Mud, “Rescue”, Wisdom, Allegiance…


We have a wonderful 4th year OU medical student, Heather Datsko, staying with us this month (who has already become a dear part of our family) and she has compiled her experiences in a great blog with photos and brief (is it possible?) posts @ Enjoy the Angola experience through her words and photos!


We had an interesting couple days this month at our flight clinic with the isolated people group in the dormant volcano.  As we were taxiing on the dirt airstrip after a smooth landing, one of our small plane’s rear tires became suddenly buried/stuck in mud and, over the next four hours, we and about 50-100 local people, using ropes, shovels, rocks and sticks, could not remove the plane from the mud (it sunk deeper).  Some of our party hiked six hours off the mountain to the nearest village to seek practical help (our pilot, Brent, was considering driving back to Lubango and returning in another small plane with jacks, etc).  This group was unexpectedly met by the local police, who had seen the plane fly over on its way in, and accused our hikers of (unidentified) illegal activity on the mountain (though we’ve met most of these leaders and have been flying in and doing the same work there monthly for the past year).  They contacted the provincial (state) police and held the hiking party over night in the town, telling them they could not leave.  Betsy and two other cars arrived at 10p, after driving 6 hours from Lubango (we contacted them by satellite phone) to provide help, bring tools, etc.  Myself and two adventurous medical students stayed in the crater and did consults all day until dark (no electricity to continue into the night) and slept next to a fire near our stick clinic.  The local people provided warm blankets and a simple (local) dinner and it was cold (in the 40s), but we were well cared for (and grateful that it didn’t rain).


The next morning, the armed state (provincial) police arrived in the little, rural town at the base of the mountain in two helicopters, picked up our pilot Brent, and flew up to the crater.  Brent emptied our small plane of almost all its fuel and the same beautiful, local people, who had also helped the day before, pulled and pushed the plane free.  The armed authorities took many pictures, provided no help with freeing the plane, and shut down the medical work (they arrived about 11a and we had been seeing patients since 7a and there were 50+ people yet to be seen).  They confiscated our passports and told us that we were being apprehended and flown to the capital under armed guard because of our “illegal” activity (we heard later that they publicized the event as a rescue!).  We were held at the capital city’s airport (one can be legally detained, interrogated, searched, etc without cause) for about 3 hours and released, after the authorities confirmed, of course, that we had the appropriate governmental permission to do our medical work.  We were never in danger or in any risk of injury or harm.


Reflecting on this situation this morning…  Many missionaries and other cross-cultural workers face similar (and much worse) situations around the world…  Paul and Jesus encouraged us to “honor” governing authorities, which we always endeavor to do here…  But, as to the governing authorities committing gross human rights violations, what is the difference between honoring those responsible and fearing/bowing to them?  We must acknowledge that we are quite capable, for our sake or for the sake of our “indispensable” work, of unintentionally embracing/enabling/encouraging the oppressors.  Or we can, for the sake of the local people (who have no recourse), put ourselves and our work at risk (trusting our care to our Father) and confront the injustice and those behind it.  Each of us (no matter where we live/work) face many daily decisions as to what and whom we will fear, what and whom we will serve, and to what and to whom we will bow.


As ambassadors for the Kingdom (whether or not cross-cultural missionaries), we must prayerfully seek our Father about where (and how) He would have us draw these lines (this is not at all easy and there are many inner “voices” seeking our attention, especially in complex/conflicting situations).  We must be walking closely enough to hear Him and to allow Him to guide us through confusing confrontations.  Bible principles/verses don’t cut it in these situations (Jesus knew they wouldn’t), as we need to know from our Helper/Counselor how He would have us respond to the present situation!  Does Jesus’ Spirit want to respond through us as He did in the temple with the money changers, as He did with the adulterer while drawing in the sand, as He did with the soldiers when arrested, as He did to Peter when He called him Satan, or as He did to Peter on the beach after His resurrection?  It is the same, complex, living Jesus within each of us.  Shall we turn the other cheek or confront?  Shall we emphasize grace or justice?  Shall we enter the fray or walk away?  Our Father sent us His Spirit to lead/guide us in these situations and we can depend on Him and follow His leading.  This is, of course, why it is so important to practice listening to His still, small voice every day, so that when in a tight or confusing situation, we recognize Him above all of the other “voices”.


When they arrest you and hand you over, don’t worry in advance about what to say.  Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit. (Mk 13.11)


We must decide when it is wise to confront injustice (sometimes confrontation is quite foolish and is actually more about me feeling better about myself) and how much we are willing to risk to be advocates for the very people we say we’ve been called to love and serve.  Jesus gave His life for those He came to serve, and many have since.  Developing countries typically are in the state they are in for a reason (most commonly oppressive and corrupt leadership), and we can endorse/enable/encourage their oppression by our tolerant and non-confrontational behavior, or we can be diligent to remain willing to sacrifice our dignity and perhaps our work or lives for the sake of playing a role in freeing from their authoritarian bonds those we claim to love.  Our Father is not looking for heroes, but for those willing to do ANY little thing to bring justice to the oppressed and neglected, to love kindly those broken and hurting, and to walk humbly with Him into every situation. Micah 6:8


It broke my heart to see these armed, uniformed “men” force us to pack up our medicines and turn away so many people (in the middle of malaria season) waiting (some for two days) to see the doctor (they have NO other means of medical help and we visit only once monthly) because of “suspected” illegal activity (blown so out of proportion in a nauseating, completely unnecessary and horribly expensive display of power before the rural, isolated, poorest of the poor) and it was for this reason that I challenged them directly, repeatedly and tactfully over several hours (they didn’t appreciate it).


There were several notable confrontations.  When the leader of the circus told me that he was shutting down the medical work, he ordered me to make the announcement to the crowd of more than 100 local people, who’d been waiting so patiently for a consultation.  I refused and said firmly that, because HE was closing the clinic and HE didn’t want these people to receive our care, the announcement must come from HIM.  He then actually said to me that he wanted them to receive medical care, but he couldn’t allow it – how we can rationalize when our words are not supported by our decisions/actions!  He angrily walked away and then cowardly had one of his underlings make a pathetic and quite political announcement, telling the people that they had come to rescue us (!) and that they were closing the medical work for their sake (it appeared that the crowd of local people bought it to some degree – or they acted as loyal subjects – as they applauded him as he finished)!


As we were packing up our medication boxes, one of the perpetrators went through all of my medications and found one medication (out of hundreds) 5 days expired and said that this was illegal and that he could make trouble for me.  I suggested that he go ahead.  If you could see the state of Angolan health care for the rural people and the setting in which this statement was made…


After our stuff was packed up and we were exiting, a woman ran up to our clinic hut (when she understood that we were leaving) with her two month old baby who’d had a fever and wasn’t responding, and asked if we could help her.  This person who was shutting down the clinic and refusing care for 50+ waiting people, told us to treat the baby!  He got another earful from me, as 20+ people had hiked in from off the mountain that day and wouldn’t be seen (most likely the sickest of the two days, based on their incredible effort to see the doctor), and I suggested, in no uncertain terms, that we should continue our work for the rest of the day (as there might be others as sick as this baby).  He refused.  The baby was clearly quite ill and had malaria and we began appropriate treatment. This man tried to stay and watch, ask questions, etc while we treated this little girl, but he was respectfully and firmly shown the “door” (the “clinic” doesn’t have a door, just a space between the branches in which to enter/exit)…


These types of confrontation sometimes help in the long run and sometimes don’t (John the Baptist and other martyrs who confronted injustice), but as Jesus-lovers and people-lovers, we simply cannot silently tolerate gross and wounding injustice without responding, even if the cost might be great…


All of the missionaries in Lubango responded wonderfully, and many of you prayed as you heard what was happening in real time.  As has been shown in the history of the church, and as I’ve learned in my years of cross-cultural missionary work, a threat to life, livelihood, reputation, status, ministry, etc reveals much about the true allegiance of a person or a group…


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