I miscalculated . . . badly.  On the flight from LAX to Amsterdam, I had gotten my four hours of pharmaceutical sleep at the time when Ugandans were sleeping.  But on the flight from Amsterdam to Entebbe, Uganda, in a moment of weakness and stupidity, I took a nap for a couple hours.  Unfortunately, this meant that when I could finally get to bed on Friday night at about 1:00 a.m., I was unable to sleep.  At all.  I tried twice, but each time just laid there.  Finally, I gave up and just caught up on e-mail and some other work.

Over breakfast, we had a heartbreaking meeting with a couple who had been in Uganda for the better part of a year and had been granted legal guardianship (a step toward adoption) over a little boy, but had been unsuccessful in their attempts to do the same for a little girl.  They had been foster parents for both kids for several months and both kids clearly considered them to be their parents.  Please pray for them as they try to complete the difficult adoption process.

We also met with a couple Ugandan officials (I am being purposely vague), one of whose children had attended the excellent prep school that I am hoping to get Henry admitted to early next year.  She graciously offered her assistance in the upcoming admissions process, but cautioned that Henry would have to score very high on the national exams to even be considered.

We also met the bravest boy in the world.  Having previously heard about him, it took all I had not to just pick him up and hug him.  To protect his identity, I will refer to him simply as Hero.  I had a chance to sit with Hero (who just turned nine) and to help him cut up his breakfast before he ate.  He made a paper airplane out of a napkin, and borrowed my pen and started writing and solving math problems on the napkin.  When interacting with Hero, one would have no idea that about a year ago he had defied all odds and had somehow stumbled out of a field bloodied and disorientated after having been kidnapped and ritually carved up by a witch doctor.  Not only did he survive, but he stared the witch doctor in the eye at the trial and identified him as his assailant.  That witch doctor was convicted, representing the first time in Ugandan history that anyone had been convicted under the trafficking in body parts statutes.  Bob Goff and his Restore team orchestrated the trial.  Later this week, Hero will fly with Bob back to the United States for a series of reconstructive surgeries over the course of about six months.

After breakfast, we packed up and set out on the five-hour drive north to Gulu where Henry was in the midst of the next-to-last day of the national exams.  I was in the car with John Niemeyer, Bob Goff, and Darla Anderson.  We talked about Niemeyer’s law school plans (perhaps this next fall at Pepperdine?), Darla’s life at Pixar (fascinating), Bob’s hopes and dreams for Restore International’s work in Uganda (expansive), and Henry’s plight so far and his hopes and dreams for the future.  After we crossed the Nile, which serves as a de facto dividing line between the North and the South in Uganda (Kony and the LRA rebels never made it south of the Nile), we stopped to feed the baboons

Upon arriving in Gulu, we checked into the hotel and then set off for the Restore Leadership Academy, which is about fifteen minutes outside of Gulu.  The students all know Bob and love it when he comes to the school because that means something big is going to happen.  Last time he came, he brought huge tarps and a skateboard and the kids learned to “tarp surf.”  Last time Bob’s law partner Danny DeWalt came to Restore, he lugged with him two “portable” basketball hoops and introduced the kids to a new sport.  Niemeyer bought the kids some jerseys and the big year-end game was scheduled for Saturday night.  After we arrived, the game got going.

Before we arrived, Niemeyer had called Henry and learned that he and Joseph were actually in Gulu getting his parents settled at their hotel.  Their father had been to Gulu only once, when he dropped off the boys for school in June of 2010.  But their mother had never been to Gulu.  About twenty minutes after we arrived at Restore, Henry and Joseph arrived in a taxi.  I had positioned myself behind Niemeyer’s car so they couldn’t see me as they walked up.  I had also given my Flip camera to Hunter so he could capture the reunion.  As hoped, they were quite surprised  They told me that their families and friends had been asking them for several weeks whether Mr. Jim was coming to for graduation, but he had told them what I had told him – that I couldn’t leave work in the middle of the semester to come.  (Thanks Dean Tacha and Dean Perrin for the Hall Pass).

The three of us talked for the next half hour, but there wasn’t a ton of new things that had happened since we had spoken by phone earlier that week.  Henry did tell me, however, that he felt very good about how the three-week long national exams were going and that his last day of exams was this coming Monday.  When it started raining a bit harder than the light sprinkle we had been experiencing, our group set off back to the hotel.  Henry told me that he wasn’t going to call and tell his parents that I came because he wanted to surprise them in the morning.

Back at the hotel, I skyped with Joline and the kids for a few minutes, but was starting to show narcoleptic tendencies, so I went to bed at around 8:00 p.m.  Tomorrow is graduation day, and Bob’s motto has always been “Go big, or go home.”  It should be a full day of action and whimsy.

Life’s Pleasures

Life has many pleasures that could have only come from a loving God: the sunset in Malibu, the spontaneous spark that starts the heartbeat in a mother’s womb; the joy of walking the same speed and same direction as the ones you love over a lifetime; that fleeting moment between when a dose of anesthesia has been administered and inevitable glorious unconsciousness.  While taking an Ambien sleeping pill cannot match any of these, it partially replicates the last on the list, and was one of my favorite parts of the 24-hour trip from LAX to Kampala I just completed.  I departed LAX at 3:00 p.m. and flew about twelve hours to Amsterdam, the last four of which were spent in pharmaceutical sleep.  The 50-minute layover in Amsterdam was a bit tight, but I made the connecting flight comfortably.  It was then seven hours to Kigali, Rwanda, with a one-hour layover, but I didn’t have to change planes.

Another highlight of the trip was finishing the audiobook on my iPod of Moneyball – a book based upon movie that came out a few months ago starring Brad Pitt.  It is really amazing to me that they could produce a book so quickly after the movie release.  And the fact that the book had so many more layers of detail and so much more character development than the movie makes it all the more impressive.  I can’t wait until the book comes out based upon the final installment of the Harry Potter movie series.

Seriously, Moneyball is an excellent read, I mean listen, and provides a level of texture that the movie can’t quite replicate.

Also on the trip I had the opportunity to do another edit of the appellate brief I wrote in an effort to overturn Henry’s conviction.  This brief has still yet to be filed with the court because appellate briefs of the nature written and filed in the United States are essentially unheard of in Uganda.  The appeal is typically one or two pages and simply identifies the errors the appellant contends the trial court made.  The arguments and legal authority are presented orally.  Parties are, however, permitted to submit supplemental memoranda a few days in advance of the argument if they so choose.  I so choose.  I struggle against over confidence because the facts and law are so compelling that a reversal and acquittal seems to be the only possible result.  I hope to find out next week exactly when the oral argument will take place.

I also had the chance to edit a proposal that Shane Michael and I have been working on and plan to present to the Ugandan Judiciary in the coming weeks or months.  Shane is one of my former students who moved to Uganda in September after graduating in May and taking the California Bar Exam in July.  Shane is serving as Pepperdine Law’s Nootbaar Fellow this year, working for the Ugandan Judiciary on a variety of projects.  The proposal we are working on will, if adopted, create a pilot program whereby juvenile’s arrested for crimes in Uganda will have their cases dramatically expedited so as to avoid the lengthy delays they often experience now (up to two years).  The acronym for our proposal is called J-FASTER – aren’t we clever.

On the final leg of the journey I listened to some Casting Crowns, probably my favorite band.  I listened to the song “Somewhere In the Middle” several times and couldn’t help but feel convicted by its lyrics:

“Somewhere between the hot and the cold, somewhere between the new and the old,

Somewhere between who I am and who I used to be, somewhere in the middle you’ll find me.

Somewhere between the wrong and the right, somewhere between the darkness and the light, Somewhere between who I was and who You’re making me, Somewhere in the middle, you’ll find me.

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender, without losing all control.

Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense, deep water faith in the shallow end, and we are caught in the middle.”

*                      *                      *

I have just arrived at the hotel in Kampala.  We have a team of eight here for the trip: Bob Goff (President and Founder of Restore International); John Niemeyer (Country Director for Restore); Greg Monroe (Owner of aviation business in Northwest USA); Darla Anderson (Producer for Pixar (THE producer for Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Cars, and Toy Story 3)); Deborah (works at Restore in San Diego); Hunter (college student who works for Young Life); Simon (local who is one of our drivers); and me (just glad to be here).

I just heard the final itinerary for the week.  Should be quite a bit of fun.

More tomorrow.  Thanks for the prayers.


Fifth Time’s a Charm

Anyone who is reading this without knowing who I am, who Henry is, or why I keep going to Uganda should probably first read the relatively brief “About Us” and “Background” entries on this website for context before proceeding on.

Today I am flying out of LAX to Entebbe, Uganda via Amsterdam.  I am heading back to Uganda for a fifth time since January of 2010 and this trip promises to be the most fun and satisfying yet.

The “fun” part derives from the fact that I am joining Bob Goff on this trip – one of the most whimsical, thoughtful, and inspiring guys I have ever met.  (His twitter posts are also the most thoughtful and inspiring out there).  The “satisfying” part derives from the fact that I will be attending Henry’s graduation on Sunday from the Restore Leadership Academy.  I met Henry (and his younger brother Joseph) in a juvenile prison in January of 2010, and since then, he has basically become our fourth child.

Henry was released from prison in June of 2010, and immediately enrolled in the Restore Leadership Academy, which was founded by Bob Goff several years ago to provide educational and leadership training for many of the otherwise lost generation of kids in Northern Uganda.  Gulu, where the school is located, was ground zero for the decade-long war waged by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Along with the brutal violence against the citizens of Northern Uganda, the LRA kidnapped young boys and conscripted them into their rebel army.  In around 2005, the LRA was driven out of Northern Uganda into Congo, leaving Gulu and the surrounding area in ruins.

Joline and I have been privileged to pay the relatively small cost of enrolling Henry and Joseph in the Restore Academy.  I still talk to Henry every week – he, like people most in Uganda, has a cell phone.  In fact, I talked to him yesterday morning and confirmed that all the arrangements have been made for his parents to be brought from his home village of Hoima to Gulu for Henry’s graduation.  I have not told Henry that I am coming.  This week, Henry finishes S4, which completes his “O” level of education.  In February, Henry will enroll in a new school for the two-year “A” level of his high school education (S5 and S6).

One of the purposes of this trip is to try to prepare the way for Henry to be admitted into the top science “A” level program in Uganda, which is located in Kampala.  Henry’s dream is to be a doctor one day.  Also on this trip, I hope to meet with several judges and other government officials to better solidify the projects on which my family and I will be working when we move to Kampala in January of 2012.  I will also be meeting with the Ugandan lawyer who has been assisting me as I prepare to argue on Henry’s behalf in the Ugandan Court of Appeals.  Originally, the argument was set to take place in September of 2011, but it keeps getting pushed back due to litigation surrounding Uganda’s February, 2011 Parliamentary and Presidential elections.  (Under Uganda’s Constitution, election petitions have absolute priority on the courts’ calendars)

My hope is to provide updates every day or two on this website.  I am grateful for your prayers.