9th-20th March 2013
[I wrote most of this the other day but there's a bit added at the end after I heard today that my dear friend Annie went to be with Jesus last night.]
A little over a week ago, a UCU student was murdered off-campus as he walked back to his hostel around 3am. The first report I heard was from a Ugandan friend who said he was most likely mugged, but in the process they killed him and cut off his head.
If I’m honest, one of my first reactions was to think “what kind of sick country am I in???” Not that people aren’t murdered every day in America, but it there’s a difference between shooting someone and cutting off their head.
As I tried to make sense of it, and from what I’ve observed only being here two months, I think there’s multiple factors. One, being the history of tribal spiritualism in Africa, which still influences the culture and beliefs today. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of people don’t still believe in things like witchcraft, sacrifices, or genital mutilation anymore, but there are still problems like adults & children getting kidnapped/sacrificed because, for example, a witchdoctor instructed someone to do it to be healed/freed of an evil spirit.
Additionally, there’s just the issue of a lack of justice/corrupt justice system. On the one hand, I was encouraged to read in the paper today they had been investigating a murder and found the culprit, but on the other hand, what happened the other day probably isn’t likely to be solved and they’ll probably give up on the investigation. So then obviously you have to ask, how much is happening because there’s not the deterrent of prison/justice?
Then also, I think people just are less shocked here because not only are stories like that a little more common, but just death in general is more common (whether car accidents, illnesses, etc.) and therefore it is processed as normal. That in itself is a little strange, but I think it is also a normal human reaction because if you allow yourself to really ponder how terrible a situation is; it becomes too overwhelming. Emotionally you have to de-sensitize yourself or you couldn’t cope. Like I can tell I did that just in one day, because I got to a point where I couldn’t comprehend it anymore so I had to subconsciously normalize it/deny it/forget about it… but that in itself is scary because I feel like you lose a sense of your humanity when you allow yourself not to be shocked by something like another person getting beheaded and just accept it as “normal”. But then again, if you live in a country where that happens, what else can you do?
I appreciated a quote from one of the latest episodes of the Walking Dead. In it one of the characters was commenting on hope in a world where there isn’t a lot (because their world is overrun with zombies), she said, “We don’t have funerals anymore because the death never stops… but what do we do? We dig deep, we find the strength to go on.” That’s what Ugandans do, and that’s what people in other countries do because the fact is, things like that don’t just happen in Uganda. They happened in Liberia, in Honduras, and all over the world. There is a lot of death, and a lot of pain, and a lot of corruption which allows for the previous two.
Straight up though, I’m just not a very brave person. Sometimes I check under my bed to make sure no one is hiding there, and sometimes I take pepper spray with me more often than I need to. Yet, at the same time, in the light of my worries and concerns from last week, God gave me the assurance that no matter where he asks me to be, where I am meant to be is where he will be with me also. The Bible never promises we will be safe. In fact, it says the opposite. Jesus said we would be persecuted for following him, which many Christians are around the world today. But yet, He asks us to follow Him wherever He leads and simply trust Him with the result whether in safety or not.
Simultaneously, I’ve been increasingly convicted by the question, what does it look like as a follower of Jesus to pattern my life after His? We’ve been reading a book for class called Compassion, where it talks about how we as Christians are called to compassion because Jesus exemplified a life of compassion. More specifically the author redefines what we consider compassion as not just a response to suffering, but a willingness to go and be with people in their pain, to “suffer with”, just as Jesus came into the world to suffer with and for us.
At my practicum site, I’m getting just a glimpse of what it means to suffer with people, and it’s hard. One of my clients’ mother unexpectedly died in November, from something that would have been prevented with basic health care, and now he has no parents. Another one works every weekend making bricks to try and pay for his school fees but still can’t come up with enough. There was one day in particular where emotions were running high trying to figure out a way forward, and with tears in his eyes he said to me “Auntie, I just need the fees.” …all I can say is, it’s a good thing I’m not in charge of the fees or I would have given it to him right then and there!
The project director pointed out though, that if really the issue is that the mother doesn’t know how to support them in a crisis or when they need extra money, what would they do/will they do when they can no longer rely on the project? How will we have empowered them (or not)? It’s not doing for people what they can do for themselves because otherwise they become dependent… and I’ve had to remind myself that every day this week!
When it comes down to it, it’s not just that social work is hard, or that development (as opposed to relief work) is hard, but that compassion is hard. When you really enter in to compassion for someone, it’s hard to get it off your mind, and it’s hard not to be able to do anything and just struggle with them. I’ve realized, however, the assurance we have is not found in what happens, but that God is there in the suffering, through the work of the Holy Spirit and His church, and through Christ who suffered first, therefore knowing and sharing in our sufferings.
As I reflect on my future plans I have to remind myself what Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned, “when Christ calls a man, He bids Him come and die.” For most Christians, that’s not a physical death, but a death of self – a death to having things “my way.” That’s not easy, and that’s not always pretty, and I definitely haven’t “mastered” it to any extent because it’s a daily, life-long process. Somehow though there is blessing, and there is joy, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be here and experience God’s presence with me in the journey.
So, at the moment I find myself in Uganda. It’s not the safest place I’d like to be in, or the happiest (defining happiness as a lack of suffering and pain), but despite all of that, I can’t deny the contentment and the satisfaction in following Jesus here.
Also, last night I was talking with a Ugandan, and something he said out of the blue made me smile, “I love this country, we just need development and to get rid of corruption… but it’s a good country.” And you know, despite all I’ve said; it is a good country and full of good people. Especially the last couple weeks, I’ve really appreciated the community of Christians I’m surrounded by, and the joy and encouragement they are despite having a much harder life than I ever have. Also, on Saturday I found out the project director changed her mind and applied for more fees for the student I was advocating for and working with all week! I was very happy and so was he.
For those of you who don’t know, Annie has been a family friend ever since she married Ryan (who we knew first) over 10 years ago. For as long as I can remember, whenever the Kineman’s have had some sort of celebration or get-together, Ryan and Annie have always been there. She’s been a mentor, a friend, and someone who could always make me laugh. And when her and Ryan became the youth leaders at church, I can’t even count the amount of times they had a living room packed full of kids playing games or watching movies, or how many times Annie baked and cooked and barbequed so that we could all eat as we, at times, practically lived at their house. We have so many memories of church retreats, and trips to the beach, and even a trip to France (with the whole youth group)!
If I had a list of the best people I know, Annie would be up in the top. But she’d also be the first to say that it’s she’s not a better person than anyone, but that it is the power of Jesus living inside of her who gives her the grace and kindness and joyfulness that the rest of us see.
The other part of the story is that for the last 5 years Annie has been battling cancer on and off. September 2011 she was told there was nothing else the doctors could do and that, at best, she only had a few months to live, maybe a couple more if she did chemo.
Ryan and Annie prayed about it though and felt God telling them not to do chemo, but instead, adopted Psalm 20:7 “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Ryan started a blog (brokenchariots.wordpress.com) as a way to update family and friends on her progress, but also as a way to tell how God was working in their lives despite the threat of cancer.
Time and time again, they wrote of God’s faithfulness, and how He has sustained and encouraged them over the last year and a half. Even this week, when Annie started to get really sick, they have known the power of God in their lives which has given them the ability to have peace and hope amidst the fear of her deteriorating condition.
This morning I found out she went to be with Jesus as of last night.
Annie is now healed in Heaven. I don’t know why God didn’t heal her on earth, but what I do know is that God is good. I know that God loves Annie just as He loves Ryan, and as He loves us – her friends and family who love her too. I know God is love because He sent His son Jesus to die for us: for our sin, and for our filth, which separates us from a perfect God. At the cross, where He experienced suffering and separation from God in our place, is where Jesus showed His love for mankind.
I would be lying to say that the news doesn’t hurt and that I’m not disappointed, but at the same time God did not let us down. He does not promise a life free of trouble in following Him, but He does promise to be with us through it all. And this is where we find hope. We have hope not just in this life, but in the one to come.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:3
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11: 25-26
So, while we who are here on earth are grieving the loss of Annie, we also rejoice in the fact that death is not the end, that Jesus through His death has made a way for us to be in the presence of God forever. Annie is now in the presence of God. She is alive in Christ and basking in the sweet face of Jesus.
“They will see His face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp of the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” Revelation 22:4-5
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor15:55)