Snapshots

A few “snapshots” of our life in Angola:

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We take out our trash to an overflowing, open canister two or three blocks from our house.  If we dumped it in front of our house on the street, no one would notice and it would not make our street look worse.  The streets are “flowing” with trash and human and animal waste, as is the river near our house near our trash canister (see photo).  Septic “streams” flow down most of the sidewalks and streets, including on the sidewalk in front of our apartment.

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I often consult with women with neck and upper back pain.  They carry great weight on their head every day (especially large buckets of water) and I would expect this to cause problems in their thoracic spine and in their neck.  I see, however, far fewer people with this complaint than I would expect.  I believe carrying weight on our heads might be healthier than carrying it in our arms, as carrying weight in our arms distributes weight poorly for our back.  I do also see some men and women with low back pain.  Rural Angolan people are extremely fit and perhaps this is why I see less of these back pain conditions than I would imagine in a culture which requires such consistent manual labor, lifting, carrying, etc.

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One hears a different perspective on slavery here.  Many of the slaves to South and North America came from the Angola region of Africa.  There were many tribal/regional wars during that time (as always) and slaves were taken in theses wars and sold to foreigners by fellow Africans.  Slaves were not typically captured by the whites, but rather purchased from those who had already captured and “owned” them.  Slavery was a huge for-profit enterprise even before the African slaves left their own continent.

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In addressing each other, the most commonly used terms of respect are “Mom” and “Dad” or “Aunt” and “Uncle” for older individuals and “Brother” and “Sister” for someone younger.  So, when addressing an older man or woman in a patient interview, I would say, “So, Dad (Mom), what problem brings you here, today?”  It takes some getting used to!

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Transistor radios are huge.  Like the hand-held transistors you might remember from the 60s and 70s, they are inexpensive and virtually everyone carries one tuned in to the radio, listening to music.

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False hair among women is quite popular and most women who can afford it wear some form of it.  Their natural hair is somewhat brittle and difficult to grow long, so synthetic black hair is available and purchased at all of the markets.  Various colors are marketed also (green, purple, etc).  It’s also laying around everywhere, in the streets, etc.  It’s tied into the natural hair to add length, usually in tight braids of varying lengths.  Wigs are also popular (though expensive), simply worn over the natural hair.  Men’s hair is universally short or shaved.  Bleaching in patches or stripes, and mohawks are popular styles among teen boys.

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We just returned from a couple days in Luanda.  It is the capital of Angola and almost half the population of Angola live there.  It is Amazon hot and humid with a population of 5-6 million.  Bets and I went on a walk of three hours in a poorer part of the city and it broke our hearts.  The noise, the smells, the trash, the intense crowds.  As we crammed our way past the back end of a truck on a sidewalk, the stuck truck suddenly backed up five feet and hit many people, including Bets, who all flew back several feet, falling on each other in the muddy street.  Bets was unhurt, though I was a little shaken.  About a half hour later in a misty rain, many people were squeezing past each other and one man grabbed me by the arm and seemingly struggled to pass me, crammed between several others.  I happened to touch my front pocket immediately after and realized my iphone was gone.  I turned around and thought I saw the man who had pushed past me, about ten meters away, and shoved my way to him, grabbed him firmly by the arm and he immediately handed me my phone and took off running into the traffic.  I was glad to have my phone back which is so loaded with personal and medical information.

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Our visit to this city left me quite depressed.  Realizing that most of the population of the world live in such conditions left me with a host of emotions.  I’m reminded this morning that this world is such an ugly, painful existence for so many, not only for the forgotten rural people that we serve, but also for the millions who live in such urban conditions around the world.  The conditions are deplorable, with so many living on the streets, in the mud, in the trash, etc.  We passed a hospital and the sidewalks outside were lined with the relatives of those hospitalized lying shoulder to shoulder on cardboard, getting settled for the night as storm clouds brewed overhead (it showers about every night this month).  We didn’t pass any piles of rotting, fly-infested trash (several per city block) but there were adults and children picking their way to a snack or something broken to lift.  We passed so many carrying on animated conversations with themselves and so many stumbling through the streets inebriated from the cheap, easily obtained alcohol.  Snotty-faced children, covered in mud, playing, dancing, crying and darting in and among the slow-moving, never-ending traffic.  And Jesus’ promise of relationship with Him and eternal life is unknown or ignored by most.  How will they know if not told and how will they listen if they are not loved?  What can His people do?  Are we responding to the cries?  I’m so grateful for the many of you who are teaming with us to love and serve a few of these folks.

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As throughout history, those who today would call this world a pleasant place are in the vast minority and are congregated in a few isolated regions (including the US and Canada).  Nothing has changed.  The great majority of those that God created today live in pain, hardship, or poverty.

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I felt such personal futility.  I can change so little and I can’t change Luanda!  I can feed, educate, comfort, and medically treat so few.  I can communicate the Good News of the King’s favor to so few.  In my despair, I recalled my Savior weeping as He looked upon the city of Jerusalem, likely a city full of people living in similar conditions as modern-day Luanda.  The One who held all hope, all answers, all power… wept.  Why?  Because the majority of those He created and loved chose to ignore, forget, or disregard Him and remain without a Shepherd.  I tasted a bit of the emotional turmoil that my Father must still feel today as He observes the continued conditions of a world that began as a place for He and man to walk together; a world that man continues to destroy through his cumulative, independent, self-indulgence.

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As I work through this, I remember that, motivated by love, Jesus died to purchase our freedom to worship, accept and embrace Him, but also our freedom to reject, disregard, and live independently of Him.  He wept, He hurts for those who reject His love to their detriment, He becomes angry at whatever destroys or harms those He loves, and He hates that which is contrary to His love.  This concern and affection for His beloved motivates His every interaction with mankind, including withholding His intervention in places like Luanda, because He values freedom (for which He paid a dear price) more than peace and prosperity for all.

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He also sees today’s pain and hunger in light of eternity in His kingdom.  It’s difficult for us to view this life in light of His eternal perspective but it is only this perspective that is true; one which we will all appreciate one day soon.

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It is because of that house that He is building for us that our earthly prosperity and healing are not His priority.  It’s because of the table he is setting for us that He chooses to not feed all of us.  It is because of our coming, never-ending dance with Him that the many amputees and disabled in the Angola streets are not granted new limbs.  Though we lose those we love in death, death’s sting is lost because we will soon see them again and the pain of brief separation will be lost in an eternal embrace.  He offers to every person in every corner of Angola something far, far better than prosperity, healing and ease in this life.  This is our message to the few that we can touch.

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We traveled to Shangalala this weekend, five hours south of Lubango, to investigate a possible move for our family.  It is a rural mission, developed by Finnish Lutherans about twenty years ago with a small, ten-bed hospital and out-patient clinic.  They haven’t had a doctor since 2004.  It is quite isolated, overlooking a beautiful, large river valley.  It’s about 15 miles outside of a small town (Xangongo) and 80 miles from a city with a grocery store (Ondjiva).  The clinic would be a place to work medically when I’m not traveling, but the real attraction of living and working in Shangalala is that the bishop of the Lutheran church for Angola is moving to there to begin outreaches to five different, isolated people groups in this rugged, southwest region of Angola.  These groups are at various stages of “unreached” and all are without a group of fellowshipping Jesus-lovers.  Each is more than a six hour, off-road drive from Shangalala.  Bishop Thomas and I both believe that a health care work could be an excellent way to begin loving and serving these unreached groups of people.  One is a people group of several thousand Bushmen (“The Gods Must be Crazy”) who likely have not yet heard of the unconditional love of our Father.  I thoroughly enjoyed a long conversation with the bishop and I love His heart for those unreached and his willingness to move from the city and endure discomfort to personally love them and develop relationships with them.

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We’re working through the decision-making process with our kids and discussing the importance of asking the appropriate questions.  A Jesus-follower doesn’t ask, for example, “Will I like A more or B more?”, “Would I prefer to live in A or B?”, or “Would A or B be more satisfying?”.   Rather, we want to ask, “Is A or B your preference, Father?”  “Does A or B better line up with our general calling/vision?”  “Does A or B put us in a better position to build relationships, love and serve individuals without access to health care?”  Does A or B put us in a better position to introduce Jesus to people who haven’t heard of Him or met Him?”  “Is A or B a better place for each member of our family to be used by our Father to love and serve people?”

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Please ask for our Father to reveal to us His perspective on this potential work and to give us wisdom as we work through all the details.  We have a desire to be settled somewhere and we’re recognizing that this may not be our Father’s desire for us.  Shangalala would be a challenging place for our family to live (quite isolated, very simple living conditions, electricity by generator 3 hr/day, very limited internet, etc) and a new dive into the unfamiliar both for my work and for the life of each member of our family.  But we want to want what He wants, knowing that our current hardships will pale compared to our future joy and if even one might be somehow helped to know our Father…

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