Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kibbuse Word Pictures

Well, I'm again without photos to show you. I got to the cafe today with battery remaining in the camera, but by the time I had selected a few pics to import to the blog the battery again failed me. Apparently, bringing up photos on the computer directly from the camera, on the attachment cord, quickly drains the battery. Unfortunately, hard drives at the cafe where I am has no way to plug in the camera's memory disc.

So, again I must make an entry without photo support. I hope you will enjoy reading my attempts to be as imagic as possible with descriptions of what is going on.

Much has happened since our last entry. In fact, it seems an eternity ago since I was writing here. Rather than attempt a chronological recap I'm simply going to share a few highlights that hopefully help you see, hear, smell and feel what we are:

A Nyamarwa Funeral
Last Sunday after church, Rev. James came to me with news that the son of a local family had suddenly and unexpectedly died, he knew not how, and was to be buried on Tuesday. He asked that I accompany him in behalf of the leadership and staff of Kibbuse. Our predecessors, Arden and Mary Joy Van Norman, had mentioned what a constant and sad reality funerals were during their stay, so I wasn't surprised a the request. Of course, I said I would be glad to join him. Then he asked if I would join him later in the afternoon to just go to the house for a moment and express our condolences to the boy's mother, a long-time friend.

Her home is across the street from the school, just a few dozen metres away. We slowly walked by the somber gathering of village men at the Nyamarwa village "square" (really just a small trianglular boulevard at the T intersection of the roads that connect Nyamarwa with Mubenda to the east (or north, for the smoother, longer way) and Kalaguuza to the west. More about those roads later. Quiet greetings passed between Rev. James and the dozen or so men sitting on a bench and the inclined trunk of a tree there, which I tried to join by nodding and quietly saying "good afternoon". This time there were not the usual smiles and upbeat inquiries that we've become used to as we are introduced to local residents.

She lives in a storefront type house, with the living quarters behind. Sitting on the ground and porch at the house were at least two dozen women and girls, some quietly weeping, some just sitting and talking in soft tones. Rev. James and I made our way carefully through them to the store entry doors. Inside were another dozen or so women, sitting closely together around the small store room. At our feet, just behind the door was the body, wrapped in a burial cloth of bright yellow and black print cloth, with two women, apparently the mother and an aunt or very close friend.

As soon as we entered, a number of the women began openly weeping. We waited quietly (I taking the lead, of course, from Rev. James) until their sobbing had subsided a bit. There was an understandable heaviness in the air as Rev. James expressed his sorrow to the boy's mother. I was thinking of the widow of Nain, whose young son died. She was fortunate enough to be intercepted by Jesus at one of those times when he chose to bring life to one who had died untimely. But this woman's grief was not be be interrupted by such a miracle. Nor was the young widow's (we found that the boy had just recently married and had a newborn son - that he had simply collapsed and died). No reason known. No easy answers.

The body lay on a dirt floor. The women sat on dirt. From dust we are made, to dust we return. It was dark there, too - just the fading light of the afternoon dimly reflected from the somber scene before us.

Rev. James spoke briefly in the local dialect and then asked me to pray. I did so, heavy with that somewhat theoretical grief but heartfelt compassion one experiences when suddenly confronted by the real and very palpable grief of others with whom he is not emotionally close. James translated. Before I prayed I shared with her the story of Brenda's and my loss of our son Joel, quite unexpectedly, just five weeks after he was born and that we share her grief and the questions that come with it, with some understanding. We left quietly. There were no polite farewells. Just the sound of one or two of the women still quietly weeping.

Two days later, I joined Rev. James at the town square again, this time to participate in the funeral, scheduled to begin at 2 PM. The students had been alerted that they, too, were expected to attend. They needn't stay for the funeral, but they were expected to join the gathering for the funeral service itself. It was about ten minutes till one when we began waiting. There were two batches of students (known by their distinctive and colorful blue and pink shirts) from other local schools already arriving. Most were seeking shady places to sit until the funeral service would begin.

A group of men were planting posts in the ground outside the woman's storefront, to which they attached a large, orange plastic tarp to serve as a canopy for the celebrants and as many attenders who could fit on the benches (carried from local schools and churches by students). All was very quiet. Exept for the road grading equipment that showed up to smooth out some piles of dirt that had been deposited days before to repair the badly rutted road. We were grateful to see them, but the intrusion was, it seemed, untimely. How would the service be heard above the noise of the diesels? And the smell and dust being kicked up - it just seemed not good.

But God's timing always proves itself a blessing to those who love Him. Because we had a long wait for the funeral to begin.
James and I walked to the storefront at about 2:10. By this time, most of the benches were occupied - probably fifty or so people had gathered close to the house - though there were now some scores - maybe hundreds of students and teachers, most of whom were sitting in the shade of trees across the street from the bereaved home and under porches of the three or four adjoining houses. James and I were immediately offered seats on one of the remaining benches. We were joined by George (whose last name I have not learned), the chairman of the Kibbuse Board and a friend of the young man who died.

Time continued to pass. It is a Catholic family, but no priest had appeared. We waited. I found myself simply joining the rhythm of the occasion. No one was expressing impatience or restlessness. Pretty soon it was 3 PM, then 3:30. People continued to stream down the three dusty roads that join just below the house of the bereaved family, filling more and more space in the open embankments between the roads and the row of storefronts. Across the street, our students in their purple shirts had gathered under the store porches, waiting for the start of the service before venturing into the hot sun. Finally, at abou 3:45, they made their way through the crowd to the canopied area, for some reason being granted special favor by the family. The benches were reorganized to be able to accommodate more people. People began to crowd together now, getting close as they could to the open door of the storefront, within which the body still lay.

4 PM came and passed. A woman in elaborate traditional dress made her way through the crowd. As she approached the porch she began wailing openly. It didn't seem "real" grief and yet it was. She was answered by many still hidden within the storefront from our view. Still no priest visible. Everyone still quietly waiting. No restlessness. I was probably the first to complain, quietly whispering into James' ear that this really didn't seem good - keeping all these people waiting in the hot sun. But no one else seemed to think so. Rev. James just nodded. We continued to wait.

Finally, at 4:15 the priest came out of the storefront room, putting on his stole and adjusting his vestments in preparation for the service. I looked around. There were people everywhere. Hundreds of them. It was beyond counting and didn't matter.
A group of men went into the storefront and carried out the wooden casket. It was stained wood, obviously hastily done and yet with care. It was set on the ground in front of the family. The wailing continued for a time, then ceased.

The service was short. The priest led the funeral liturgy and prayers. A lay reader read the Bible readings. Then there was a long eulogy and readings of written condolences by a family friend. It included messages from people as far away as Mityana and Kampala and many from the three or four local villages and towns within a few miles of Nyamarwa. Finally, Rev. James and George were asked to speak in behalf of the community. Rev. James actually gave a gospel message. I didn't understand it because I had no interpreter, but it was clear he was declaring the shortness of life, the immediacy of death and the reality of God's message to us all in Christ Jesus. He then asked me to share briefly about Joel again and to offer some encouragement to the people. I spoke of Joel's death and our experience of his funeral, especially the words of scripture that speak of the unspeakably wonderful hope we have in Jesus, the resurrection and the life, who makes us the one people who can take joy in the midst of the deepest sorrows. When we had finished speaking the priest led the whole gathering in prayer.

Then the procession began. When I stood up, I was amazed. There were far more people than I had thought. Here we are , in the smallest village we've ever lived in and attending the largest funeral I'd ever seen. Rev. James and I walked side-by-side among the packed crowd. We were walking down a slope and could see where the people were turning off the road, some two hundred yards down the road. I looked behind me at James' bidding and saw that the crowd stretched all the way back to the village, probably two to three hundred yards behind us.

When we got to the grave site, I was standing with some young children who were weeping - even wailing as the first dirt was thrown on the casket after it had been lowered. Their tears were very real, their upturned faces asking the inevitable questions of a God I hope and pray they are yet to come to know and trust - even through such losses and questions. I recalled those brief words from John's gospel - "Jesus wept".

Stay with me, my next entry will be about LIFE in Nyamarwa. I can't wait to have another time to share with you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


And in Nyamarwa at last. We've been at Kibbuse less than a week and are already in a good work and life routine, so things have gone very smoothly since our departure on February 12th. It seems a year ago since we celebrated our son Jim's marriage to Rachel Meyer, hurried through our final packing frenzy, made our way to a frozen airport, prayed and wept just a little with friends and family and boarded the plane to Detroit.

I had hoped to accompany this entry with lots of photos. Unfortunately, the camera battery died just as I was about to begin composing this blog - so you won't even get one picture until my next visit to the internet cafe in Mubende (40 miles from Nyamarwa on moderately bad roads) - probably next week.

Jim and Rachel's wedding, though definitely a distraction, was a great blessing for Brenda and me as we left. We had the great joy and privilege of seeing our younger son joined in marriage to Rachel Meyer by our older son, Pastor Aaron Bequette, who flew up from Texas for the occasion. We shall always be thankful for the love that brought him that long distance from his family and busy church life to give a few days to his beloved younger brother.

The wedding took place on Sunday the 10th, the last and best of many wonderful events that have been framed by our Home Street Home. Jim and Rachel's friends had done a wonderful job of decorating the house, Brenda fashioned a beautiful wedding dress for Rachel, finished just hours (or was it minutes) before the wedding, Rachel's Mom and Dad brought a huge buffet of food and refreshments and we had a great party. This in spite of zero degree temperatures and drifting snow that kept only a few of the couple's friends from showing up. In the end, we had nearly forty attend the wedding, including a number of close friends from Madison Square Church.

Monday and Tuesday after the wedding were a blur of activity - too flurried to allow for any anxiety to set in, though we knew we would be forgetting many things as we put the last suitcases to right - 50 lbs each, no more. Five huge suitcases and four carry ons. We were sure we were ready when we went to the airport, but ended up surprised when we found out that the one suitcase we had deliberately overfilled would end up costing us more than taking a sixth suitcase of normal weight. So, we purchase a hot pink large bag from a kindly desk attendant at Northwest (the only one they had available) and redistributed our luggage into six bags.

Then we gathered with our friends, prayed, ate our last meal for a long while in Grand Rapids and boarded the plane. Without too much delay we had jumped from GR to Detroit to Amsterdam and finally, just 30 minutes late, to Entebbe, at about 9 pm Wednesday. Rev. James was right there to greet us, along with Michael, a fine young man from Frank's Hostel, who gave us two trips for the price of one to take all our luggage (and us) to this humble, but clean and inexpensive hotel just a few minutes from the airport.

The next few days were another blur of shopping and greetings with old friends as we shopped and shared time with the Turumanyas in Kampala (organized by family secretary Anna, who came all the way from Jinja for the occasion, in spite of the fact she had to leave her infant son with a caregiver back home). We really enjoyed a wonderful visit with them on the yard of the Kolping Guesthouse where Brenda and I and our Habitat team had stayed back in 2001. It was good to be in a place we were familiar with - but WONDERFUL to be with the Turumanya children - all now in their late 20s to 40s and doing well in life and business.

We shopped for a vehicle (looking for a dual cab diesel truck, but finding them far too expensive), put money down on a van (which we are now convinced we should not buy), shopped for needed household items and food, shopped for generator prices, shopped for Kibbuse school supplies (Brenda and Rev. James had a great time in Kampala's "garment district" which is an absolute TRIP!) - shopped till we dropped!

Then, on Saturday afternoon, we packed our van with all the suitcases, bags of goods and ourselves and headed for Hoima. The Hoima Kampala highway is now a real treat and we were there within three and a half hours, just like last May. Our visit to Hoima was relaxing and pleasant. It was HOT, but duh! where are we anyway?! We had wonderful times with Bishop Wilson and Sayuni Turumanya, Thad Cox, and many friends from the Diocese. The only person we didn't see was Shirley Morris, our friend from Sewickley.

We did some final shopping there and then headed south over more than moderately bad roads to Nyamarwa. Thankfully, we still had a professional driver. We arrived in Nyamarwa in the afternoon to a warm greeting from the students, who met us waving branches and singing praise songs about a half mile out the village road from the school. We were tired from the five hour trip over rough and dusty roads, but relieved to finally be at our desired destination. The first thing we did, after receiving embraces from our new "family", was to thank our loving God and heavenly Father for the favor and blessings we had enjoyed throughout the long journey.

My next post will say a little more about the greetings, include as many photos as I can reasonably download and describe our new life here. One preview - it seems I am now the "designated driver" for the school. I have already posted about 150 miles going back and forth from the two nearest towns for errands. I'm actually enjoying navigating the bumps and ruts and trying at the same time to preserve the Suzuki from bad wear and tear and getting to our destinations within a reasonable time.

Keep us in prayer. We love knowing you are reading this. SORRY FOR NO PICTURES THIS TIME. I'll do better, God helping!

In His love, bye for now.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

ON THE VERGE - Departure in Three Weeks!

DATE/TIME OF DEPARTURE: Tuesday, February 12, 3 PM
Gerald R. Ford International Airport - Northwest #648

SEND-OFF GATHERING for prayer, in waiting area, at NOON. Bring a bag lunch. We will be most grateful for all who are able to join us!

As always, but even more so, time is flying and experience is getting condensed in ways that are at once rich, sweet, scary, exciting, sobering and hopeful. We are nowhere near ready, but we can clearly see God's hand putting together things we haven't time or knowledge to accomplish anyway. We are often reminded to revisit a little proverb Brenda posted on our refrigerator some years ago that reads something like: "Give your troubles to God - He's gonna be up all night anyway."

Or, as Peter's wrote: "Cast your cares upon the Lord, for He careth for you."

Family & Friendship Tour
We have recently re
turned from a wonderful trip to Pittsburgh, Washington DC and Florida where we were able to visit with family and very precious old and new friends, who have always encouraged and loved us. A special highlight of that visit was meeting John Booth, a quiet and gentle man who has, with his wife Johanna, provided major ongoing financial support for Kibbuse Vocational for many years. He made his first trip to Uganda in 1997, met Rev. James Adyeri, saw the school and felt God's call to become a partner. He was able to tell us a lot about the history of Kibbuse that we had not previously heard. But the best part of our visit was hearing his passion for the people of Uganda and sharing in some sweet times of prayer.

Madison Square Commissioning Service
When we got back we were
warmed and encouraged by a wonderful "send-off" by our Madison Family. And not only us. Our friends Troy and Faith Bierma (below), who have been called to Bangladesh, were commissioned with us. This meant we were not only blessed by our Madison, Olivet and Metro Choir friends, but also by Troy and Faith's family and friends. We were especially blessed to have there the Hogans (Faith's parents), Joel and Pat, who have been partners in evangelism and mission at Madison for many years.

Adding to our joy was the presence of our son Jim and his girlfriend Rachel Meyer (see below right), nearly a dozen people from Olivet Methodist Church - where I have served with the Grand Rapids Area Service Project for the past two years - and about a third of the Metropolitan Choir of Praise, brothers and sisters from all around Grand Rapids with whom I have praised the Lord with whenever and wherever we've been invited (about twelve concerts a year). Also there were our very good friends Heather and Bethany DeRuiter (below left) who, with their Mom Karen, have encouraged Brenda and me in our work with foster children. We were so thankful for them and all the friends who gathered to honor and encourage us. You can see in the photo (above), that we and the Biermas were truly surrounded with prayer at the close of the service. We are very grateful to Pastor Dave Beelen and Dawn Niewenhuis (worship leader), who designed and led this beautiful and encouraging service.

Medical Equipment and Tools Search
We made a tr
ip to International Aid on Monday this week and got a good look at an "Operating Theater" and "Birthing Room", all set up in a kind of showroom. Basically new or fully reconditioned and quite up-to-date technology, but tailored for third-world use, these medical equipment packages, though expensive, are available at a fraction of what new equipment would cost. ENCOUNTER UGANDA Director Eileen Hodgetts is hopeful to supply the Azure Clinic with the OR and the Nyamarwa Clinic with the Birthing Room if funds permit. This is a very exciting prospect and will significantly advance the services the Clinics can offer, should it work out. Please pray God's favor and provision.

Modern Hardware of Grand Rapids, a locally owned
company that has always shown a great deal of generosity to those who are in missions, has committed to a gift of tools for Kibbuse, including a heavy-duty contractors' table saw. This will be a great addition to the carpentry program.

"Something is Growing in Uganda" BECA Grant Application
Now I am working very hard to complete an application to the US Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs for a monetary grant
that would enable us to create and sustain a series of student/faculty/staff exchanges between Uganda and the US. It would enable us to advance the work and growth of Kibbuse while at the same broadening the awareness in both countries of the importance of Vocational Education to the health of any modern economy. I'll write more about this once I am in Uganda.

I am excited about the way this application process is taking shape. Educators, politicians and ministry leaders are all responding favorably to the prospect of participation. Rep. Vern Ehlers, Senator Bill Hardiman and Representative Robert Dean have all expressed interest in seeing the plan, which I hope to send out to them at the end of this week (probably late Saturday night!)

Family News

We were surprised and delighted just last night when our son, Jim, called to say that he and Rachel Meyers have become engaged. In fact, they want to get married before we leave for Uganda! It will be a small family service here at the Home Street Home with family and just a few close friends. Brenda and I are very grateful to God we have the opportunity to encourage and support them in their happy decision to mutually commit their lives to one another before we leave. We have had some wonderful moments with Rachel and Jim during recent months and are delighted to welcome her as our daughter.

Finally, we just had an email from Anna, one our very good friends Bishop Wilson and Sayuni Turumanya's eight children. She is the "family secretary" and has already arranged a room for Brenda and me at the Makerere Guest House in Kampala and has promised to bring the family together for a mini-reunion when we arrive. We are especially excited to see them again, especially since Anna has just had her first child, a daughter named "Zion", and has been on maternity leave with Grandma and Grandpa T. The Turumanyas are, truly, God's family for us in Uganda and we are so glad to know them and trust them as such, as we contemplate this new chapter in our lives, far from our home and natural family.

God is so good!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More Pictures

Here are two more pictures from my visit to Kibbuse Vocational School in Nyamarwa. The first was taken in the courtyard of the Kibbuse school compound. Missionary teacher Arden Van Norman is standing with the Kibbuse carpentry instructor beside a display of student-built products. The second was taken outside the mud-built Anglican church where Brenda and I will be worshiping next year. I was "babysitting" the little kids while an ENCOUNTER UGANDA medical team spoke with parent about STDs and AIDS prevention and treatment.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A quick visit continued

Please bear with me as I learn this new technology. I'm apparently not finding the path to a smooth entry! This is the house Brenda and Bob will call home for the next two years, the Lord willing. It sits at the back of the KIBBUSE school compound and has been recently remodeled by Arden and Joy Van Norman, the missionary couple who preceded us. Hopefully, we will move in around February 1st. Arden is at right. You can also see the seventeen-year-old Suzuki jeep we are hoping to replace with a Toyota Hilux pickup truck, enabling us to much better serve and provision this growing school of seventy-plus students. Pray with us!

"Faith House" is a tidy little cottage. Behind the french doors is a bright and airy living room. Adjacent, to the right, is the dining room. Behind that is a small hallway leading to the kitchen and bedroom. Behind the bedroom, along the entire back of the house, is a long, narrow bathroom. Even though there is no plumbing or sewage system in Nyamarwa, it has a flush toilet and shower. Water is delivered from the tower at left of the house.

The courtyard you see serves many purposes, from parking lot to classroom to product display forum to student assembly hall. All the female students are housed within the walls surrounding the courtyard - nine at the house to the right and twenty-seven more in three rooms at the back of the building that forms the front of the compound. It is a busy place throughout the day. Arden and Mary Joy both said they will miss it - especially the cheerful sound of the girls as they got up each morning, often singing praise songs while preparing for classes.

Brenda and I are more and more looking forward to being there!

November - First Entry

November 10 - This is our first entry on this wonderful communications tool. We hope you can use this to join us on our path to Nyamarwa and the KIBBUSE Vocational School. At right is the Nyamarwa village square. The third porch from the corner is the KIBBUSE compound storefront and courtyard entrance. The store on the corner offers a few retail items and non-perishable foods.
It also contains a tailor shop.

Across the street in the direction from which the photo was taken is the village clinic. To the left is a small village "park", at the intersection.
The winding road on the left goes down into the village, mostly houses, to the Catholic church, about a quarter of a mile away. The Anglican (Protestant Church of Uganda) church is up a hill to the right, just a short walk from the school.