We killed a 2 meter long black spitting cobra this week. It was an impressive snake (see photos), especially because of its ability to eject venom into a human’s or animal’s eyes with great accuracy, potentially causing partial or complete blindness. Our neighbor was over (after dark) and investigated a stirring among the chickens (next to our house), saw the snake and killed it with a (long) stick. He said he saw one a few years ago with more than half of its body standing straight up and spitting in a man’s face. Where there is one, there are more, so I’ve been a bit more cautious on my predawn walks! Snakes, like evil, are usually quite hidden, well-camouflaged, yet quite dangerous and can seriously affect or take your life with one strike. They rarely frequent the narrow path, and are most often found in dark, hidden places.
I’ve been able to go on many walks (many paths to explore) and it is usually windy here. I’ve noticed that, even on a windy day, the wind virtually never blows powerfully all of the time. It blows for several minutes, and stops for an interval and blows again. I’m not sure how far we take Jesus’ analogies, but there is a time in our lives for the wind to blow and a time for calm (inactivity). Same in our every day, as we see God obviously touch someone in one encounter, and see little in another. Because we can see our Father’s activity as we see the wind (sometimes we see its effects), we need discernment as we allow God to be God (as to timing), as we seek Him to move among the people with which we interact. We must seek to remain available, in season and out, to be used in any small way to demonstrate His love (which only sometimes involves speaking).
Every dawn, outside the clinic, there are fires burning for people who walked in the previous day and seek a consult that day. They sleep on the ground, both the ill person and his/her family, and stay warm near the fire.
I’ve seen in the clinic multiple times the local 85 year old, retired pastor, who has severe asthma and arthritis. He seemed like a nice guy, but this past Sunday morning, some teens were making noise outside the little church building during a service, and he stormed (slowly) outside, quite interrupted the meeting, and expressed some vile anger toward the teens (for all inside the building to hear). I don’t know any history, so my perspective is limited, but if I were one of those teens, I would never want to meet that man’s Jesus. Of course, the short-term results of fear and control were positive, as the teens scattered, and the service continued in an “orderly” manner. The long-term effects will be wounding, and likely the pastor (as well as the teens) will never know the extent of the damage caused.
I saw another side of him later in the same day when he came over to our house for a “visit”. My initial pleasure for his effort (he rode a bicycle about a mile) quickly dissipated, however, when he wasn’t there five minutes and he began asking for stuff. A lot of stuff. Though I know our perspectives and living conditions are so different, it was uncomfortable. He wanted diesel fuel, batteries, food, rugs, and more (this is just what I remember)… he just kept asking. We had established no relationship at all and he went on to give me a list (no money) and “told” me what I could buy for him next time I went into town. I sold him some diesel fuel (for cost) and essentially said no to the rest. I told him we would try to pick up a few things for him (he lives so far from anywhere) but would make no promises. This is a tough (and frequent) decision when working among those with many needs. It can be exhausting, as I so want to help, but have limited resources, so every encounter requires thought and a decision. When he asked me to bring back a 200 L barrel of fuel for him, I told him that we don’t have a big truck here (that was here in the past) to transport full barrels, because it was being better used at another mission location, and he must’ve said ten times (I actually heard him the first time!), “That’s not right, that truck is ours”. No discussion, no questions, etc. I don’t know if he was intentionally seeking to establish his authority in my eyes, but it certainly had the opposite effect. It’s been a long time since I lost so much respect for one man in one day (I was told he was a beautiful, godly man). I thought to myself, that this is one man that I will certainly offend at some point!
He’s been in church authority for a long time and authority here (even in the church) is very accustomed to being served rather than serving. How often different the Kingdom is from the church! Then he found out that I was traveling 7 hr to another town (for a remote hospital dedication by a church) and he asked for a ride. With NO enthusiasm, I consented and thought that an exhausting trip may now be intolerable. None of his requests were wrong or offensive, it was just the amount that was asked for (with no attempt at establishing any kind of relationship) and how it was done (quite paternally). It served as another example to me that we demonstrate our Father’s presence within us more often in how we do, rather than in what we do… and the extreme importance of being sensitive (it takes effort) toward the one with whom we are interacting. “How” involves honor, humility, respect, etc. If we are insensitive, our best intentions can be destructive. The church service encounter served to also remind me of the devastating effects of expressed anger. This man’s outburst likely destroyed in a few moments more than many years of good, solid teaching could ever build. I understand this man is very devout and a very good teacher of God’s word, but if we have not love…
I write about this encounter because encounters like these are not uncommon in each of our lives, whether in Africa or in the US. In difficult interactions like these, we must remember to dialogue with our Father and not base our response on how we feel. Our encounter with that person (as well as their attitude) did not surprise God. He allowed the interaction with purpose. Loving the “unlovely” is our Father’s specialty and must be ours, as well. We must be aware of our ignorance, as our interaction with them perhaps occurred during a trying moment in their life, and we know very little about their state of being, circumstances, wounds, history, etc and 99.9999% of the time, their wounding words or attitude is NOT directed at us personally. We “happened to be” (no coincidences) on the receiving end of their venom (similarly, a snake doesn’t wake up with its victim in mind – as so often with people, their bite is not personal, but reactionary) because we were at that place, with that person, at the time when they were going through whatever it is they were going through.
A missionary friend of ours was attacked and stabbed this week and almost lost his life. He’s still in critical condition, after life-saving surgery by another missionary friend. A trusted friend of ours, who was holding a lot of “our” money (what is really ours?) from our house sale in Brazil (it’s difficult to transfer money from there to the States), spent it. No coincidences… Not personal… Our calling, of course, is not to change them (that’s best left to our Father) or our circumstances, but to trust our Father’s control and purpose. We are to love them (friends, enemies, attackers, offensive, unlovely, etc), as they are.
Then… I traveled for 14 hr with this pastor over two days and spent the rest of those days (and one night) with him, as well. It was a delight! He is a well-weathered Jesus lover (with an incredible history of sacrifice and service) with strengths and weaknesses, like all of us. I saw many other sides of him, many beautiful. His one remaining desire is to see the clinic flourish and come in and pray each day for those ill. I think our Father is forming a team here, of flawed, imperfect servant lovers!
I was reminded of the beautiful doctor (Bill Hodges) I got to know well on my many two month trips to Haiti. I would sit with him in the predawn hours and soak up his experience and wisdom. But he also had been toughened and roughened by his 30+ years of overwork in deplorable conditions, serving Jesus in “the least”. A young man (and new, passionate christian) came one summer and spent two weeks there and, based on his first impressions (he wasn’t there long enough to have more that a snapshot first impression), he returned to his church (Willow Creek in Chicago) and suggested that they withdraw their substantial support, which they did. The doctor didn’t fit this passionate, young, immature man’s image of a missionary and Jesus-lover, and he wasn’t wise enough to see this doctor and his work from Jesus’ perspective, only his own. It’s too bad that the leadership of his church withdrew their support and, in doing so, lost the ability to support a beautiful work of their Father in an incredibly difficult place.
The beauty (and incredible miracle) of the church is that our Father uses broken, weathered, imperfect vessels (me!) to draw people to Himself. We must be able to see Jesus in those unlike us, who are at different places in their journey, who have differing opinions and temperaments than we do. I think this is why our Father wrote so much through John in his letters about loving our brother. One of his most challenging statements is if we cannot love a brother who we can see, we cannot love God who we cannot see. He is, of course, not talking about brothers that are easy to love! He is talking about those who believe differently, who rub us wrong, who get under our skin, who criticize us, who wound us, whose weaknesses to us are evident (in our always ignorant perspective) and whose strengths are not…
This week challenged me greatly, and revealed to me again that all of us (including this pastor, our friend in Brazil, our friend’s attackers, me…) are imperfect and flawed, yet beautiful. I appreciated again the beauty of love and the ugliness of judgment, toward fellow scarred and bruised human beings.
I’ve had a slow, relaxing week at the clinic. It’s a combination of the end of the dry season (less infectious disease) and the fact that the doctor is a new arrival and word is still getting out. The few cases each day are sick, so it’s nice to be able to help them. We had a two year old playing in a path, hidden by grass, struck by a motorbike. He was practically scalped and it took us close to 100 stitches to close the wound, which was dirty and macerated, and required much, torturous cleaning. He responded well and is healing nicely, heading home today after 10 days of dressing changes.
This is a slow-paced culture in the middle of nowhere, and it’s challenging my type-A, always busy, mindset. I need to slow down and, at least for a while, it appears that I will have the opportunity to practice. This culture retires at sundown and arises at sunup. Plenty of time for rest.
I love the staff here and will enjoy working with them. We have a trip planned to together visit the health administrator in the overseeing city for this region (Catchiungo). We will seek to procure medications for leprosy and TB, and begin a vaccination program, along with seeking to team with them as to supplies and medications. We will seek to purchase through them some beds for inpatients and we are looking at doing some remodeling of the hospital to make it more conducive to treat in-patients.
We leave today for a week of rural clinics, followed by an exploration trip to the rugged SW of Angola.