The dust crowds around the truck. I grab the roof handle as we hit another speed pump. bu-Ump. bu-UMP. THUD! My intestines sarcastically thank me for the rattling they are receiving. I gaze out the front seat window. Women carry canvas bags of mangoes, 40 to 50 pounds, on top of their heads. An older woman bends at the waist under the weight of the 6-foot long sticks she carries home for firewood. Men stand around a stopped boda discussing the latest news. A matatu races down the road, uncomfortably stuffed with bodies & luggage. Matoke strapped to the front bumper. A few muzee look up as the truck of mizungus passes. Children jump up from their play pumping arms & hearts to catch the mizungus.
Inside the car, Larissa & Josh catch up on Africa missionary life. Larissa is the agriculture person for the WHM team in South Sudan. About 5 weeks ago, she became sick while at a conference in Tanzania. When the symptoms didn’t relent, she was admitted to a Tanzanian hospital. Two more days passed of unbearable hours of unnamed suffering. The Myhres, the field directors for African World Harvest Missionaries as well as doctors in Kenya, made the call to emergency airlift Larissa to the hospital in Kenya so that they could evaluate her more thoroughly. The verdict: 2 cases of malaria + possibly 1 unknown problem. Teams from all over the world joined to pray for healing for this woman. After another week in Kenya’s hospital under the Myhres’ care, Larissa was released being declared malaria free, but the sickness leaving her physically weak.
Because of the possible danger of uprisings with the Kenyan elections, WHM sent Larissa to recoup in Fort Portal, Uganda. Now several weeks after the nightmare, she feels somewhat stronger & ready to begin the process of returning to the oven of South Sudan. Josh & I picked her up on our way to Kampala. I sit in the front seat, listening as the 2 swap stories.
“So there’s this new situation that arose,” tells Josh to the rearview mirror. “There’s a man that claims he owns property behind one of the old missionary’s house. He said he sold the land to the missionary about 20 years ago. Well now, all of a sudden, he’s claiming that WH still owes him 800,000 shillings. Of course we have no record of that. Pastor Kisembo says the land never would have sold for that much back then. The missionary doesn’t remember the transaction, but he doesn’t think he would have left with a balance remaining. He left all his documents with the Myhres who gave all the documents to Travis who can’t find them & isn’t here.”
“The man with the keys is always missing,” I mutter to the window as we pass some cows grazing too close to the road.
Josh continued, “So I wanted the man to come to Bundibugyo to meet with the old missionary while he is back in Africa. But the man lives beyond Kampala, up north. And he wants me to pay for his transportation to Nyahuka. He said we could take that out of the money we owe him, but I don’t even know if we owe him anything! And if we do, I don’t think the missionary has that money right now.”
“Ah, I hate that for you,” sympathizes Larissa from the backseat. “It’s so frustrating!”
Frustrating. A word I hear, speak, write, think too often these days. Nothing is easy here. Even the smallest task proves difficult. Opposition & obstacles grow out of the dust like weeds ready to entangle you along the path of missionary life. Cultural issues, nature, bad timing, sickness, death, geography, work ethics, lack of supplies…. empali (my personal nemesis). It’s always something.
As to prove my point, Josh slams on the breaks launching both bags & people into seat belts & backs. A large brown cow stands nonchalantly in the middle of the road. Josh lays on the horn. The cow doesn’t seem to mind that he’s blocking traffic. After inching the truck forward, tapping the cow for additional encouragement, it finally notices its inconvenient location & moseys off the road.
“Sorry,” apologizes Josh before continuing his story. “All that doesn’t even include the 7 deaths since the new year.”
“Yeah, I feel ya. Been there. That’s totally common in South Sudan.
“Of course this is all outside of ministry work. My main ministry is still the Nyahuka clean water project & currently the fence we’re building around the mission. The bane of my existence!” He ponders his life for a brief moment before concluding, “But I’m still 70% sane, so that’s good!”
The road draws my eyes & mind away from the conversation as Larissa begins to recount her own stories of agriculture & Sudanese life. Problems never cease to exist. It is frustrating when you are trying to do something good, trying to help in some small way, but there are major road bumps slowing you down. The rattling gets to you if you don’t grab a secure Handle. These potholes & dirt mounds shock more than just intestines, but human hearts. I have learned to let go of trying to solve every crisis in my mind. I can’t. But now I must learn how to stop & give thanks even as the path I’m on proves rocky, dusty, & filled with testing moments.