Impact, Reward, Fear, Mushrooms…

 

As we were preparing for our sloppy, 10 hour trip to Lubango, one of our Cavango nurses arrived at our door (no phones here) at 5a to inform us that a dear patient who we had been treating in our hospital for about a week had died during the night.  She had severe TB and heart failure and had become the light of our hospital, so full of joy and so thrilled that she could breathe and live again after arriving in severe distress.  She greeted me every morning with a hug and a huge smile and had appeared to be making wonderful progress over the course of the week and it was like an early morning punch in the gut to hear of her death. The family asked if we would transport her body back to her village, about an hour’s drive, off-road.  Because of our vehicle (the only one around), one of our roles here is to deliver bodies of the deceased to their home village.  We’ve delivered many.

 

We loaded her in the back of our pickup and her husband rode with her as we drove to her village, where we were greeted by a scene I’ll never forget.  She was obviously a special lady, as the whole village, perhaps 200 people, waited for us at 6a, wailing and weeping as we arrived.  They crowded around the car, touching, kissing and embracing her as we carried her to her stick and grass home.  Africans can mourn out of obligation and ritual, but this was markedly different. This lady had truly impacted these folks and it was clear that her loss was deeply felt.

 

I was challenged to consider who might be impacted by my life, my love, my service, my encouragement, etc.  What I witnessed was moving and clear evidence of a life well lived and I was so privileged to share in the lovely, sad mourning of one who’d had a significant impact on her small community.  It was clear that she had been a source of joy to her village in the same way she had brought light to our hospital during the previous week.  I’m reminded that each of us can especially impact (as this woman did those in her village) those who know us genuinely.  This is why Jesus didn’t tell us to put on crusades, but rather to make disciples. Making disciples necessitates forming relationships with people who can know us genuinely and be impacted by our life more so than our words.

 

One of the biggest mistakes we christians make today is to follow someone for their words (teaching), someone that we don’t know personally and well.  Words/teaching can have, at best, a superficial impact (how many sermons do you remember from a few years ago?), yet today in churches we essentially follow charismatic speakers and gifted gatherers/leaders.  Wise christians, however, follow someone who lives a Jesus-like life (“You will know them by their fruit,” not by their knowledge/teaching/words).  Wise christians become a “Timothy” to a “Paul” , discipled by someone who lives out a passionate love for Jesus and a selfless, service of people.  They also become a “Paul” to a “Timothy”, reproducing their life/passion in another.  One reeking of Christ-likeness is light in the darkness and deeply impacts all who come near (we never forget the Jesus-like people that we know along our journey, though we rarely remember their words).

 

You and I can save or change no one, but we can be tools in the hands of the Carpenter as He lives His life through us, touching those who we touch and drawing each and every person to Himself.  We get to participate in HIS glorious work among men!  We get to be His hands and feet and voice.  Our Father has already brought into your life those He desires to impact through your love and encouragement, and He will continue to bring more, as you are faithful, available and useful.  We can endeavor to make the best possible life for ourselves, or we can make others’ lives better each and every day…  Will you join me today in reconsidering who you might walk with, encourage, serve, build up, embrace, pray for…?  Will you reconsider getting together regularly (dinner?) with a few people (neighbors?), to deeply invest yourself in them, to serve them, to give your life for them…?  Will you reconsider meeting regularly with a few believers to support each other’s imperfect efforts to be selfless lovers of screwed-up people?

 

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As of April, we have been in Angola for two years and with all of the adjustments (we’ve moved four times), the travel, the work, the multiple languages, living in the interior, and all of the exposure to the impoverished, wounded, broken, forgotten, etc, it feels like we’ve been here for 10 years…

 

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A mother brought in her 4 year old who squirmed and drooled and bit and fussed for the entire interview.  She had been a normal, active two year old until she acquired a febrile illness, which then left her extremely debilitated.  We see so much preventable meningitis here, with all of its neurological sequelae (blindness, deafness, MR, coma, death).  It’s difficult to imagine, but there are actually people in the US critical of the vaccinations that have all but eliminated childhood meningitis in that country.  They need to visit Angola!  I looked at this mother with such admiration.  She lives in a stick and grass hut with a dirt floor and no running water or electricity, she has 6 other children to care for and the baby was clean and well-fed.  She is SO sacrificially and daily caring for her child, who will never develop past her current, completely dependent stage.  This Mom will receive a great reward some day, and it will be far greater than mine…

 

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Betsy helps count (and weigh) the offering at church. The offering is cups and cans of kernels of corn, the first-fruits of the harvest and it is given all year long. Corn is such a valuable food because when it dries, it rarely spoils.  As the women with Betsy measure out the corn, if any single kernel falls to the ground, it is carefully retrieved.  Nothing here, not even a kernel of corn, is wasted!

 

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Because we live 9-10hr from a grocery store, we reuse paper towels, plastic sacks, aluminum foil, ziplock bags, cans, any plastic containers and many other things that we would throw away in the US.

 

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When the rural people are greeted in this culture, they typically respond with “Thank you!”  When I wave at someone, they often wave back with two hands, while bowing.  When I ask if I can pray for a patient, they often clap their hands together quietly and say “Thank you” several times.  Men often remove their hat when returning a greeting.  These folks go out of their way to communicate value to another, in so many little ways.  They are not at all inhibited to use whatever humble means to build up another.  The rural Angolans challenge, encourage and teach me daily…

 

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Whether 5, 15, 45 or 75, no one knows their age in rural Angola as it has no relevance, especially for the women. Generally speaking, no one (especially the women) has documents, birth certificates or any form of ID.

 

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Almost none of our patients speak Portuguese, so I always work through a translator, who translates the local language for me to Portuguese.  It is not uncommon for me to ask the patient a question and have the translator answer without asking the patient.  I have no idea why and it causes me to smile every time as I ask the translator to ask the patient rather than answer the question for them.

 

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There are no fences here and cows are herded to different grazing areas by young boys with sticks.  Some local cows wandered through our corn field of several acres (plowed and planted over weeks by a man we hired for the work) and ate all of our almost-mature corn stalks in about 30 minutes.  Cows are such a good example of how fear of pain/affliction can allow us to be controlled by (weak) outside forces as we lose our ability to serve anyone/anything other than that which we fear.  What we fear controls us.  Because of the cows’ fear of the (small) pain inflicted by herders’ sticks (in this part of Africa, little boys, age 5-12, herd these huge cows with a simple stick), they are easily controlled and manipulated.  We can be so like these cows, living to avoid that which we fear, but the more certain we are of our Father’s love for us, and the closer we walk with Jesus, the less that fear controls us (1Jn 4.18).  “I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” (Ps 23.4)   Father, please convince me again this morning of your joy-full, Father’s love and affection for me so that I can live today close to you and without fear!

 

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Time here is by the sun and very inexact.  Most events occur “in the morning” or “in the afternoon”.  Waiting for someone or for an event is expected and normal. Only when absolutely necessary, the rural people will speak of a specific hour.  When something is scheduled more specifically, an hour will be agreed upon, for example the “ninth hour”.  To those of us from the US, this means “at” the ninth hour (9:00), but to the local folks here it means “during” the ninth hour.  For example church services begin during the tenth hour on Sunday and usually begin about 10:45, which is still during the tenth hour (on time), but 45 minutes after 10:00 (late).  The difficulty for an American OCD is that the service can begin at any time during the tenth hour and be “on time”.  One Sunday we decided that we would wizen up and show up at 10:30 (the little adobe building is typically empty until about this time).  The building was full and the service had begun twenty minutes before we arrived! They were on time and we were late!

 

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We live about a mile from the river and our guard and gardener has a dugout canoe at the river to daily help people across.  There is a whole region across the river and the people come to the river to cross and yell and yell to get the attention of Isaac, who then walks to the river to help them across.  They sometimes yell for hours until they are heard up at our house.  We gave Isaac a large bell to put in a tree at the river to help in the “calling” process.

 

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I sometimes give kids a ride to and from our clinic, about a mile from our house on the dirt (not much traffic as no other cars for miles).  The kids get in the car, eyes wide, looking at everything, beaming, laughing, pushing buttons and with all of the excitement and wonder of a kid in the US at his/her first amusement park.  None of them have ever ridden in a car before.

 

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Our adobe hospital is poorly ventilated, has no screens, has cement floors, becomes flooded during heavy rains, is fly-infested and smells worse than the barns I’ve known.  Kids pee and poop on the floor and the patients don’t bathe.  This is a population that lives outside and is unfamiliar with indoor living.  We have some work to do!

 

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I spend several hours/week organizing and stocking meds, creating paper “charts”, packing for trips, etc.  Much time is spent in the pharmacy warehouses in Lubango every month purchasing meds, comparing prices, etc.  Humble, behind-the-scenes, administration gifts are beautiful and especially missed when they are absent!

 

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We are nearing the end of the rainy season and mushrooms are everywhere.  They are being sold along the roads and in the villages, they are laid out on the ground to dry, they are growing everywhere and in every color imaginable.  I never saw mushrooms as beautiful, but they are truly varied and quite lovely.  These soft and delicate mushrooms pop through the rock-hard ground by growing unseen and underneath the surface, while pushing toward heaven slowly and persistently.  A Kingdom lesson…

 

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There are about five young boys who arrive at the clinic most days when I do to receive a sucker.  They run up and greet me and hug me and laugh…  A sucker is such a cheap bribe to receive such a greeting every morning!

 

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It was a morning like this… He came out of the tomb… the world was changed forever… and the next day… was a morning like this…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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