I’m sitting in my car at sunrise “alone” at Tundavala, a place several thousand feet above the Lubango valley overlooking expansive canyons, about which a missionary kid from here once said when he saw the Grand Canyon, “They have Tundavala here, too.” It is beyond description and very few people see it.
Our Father is such a creative marvel and has left evidence of His wondrous abilities in every corner of the world. Nowhere can we go, even in war-torn Angola, without being able to marvel at His glory, revealed in what He has made.
This week has been full and, through your contributions, many of you have been able to touch so many, as we can’t serve the many here without your willingness to turn your hard work into service and love of some of the neediest rural people in the world.
Our family is staying at Cavango, where we will move in August. I did two days of clinics there, then drove 10hr to Lubango and flew to Mukwando. Mukwando is the dormant volcano where perhaps 2000-3000 people live, quite isolated from the rest of the world (they have their own language). It’s a 45 min flight in the small plane to their dirt runway (a 2-3 day travel by ground, walking the last many hours in). Brent, our pilot with MAF, had “dropped in” last month and asked them to prepare for our monthly visits by repairing and smoothing out the runway (mainly by removing the ever-forming, rock-hard termite hills) and he told them the day we would arrive. We arrived to a completely repaired runway (perhaps a day’s work for a dozen men), a small crowd of about 100-150 people, and a clinic area well built simply among a few trees. The walls were made of cut tree branches, with the leaves of the branches providing some privacy. They added to the privacy with panos (the common fabric worn by women and men for clothing) across the entrance. This enthusiasm expressed for the work was quite encouraging. In Mukwando, both men and women use these panos for skirts and upper body wraps.
In this largely cashless culture, about 45 people paid our required 500KW ($5.00US) for the consultation and meds. We charge for various reasons. It acknowledges the value of the consultation, as we all know the value that human nature (anywhere) gives to anything free. The charge also allows us to make this almost a self-sustaining work, as the cost almost covers the meds given and we can therefore continue to bring medical care to the very poor with less outside support. The cost also weans out the extremely minor complaints, forcing the person to assess their illness as to the real necessity of seeing a doctor. We simply cannot see everyone and want to focus on those with more significant health concerns.
The leader of the region sat with me through every consult. He helped translate (few speak portuguese) and was very interested in the medical care, asking good questions and staying engaged. He joined me in praying for each person and seemed genuinely interested in both physical and spiritual health. The trip had tremendous value if only in him seeing and hearing me speak with my Father (how many of us were influenced by someone similarly?) and in the initiation of my relationship with him. More than anything else, I want to communicate to him and to them their value to our Father and the value of walking with our Father relationally, in contrast to a religion-approach to God, which is familiar to every man. By his demeanor at the end of the day, I think something was planted in this man that day.
It is fascinating to me that every person I’ve met in the most remote places has an understanding of a religion-approach to God (seeking to please or placate Him by works, behavior, ritual, etc). It is our desire to communicate the truth of our Father’s heart in that He holds every person dear and there is no need to earn His favor. His favor (grace) and love for all was demonstrated clearly in Jesus. It is in knowing this incomprehensible and unconditional love that we find life and every person is seeking life…
Unconditional love of Jesus’ followers for the insecure, rebellious, afraid, messed-up and broken breaks through self-focused religious hardness. It is the radical difference in our lives (in our love, not in our morality or “goodness”) that opens people’s eyes and hearts to the “unseen” Kingdom of God. It is so interesting that love (a focus on the benefit of another), as the primary emphasis of life, is uniquely found in our Father’s kingdom, and in no religion or philosophy. CS Lewis said, “I’ve never had an unselfish thought” and this is a description of the human heart that so completely contrasts us with the heart of God, who has never had a selfish thought, and who alone loves purely. Our Father is the author of love relationships, as communicated by Jesus in Jn 17. The love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (it’s been around a long time) is that same love that Jesus has for us and desires for us, one for another. Obedience, self-denial, sacrifice, etc are not hallmarks of Christianity. They are characteristics of any love relationship and it is this love relationship that our Father calls us to. So often in His word, He speaks of a certain action that will typically result from a love relationship with Him and we make that resulting action (self-denial, sacrifice, hanging out with other Jesus-lovers (church), love of His letters to us, etc) primary instead of secondary to our relationship with Him, which to Him is always primary. We can so get it backwards.
We (I) must humbly admit that love relationships with anyone (our Father, our spouses, our kids, our friends, etc) are a challenge for naturally self-focused creatures. There is always the temptation to see others (people or our Father) as objects rather than people. As soon as we expect someone to behave or react a certain way, we have made them an object and ourself a god. He/she “should” (an evil word)… or “should-have” (hindsight – more evil)… An object is predictable, a person not. In contrast to an object, a person reacts and behaves from a myriad of experiences, emotions, wounds, etc. We treat them as a person when we humbly acknowledge that they are immensely complex, when we seek to understand rather than judge, when we acknowledge that they are on a journey, when we emphasize honor and respect, and when we humbly love.
I am building relationships with people I haven’t known previously and with people who rarely have outside visitors. Treating them with honor and respect, asking questions, humbly receiving from them, considering them more important than myself (all characteristics of truly loving another), are some of the Kingdom emphases that I continue to strive to hold in high regard. Telling them of my Father and His kingdom must come secondarily. None of us receive anything from people we don’t trust, and trust happens in healthy relationships, which take time to build. We do so much harm in the church by trying to make “converts” to the kingdom in a hurry, by preaching at them, and by forsaking the key (according to Jesus), loving them.
I must remain committed to loving this man and the people at Mukwando and resist allowing them to become objects (numbers to evangelize, illnesses to heal, a goal to achieve…). We make people objects to feel better about ourselves and we manipulate objects for our benefit. We honor people and we give people freedom to make their own choices. Living in a manner that treats each as a free, thinking, feeling person of immense value is challenging, indeed. But our Master is our model, and it is His heart for each that we wish to communicate through our lives of love and service…
Jesus said and showed clearly that every person had immense value to Him, and He demonstrated His favor (grace) and His passionate affection for them by, 1) coming to His created earth and communicating His love for every man through His words and actions, 2) dying the death we deserved by our disregard of Him and our living-independently-of-Him, and 3) living again after dying to clearly demonstrate His ultimate authority.
When we finished at Mukwando, Brent and I flew to Tchincombe in our small MAF plane, another very rural location, for our first clinic there. It is located in the desert of southern Angola, 5hr from Lubango, the closest city. The last time we were there, a herd of wild elephants invaded a nearby village. One of the local colts was recently attacked by hyenas.
We again saw about 45 people, the first of which revealed the need for a more dedicated health care work in the region. A young mother brought in her 10 day old beautiful baby boy, who’d had diarrhea for several days and had stopped nursing. She told her story while holding her baby at her breast, wrapped in several blankets. Her family is known to the local missionaries as caring and responsible. After she answered my questions (I was quite concerned that a child this age had frequent diarrhea and had stopped nursing), she began unwrapping the child and it was immediately apparent when I saw his face that he was not responding appropriately. There was no respiratory movement and his eyes were fixed. I quickly unwrapped the child and sought a pulse. There was none. I tried to resuscitate him without success. In the thirty minutes or so since the mother had wrapped up the child for her walk to the clinic, the baby had died. We tried to console the distraught mother and my translator for the day left with her to comfort her and help her deal with her sudden loss.
Happy endings are not common here. Quick solutions to any problem, including in health care, are economy dependent, and here are therefore rare. There is no EMS (in all of Angola), no phone, and there was no health care provider anywhere nearby to seek out when she first had concern for her baby. I rarely meet a mother that has not lost several children to illness (the average seems to be about a third of children here don’t survive childhood), a tragedy in the west, yet normal here. This is why we must work, and work tirelessly. Our work, however, is challenging, as a certain diagnosis for a problem can be elusive without modern lab and diagnostic equipment. I do the best I can and ask my Father to touch each. In medical care in rural Angola, there is so much more necessary, conscious dependence on Him…
This child, made and cherished by her Father, is now in His embrace. This mother grieves and seeks comfort and answers for her loss. One day, she might hear of an eternal love from those who know Him.
I am now writing two days later. Yesterday, I drove about nine hrs from Lubango to join my family in Cavango. Cavango is where we will live, Cuvango is the river and a small town that we pass through on our trip to Cavango. The pavement ends at Cuvango after about 4 hr from Lubango and the grinding, rocking and rolling off-road travel begins (about 4-5 hr now when dry, and another hour or two when wet). After my arrival, I napped and then we sat around a fire at the beautiful Cuvango river. It was a great Father’s Day with some beautiful, passionate, young adults! It is SO nice to have everyone here…