We are in Cavango today, where we will be relocating in August. I have clinics today and tomorrow and then leave for a week of clinics in remote areas (flying with MAF), while our family will stay here and get a feel for the surroundings and people. It was a ten hour drive yesterday, a long way from anything “civilized”. This morning, Bets and I went to a simple chapel service that takes place every Monday morning at 6:30a. Shelley Duplantis introduced us to many of the local community leaders and it was such a nice time with an obviously beautiful small group of devoted people. It will be a joy to begin to get to know them and begin working with this small group of Jesus-lovers to continue to reach into this region with His love and care. It was 33F and we came totally unprepared. In Shangalala it is now in the 50s at night.
When we do our rural clinics, our charge for a consultation is 500 Kwanzas ($5.00US), which covers the visit, the meds, etc. This is always paid willingly and cheerfully, except when the people don’t have money (it’s often a cashless culture, with trading products and services), and then they typically, quite willingly, offer payment with a chicken or another alternative. The problem is that a chicken is worth more than $5, so begins a barter at the door of the clinic as to the value of a particular chicken. It can be quite funny, as I hear passionate comments from a previous patient who is paying for her visit, about the value of a particular chicken, as the chicken clucks away, while I try to hear the current patient’s complaints.
A fascinating facet of the Kingdom of God is that one never knows where or when the Wind will move. We are called to be faithful and to walk with our King, and He will do what He will do, when He will, how He will, to whom He will, etc. We don’t always “feel” or “hear” the wind, yet this subjective “sense” has nothing to do with the Wind’s activity. I was praying for a young girl who has suffered through several years of epilepsy, after telling her that we could not cure it and that she needed no meds because her seizures were infrequent. I prayed for her as for all the others that day, feeling nothing in particular, asking our Father to touch and encourage her. Suddenly, in the middle of praying, with her head bowed and my hand on her shoulder, she began to weep. She didn’t share what was going on, but something on-more-than-a-superficial-level happened between her and One who holds her so dear. We (I) so often want to make the call as to when, where, how, and with whom God does His transforming work, but the results are His. Our calling is to be faithful, to love with His love, to embrace, to speak truth, to serve, to bring to our Father… The real work (fruit) is all His. We are branches of the Vine. Simply branches. We are (blemished) vessels holding the Water of life. Simply vessels.
The rural clinics can be quite variable as to the illnesses we encounter. There are always so many people to be seen, and so many stories. It isn’t uncommon to have people walk through the night to arrive by clinic time in the morning. One young woman brought her ten year old daughter with epilepsy on a two-full-days walk to see the visiting doctor on the morning of the third day since they left their house. At one clinic this past week at a place called Epembe, about a 90 min-drive from the nearest town (not far), we didn’t see many seriously ill people and the first five of six patients were over eighty years old! They were all pretty fit and had various complaints, but wanted to take advantage of the fact that a doctor was visiting (first time ever) their area.
At Onambuda (a 3hr drive from Shangalala), a girl entered our clinic hut at 4p after waiting all day for her turn, just to tell me that the illness which had brought her to Shangalala a month ago had resolved and that she was grateful. In absolutely every remote corner of the world there are beautiful, beautiful people. The people in this harsh land have a unique ability to reflect the One in whose image they were made.
Women almost always add to any complaint that brings them to me chest pain which is worse when they work. These women do so much labor with their arms and hands that they have virtually constant inflammation of the joints that join their sternum to their ribs. It appears to be a real source of difficulty for many, as they have to work through the pain daily.
In Cavango, 5-6 hr from the closest hospital, a retired pastor (75 y/o) deals with severe asthma. I treat Him every month with all the asthma meds we have (a few) and today he arrived “coughing a lot” for two weeks, his lungs so tight that he was moving little air. I’ve personally dealt with asthma for twenty years and can’t imagine allowing my lungs to get to that point without severe panic. Two weeks! He has no other options…
I went on a two day trip with Luke to Tyavikwa, a region nestled in the desert mountains of southwest Angola. He wrote a couple of nice blog posts about the trip @ http://www.lukekubacki.blogspot.com. It was our first medical trip to the area and we saw many people, some who had traveled over two days to arrive to where they heard there was a doctor doing consults. Perhaps only 3 or 4 patients spoke portuguese, so for every virtually every interaction I needed a translator, who was raised in the interior of Angola, nowhere near a school, who spoke seven languages fluently, including portuguese.
The region hasn’t had any measurable rain for over two years, and that people survive in these climates in remarkable to me. I’ll include some pictures of the Himba people, who I’ve referred to in the past (please excuse the partial nudity). They are desert nomads and quite a proud, decorated people. The women wear extensive, heavy jewelry. Water doesn’t touch their bodies and they daily paint themselves with a red dye, mixed with goat butter. Their skin is beautiful and moist, even while living in such a harsh, dry, desert climate. Their hair is braided and then covered with an oily, buttery paste to allow it to grow long without breaking.
I met the pastor of the region, a remarkably tough, yet gentle man, who was easy to converse with and had an obvious concern for the people. He moved to this region twenty years ago specifically to introduce these rural peoples to the Kingdom of God. He said his work has been slow and he’s had few passionate followers. I don’t know how he is introducing the kingdom but, as he shared about his work, it seemed that he is much more of a preacher than a lover of men. I’ve written much on this and so won’t elaborate here, other than to say that this approach is typical 21st century evangelical christianity, and is not the approach of the One they claim to follow. We are called to be lovers of men firstly, and in that context share about the One we love and His perspective, from His word and from our interaction with Him. Jesus-lovers will, however, always be in the minority and it is not my intention to be critical of a man who has given his life to live in very harsh conditions for the purpose of sharing Truth (a person) with these rural people. He is a flawed, broken, rescued vessel on a journey with His Shepherd, as am I. I was drawn to him and loved our brief time together over a couple meals.
One baby, in particular, made the trip obviously worthwhile. The 5 month old baby had diarrhea, vomiting and fever for four days before I saw her and she was severely dehydrated, with a temperature approaching 104F. Her skin had lost its elasticity. She likely had either meningitis or malaria and, in the absence of laboratory diagnosis, we treated both aggressively, along with aggressive hydration. After 24 hours, there was no improvement, but after 48 hr, she was like new, with no fever, normal vital signs, and a smile or two. She likely wouldn’t have survived another day, maybe two. There is no logical reason for a doctor being there on this day with all of his equipment and meds. I’d love to follow her life… The Wind… We do our humble work and scatter seeds of His love and care. All of the results and fruit of our labor are His.
We saw many other cases of malaria, along with chronic conditions that warranted questions to a doctor. We did not see any cases of cholera, though we were told that the region is still full of many cases, and many deaths. With the continued drought conditions, this epidemic will likely only worsen. I cannot describe the difficulty these folks face in accessing just a conversation with a doctor. If they would travel several days to a city (walking and hitching rides in the back of trucks), they enter an assembly line where they exchange but a few lines with the doc, he writes a prescription, and they are gone. If they travel to Namibia, Angolans (even these cashless rural people) might be charged up to 10x that of the local Namibians. It is nice to enter conversation with them and ask them what further questions or concerns they might have (they always have one more question).
Every person of the Himba tribe that we treated, who characteristically reject the gospel message, gladly bowed reverently and received prayer for their condition. I asked our Father to resolve their condition, and also to encourage each, to touch each, and to pursue each with His love and grace, and to convince them of His presence and that He is real. I asked Him also to communicate with each the purpose for which He made them. Praying for them is the most significant part of my interaction with them, especially with these rural people, as we know that our Father is faithful to pursue each and to hear our every request on their behalf.
I’d love to be able to watch how He carries out His love and how He communicates His truth with each in the days that follow. He is faithful. Let’s find out about the bumps and challenges of another’s journey today, and pray with them and for them. He asks us to pray… often… always… to Him… with thanksgiving… trusting Him…
It’s all His work, His responsibility, His burden, His love, His talent, His tools, His pleasure…
What a joy that we all can participate a little. How does He want to use you in the people He is bringing into your life today?
Wow, the story of the 5 month old baby holds a special place in my heart today. Faith is almost five months and the thought of almost losing her like that, with no reason to is beyond heartbreaking. Praise God you were there! Every story is another reason why we can’t wait to get to Angola ourselves.