Saturday, March 11, 2006

How to Fight a Dragon: Advice anyone?

by Holly
Last night I sat watching a massive lightning storm from the fourth story balcony of my hotel room. It’s the tallest building in Gulu. The electricity was out as usual but nature lit the scene better than any street lamps: women with jugs of water on their heads, large horned cows grazing in what should be a park but is a de facto rubbish dump, street kids running barefoot through it while the town closes up shop and people make their way home. While I let the view and the breeze wash over me the scenes that flashed through my mind, were of the past days in Kitgum. The faces of the children. The desperation of the mothers. The drunkenness of fathers. I hesitate to describe in too much detail, because to do so would mean I’d have to keep thinking about it and to let those images continue to burn. And right now I want it all to stop and I feel so helpless. There is a dragon going about setting fires with its poisonous lungs. And I am torn. Confront the beast with a stick, or more accurately a toothpick and try to plunge it into its heart. Or follow in its tracks crying over the fires hoping my tears might quench the flames.

Anything, anything to make this stop. To make it better. But it is so big. And they say if the war ends tomorrow there will still be no peace. I believe it. I’ve seen the social ills that will remain for generations. My thinking is evolving and I even question what I wrote last week about the ICC. If the arrests of four people could even have a chance of alleviating the deplorable suffering of the eyes I looked into than by all means, somebody send in the special ops and make the arrests. It won’t kill the dragon but maybe it would keep it from lighting more fires and we could concentrate on extinguishing the flames.

Of course my analogy depicts a more lonely scenario than the reality. There are many of us here crying over the fires and wielding our little toothpicks as best we can—we’ve got SUVs galore to prove our valiant efforts: activities in night commuter centers to keep the children busy, income generating activities for returned abductees, dances and dramas to “sensitize” the community to issues of peace, educational support to “orphans and vulnerable children,” trainings and workshops on psycho social support, conflict management and sexual and gender based violence.

How many toothpicks does it take to kill a dragon?

How many tears to make the fire stop?

Today I feel quite small. I’m supposed to advise my organization. That’s what Technical Advisors do. And while I try to think of diplomatic sensitive ways of addressing issues of governance within CPA and how to improve our policies and activities—the dragon is still at work. I make suggestions that do have a small impact, and I feel I’m able to contribute something—more than I could before I came--but it is a pittance nonetheless and leaves one feeling utterly disempowered. My toothpick is charred and the fire has dried my eyes.

11 comments:

Holly & Ben Porter said...

An MCC friend in Egypt emailed me this comment, and I thought I'd put it here (hope you don't mind Barrette!) in hopes that anyone else wielding a toothpick and discouraged will find it as uplifting as I did.

"God has chosen each of us to come into whichever place we are in as small people with toothpicks and a limited number of tears.  But it is better that you are there than in Denver.  Think of Jesus coming into the world.  What an odd plan, for an all-powerful God to send one man into the world.  How much must Jesus have felt this same thing.  He was only one man, wandering around a few thousand square km, healing a few sick people, helping the odd sinner or Samaritan.  How hopeless his work would have been if he'd come, hung around for 30 years, and left.  But he left a legacy (we are part of that legacy).  We go out into the world, in our little places, and  make our little differences.  Or more accurately, God makes a difference through us.  And the people who you touch will be that much richer for it (and you for being touched by them).  And next year, there will be more horror and dragons, but maybe these people will also take up their toothpicks.
Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth.  Salt is very small.  It's okay to feel small and to feel that your impact is small.  We only need to have the faith of a mustard seed."

Carol Clymer said...

As I sit in my nice warm home, surrounded by people who love me, I play with a little green bracelet on my arm, thinking about 2 amazing people I know, that are halfway around the world, in a place that most of us don't want to even think about. A place that most of us will never understand. A place where there are Dragons. I imagine Hollie with her toothpick, trying to slay the dragon and Ben cheeing her on. But mostly the dragon wins. Then I envision more and more people with toothpicks. I imagine people all over the world with thier toothpicks. I see not only people in Uganda, but people in my church, people across the street from me, people in the grocery store, people at work and kids at school, all holding thier toothpicks, and all the toothpicks suddenly transform into a giant sword and now the dragon is not so strong and it is more of a fair fight. But for now, I just sit in my nice warm home, surrounded by people who love me, playing with a little green bracelet on my wrist.

Ben and Hollie- We miss you and pray for you, and Uganda. I am putting a toothpick in my pocket, so remember that you are not alone in this fight, you are never alone. We love you and appreciate the work that you are doing. I wish there was more that I could do from here. Thank you for your hard work, and commitement to the children in Uganda, please let them know that we think of them everyday and cry for them too.

Carol and Tiffany Clymer
-Celebration Community Church

Kimbal and Kellen said...

Friends,

I sit here with the snow coming down outside, a full tummy ,and thoughts of you two. In a random comment today, I told Steve about your latest blog and the struggle to kill the dragons in a faraway land. Before church started Steve ran to the computer to print it off, I guess he read it and it was just what he needed for the sermon this morning. He was talking about how we all need people in our lives praying for us and reminding us that we are loved, connected and protected. He read the blog in church, Holly, it was amazing. There were tears shed over the fires near and far, and thoughts of hope to somehow fight this dragon...it was so good. Thank you for sharing your life, brokenness, and fight with us.

I left there feeling encouraged and yet empty and alone. Seeing that I had so much around me, more than crumbs, and yet it felt like my diet consisted of a few stale pieces of bread. Almost like the little pieces some get at communion...and I heard you Holly. "This Easter we should have fish, and HUGE pieces of bread and big satisfying glasses of grape juice. Something that we can sink our teeth into, a meal together. I am tired of having anything less." I think something began to change in us from that day. I think we began to have each other as feasts...bodies broken and blood shed...and in it I found some of my best friends. I miss you so much today, and my heart aches to sit on a porch in Gulu watching the lighting and crying with you. I cried to bear this with you. Although I cannot today, I pray that today your tears are in abundance and your toothpick somehow turning into sword.

Please know that I love you today, and I AM PRAYING for you. Forgive me for the times that I have been any thing less than a prayerful supportive sister in Christ to you. I long to sit with you, share the boy and blood of Christ (and some sheesha) and just be with both of you. The thought alone makes me smile. I love you both very much!

Kel (and Kimbal)

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben and Holly,
The locals here use toothpicks publically after every meal - it's revolting, but from now on it will remind us of you guys and we'll pray for you.
God Bless You,
Nigel & Rachel

Anonymous said...

Holly and Ben -
All I can do for now is say that we are with you in prayer and spirit. Our Hearts are breaking with yours. I can't imaging the things you've seen and been confronted with recently. I pray the truth "The One who is in you is greater than the one in the world" is in your heart. The battle belongs to the Lord. I can't tell you if these are cliche words from a comfortable perspective, or if that would be how I'd think if I were in your shoes, but I know it is truth. We are praying daily for you guys.
Josh and Erin

Travis said...

Thank you for sharing with us. I love you both so much.

I've been thinking a lot about what you wrote… and about our authority. Do we really have any? I sit just a voice away from the “seats of power” passing papers from one person to another, writing trite letters about massive world problems to powerful men and women, that get read by their secretaries, answered by a civil servant, and passed back to me. It seems like I don’t even face the dragon… I’m just throwing toothpicks into its path… kindling maybe. But I wonder, is your and my hopelessness the reality, or is it simply the perception of tried knights who have been slaying dragons for too long? I guess what I'm trying to say is, you're not a little woman or couple or any other weak analogy... you are a mighty and powerful champion, with great weapons, made to fit your hands perfectly. You wield them with strength. And you are not running around after one dragon, you have already slain hundreds and thousands of dragons. Everything you do is blessed. I know your smile, your laugh, your love. And if you set all the measures of the "effectiveness" of your work aside, you are still have those weapons against dragons. And your life itself has power, and force of that life, made perfect through Jesus’ grace giving blood… that is no toothpick. When you smile at a drunk father, laugh with a hopeless woman or love a hurting child, you drive a sword into the heart of yet another dragon. If only you could see the piles of dead dragons you’ve already dealt with…

Sleigh them all… one at a time.

Travis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Travis said...

Thank you for sharing with us. I love you both so much.

I've been thinking a lot about what you wrote… and about our authority. Do we really have any? I sit just a voice away from the “seats of power” passing papers from one person to another, writing trite letters about massive world problems to powerful men and women, that get read by their secretaries, answered by a civil servant, and passed back to me. It seems like I don’t even face the dragon… I’m just throwing toothpicks into its path… kindling maybe. But I wonder, is your and my hopelessness the reality, or is it simply the perception of weary knights who have been slaying dragons for too long? I guess what I'm trying to say is, you're not a little woman or couple or any other weak analogy... you are a mighty and powerful champion, with great weapons, made to fit your hands perfectly. You wield them with strength. And you are not running around after one dragon, you have already slain hundreds and thousands of dragons. Everything you do is blessed. I know your smile, your laugh, your love. And if you set all the measures of the "effectiveness" of your work aside, you are still have those weapons against dragons. And your life itself has power, and force of that life, made perfect through Jesus’ grace giving blood… that is no toothpick. When you smile at a drunk father, laugh with a hopeless woman or love a hurting child, you drive a sword into the heart of yet another dragon. If only you could see the piles of dead dragons you’ve already dealt with…

Slay them all… one at a time.

Anonymous said...

Dear dear Holly and Ben,
I love you both. I love you both so very very much. But not even close to how much our Father loves you. I know that he cries with you and that your tears are not forgotten. I know that he remembers them and keeps them (psa 56:8). I just wanted to encourage you that you are not alone and not forgotten. Though Uganda may not tomorrow become the peaceful haven that both you and God intend it to be, your love is not wasted.

I am praying for you. I love you. He is with you. I pray that you will know his love and that he will carry this pain and burden for you. I don't pray this because it's one more thing you "should be doing" but because you are facing such opposition, and you will need His strength.

Much much love,
Nickie

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Reading this entry, I think about the star fish story- you know, where the kid is walking down a beach blanketed with star fish washed up from the waves, picking them up and putting them back in the water. When asked why he was engaged in such a hopeless activity as saving starfish, when he couldn't possibly save them all (so what did it matter anyway), the kid throws another starfish into the water and says, "It mattered to that one."

I've talked about Africa a couple of times to Mark and Chelsea, and Chelsea said that she didn't like thinking about Africa because the situation was so hopeless, she'd rather work somewhere where she could make a bigger difference. I thought the same way when I was little. I used to raise money for Heifer Project International (www.heifer.org), and when I'd collected enough to send in, I'd look through the project profiles for a project to designate the money towards. I used to skip the African section, because it felt like I wouldn't make a difference there (and I never had enough to go toward the animals they needed anyway).

Now, though, I'm much keener on helping Africa, partly because of my interest in Somalia, partly because of you two in Uganda, and also because of the Invisible Children campaign. It's hard to imagine Africa's problems going away, at least without an AIDS vaccine or cure, and the instability, underdeveloped economies, and the rebel movements makes it all the worse. I still oftentimes feel hopeless about Africa, but I’ve finally started paying more attention to it because Africa, I think, is probably the place that needs the most saving. It’s specifically because so many people are in such dire straits that Africa is often ignored by humanitarians who lose heart, or investors who go create jobs in Bangalore instead of Burkina Faso, say.

Fortunately, I’ve come to realize that hopelessness isn’t a good reason to ignore a place, even if it did take me 19 years to figure it out. Fortunately, there are people like the two of you, who went straight off to the main front against poverty and war, to struggle for human dignity. But obviously, if the situation seems too difficult to confront in theory, it must be overwhelming on the ground.

So I recommend the starfish story. Who knows when Uganda will be peaceful and prosperous? All we can hope to do is improve the lives of the people we meet. Whenever you feel hopeless, think about some kid Ben’s working with who’s stopped having nightmares, or a woman who, for the first time, can afford to send her children to school. One person probably can’t slay the dragon, and NGO’s, while amazing, just don’t seem to be powerful enough to end situations as bad as the one you guys are facing. I think committed national governments (probably from the G8) are necessary to end the immediate situation, and even that would take years, I imagine. What can individuals do? I say put out the fires. Get the kid down the road a chance to become a lawyer, or even something small like gas station attendant or taxi driver, so he can get a chance to feed his kids and send them to school. Help a family become self-sufficient. And whenever the dragon seems to horrible to even imagine, just remember what a huge difference you’ve made in the lives of the people you help.

Holly, Ben, you two have my deepest admiration and respect (and coming from me, that’s saying something). I’m in awe of your willingness to go to the most hopeless parts of the world to heal. It doesn’t change anything, but just remember what a big difference you’re making on the individual level.

Trevor

P.S. If you have e-mail, send me a message at berbera.bound@gmail.com because I have a question and the beginnings of an idea that I’d like to talk with you about. Also, such long letters like this aren’t good for blog comments. I’ll bet this took forever to load.

Best,
Trevor

Holly & Ben Porter said...

I can't tell you how supported I've felt by all of your encouraging and thoughtful comments--from Celebration--from DU students--from Parliament--from New Zealand--Sri Lanka--Egypt--and even Longmont! I've even gotten phone calls from some of you wondering how I'm doing now and you held my hands up in this crazy fight. I've felt prayed for and really loved. Steve called and said he gave a sermon on being loved, protected, and connected. You have all made me feel like that. And I've loved reading all of your ideas as you are all confronting your own dragons and crying over fires near and far. Thank you so much! God knows, I really needed it!

I don't think that there could really be any closure or resolution to the feelings that prompted this blog. No amount of encouragement (though it has lifted my spirit) could change the dire situation that most people in Northern Uganda live in or the "smallness" of my contribution. But what I've been feeling lately is that focusing on my impact or lack of is the wrong way to look at things. Whether or not this toothpick and these tears are really effective just doesn't matter that much. It's just the right thing to do. It is right to confront dragons and cry over fires. As my dad said, "it's an act of worship."