I’m sorry for the delayed update. It’s been pretty busy since my return from the States for my heart issues. I worked for a couple of weeks at the Lubango Hospital and then we took off for Windhoek, Namibia to drop Luke off at the international airport for his journey back to the States. We had a great three day trip with him which will be a beautiful memory in this transition time for our family. Though we feel the loss of his presence, we are full of joy for this new beginning in the story His Father has written for him. We once again see that change is healthy and change is hard. Like many of you before us, we realize that to hold tightly to Luke (resist change) might feel good for us but would be unhealthy and unfair for Luke, as His Father has plans for Him independent of us. Our family is now called to have an impact for the Kingdom while geographically separated. We are so blessed that our Father has given us a special 18 years with Luke and, though our relationship will change, we look forward to an eternity with him as friend and brother.
On our trip south, we spent a day driving through a large game reserve (1/5 the size of Ohio) and saw many of the animals that one thinks of in the African Plains. It was a blast and we couldn’t believe all that we saw (herds of elephants, giraffes, zebras, etc). We saw ostriches, baboons and warthogs along the road outside the park as we travelled. Namibia is a beautiful, mountainous desert country.
I’ve been working at the hospital and learning, learning, learning. Not only is there much to learn about medicine here, but it’s remarkable (and so humbling) how much I lost being away from hospital medicine for seven years. The other docs have been so gracious in their patient instruction and tolerance.
I’ve been walking daily with periodic angina (especially up inclines) but I walked for two hours one morning two weeks ago, up and around a significant mountain, with no symptoms whatsoever. I had difficulty believing it as I pushed on through multiple places where I had to stop previously because of the angina. I’ve had several similar walks since and I’m sure grateful. We have a gracious cardiologist visiting from Canada who has given me a full workup and tweaked my treatment.
I have been overwhelmed by the generous hearts of all of you who support us and our work to the forgotten people of rural Angola. I sure appreciate all of the emails and words of encouragement.
This can be a discouraging place. We’ve had multiple cases this week of toxic hepatitis. One young woman died yesterday and several others likely will soon. “Traditional” medicine is all natural, herbal and likely has been killing people in Angola for generations. Someone is feeling a little ill or perhaps wants to have a baby and they go to a relative or a friend who says they have the all-natural remedy. They mix up some healthy, beautiful plants, roots, etc and, likely with the best of intentions, kill the “patient”. This medicine is surely taken often with no ill effects, but people arrive every week at our hospital with yellow eyes, swollen bellies and liver failure, often in a coma. In the past several days, I’ve had many talks with both the father and husband of a twenty year old woman in liver failure. Because they love this woman, they corner me several times every day about how she is doing, and I give them worse news each time as she moves closer to death. They share that they simply can’t believe that the all-natural, herbal, traditional medicine harmed her. I explain that we see many cases like her (we have several in the hospital currently) and I think they are now becoming convinced.
I walk for an hour or so every morning and see so many people with physical and mental deformities. Then I go to the hospital and see people battling severe illnesses, many of which are easily treated or prevented in the western world. In this part of the world (which is very much like conditions of His day) it is easy to realize why Jesus so prioritized eternal life. This earthly life, for most people who have lived before us, and for most of the world today, is not pleasurable. In our western prosperity, we (including the church) have developed a philosophy that life should be about happiness and should be abundant in pleasurable experiences. We need to get out more.
I do want good health and less pain and disability for those I treat. Jesus had the same desire, I think, when He went to villages and “healed all who came to Him”. But all of these healings were temporary as every person that Jesus healed (including Lazarus) again experienced illness and pain, and died. There is so much suffering in this life, but we can love those hurting. We can offer no permanent solutions for their trial, but we can love them and invite them to meet our Father. To hurt loved and relevant is quite different than hurting alone and with no sense of purpose. The message we share with each is that they are dearly loved and that THERE IS MORE than what they see in this earthly puff of smoke; here today, gone tomorrow. Our message is not necessarily a better life here but a better life there, and friendship with the King here, in the midst of our tribulation.
Even in the heart of Africa…
I work through such things with my Father on my walks as I prepare for another day. I was approached one morning by someone severely handicapped and disabled, who has, like the toxic liver patients in the hospital, in ignorance and with good intentions swallowed a deadly mixture. Perhaps you know someone similar. He is a zealous young man who so wants to be “right”. He is sick and doesn’t know it and actually believes that he is quite well (because he feels good). His illness, however, eats away at him, unrecognized and untreated. He continually poisons himself with a remedy that is healthy when mixed with humility and surrender to God, but deadly toxic when mixed with pride and the desire to be “somebody”. A sword can be so useful and so destructive.
This young man had all the answers. He was extremely bible-knowledgeable, quoting innumerable verses and “truth” from “God’s word”, yet didn’t know the Father. He has been fed by man, with the bible, apart from God’s Spirit (those led by God’s Spirit bear His fruit). He would open to a verse, read it, and close the book like nothing more could be said, because the bible said it, period. He didn’t realize that quoted bible verses can be a great tool for error, that the enemy knows the bible quite well and uses it effectively for his purposes. He also hasn’t yet learned that many church-goers search and study the bible for truth and never meet Him. To him, truth is something one knows, not someone one gets to know. He was all about doctrines, with no sense of love, respect, or honor (and other Jesus qualities) apparent in him. No humility, no understanding of bias, and no appreciation for the journey, for the process of learning (in relationship) through experience and time. I listened and asked questions…
I let him talk himself out and then shared with him about the Jesus that I know, the One I was conversing with when he interrupted me. I encouraged him to develop a relationship with God before becoming a teacher or an evangelist; to know Him about whom he spoke; that primarily we are called to be witnesses to the living Jesus, not teachers of doctrine; that life and truth are in Jesus, not his words (though his words reveal His heart and patterns of thought); that the bible points to the One we follow, love, serve, and worship. It was so clear that He thinks that truth and bible knowledge are the key, when walking with Jesus is the key. Life is in Him, in knowing Him and in being known by Him, and in doing whatever He says.
I absolutely love and need the thoughts that God has shared with us in the bible and I shared with him that the bible is a beautiful, God-sent revelation of our Father, that aptly glorifies Him and that leads a seeker to Him. It assists me, motivates me, challenges me, etc in my relationship with Him. Yet Jesus actually ridiculed those who put doctrinal truth before love, leading before service, and the bible before relationship, and those who, like this man, thought quite highly of themselves and their doctrines. Jesus emphasized that His Father was quite different than what bible scholars thought. It is very likely that most people in heaven never owned a bible on earth, but they all walked with God.
Walking with God in humility and with a servant attitude, are not virtues in our churches today. What characteristic did Jesus say would identify His followers and validate their witness? It wasn’t teaching and preaching the truth, or performing miracles, or knowing “His word”, or living among lost tribes, or healing the sick… Our churches and those who say they are His can’t get along…
So many of our devoted and sincere christian young men and women, like this young man, focus on bible knowledge and doctrine and, as a result, they know much and remain unprepared for life’s storms, and will have no idea how ignorant they are until life painfully reveals it to them. In his arrogance (a product of a focus on truth/doctrine), even after I shared that I had walked with Jesus for 30+ years and had learned much over time by making many mistakes, this man couldn’t have cared less about listening or asking questions (the key to any learning), but he was interested only in sharing what he knew. Sadly, if I wasn’t quoting bible verses, what I said had no value to him.
Timothy struggled with similar thoughts and Paul reminded Him that “Our Father knows those who are His”. I’m reminded this morning that, whether living in the States or in Africa, we all have beliefs which are based on who we follow, what we’ve “swallowed”, our experiences, etc. Sometimes they actually line up with what we say we believe. Because we are human and so flawed, our beliefs always have a mixture of truth and lies (good and toxic plants). I am far more like this man than unlike him! Our Father can, however, handle all of our our misdirected zeal and our struggles to understand. He’s not offended… He died for those who love him, for those who remain indifferent, and for those who hate Him! He is constantly working, drawing and inviting each of us, and all of us, to Himself. Like the people who make destructive decisions regarding “medicine”, we are free to swallow lies, twist His word, etc, yet He constantly encourages us (through people, circumstances, the bible, etc) to turn to Him (Truth). Life is in Him, not in faith, the bible, doctrine, a church, a pastor, worship, our works, etc, though all of these things may accompany an intimate relationship with Jesus. Any of these can become more important than our relationship with Jesus and become toxic. I loved this guy’s passion and I rejoice that if he desires to find Truth, they will meet. I know that My Father will pursue him and give him every opportunity to “see” Him. It is likely that we will meet again during one of my walks and I will be asking my Father to show me how to best love him.
On a lighter note, Ben and Ellie and I joined a team visiting from the Toronto area in a flight (paid for by them) to an isolated people group of about 3,000 people who live on the top of a dormant volcano. The mountainous area was gorgeous and we gathered with some of the people for an afternoon. They were hungry and there was very little water because of less rain this year, they were thin, the men wore skirts, they lived in grass huts, and they so graciously received us. We saw a few people medically and told them that they would be one of the groups that I will visit monthly when we begin our health care visits. We have two small planes (seat four) arriving in October and we will then begin our trips to targeted isolated people groups in Angola for medical visits. This people group is a good example as it takes them three days to get to the city for medical help. Over the past 25 years, they have had a couple of churches from Lubango begin to work among them, but the churches couldn’t get along (each preaching truth, I’m sure) and nothing lasted. They have no current witness among them that Jesus is alive, that He cherishes them, and that life is in Him.
We are currently traveling to two interior sites and will write more soon…