Seven hours into a sloppy/muddy 10hr trip to Lubango on Friday, after leaving the dirt behind about an hour prior and driving on the only highway going east-west in this part of the country, we encountered a collapsed bridge over an impassable swamp (see photo). There were no other roads to use in going around, so we had to return home. Add a flat tire and hunting down just enough diesel to get home from a person in his house for 3x the price (a bargain to us!), and it was quite a day. All commerce (including the delivery of diesel) has been halted in the area because of the bridge (it’s been out for 2 weeks). Fourteen hours later, we ended up exactly where we started… I was reminded this morning how our Father is interested much more in our journey than in any of our “important” destinations… I needed this reminder again!
After the bridge incident, Florindo (our beautiful clinic director who has become a dear friend), who was traveling with us, said the following that our Father used to encourage/challenge me:
“Every day is an adventure/gift. One never knows what will come his way.” I can so easily forget the precious gift that each day represents and also that the mundane events of each day are never the same, if I will only see the uniqueness and beauty in each event, encounter and moment…
Also, while standing near the broken bridge, he jokingly said, “Everything made by man always falls apart.”
Our small church in Cavango has between 100-150 people each Sunday, more than half kids. The service is in Ganguela, the local tribal language, so we understand nothing (we’re beginning to learn). At times, someone will translate a phrase or two into Portuguese but, for the most part, we try to appear engaged, like we did for our first couple years in Brazil. The message is only about 15 minutes of the 2hr service, the rest taken up by singing of the various groups (kids, youth, women, men), usually 2-4 songs each. The singing is beautiful, though we understand little. Music is the principal manner in which biblical truths are communicated and retained in this mostly illiterate, rural culture.
While in the US, Bets made a photo book from Shutterfly, full of photos of most of the people in the village, and they have absolutely loved looking through it. Many have not seen themselves in a photo before so they didn’t recognize themselves in the photos. This is a culture without photos, TV, mirrors, books, magazines, etc, so seeing images of any kind is a unique experience for them.
I drove with a friend, Jeremiah, 20 minutes, then walked 5 minutes to the top of a hill… to make a phone call… to confirm that the administrator we need to see (7hr away in Catota), to set up monthly clinic visits, would be present and available to see us the following day… He wasn’t there (we set up an appointment for the 16th). We’ve made the long drive twice, missing him each time! If only I had known that a mobile call to make an appointment was so easy…
I’ve never seen one of our hospital workers, who functions as a janitor, nurse, translator, and pharmacist, in a pair of shoes or sandals. He is always barefoot, as are more than half of the folks in our area.
This past month, we had patients from over thirty different villages visit our Cavango clinic for a consult. People are coming from a long way…
Our tall grass is loaded this time of year with “no-see-ums”. One cannot walk far in shorts without itching for hours and seeing the hundreds of bites but never seeing an insect. They remind me of the nasty Pium in Amazon Brazil, though we could see the Pium.
We currently have in our small hospital a 35 year old mother of seven with severe rheumatic heart disease and a 29 year old mother of five with severe kidney disease, both the result of untreated strep throat. Both have poor prognoses and need a touch from our Father.
When it is a thickly overcast day, our 10:00am Sunday church service typically begins at about 11:00am. This is because the sun is the only “clock” these folks use and when unable to see the sun, it is much more difficult to estimate the time. All communication regarding time references the sun, by pointing at the sky to indicate its position. Most everything is done at either dawn, dusk or mid-day (making 10a a bit tricky, even on a sunny day). Our medication instructions are given similarly, usually to be taken at one of these three times. In the US, we often give medication instructions around meals, but in this culture this is an unreliable way to communicate time because meals are quite variable here and quite often once/day.
During this rainy season (it rains every day), virtually everyone is working in their fields from about 5a to 3p five days/week (the villages are empty during the day). Dawn greets people of all ages walking along the dirt roads, mostly barefoot, with their hoe over their shoulder and carrying a jug of “chissangua”, a corn drink used for sustenance throughout the long, hot day. The fields around us are beautifully plowed by hand (hoe) and each plot represents so much work. The folks are pretty faithful at staying out of the fields on Saturdays and Sundays, working in their home/village on Saturdays while taking the day off on Sunday. It is the rainy season, so plowing and planting is of huge importance now for the harvest months away. Our community leader issued a strong admonition this past week to the whole village, reminding everyone that he who works now will eat later and he who doesn’t work won’t be able to eat after the rains and harvest. Everyone (all ages) is expected to be working in the fields daily. The staple crop is a tough corn that we would call “feed corn”, beans, cabbage, manioc, potatoes and sweet potatoes. All are pretty hardy and insect resistant, but they still lose as much as half of their crop to “nature”.
Every week at the small church service, insightful pastor Jeremiah encourages especially the youth to take advantage of Betsy’s English classes, telling them that no rural people get offered such an opportunity and that learning English could open many future work possibilities, as Angola becomes more of a player on the world stage.
I was able to learn much this week from several friends (while on trips together in the car) about the culture in which we serve. They indicated that the rural Ganguela culture of Angola is characteristically a closed and illiterate people group, quite ignorant of the rest of Angola and especially the rest of the world. They tend to be somewhat inward, community-oriented and resistant to change. They will politely listen, for example, when approached with the Gospel, are quick to embrace law, but few embrace the call to relationship with God. Affection and intimacy, as we know it in the west, are quite foreign here, though they are warm, hospitable and quite friendly, once you get to know them. Kindness, respect and honor are highly valued and they see themselves as humble people, regarding humility as a primary virtue.
The humility and simplicity of Jesus’ birth are hugely relevant to these folks and they see the manner of His birth (being born in a manner in which they would be born) as a demonstration of God truly becoming “with us”.
If we recognize Jesus as divine, each and every mundane detail of His humanness indicates how far He was willing to humble Himself for our sake. Humility honors another, and Jesus’ humanness and humility honors us! Humility considers irrelevant its own strengths/status/flaws/struggles, prioritizing the other, even at its own expense. How can I follow Jesus’ example today and disregard myself, lower myself, give away my best… for the sake of another?
Last week, Florindo and I spent a week in Huambo over two days. It is a city about five hours from us, mostly on a severely chewed up road that hasn’t had any maintenance for about 40 years. It rained the whole trip there and back and the dirt “road” was full of water. The water was 6 inches to 2 feet deep in most places, hiding all kinds of holes and ravines (not possible to negotiate without 4WD). Multiple times water came up over the hood and I was quite grateful when we turned onto pavement near Huambo, with the engine, brakes and steering still functioning.
We met with the director of health for our province and he assured us that we would be supplied medications for leprosy and TB, along with childhood vaccinations (in Angola, all of these can only be obtained through the government). It was a good meeting that only came about because a friend of ours from the US, Dr. Nicholas Comninellis, who runs the excellent health care organization INMED in Kansas City, and who lived and worked in Angola during the war in the 1990s, arranged for me to meet a man in the health department in Huambo who could set up such a meeting. We also bought much plumbing material for the clinic and we have many renovations planned to care for TB and Leprosy patients. We will complete construction on 12 patient rooms for them, set apart from the hospital, because of the contagious nature of their illnesses. We also arranged for the purchase of metal beds (any wood is soon destroyed by termites) for both the hospital and the TB unit and the nurses were thrilled with our purchase of 15 plastic chairs for the clinic’s waiting area.
We overnighted with the southern Africa regional director of YWAM, who we met when he showed up at our house in Cavango (nobody “shows up” at our house in Cavango) and had lunch with us a year ago (he owns some land near us and is raising chickens, bees and cows on a small ranch). He is from Brazil and we have so enjoyed getting to know him and his family over the past year. He took the two days and selflessly ushered us around Huambo (a city completely unfamiliar to us) so that we could complete our many tasks and he also joined us in our governmental meetings, where his warmth and incredible people skills helped us easily begin new relationships with those in authority over the province in which we live and work. Ismael has been one of many divine appointments for us in Cavango and it has been fascinating to watch our Father orchestrate events and encounters for the sake of the people of this region.
I can easily become frustrated when events don’t unfold as I desire, when I desire (nothing in Angola unfolds quickly or efficiently)… Then I see events and encounters happen which can only be from my Father and I am humbly reminded of His awareness and rule over the events and people I care about. I must be reminded often (even through exhausting and “wasted” days, collapsed bridges, etc) that His reign is eternal and His perspective, the same. Our (my) temporal perspective, influenced by desires, expectations, emotions, lack, ups and downs, etc must be surrendered often to the consideration (and trust) of my Father’s eternal purposes and His ability to accomplish His good and beautiful eternal will, even in this tainted and, for so many, painful and confusing earthly existence.