At times, God clearly reveals His hand in our affairs. A few weeks ago, I shared with you my frustration with gaining information about medical licensing. We went to our Father together with a request for clear direction. He responded this weekend. I had spoken of a Spanish Red Cross clinic on a river, several hours south of Altamira, in the “mata” or jungle. This past week, we met the only doctor currently working at the clinic and he immediately and graciously invited our family to join his family there for the weekend. Deanna Bergen, one of the mission leaders, set it all up and came with one of her daughters. Dr. Daniel (it’s a first name culture) volunteers to see patients at the clinic every Saturday and he usually makes a weekend of it with his family, leaving Friday night and returning Sunday. As he invited us, he assured us that he could answer some of our questions about medical licensing. We gladly accepted his invitation and arrived at the clinic Friday afternoon after about a three hour boat ride. It turned out to be a delightful and informative three days. We had the opportunity to hang out with some beautiful people.
Daniel has been volunteering at this clinic for four years. He enjoys the work, as well as the weekend “get away” this place provides. The setting is as beautiful as it gets. It’s located on a small tributary to the Xingu on about 10 acres of cleared jungle, surrounded by rolling hills of rain forest. It has a small lodge with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a dining area, all nicely done and only seven years old. The river is fast-moving, clean, full of fish, with a small beach the kids didn’t want to leave.
We had several long discussions about the licensing of foreign doctors and gained much information about my “predicament”. Daniel has worked with foreign doctors throughout his career and, because of this experience, he was able to provide more information in a weekend that we likely could have gotten in a year without him. A divine appointment, clearly, that leaves me quite grateful to the One who arranges such things. We now have an interested advocate and friend who has an excellent reputation within the medical system, one who has similar motives to serve the underserved, and one who believes our intentions of providing care to the underserved on the rivers without receiving pay. He already is taking us tomorrow to see another person who will help us get started through the bureaucratic maize. We’ll see tomorrow how God has arranged the next step. Before we moved to Brazil, one thing God encouraged me to do was to watch the way HE directed my steps. All of this is such a learning experience for one who always wants to run ahead and get it done myself without consulting with Him, let alone waiting for Him to do it.
Also present during the weekend, was a 67 year old Catholic Brother named Geronimo. A Catholic “Brother” is similar to Father but serves a different function, as he explained it. He is a beautiful man and one whose life, I believe, would fit the definition of modern day hero. He is part of a Catholic ministry called, “The Christian Brothers” and, from what he described, they are involved in works all over the world in “Mother Theresa” type fashion. He has served people and God impressively and selflessly for over forty years. Most of his time has been spent in underserved areas in Brazil, but he also spent seven years in Mozambique after their civil wars in the 1980’s. He shared many stories. He has been the initiator of many programs and projects to assist and serve those living in dire poverty. Much of his focus has been on education and schooling for those without access to the same. Both of these men’s lives are examples of being “poured out” for the “least of these”. Their earthly returns have been minimal. Both live in very simple houses and don’t own cars or motorcycles. They are experiencing and looking forward to unseen rewards, not of this world. Both stated during the weekend they considered themselves most blessed. I felt honored to rub shoulders with them, sharing thoughts and ideas with them over the weekend. They were excited about what we are endeavoring to do. I believe my relationship with these men is only beginning.
Daniel (a doctor of eighteen years) was a pleasure to observe on Saturday. He would be an enigma in any culture. His genuine expressions of care and compassion for people were clearly demonstrated in each interview. It was neat to watch him work. One boat arrived from about 30 min away with 20+ people to be seen. All had relatively minor but legitimate complaints, including a 65 y/o woman with severe knee arthritis. They were all listened to and cared for, in this jungle setting, patiently and thoroughly. Just as in the States, if a patient feels cared for and listened to, they will likely leave the visit content in their medical care. He was honest about what he could and could not do, encouraging them to be seen in Altamira if necessary.
Jesus had much to say about Doctor – Patient interactions. Treat hurting people with compassion, not criticism. Treat others as you would prefer to be treated. Consider others as more important than yourself. Be a servant. If you treat every illness and disease, but have not love, you have accomplished nothing. Love covers a multitude of sins (mistakes). Daniel’s life is a demonstration of a servant in the field of medicine. One who practices love as well as medicine.
I leave the weekend challenged to love. It was beautiful to meet men whose lives demonstrate love and an outward focus. I’ve been so blessed to know many in my life like them. How I want my life to be characterized similarly. All ministry anywhere can be summed up in love. In God’s economy, there is nothing with more value. Anything lacking this has NO value. Love. Is their pain of more value than my time? Do I have compassion for their situation more than I have concern for my momentary needs? Is how they feel more important than how I feel? I’m asking myself today, how much of my life is about others and God, and how much is about me? There is still so much of “me” in there! I am willing, but I fall so short in the practice. Jesus said the one who loves is most blessed. To be self-focused misses so much eternal reward and blessing. Does my life support that I believe this? On the boat coming home today, I was discouraged in the realization that I fall so short of who I want to be in this regard. I found myself confessing to Him that I just can’t do it. I’m not sure I can pay the cost. What am I willing to do to love the least of these? I fail daily in my desire to be a lover of people. It’s just not in me to love selflessly! So often, my heart says, “I don’t want to!” or, “What about ME?!” As I was working through this, I felt like God spoke to me. “Let your only motivation be to draw close to me. I’ll take care of any needed changes in you.” I remembered that to draw near to Him means becoming more like Him. This is so different than trying to imitate Him. The former (drawing close to One who cherishes me) is the “good news”, the latter (trying to earn favor with God by what we do) is religion. I often find myself trying to imitate Him (focusing on the works) rather than drawing more closely to Him in conversation and relationship. Jesus said many times that God desires our closeness, not our performance. I need to be reminded of Jesus’ heart. He came to set us free from performance-based religion. He calls me to draw close to Him and receive His love for me. He knows that I’m so flawed. HE takes responsibility for any changes in me. So, if I want to be a better lover, and if I believe Jesus, I will focus on drawing close to Him, only. I will, THEN, become more like the one I draw close to. He’ll take care of the rest.
I see my life as an experiment. The final result is unknown. What is the best path to pursue? Who do I believe? Jesus? My opinion? Other men? What I feel? Are Jesus’ words true? Is drawing close to Him the appropriate focus (vs. looking out for #1 or feeling good)? Is love the most important thing in the world? Is loving “the least of these” worth paying a high personal cost? Yesterday I chose to believe Jesus and I must choose again today. I will let God and others judge whether the course I choose is, indeed, the best course to choose.