We are in Cavango, still unpacking, rebuilding shelves, etc. After returning from dropping Luke off in Windhoek and driving two days home, we had two frantic days of packing in Shangalala, we then loaded a flatbed truck and three pick-ups, drove 8 hr to Lubango, unloaded the trucks, reloaded the trucks for Cavango (much of our stuff was put in a container or given to other missionaries to use), and 15 hr (17 hr for those driving the truck) on the road and… we are in Cavango. We had no mishaps beyond the truck not starting to begin the day (we “jumped” the battery). We arrived tired but so grateful, mainly because we were rocking and rolling along a dirt trail (averaging < 20km/hr) for over eight hours and so many things could have happened.
In the first day of clinic I saw only 12 people, but for several it was definitely beneficial that Our Father brought us here when He did. A sweating, 65 year old man arrived having been unable to urinate for almost 48 hr. His bladder was rock-hard (full of urine) as he had an enlarged prostate which had blocked his urethra (the tube through which urine flows out from bladder). We put in a catheter to empty his bladder and he was immensely grateful. Every man’s prostate will cause urinary difficulty if he lives long enough. It is a common problem worldwide (no matter where one lives) and the difficulty is compounded greatly when one lives so far from medical help. This man might use a catheter the rest of his life (which is so much better than inability to urinate) or travel to the city and have surgery to remove his prostate, if he can afford it.
We were visited last week by a group of four people from “Hope for our Sisters”. Their passion impacted me. They are a beautiful example of our Father’s creativity and His heart for the hurting, manifested through His children. While living in suburbia U.S., the leader of the group developed a passionate concern for the thousands of women in developing countries with vaginal fistulas. Her contagious passion drew others to help and they are now an organization having a significant impact on many women’s lives. Devastating vaginal fistulas (canals) can occur between the vaginal canal and the rectum or between the vaginal canal and the bladder, and occur where Cesarian operations and trained care for complicated and/or prolonged labor and delivery are not available. Of all deliveries worldwide, about 15% are complicated and must have a Cesarean to avoid maternal or infant death or disability. Fistulas are one of the complications that can occur where these operations are not available, usually occurring along with death of a healthy infant.
There are over 3 million women suffering from this problem today and over 100,000 new cases annually in Africa alone. They occur from either prolonged labor (no one to go to for help) or an unrepaired, complicated tear in tissue during birth (no one to repair), and a passage is created from either the rectum or the bladder to the vagina, making continence of the respective organ impossible, so the woman constantly leaks either urine or stool through her vagina. Because of the odor and mess, she is quickly ostracized from her family and community and lives abandoned by those she holds dear. Often starvation and illness take their lives because of inability to provide food for themselves.
There is growing awareness of this problem, which has existed for so many women since the beginning of childbirth. This team from New England was such a beautiful group of people and their passion to minister and love these women, seek out means of prevention, as well as provide surgical help for them, was contagious. Dr Steve Foster is a leading fistula surgeon in Africa, performing fistula repairs daily in Lubango. When I worked at Lubango, I can remember doing rounds on one of my first days and asking a post-op fistula patient if her bed was dry. Her smile lit up the room as she said that her bed was dry for the first time in several years. She knew that her life had been transformed by her surgery several days prior, as she would no longer be outcast from her community.
When we arrived in Cavango, we met Isaac, the caretaker of the previously vacant mission property and house. Everything was in order and well cared for. We’ve been told that this never happens in Angola. “A faithful man, who can find?” Faithfulness and integrity are beautiful to behold. Isn’t it so honoring to have your life, your opinions, your possessions, your dreams, etc cared for and valued by another? His example has made me want to focus more on honoring the lives and cares of those around me. I already appreciate the heart of this man, based on what he did and didn’t do when no one was looking. He is building a house (see photos) of tree branches, clay and grass on the mission property, about a 3 minute walk from our house, so we will soon be neighbors.
We have moved into a very nice, American-like home, located in the middle of nowhere. It is about 1400 sq ft, three bedroom, two bath, overlooking a gorgeous river valley (Cubango River). It was built by a team from Colorado four years ago and all the material was shipped in from the States on a container. It has been beautifully cared for and renovated by Peter and Shelley Duplantis, who have lived here for the past three years. The electricity is solar and generator, the internet is via satellite, and the water arrives to our cement cistern in one inch plastic pipe from a natural spring about a mile away. The challenge will be replenishing our food and fuel monthly and somehow figuring out repairs when things break down, which may be common occurrences. We already had to replace the water pump and we had no water arriving from the spring for our first few days. Then our solar system batteries and the battery for our generator died simultaneously.
We know that our life here will be practically challenging and we will see over the next 8-9 months if we can handle it. We are the only international missionaries here, but we are looking to quickly build relationships with the local people. The water issue became a beautiful opportunity to build relationships with the men who helped us remedy the problem. If only I would remember that every challenge (like Paul’s imprisonment) is set up by our Father as an opportunity for His people to demonstrate that earthly challenges and/or pain are not what is most important in this life, opportunities to demonstrate our passion for the eternal and our lack of commitment for the things of this world.
We were visited by the local pastor and his overseers from Lubango and Huambo (4-6 hr away, depending on weather) yesterday and had a delightful visit. Each of them speaks several languages, each had a delightful sense of humor, and each were obviously passionately devoted to Jesus and to the rural Angolan people. As with the group from “Hope for our Sisters”, and with Isaac, my heart was impacted by their passion and enthusiasm for serving. Whenever I meet people enthusiastic about serving rather than enthusiastic about their own lives and comfort, I am impacted and more motivated to do the same. We never know who we might be impacting when we demonstrate passion for serving and loving our Father and others while abandoning passion for the things of this life.
I have a friend, Dan, who is an example of living this out in the US. He has been battling cancer for the past several years, enduring chemotherapy and radiation and the myriad of hope and disappointment. He has, however, like Paul, seen his trial as sent from God for the purpose of drawing people to Himself. He has become a minister to fellow cancer patients and has been used by our Father in countless interactions to encourage, to weep with those who weep, and to embrace the hurting. He has become our Father’s passionate hands and voice in a way that would not have occurred without his affliction. His eternity is secure, and for him each interaction is an opportunity to live Jesus.
Dan’s words in an email to me follow:
“In spite of cancer, I am a most blessed man! God continues to use the “affliction” as means of outreach to others who don’t know Him. I just shared with and encouraged a Christian woman who had discovered that she had cancer and was in the next room as we were being prepped for a PET scan. I could hear the anxiousness in her voice and the Lord prompted me [not much prompting required] to encourage her. I knocked and stuck my head in the door and began to encourage her. She had prayed, quoted Scripture over and over and was visibly upset. I told her that God promised to work all thing together for our good. She asked, “How can having cancer be a good thing?” I told her, “I know it is a good thing that I have cancer because I can stand here today and encourage you. If I had no cancer we would have never met!” She smiled and said, “Now I understand. I will look for others to encourage.”
You and I are here to minister to the afflicted, and it is often personal affliction which best equips us to minister with Jesus’ sensitivity and compassion. How is He preparing you to minister to the hurting? Every day that you and I remain on this earth is with purpose, to be spent as His hands and voice on those who “need a physician”.