exhausting.  Our operational certification as an NGO expires in October and in like good missionaries we are trying to gather what we need in advance and be prepared for the mayhem that awaits us in Juba.  It's a really long story, which would probably bore most of you, but it involves wading through the sea of red tape and trying to figure out what our hosts rules are and how we need to go about playing by them...NGO's need to employ a certain percentage of national staff and have work permits and we are an NGO but we partner with the church and what does that mean for our status with the government, and what if our goal as an organization is to strengthen and equip and encourage South Sudanese in already existing positions NOT to create new positions that will then one day cease to exist...we are willing to pay our dues but what if we are being charged dues without explanation of what they are for, or being charged for fees in years that the country did not exist...and the list goes on...

But there is hope at the end of the tunnel.  The week in which we were trying to make decisions as a team about how to move forward we had a guest - WHM South Sudan's Miri Moto compound has become a tourist destination believe it or not - soon you'll be able to find us on Yelp! - and this particular week we had guests from Maridi and Uganda taking their R&R time with us - the guest from Maridi overheard us discussion our dilemmas and recommended we talk to his team leader who had recently sorted through similar issues...anyone able to shed ANY light on this chaos was very welcome, so I gave Leah a call...I don't even know Leah's second name...I just know she is an American living in Maridi and leading a team there.  But that's more than enough to elicit a phone call.

Who knew.  Leah is a rock star.  I mean, not a REAL rock star, but a South Sudanese red tape rock star for sure, which is actually just as cool as a REAL rock star.  She informed me of their team's very recent saga which had come to completion in the last few weeks due to help from another large missions agency in country..."AAAHHHHHH!!!!!" - I'm pretty sure the angelic music was audible.  Turns out I have a nurse friend who works for said large missions agency who happens to be in Canada at the moment, which happens to be 8-10 hours behind us right now...and who happened to be online at that very moment...*unashamed plug for the Facebook chat function - never know when it might come in handy*...and you'll never believe this, but with Facebook chat and international emails between 3 countries on 2 continents, within 30 minutes my 2nd South Sudanese red tape rock star friend, Christiane, had hooked me up with a word document of exactly what we needed to do...yes, a word document...4 pages of pure gold!  Pure gold that outlined step by step, bullet point by bullet point what we needed to do to pursue registration as a Faith Based Organization...which seems to fit who we are much more than an NGO which puts us on equal par with those giants of UNICEF and WFP and such...did I mention there were contact names and phone numbers?  Did I mention there were scanned copies of the application form?  UN-BE-LIEVABLE! A registration that supposedly negates our need for work permits (ie. saving us literally thousands of dollars) and gives us approval for 1 yr multiple entry visas...incredible...seems too good to be true in fact...all of my bosses (Bishop here in South Sudan, and Michael Masso from the USA) grilled me on the legitimacy of such a thing...but I had done my homework...well, my friends had done their homework and I had read their answers so-to-speak, and it seems legit...for real!

Just the night before I had been at my wit's end, fed up with trying to figure out the system, fed up with trying to ask "permission to be" from people who didn't seem to want me to be...my teammates had tried to tell me it was going to be okay, but I wasn't quite sure.  I was kinda worried we were going to be kicked out of the country...for real.  The next morning my teammates prayed, and within hours it all came together...I was interrupting the teacher training going on with texts of excitement..."call me at your earliest convenience" I told Bethany, our fearless interim team leader at the time..."What is it?!" she said when she found her earliest convenience...and I launched into the kind of unbelievable saga of the morning...Now, I'm not sure about your feelings about prayer, honestly sometimes I'm not sure either, but this seemed like a pretty direct answer...I could hardly contain myself...and usually I have no problem containing myself...containment issues are not really a Lutjens problem...

But ladies and gentlemen, the saga is not quite over.  If you believe that prayer moves things, then I'd appreciate you take up our cause in your prayers...Bishop took our FBO paperwork to Juba on Friday, and hopefully passed it along to an ECS logistician....

  • pray this logistician, Mawa, would be willing and ready to process our paperwork for us
  • pray that the Bureau of Religious Affairs would be willing and ready to accept our application without delay
  • pray that the BoRA would readily give us an approval letter for the Ministry of Interior
  • pray that the Ministry of Interior would readily accept the BoRA letter and give us an approval letter for 1 yr multiple entry visas for our whole team
  • pray that in fact, this registration/these visas negate our need for work permits in a very above the board way
I've never been so amazed.  Makes me a little more willing to pray big....but I need your help.

"Parting of the Red Sea - version 2"

home away from home: Uganda

  • the spazzy excitement of banana tree leaves everywhere you look; 
  • lingering 2.5 hour oil lantern lit and burning mosquito coil accompanied dinners at mexican resaurants with teammates who are coworkers as well as friends and, well, family too, at the end of a long day of details and travel; 
  • 5 straight hours of paved road; 
  • the amazing goodness of a leg of chicken roasted on a stick eaten standing by the side of the vehicle while your teammates use the favorite toilet location along said 5 hour stretch of paved road;        
  • the swamps of Dr. Seuss-esque papyrus tufts; 
  • the dukas with goat ropes hanging by the door; 
  • the Kalita and Link buses rumbling by as they pass you on the one lane "highway"; 
  • familiar phrases used and questions asked in the market and the ensuing stumbling/stuttering over words which have since been replaced by those of other east african languages in my brain's "language bank"; 
  • discussions around the Rwenzori View family style dinner table with inquisitive Icelandic journalists traversing the country; 
  • the familiarity of old teammates and ease of falling back into days of life shared; 
  • the conversation that ensues over the loud hum of old 4x4 vehicles whose radios/tape decks are long broken as you "zoom" along the one lane highway unable to break the 100km/hr mark in the aging vehicle, saving you from the traps of the traffic police in their bright white uniforms as they wait in the valleys and around the bends for a reason to wave you to a stop; 
  • the familiar and tiring complications of decision making and bill settling when traveling as a group of 6 single women, and the pauses of thankfulness for said women making it all worth it;
  • the wind whipping through your hair on the back of strange man's motorcycle you voluntarily ride back to the hotel during rush hour traffic and the gasps and "eh!"s that ensue when the trust you put in this stranger's ability to get you from point A to point B in one piece is somehow broken around every bend; 
  • the appreciated airtime acct balance notifications at the end of every MTN phone call/text message; 
  • the refreshing treat of a cold Krest Bitter Lemon nearly everywhere you go; 
  • the luxury of hour long phone calls to parents costing less than $5, 
  • candle lit "last supper"s in the magical ambiance of Mediterraneo;
  • and, of course, the ever present goodbyes...

05 August 2013

lost {and found} in translation

“You know how every week we do communion at church, they also recite the Ten Commandments....(hear recitation of 10 commandments in Moru), well I’ve had those phrases repeating in my head all day today”...Larissa said, as we were gathering for dinner one night this week.

Nope.  I had no idea that the liturgy for Holy Communion sundays included a recitation of the Ten Commandments. 

 The liturgy in the church Larissa and I go to is done completely in Moru.  There are Moru prayer books, this is the EPISCOPAL Church of Sudan, remember, so every Sunday is a prescribed liturgy.  I chose our church because of all the churches in the area, this is the one with the most Juba Arabic translation used - due in part to it’s proximity to the Army barracks and the area of town where there is a high concentration of “returnees” from Khartoum.  But it’s usually the announcements and the sermon that are translated...not ever the liturgy.  So, I usually mentally check out, standing and sitting at the appropriate times, but also smiling at the cute babies that are invariably sitting around and staring back at me...or on my better missionary days I try to make use of the time to pray for the church and for God’s work in hearts through the liturgy and Word being preached...I’ve always been quite content going to a church service I couldn’t understand...because it means that I have the privilege of worshiping with brothers and sisters who are worshiping in their own tongue...you know those parts of Scripture that talk about “every nation and every tongue”...what joy there is in the experience of a small sliver of that.  It’s not always a terribly spiritually enriching experience to have absolutely no idea what’s going on...what’s being said/prayed/sung...actually most times it’s not, but for the privilege of worshiping with “every nation and every tongue”, it’s totally worth it...even when it’s 5 hours long and when I’m falling asleep doing the head bob/jerking awake thing...or when it’s really really really hot and it seems there’s no air moving at all inside the mud and thatch building.

But today, I understood every word.

Jess is in from Ug to visit, and Scott was preaching about sex at the english service at the Cathedral so I went with Jess and Bethany to support Scott in speaking boldly about  something the Moru church is reluctant to talk about.  He did a GREAT job.  He presented what God calls us to in love for us and about what he calls us not to do out of love for us, and about the forgiveness and grace and mercy God offers to us.  Balanced, clear, simple, truth.

But the unexpected bonus was that at the english service, the liturgy is the same as at my church, but it’s in ENGLISH (shocking, I know).  And it was a Communion sunday, so i got to hear what is actually said in the Communion liturgy (including the Ten Commandments).  But there’s so much RICHNESS in the liturgy and this time, I could understand EVERY word...well, *almost* every word...after the visitors introduced themselves the leader said, “we warmly and hardly welcome you...” I looked confusedly over to the prayer book Jess was holding for us to share...not hardly but HEARTILY :)

But other than pronunciation issues, the richness of the liturgy really encouraged my heart today.  So much that I stole one of the prayer books (it doesn’t have a cover, so I have no idea what it’s actually called) - shhh, bad missionary...I promise, I’ll return it by next week!  But I wanted to be sure to go back over what was said:

Particularly fitting for today’s sermon topic:

“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen”

and after each of the Ten Commandments the people say:
“Amen, Lord have mercy upon us, and make our hearts to obey your law.”

and then the Sh’ma - a harken back to my semester in Jerusalem and the important role of these words in synagogue liturgy and messianic congregations:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength...”

and in the preparation for the Lord’s Table:

“We do not presume to come to this your Table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies: We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your Table.  But you are the same Lord, whose nature is always to have mercy.  Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ and to drink His Blood, that we may evermore live in Him and He is us. Amen.”

and the hope we claim:

“Christ has died.  Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

and the richness continues page after page...

I wonder if it’s so rich to me because it’s so new...I had a conversation with a friend in the US about communion and his insistence on the “best” way to do it...he thought the “best” way was the way I’ve done it all my life...but for me, sometimes that way has lost it’s meaning or poignancy because of it’s regularity and habit in my life.  For me, the most meaningful way to do it is the way most other people grew up doing it...because it’s new and fresh to me and it makes me think about things more to do things in a new way.  For that reason, this whole missionary life is so very rich.  We are ever doing things in a new way...having to think about what we think of, or how we feel about, these new ways and why...

Today was one of those new ways.  The old liturgy was “new” to me, found in translation into my own tongue, whereas before it was lost on my deaf-to-Moru ears.  Rich. Wealth IS mine.

23 July 2013

on story

Have you ever dove head first into something you’d never done before, having absolutely no idea if it was going to work...if you were going to be any good at it...if people were going to “get it”?  We do just that for a living here at World Harvest Mission South Sudan.  We learn new languages in new ways, we have conversations with new people in said new languages, we get new ideas from said conversations and try new things in our ministry fields, we approach new partners to find new people to work alongside as we try said new things, we get more new ideas from said new partners and mesh their ideas with ours...there are seasons in which everyday feels like an experiment.   I’m in one of those seasons now...you leave the house and have no idea what is going to happen, whether what you set out to do will be what you actually do, whether what you actually do will be of any help to anyone or instead a complete disaster...

I feel like we’re still in our toddler years as a team - well, I guess I should speak for myself, after a year and a half here in Mundri, I feel very much a toddler - 
“how far I can walk while holding onto this table? do I need both hands on the table? do I need any hands on the table? whoah, no hands, okay, this is cool, but wait, what do I do now?  you seem to be saying take a step...but clearly you must have missed the fact that I have no hands on the table, so steps are out of the question....whoah?!?!? boom.  bottom’s down.  Bummer.  Literally.  Should have tried taking that step.  Ah well, next time.”

Africans love a good story...they love telling them, hearing them, passing them along...evidenced most often by the effectiveness of the “bush net.”  Who needs the internet when you’ve got the bush net.  When you tell your neighbor, while out in the cool of the morning brushing your teeth with a stick that yesterday you stuck in the thatch of your roof to save for brushing again on a rainy day, that you heard that the gun shots last night were from a drunk soldier who got in a fight with his wife because she didn’t cook meat for dinner, by the time you get to your garden, your garden neighbor will say to you, “hey, did you hear that those shots last night were from a drunk soldier in a fight with his wife because she didn’t cook meat?”  Word gets around.  fast.  Usually the first several minutes of an encounter or greeting with someone will involve telling each other stories or “news” the other may not have heard since you last saw each other...

Even their speech patterns are in story form...it’s beautiful.  I love it.

I love stories too.  Always have, always will.  I used to ask my parents to tell my favorites from their childhoods to me at bedtime...mom’s about ice skating in the winter, and dad’s about setting his bed on fire...those were my favorites.  They would tell them the same every time, and if any detail differed from what I remembered from the last time, of course I asked for clarification... “but last time you said...” - have to get the details right :)

When you ask about rainbows here, yes, the rainbows that we put on stickers and nursery walls and sunday school materials, the rainbows that small children doodle at knee high arts and crafts tables all over the United States, well, here you will get looks of terror and stories about snakes and dust blowing and people turning colors and pregnant women running for cover inside the nearest tukul...everyone I’ve asked tells the same story...it’s part of their cultural heritage...local lore, told around fires at night while the family lies on mats too hot to go inside until the last possible moment...

What if the creation story was told around these fires...what if the wonder of David in the Lion’s Den or Esther and the King were requested by children because of their amazement and intrigue.  What if the women and children who don’t get to go to school, who never learn to read, who cannot open their Bible to meet God in His words on the pages, could know the stories anyways and pass them down from generation to generation?  What if stories they’ve heard read painfully slowly in church by people who struggle to read in their own language and read in a fairly monotonous voice while trying to focus on every word, could be told and heard and remembered in a way that was new and exciting and actually sounded like a story, a story that actually happened once upon a time many years ago in a place not so much unlike their own...

This is Melissa and I’s hope and prayer...we long for these women and children here, who are our friends, to know these stories, to be able to fall back on them as truth when they wonder what really is true, to be able to marvel at what God has done in years past and what He is able to do today. So, with the ability to lean on the work of our WHM colleague George Mixon and his years of experience doing just this with several tribes and people groups in Kenya, Melissa and I decided to start telling the story of the Bible in a chronological way, story by story, week by week, with women at Melissa’s church.  It’s not a new idea...it’s a method called Chronological Bible Storying and has been used with aural cultures all over the world. 

But this isn’t just anywhere, this is rural South Sudan.  We aren’t trained CBS story tellers, we’re just Heidi and Melissa.  Would anyone come? Would people be able to engage in the story even if it’s broken up by translation? Would people be able to hear the stories afresh or would they just roll their eyes and yawn at a story they’ve heard read over and over in church like we so often do?  Would they understand the questions we asked to engage them in learning about the story? Would they be able to hear it well enough to tell it back to us (since the point is for them to be able to go home able to tell the story)?  We had no idea.  But we wanted to give it a whirl.  And so we did.  We memorized the story (Creation, from Genesis 1), scheduled a day, made an announcement in church, and showed up when we said we would...everything else was a shot in the dark.

By all measures the world uses, it was an epic fail.  Our first scheduled day, we ended up going to “coming out” prayers for a new baby who was born near the church, so we didn’t even end up doing the story.  Fail? Nope. We had a blast with a group of our friends and women from church, celebrating the new life God had brought safely into the world and blessing this new life.  And her name?  Melissa.

Next attempt the following week.  How many people came? A grand total of 2.  Fail? Nope.  It was one of our best friends and a lay leader in the church who is an active leader in the Mother’s Union (women’s group).  It turns out it was great to be able to try it out in a small group on our first attempt, and it created a great opportunity for them to feel comfortable asking questions and laughing at ourselves as we stumbled over the use of 3 languages between the 4 of us.

Did we tell it “right?” Nope.  You’re supposed to memorize the story and tell it in the audience’s heart language yourself - we told it in english with spotty translation by our friend and hoping they understood enough. Fail? Nope, it put us on learners’ level with them, not the high and mighty teacher who knows everything.  Laughing our way through explaining things in Moru and Arabic as we went along, we were all equals.

Did they “get it”?  Nope.  They kept interrupting the story and asking when people were going to be created, and also wanting to follow along in their Moru Bibles they had brought.  Fail? Nope.  At least their questions and interruptions meant they were listening, and were they illiterate like the method is established for? Nope, not these 2, but do they have much connection between a real live story and the book they carry in their UNICEF plastic bags for protection to church every week?  No, and this was a great opportunity to refer them to the story in their own bibles when they did have questions and wanted to be able to talk to family members about the story...connecting the story they could now tell, and the words on the page that they can read.

Could they retell the story back to us after we went through the whole things twice?  Nope, not even day 1 of creation.  Fail? Nope, we got to go through it all several more times with them as we prompted and helped them memorize the story too, in a way that seemed manageable and applicable to them, and encourage them along the way.  So, by the time they got it down, they were super excited and proud of themselves.

Did we have a super deep discussion about grace and how God’s gift of it to us is evidenced in this story, like the method stipulates?  Nope.  Did we even talk about grace? Nope.  Still too abstract for these folks I think.   Maybe down the line a bit.  Fail? Nope.  Did they have a question of their own that really brought home the main point in the whole story?  You betcha.  The mother’s union leader asked “Since woman was made from man’s rib and therefore she’s less strong and less educated and not as important, why is that?”  Whoah.  Right on, sister.  We got to talk with them earnestly about how that couldn’t be further from the truth, that in fact “both male and female” were made in His image and were both given rule and authority over the earth they were given dominion over, and showed them the words in their own bibles...in fact, before they left, the same woman said, “now we have discussed and learned new things and we can go home and tell this to our families.”  

Fail?  No way.  

Melissa and I marveled at God’s hand in the whole thing all the way home on our bikes...amazed that despite all apparent “failures” He still managed to work through us...broken method, broken people.  So thankful.

God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.

on longing

This longing, this ache, is a work of redemption - it’s what this fallen life is supposed to feel like...this longing is it what I was made for.

The longing - the desire for “unity, communion" - reflects the image of my God - He longs for the same.  The ache - the physical bodily struggle with the incompleteness of that desire, is appropriate and faithful and good but NOT what I was made for...not what we were made for.  We were not made for incomplete desires, for lacking wholeness - but that is where we are, broken and aching to be complete...fixed...whole.

In being single, and living this crazy missionary life, there is, in me, a longing for partnership in sharing it with another person.  Another person who is in it for the long haul with you, where you go they go, where you stay they stay.  We have this to an extent with teammates, they know how crazy the life is, and why I even call it “crazy.”  They know the paradoxes of joy and frustration.  They know the things about culture that are hard to explain in words.  They learn to know you, they learn to know what ticks you off, they learn what you’re sensitive about, they learn what kinds of movies and music you gravitate towards.  But there is a place in which this knowing ends; in which coming and going and change happens - when we least expect it and could never have predicted it; in which there is a lack of shared experience of situations/circumstances on both sides of the proverbial pond; and its in these places where loneliness puts its feet up and makes itself at home.  Its inevitable, it’s part of the “crazy” of this life.  It’s not an organizational failing, it’s not a lack of foresight, it’s not anyone’s fault, it just is.

The thing is, this longing...this desire for unity and communion exists in every stage and phase of life.  It’s not a thing that people without spouses have cornered the market on.  Having a spouse means longing for knowing and being known more deeply; having children means longing for them to know and be known, love and be loved, rejoice and know contentment and health and “success” (whatever that looks like for them); not being able to have children means longing to have them and the ability to be fruitful in the ways that God created our bodies to be able to do so; not having a spouse and not longing for one means longing for communion and unity in the community around us, and with God and many other things as well. We were made for longing.  Lisa Graham McKinn says it well, 
“In our fundamental longing for unity, communion, and consummation, we simultaneously reflect imago Dei and, whether or not we know it, we are yearning ultimately for the One who can satisfy our deepest longing to be known and loved.”

Somehow this is comforting.  It’s comforting to know it’s a “supposed to be there” experience, not a “you’ve got something majorly wrong with you” experience, it is a “positive” experience, not a “negative” experience. It’s comforting to know a camaraderie across the details of such an experience.  It has given me a new found sense of unity with my friends and family whose lives are so very different from mine.

I think this is one of those things that I’ve possibly been hearing my whole life, but it’s been just now that I’ve really *heard* it, that my heart has really engaged with it.  There has been freedom in the hearing.  Freedom to long without being so angsty about it all, freedom to talk about it because it’s something everyone can relate to in one way or another.

Not that I have it all figure out, or anything, don’t get me wrong.  McKinn also says the following:

“Living in grace bridges the chasm between our longings and our inability to satisfy those longings.  We have a yearning that ultimately only God can satisfy, yet God extended grace to humanity by creating us with a desire for relationship that extends to others.”

Okay great, key phrase seems to be “living in grace”...what the heck does that mean?  Or better yet, look like?

Something she says later on makes me wonder if this is a *part* of the answer:

“Henri Nouwen speaks of compassion as being able to sit with those who suffer.  We do not much care to sit with suffering but would rather escape it, using Advil to escape physical pain and TV, movies, daydreams, shopping, and a variety of addictions to escape emotional pain.  To extend grace is to be willing to sit with brokenness rather than escape or fix it - to look at and own our failure.  God redeems and restores that which is broken and calls us to be hands and feet of mercy, easing the suffering of others.  We learn something of our human condition and our need for God when we sit with our suffering and with those who suffer.”

Hm.  I think she’s onto something there...not yet sure of what exactly, but it’s rattling around in my head and heart and it seems to ring true based on my experience of sitting with those who are suffering and in my own...

That suffering’s not going anywhere really, it just looks different for everyone and different in different stages in life.  McKinn again, 

“...the woman whose hemorrhaging Jesus healed had spent twelve years seeking help.  Part of her journey wards healing was to crawl toward Jesus in the midst of a throng of people where she hoped to touch the hem of his robe.  Some of us will be crawling still until we reach heaven, where all symphonies are completed, all wounds are healed, all tears dried.  Sometimes we need to receive a grace that allows us to endure and embrace suffering from which we may never be healed in ways we hope...when we accept suffering and embrace our incompleteness, we experience more fully the grace of a God who invites us, woos us, lures us into communion with God and others.”

Crawling until heaven? whoah.  maybe.  hm.  whoah.  But symphonies completed, wounds healed, tears dried?  Sign me up.