Our trip home to Lubango from Luena (1150 km, 29/34 hr on dirt) went as well as we could’ve possibly hoped. We were never broken down or delayed. We pulled out three stuck vehicles and, in so doing, broke our back bumper/frame. We almost lost our brakes, have some rattling on our engine fan (hopefully something simply loose from all the jarring) and acquired a few dents. It was extremely muddy and wet the first day and after that is was just rough, with ruts and holes beyond number. We only came close to getting stuck a few times but our four wheel drive got us out. All in all, to be home with such little mishap after such a brutal, sloppy trip, leaves us quite grateful. I’m reminded that if we journey the road less-travelled, if we choose to enter the fray and fight His fight… there will be pain, injury and discomfort. The life of the Babe in the manger is our example.
After the first travel day (18 hr) we stayed at a Baptist Mission in Kuito. Maryann, a fellow missionary from Germany, fed us, gave us a place where we could collapse, and treated us like royalty. She called a local pastor who came in the early morning, repaired our brakes, hired a young boy to wash our car, and would take no money for his services. Their attitude toward us caused us to feel so valued and we were challenged by their energetic selflessness. It was so beautiful to receive such Kingdom love (no strings) and we left feeling honored, edified, refreshed and wanting more to be providers of this same love.
I’m finally feeling like I’m on the way to feeling normal after nearly four weeks with malaria. I tested negative for the first time this week and am thrilled. I’m still tired with activity, but improving by small steps. I’m not alone as two of our missionary friends are on new medication after testing positive following their first course.
At the clinic in Cavango, over two days we saw a little of everything typical for a clinic in rural Angola. We did see malaria (only a few cases – different region than Luena!) and, along with all of the other cases, we also saw a couple of cases of advanced Syphilis in young men. If left untreated, this illness, common in developing countries, can be devastating, attacking multiple nerves, threatening life, and causing severe neurologic debilitation.
We saw two cases of new-onset seizures. Seizure disorders are common here and typically begin after an illness with high fever, usually either malaria or meningitis, and can become chronic after the initial illness abates. When epilepsy begins without fever, one suspects Neurocysticercosis as a possible cause. This is a unique manifestation of a common parasitic disease where the larva of a pork tapeworm wanders in the body of the host until it becomes a cyst, walled off by the action of the host’s immune system. The eggs are initially ingested by swallowing unseen, microscopically feces-contaminated vegetables or water, after which the eggs develop into larvae, which migrate through the walls of the intestine and lodge in host muscle or other tissue (the brain in neurocysticercosis). The larva can also be swallowed by eating undercooked pork (cysts in the pork muscle). If these larvae wander to the brain, they cause chronic inflammation and epilepsy can be the result. We’ve diagnosed several cases in Lubango with the aid of a CAT scan of the brain, which demonstrates the multiple cysts in the cerebral cortex of the epilepsy patient. We began treatment for this parasitic infection in these young epilepsy patients in Cavango and hope to see their epilepsy resolve. There was a solid reason the Israelites were told to avoid eating pork, as their lives were not much different than those of the Angolan people! I detail this disease to highlight a very common problem here, namely parasitic diseases of all sorts, and their often devastating consequences.
A seventeen year old girl came to the clinic because she hadn’t become pregnant after a year of marriage. In a culture where 7-8 children is the average, any hint of infertility can be quite unsettling for a young woman. She had normal menstruation and really no distinguishing symptoms. Because I had a portable ultrasound machine, I decided to take a quick look and… there was a two month old healthy fetus dancing around in its small uterine space. The girl was thrilled and all of her worry (over many months) was for naught. I was struck by how often I worry and a sudden change of circumstance or awareness identifies my worry as foolish. I too often carry the unnecessary burden of worry, evidence of faulty and weak trust in the One with complete awareness of every circumstance and the ability to intervene at any time. Does worry ever benefit? But it does cause unseen damage to our physical health, it puts those we love in bondage, and it destroys our trust in the One we follow…
What comes to mind from this week as I write are the several cases where the patients traveled many hours to see the doctor (word of our visits are spread by word of mouth, through the churches, and over the radio) with hope for treatment and/or cure and I had none to offer. A young girl had vitiligo, a disease that causes patches of lost pigment all over the body. She had many patches and, because she will soon enter puberty, will likely have many more. For a dark-skinned girl, this disease can be devastating because it so alters their appearance in a manner quite culturally unattractive. Also, a young father brought his son of four years, whose been deaf since birth. He actually brought him back the second day, pleading for us to “fix” his deafness. An older woman had what we thought gall bladder pain, that we diagnosed with ultrasound as gall bladder cancer. We counseled her as to the need for her to travel to a major city (depending on the closest city chosen, 5-9 hr from Cavango, in the back of a flatbed truck, for a fee) for surgery and that her survival was possible, but living so remotely she will not likely follow through.
Each of these beautiful people were unable to be helped at our simple clinic. They highlighted that our abilities, though helpful to many, are still quite limited. I asked our Father to touch each of them, emphasizing to them that only He gives life and that only He heals, whether He uses medications or physicians, heals without these instruments, or chooses to allow their afflictions to continue. I trusted Him with their care and also asked Him to give each of them wisdom and trust as they face these uniquely difficult challenges in this raw environment.
Our limitations are always difficult to recognize. We are wise, however, to keep our limitations, thorns and flaws self-evident for, as the beauty of a diamond is more appreciated on black felt, God’s works and abilities are more apparent in a setting of obvious human weakness/limitation. We ARE weak and flawed, and always will be. Perhaps I’m alone, but I am no less flawed than when I began walking with Jesus more than thirty years ago. If only we could bring ourselves to acknowledge and confess our weaknesses freely. In christian circles, however, we sadly most often highlight our strengths while smiling through an “I have it all together” mask. The goal of walking with Jesus is NOT to become a better (less flawed) or stronger person (or appear to be) or to have a better earthly life. It is rather to walk in conversational communion with Him, forsaking MY comfort, MY pleasure, and MY dreams and ambitions, while yielding to HIM to live HIS life through my broken vessel. More of Him, less of me… Jesus’ good news is all about God’s goodness and abilities, not mine. The coolest thing about living a surrendered life is that we then know the true desires of our heart (peace, joy, love, contentment, etc)
I love the analogy of light shining out through a broken vessel of pottery. The more broken the pottery, the more brilliant the light to those on the outside. Cover the flaws and the light is hidden. As we are open about our brokenness and blemishes (and the all-too-present pain of this life), HIS light and beauty becomes more apparent while our flaws and weakness leave us appearing unimpressive. If only we, as His church, would glory in our weakness and in HIS beauty and strength…
The limitations and afflictions of this earthly life also give added value to Jesus’ promises of an eternal home with Him, where we will live healed of our brokenness and growing ever closer to our Father. Our lives here would look so differently if we lived as though we really knew whose we were and where we were going. If we would more fully embrace whose we are and where we are going (and the brevity of this life by comparison), the things of this life (both pleasure and loss) would become less dear, and we could then glory in humble weakness rather than charismatic strength, in failures rather than successes and in our brokenness rather than trying so hard to have it all together.
The people arrive at the clinics dressed in their finest clothes. Especially the little girls are bathed and wearing frilly dresses and their best shoes. Because of this custom, when people arrive in tattered clothes (common), you know they are either extremely sick or extremely poor.
Women wear “panos”. Panos are inexpensive pieces of fabric, 2 x 1 meters, typically brightly colored. They use them as a skirt, a wrap-around shawl, a towel, a head-wrap, a baby-carrier, etc. Like the hammocks of the Amazon, they are an immensely practical adaptation for a poor culture. Many women take off 7-8 of these (more when it is cold) for a physical exam, and they usually have a strong scent of fire/smoke (they spend much time keeping warm and/or cooking around a fire and their huts often contain a fire which becomes smoke-filled during the night.
You can see in the village pictures on Flickr (click on “More Photos” under the photos to the right) that these folks live quite simply. They collect their water from streams or rivers, cook over fires, hunt and grow simple food, and live in small, dirt-floored, mud-walled, grass-roofed homes.
I’ve observed that living simply is quite difficult and very good. Our American “more, more, more” is something completely foreign to these folks, who do not accept or believe that more is good. We have lost so much in our pursuit of more. For example, in the US, we will learn culturally (the hard way) that pursuing less and easier work is not better. For generations, we’ve been seeking easier lives at less cost and it is destroying our minds, hearts, and souls. Hard work (employed or volunteer) is healthy for us physically and, especially, mentally. Outside of our family, our work, and the people we work with, are our means of greatest impact on the world in which we live.
Will you join me this year in sharing more openly and humbly about our flaws and weaknesses while pouring ourselves into our work and into the lives of the people with whom we work? We will see God use us in so many small ways to impact the world around us. Your Kingdom come, Father, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven… that more might notice, admire and worship You…