Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Making an Orphan/Going to Burial

Going to burial is quite normal for us out in the bush. When someone dies and is well known, typically everything- and I mean EVERYTHING- shuts down. It’s not abnormal to go into Kiwoko town expecting to buy something, only to find the owner has gone to a burial and the store is locked up. But no worries, he’ll be back within a few hours because though nothing starts on time in Africa, burials are the one thing that do. The normal burying time is 2 or 4 in the afternoon, and you have to be careful to keep time. Even if you are ten minutes late you could miss the entire burial!
I was surprised to find Kazungu at the Institute that morning. He was there to see Rukundo (the family father of Pacific) to tell him that his father had died. When I saw him he told me the news. I was a bit shocked and felt sad for him. When I put my arm around him to offer a hug, he seemed stiff and almost uncaring. What is he feeling and thinking? His dad has died! Why does he seem emotionless?
Kazungu’s story is a sad one. I first met him back in 2002 when I first came to New Hope. Over the years I had coached him in football (soccer) and spent time with him mentoring him on a one on one basis. Last year he suddenly wasn’t around anymore. I randomly saw him in Kiwoko one day and asked him what had happened. I was stunned by the story. Let me give you a bit of background first, though.
When Kazungu was only four years old he was brought to New Hope by his Auntie. It was told that his father had been very old when he was born and his parents had now died leaving him in a very needy situation. She had children of her own to care for and could no longer care for the small boy. She requested that New Hope take the child, and after doing some investigating in the community New Hope agreed and Kazungu was moved into Pacific family.
Now an 18 year old young man, Kazungu was in essence raised by New Hope. His “father” had become Rukundo, the family father of Pacific since 2002 (though Rukundo had also grown up at New Hope and is the same tribe as Kazungu). But Kazungu’s life had been lived as a lie.
For fourteen years he was made to keep the secret that his father was still alive. When holidays came and he went to be with relatives in the community, Kazungu often stayed with his father. On occasion Kazungu’s father even came to visit him at New Hope, though he introduced himself as the boy’s uncle. Though at times Kazungu wanted to come out and tell the truth, fear held him paralyzed and kept his mouth closed. He knew that if he told the truth and was found to have two living parents, he would lose everything, his “free” education would be forfeit and his “family” would be lost. Living among orphans, though his father was still alive, he himself had became an orphan at heart.
When the truth came out it was as Kazungu feared. He could no longer live at New Hope and he was taken to his father who was rebuked and charged to take responsibility for his son. But his father did not pick up the challenge and left his son as an orphan to find his own way. Kazungu moved into Kiwoko town and without any help from his father he was somehow able to come up with school fees to study in Kiwoko. He spent a lot of time hungry, finally discovering that he could eat if he would only sell marijuana. As he watched those he sold the drugs to deteriorate in mind and body, he gave up selling, looking to his football skills to get him through school.
That was where I met Kazungu that day his “father” had died. He asked if I was coming to the burial, and I answered that I would be there. I picked up Rukundo at a quarter to two and we set off to Katoke, where Kazungu’s father had lived. Along the way Rukundo explained how recently Kazungu had started coming back around. He said that Kazungu had finally realized that New Hope really IS his family, and even if he’s not living at New Hope, he is still welcome as a “son”.
Rukundo also explained to me that it was not Kazungu’s father who had died but his uncle. Shocked, I was reminded that in the local culture there is no distinction between a father and an uncle. The uncles are still “fathers” to their nephews and share responsibility for various needs while carrying the same name of “father”.
Katoke is only about a 10 minute drive from New Hope, and I expected the burial to take place somewhere near to the trading center. We arrived and veered off on what looked like a foot path that winded around the houses in the center of town (when I say around, I’m talking three feet from the houses!), winded around trees, children playing and coffee drying in the sun. As we drove deeper and deeper into the bush I was wondering where we would come out.
Finally, we came to a place where I was told to park the vehicle; we would walk the rest of the way. I could hear singing off in the distance, so I knew that we were not far from where the burial was taking place. I was wearing a nice button up collared shirt, brown khaki pants (trousers if you’re British : ), and my new black leather sandals. We were out in bush bush, cow grazing land, with trees and high grass all around us. It was quite a beautiful scene, one I often think to when I think of “village” in Uganda. Off to the side an old man was grazing his cattle. He came towards us speaking Luganda. I saw him pointing to both sides of us, speaking sharply. I looked at Rukundo who told me there was marsh all around us. We were in the valley and it had been raining, so it was not strange to find wet ground. The question was how could we get through it? The answer was that there was no way around; we just had to walk through.
I began walking with hopes that I could step on patches of grass without getting my feet wet, but one slosh and I could feel the cool muddy water between my toes. I took off my sandals as quickly as I could, rolled up my pants and plowed ahead. The music was becoming louder and we all felt the pressure to get there before the body was in the ground. I made it through the “mud walk” without getting too dirty beyond my feet, which I wiped off with grass once we made it through the marsh. We arrived just in time to see the body placed into the grave. A sheet of iron roofing was laid over the casket followed by rocks. The sound of the rocks on the iron sheet is always a shock to my senses, loud and sharp, a reminder of how “raw” death and burial is in this culture.
A quick history was read about the man’s life- where he had gone to school, how far he made it in terms of class, how many children he had and other various achievements of his life. We prayed and then various men took turns pulling the dirt back into the hole using hoes. I stood with Rukundo as Kazungu came up and stood with us. We hugged him and spoke our regrets to him for the loss of his uncle. It was then that Rukundo pointed out Kazungu’s father. I was filled with emotion, anger mixed with pity for the old man. He had caused his son to become an orphan and was still refusing to truly care for him. Kazungu told me that his father had never gone to school and was happy to see him just take care of cattle for the rest of his life. Kazungu wanted to study and make a life outside of simply caring for cows. It was a battle of the ages, one that Kazungu was left to fight alone.
Once the burial was over, I was surprised to find that there was another ceremony taking place. The uncle who had died and left no sons to inherit the estate. He had a wife and four daughters. Kazungu’s older brother was put in charge of the estate which consisted of caring for the wife and daughters (until they married), the house, the land and the cows.
I was also surprised to find that they had buried the man within the circular cow pen, the place right in front of the house where the cattle are put in at night. It was a strange placement of a grave. When I asked Rukundo about it, he told me that the body was buried there so that at night it would be protected from the “night dancers”. Night dancers are demonically possessed men who wander at night and cause much fear in the hearts of most Ugandans. It is said that if you are out at night and meet a night dancer, they will kill you instantly. The burying of the body within the circle was to ensure that the night dancers did not come in the night, dig up the body and eat the flesh! I was again reminded of the great fear that drives the practices of most Ugandans on a daily basis, especially those who are not Christians.
As I walked back through the marsh with my sandals in hand, I wasn’t as fortunate as I had been on the previous pass. Mud splashed up onto my legs and trousers as I walking thinking more about Kazungu then where I was stepping. I rode back home thinking about education and its effect on families in Uganda. Though education tends to be an “idol” in Uganda, what some call “the god of education”, it is still an important part of the growth and development of the country, yet it often comes at the expense of families working and being together. For Kazungu, it has come at the cost of his heart. Yet even as Kazungu was made an orphan, the Father of the fatherless yet has purposes and plans for this young man. It is my privilege to work with New Hope and to count Kazungu as one of my “sons”, and you know what, he’s just beginning to realize the true family that God has given him in place of his own.
Please pray for Kazungu and the other orphans that we work with on a day to day basis. Pray that the Father of the fatherless would break in on their hearts, bringing true and genuine healing of heart. Physical needs can be met, education can be provided, but unless the heart is healed, then the life will not be made whole.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Heading to the Burial

I didn't need my alarm to go off to wake me up at 4:40am, as I had slept wrestlessly and was up by 4:30. I quickly dressed and poured some coffee from my flask (where I had put it the night before incase the power was off) to my Starbucks travel mug. Clothes, shoes, bananas, water bottle, camera, pillow, ready to go. I reached the "coasters" at 5 sharp and they were already packed with people. My seat was on the trundle (folding) seat near the front of the bus. The goal was to reach Kampala before 6:30 so as to beat the jam that ALWAYS occurs at Bwaise, just before town. In typical Ugandan fashion, we left a half hour late, drove incredibly SLOW over the bumpy dirt road to Luwero, and then burned 30 minutes in Wobulenzi getting fuel and using the local fascilities. Needless to say, we arrived at Bwaise at 7:30, right in the thick of traffic. I was beginning to get car sick, so my friend Paul (who I was so blessed to sit next to) and I got out and walked ahead to a Shell so I could regain my stomach. After making it through Bwaise and after making a number of funny and unnecessary stops, we were off to Ft. Portal. Paul and I spent the trip "dreaming" about future ministry to pastors and churches in the village (Paul himself has planted a church in a small village called Kiruli). After a quick stop for lunch at the "in your face chicken place" (this is where people come to your car with meat on a stick, waving it at your widow- at times the meat touching the glass!). Paul and I had goat, fried bananas, and chapatis. We made it to Ft. Portal around 1:30, just in time for the viewing.
I have been to a number of burials here in Uganda, but I have never participated in the common practice of entering the house where the body is being kept and looking at the body, but I went in to have one last look at my friend Emma. The room was full of women sitting on the ground. The coffin was long (Emma was around 6'7") and covered. The group of around 60 that I had arrived with stood around just looking at the coffin, until one bold man charged up to the coffin and uncovered the face. Immediately it was like a wave had hit as everyone rushed up to look in. Crying broke out as we looked on the face of our beloved Emma- so loved by so many.
The total attendence was around 200 people, with only around 10 from Ft. Portal itself, quite a testimony to Emma and those who know and love the Ruyondo family. After a few minutes the coffin was brought out into the center of the three canapies outside the house for general viewing.
Then the speeches began. Representatives from family, Emma's schools, work, and New Hope all spoke. The sister of Emma's deceased mother spoke, informing us that their mother had given birth to 14 children, of which only 3 are alive today. Her son, Emma's cousin, spoke with great faith and hope in Jesus. Yet one statement he made stuck with me- "Death is becoming more real to me than life." What a commentary on life here in Uganda. Yet he was quick to speak of the eternal that that death points to and continually draws our thoughts to.
Emma's Dad and my good friend Joseph then gave a speech. He narrated the entire situation of how Emma had died. We were all awaiting the sister, Esther, to arrive as she was having to take government exams for her end of school year. As Joseph ended his speech Esther pulled up. She was able to see her brother one last time. We then headed to the burial sight with much singing along the way.
At the gravesite I stood next to my friend Joseph and put my arm around him. I could hardly look at him throughout the day without crying, feeling the pain (really for the first time) of a father who had lost his son. Flowers were passed out to everyone to throw onto the coffin before covering it. As we sang and looked on, I couldn't help but notice Joseph with his arm around his two sons, Joel and Dan. I know that Joseph wanted to protect them and comfort them, just as he longed to have been able to protect Emma but was unable to. We sang, prayed, and cast our flowers just as the rain came in and forced us all to leave the grave quite suddenly.
We arrived back to an enormous meal of matoke, rice, millet bread, chapati, meat and chicken before heading back here to Kasana.
I recognize that this email is more "newsy" then heart. It's not that heart isn't there, it's just the drain from the emotion packed days that we have all been through. My heart is with Joseph as he leads his family through this journey of grief, one that he knows all too well.
I have been encouraged by the glory given to God and the hope of the Gospel proclaimed throughout all of this. It is tragedy and at death we rail in anger and pain. Yet it is not the end, but is the beginning. Emma is not the focus, it is Jesus, the one who made Emma and made him the young man he was. It is Emma's God that is the focus and to His wisdom we submit. The Gospel enters into the sufferers pain and cries out, "It is that the works of God might be desplayed". Thank you my Jesus for standing as our suffering high priest and for interceeding on behalf of our weaknesses. You are our only hope.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Losing a Son- Death and Grief in Uganda

As I approached my good friend Joseph Ruyondo I could see that something tragic had happened. Jay Dangers (our Director and father) was with Joseph and both had been crying together. Jay looked up at me and said, “Our son Emma has died.” What? Emma? Young, tall, strong, beautiful Emma? Always smiling, Jesus loving Emma? I hugged Joseph as the feeling of shock set in. Jay asked me to walk Joseph to his house and just sit with him. It was the longest walk I’ve ever taken. With my arm around him, Joseph and I began the walk up the dirt road to his house. We were joined by another friend, Rukundo, and together we slowly walked, cried, prayed, and walked some more.
Just as we neared the house I could hear the familiar sound of wailing that accompanies death here. Two women who had been close to the house had already received the news and were lifting up the mourning cry. They joined us as we entered his bedroom and sat down on the bed. As the women began to weep, we all broke out in a sudden onrush of tears and cries. For ten minutes all that could be heard coming from the bedroom was a mix of “Oh Jesus. Oh Yesu.” Intermixed with prayer and crying. Galatians 6:2 and Romans 12:15 flooded into my mind.
As our crying came to a stop I could hear the sound of loud wailing drawing nearer and nearer to the house. The sound grew nearer and then a crowd of women entered the house like a flood, filling every inch of ground in the sitting room (living room). Our own crying renewed, we joined their chorus and lifted our prayers to our brother and high priest, our King Jesus.
Joseph and I sat together and I was able to find out just what had been happening with Emma. He had come back from school over the weekend for some testing at a local hospital, complaining of pain in his leg and shortness of breath when walking uphill. The doctors ran tests but couldn’t find anything. They gave him some medicine (I’m not sure what or for what) and he headed back to school on Sunday. Joseph had heard nothing from him since, so he assumed things were ok. [Emma died on Wednesday from a blood clot that traveled to his lungs (thrombosis). His mother had died from the same condition twelve years before.]
I began to sense the guilt that Joseph was already tormenting himself with. “I should have kept him here and not let him go back to school. I should have called him back sooner for more testing.” By God’s grace I was able to speak into the self-condemnation. We prayed a bit more together before his attention was drawn to all of the practical matters that go into preparing for a burial here. Calling and informing relatives, finding out where the body is and where it’s being taken, figuring out where the burial is taking place and arranging transport to and fro for the family and the community who will accompany to the burial, getting a coffin made, and arranging with people in the home village to prepare for the burial- including digging the grave, getting food and cooks ready for the all night wake that occurs in the house with the body the night before the burial as well as the burial itself the following day.
We stepped outside the house and noticed that the gathering crowd had grown to over 75 people, most just standing around processing. A fresh wail was rising from inside the house. Joseph’s oldest daughter Esther was sobbing over and over again in waves that would continue on for hours as she processed her brother’s death. Benches began to be brought to the house and set up in the yard. Cell phones were going off all over as the network of community were informing as many people as quickly as possible. Villagers began to come from outside of New Hope, most carrying mats and blankets for the long cold night ahead of them. When someone dies here, everyone who knows anyone related to the deceased will come and spend the night with the family. The old women sit in the house on the floor, everyone else sits outside, just to “be” with the family in their grieving.
After a few more minutes fire wood began to be piled into a stack and was lit as the sun began to set. Off to the east a storm was blowing in and the hot day was cooling off in preparation of a cool night of mourning. “Oh Lord, where will these people go if it rains?” After getting our boys in bed, Laura Beth and I joined the crowd around the fire. The night would be passed by singing and sharing stories about Emma’s life. Laura Beth soon felt rain drops on her head and it seemed the storm had made its way to us. Funny, a wind suddenly began to come in from the other direction and throughout the night no rain fell. The Father’s care for us was so sweet as we sat around and sang of His goodness and the beauty of Emma’s life, a beauty that God Himself had formed in him. At one point my own grieving was renewed as we cried out “Blessed be Your Name.”
Sometime after midnight I was able to be with Joseph again. He was still making phone calls and worrying over how things would work out the following day. It was a privilege to walk with him as Uncle Jonnes made him turn off his cell phone, go into his bedroom and at least try to rest in the quiet of the night. We returned home to sleep a bit before Elisha and Noah would wake up with the first light of dawn.
Tomorrow I will be traveling with around 50 other people the long miles to Ft. Portal where the burial will take place. We will return the same day. Most of the Ugandans going will be paying around 20,000 shillings for transport, about 15% of their total month’s salary! I know of no event in this culture that causes everything (EVERYTHING) to stop and shut down like a burial. Shops close, work stops, schools are out, and crowds of people head out to attend the burial. Pray for grace, mercy and comfort for the Ruyondo family and for those who are traveling tomorrow to be with them.
Everyone here will miss Emma. He was a leader, a lover of God, and an example to everyone who knew him. If you could pick one of our “young men” would grow up to impact Uganda, it would be Emma. One thing that impressed me about him (besides the light of his constant smile) was his work ethic. He was willing to work hard to get to University and did not look to “sponsors” as the answer to all of his needs. He was a man of integrity and love. We are excited that Emma is able to see his mother and his Jesus and we look forward to seeing him again when we are with the Savior.
Though I haven’t yet attended the burial, I am already moved anew when I look back on the community response to yesterday. At times being in such a tight knit community can feel oppressive to our Western minds, yet when we are away from it we miss it terribly and realize what a blessing this community truly is. Yesterday demonstrates part of the blessing of living here in Uganda, where community is community and where people put people before everything else.

McFarland Update...

Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings to you from rainy Kasana! It has been some time since we sent out an update, and now there is so much to update you on I almost don't know where to begin. Let me begin with the most recent and tragic event.

Yesterday I was with my good friend Joseph Ruyondo (he's been at New Hope for over 15 years and is the head of the Childcare dept) a few minutes after he found out that his oldest son Emma had died. We think it was from a blood clot (thrombosis), which is the same thing his mother died from 12 years ago. It is a shock to the whole community here as Emma was a "poster child" for what you hope your children will grow up to be- he was an amazing young man and just 20 years old. The whole community joined together last night around the Ruyondo's home and many spent the entire night there. We all sat around a fire late into the night singing and sharing memories of Emma. I've written the whole experience out and attached it for those of you who would like to read more and gain more insight into the culture here. Please pray for the family as they grieve and as they are traveling today- Esther is the next oldest sibling and she is taking it very very hard- she has never quite gotten over the death of her mom and she leaned heavily on her big brother. Please also pray for Joel and Dan, who are both young teens and are also struggling immensily with their brother's death. Please also pray for me and the others from New Hope who will be traveling to Ft. Portal and back tomorrow (around 6 or 7 hours each way) for the burial.

Two Sunday's ago I had the privilege with the other elders from our church (Kasana Community Church) of baptizing 15 of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters at our nearby dam. Some of you may remember this place from a tragic drowning that happened there last year that I was involved in. It was an amazing redemption of that place that has been avoided completely since the drowning, and it gave quite a vivid picture of the spiritual truth of dying with Christ and being raised to newness of life.

Last Sunday we had a "Family Sunday" at church and it was like no other family Sunday I've ever attended. I had the privilege of being the best man in the wedding of my friend Kibeti and his wife Florence. Yes, she was already his wife, as he had "paid" for her three years ago in the village sense of getting a wife, but there is no real committment there and it is culturally the equivelent of getting a "slave". The significance of the event was that they covenanted together before God and the body of witnesses gathered there to love and serve one another for the rest of their lives- and what a glorious time it was of celebrating the beauty of marriage! Immediately after the wedding we celebrated all of the college and vocational graduations, ordained a deacon and had a baby dedication of around 10 babies. Now that's a Family Sunday!

Laura Beth is doing GREAT and is now 22 weeks along. We are having a third BOY, which is so exciting for me as that's one step closer to my soccer team! Laura Beth had to process it a bit : ) , but she's also very excited. The day will come when we'll get our fill of girls, too. We are so thankful for our Father's hand in our lives and for this gift that he is preparing for us to raise up.

The Institute has been finishing up very well- two more weeks of class before graduation on Nov. 13th. Please pray for us as we tie things up and "launch" the students out to their various ministries all over. One couple who is here from the Congo (Pastor Samuel Nkudulu and his wife Esther) is beginning a home for orphans immediately after returning to Congo and could use your support in prayer as they step out in faith to bring God's Fatherhood to the fatherless in Congo.

One PRAISE is concerning my Indian partner and intern Jiten Nayak. He was denied his work visa two weeks ago and asked to return to India within a couple of days. This was crushing news as he and my Ugandan partner George are running the January course while we are away. But our Father moved on our behalf and through a connection to a senior officer in immigration we were able to get the decision changed and Jiten was given a 2 year work permit!

Finally, we will be in the States from November 18th and will be returning to Uganda in May. We are so thankful to be staying in Wycliffe missionary housing in West Chicago throughout our time there. If you'd like us to come and speak at your church or to a small group let us know and we'll plan it! You can reach us initially via e-mail or by calling 630-773-8934.

Thanks so much for loving us and carrying us with you in heart and in prayer!

In Father's Love,

Keith (for Laura Beth, Elisha and Noah)